The planned second phase of the Metro Exposition Light Rail Line received a major boost March 18, when the Expo Construction Authority Board of Directors approved the funding agreement and design-build contract for the project.

The board approvals clear the way for design and construction to begin on Phase II of the proposed project, which extends from Culver City to its terminus in Santa Monica, Metro officials said.

The $1.5 billion Phase II funding agreement between the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Expo Authority provides the guidelines by which Metro will fund the project through Measure R half-cent sales tax revenue as well as state and local funds, transit agency officials said. The $541.7 million design-build contract was awarded to Skanska/Rados for Phase II.

The Expo Authority board has also approved a Project Labor Agreement for the second phase, which includes local hiring provisions and will help ensure that the project will be delivered on time and on budget, Metro officials said. With the contract in place, the Expo Authority will kick off the design-build process with a series of community meetings held along the project corridor in early May.

The board also supported previously cleared design options for a grade separation and aerial station at Expo/Sepulveda and a no parking option at the Expo/Westwood station. The Los Angeles City Council approved a motion March 18 to fund the estimated $5.3 million cost differential to add the Sepulveda grade separation and aerial station to the project.

Phase I of the Expo Line between downtown Los Angeles and Culver City is 88 percent complete and expected to partially open later this year. Pre-construction work and utility relocation on Phase II is expected to begin later this year, with service to Santa Monica scheduled to start in 2015, according to Metro.

Transit officials say that the Expo Line will bring more transportation options to Westside communities traditionally underserved by public transit.