The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro or MTA) is exploring the possibility of adding an additional station to its Mid-Cities Exposition Line Light Rail project in Santa Monica, the last city on the highly anticipated Westside rail line.
“We’re looking at this request very favorably,” Samantha Bricker, the chief operating officer of the Exposition Construction Authority, which is responsible for building the rail line, told The Argonaut.
The Santa Monica City Council requested an additional station for the light rail line last year due to the immense interest by many of its constituents. The site of the the proposed third line has yet to be decided by the council.
There are currently two stations that would be built on the Expo Line, as it is known — at Bergamot Station near 26th Street and at Fourth Street near the Sears Automotive Center in downtown Santa Monica, which would mark the end of the light rail route.
Possibilities for the third stop include a station in mid-Santa Monica between 14th and 17th Streets or a location near 20th Street.
The construction authority has recommended the former location, due to the fact that a station near 20th would be relatively close to the Bergamot Station site.
“We usually try and space [station stops] about a mile apart when building a light rail line, because otherwise it could impact train speed times,” Bricker explained.
City officials also feel that a mid-Santa Monica stop can provide a direct link to bus service for Santa Monica College.
Santa Monica Mayor Herb Katz indicated in a recent interview that the best alternative would be closer to 20th Street, near the campus of Santa Monica College.
“I think that’s more reasonable,” said Katz, adding that the council was still considering a site closer to Memorial Park near 14th Street.
Kate Vernez, assistant to the Santa Monica city manager, believes that Santa Monica should have a third station.
“I think that it’s justified, [because of the potential ridership figures],” said Vernez.
Metro estimates that ridership numbers on the Expo Line could exceed 62,000 passengers a day.
“[The Expo Line] would arguably be one of the busiest light rail lines in the nation,” said Bricker.
Katz, who is Santa Monica’s alternate on the construction authority board, is encouraged that Metro officials seem to be agreeable to building a third station.
“They’ve been relatively receptive to it,” the mayor said. “But first we’ve got to make sure that the line is operative, which I’m sure it will be.”
The second stage of the Expo Line has been approved as part of Metro’s current long-range plan by the Metro board and is slated to be one of the first projects on the drawing board following the completion of the first phase of the line, which will run from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City.
Darryl Clark, a former Santa Monica planning commissioner, is a strong proponent of building a third station along the light rail line.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Clark, the founder of Friends 4 Expo, a transportation and light rail advocacy group. “I am a big supporter of having another station that would create a transit village for residents and commuters.”
Establishing transit-oriented housing near light rail lines has proven to be very successful in Los Angeles and Pasadena, and other areas as well. Santa Monica officials believe that, at some of the city’s stations, these possibilities exist as well, which would create a more dynamic streetscape, functionally and esthetically.
Representatives of the construction authority think that the Santa Monica stops lend themselves to being potential mixed-use development locations.
“At Bergamot Station, there are plans for a joint development that would work with a transit-oriented area,” Bricker pointed out. “It’s a good example of a station that can serve economic opportunities and can also serve necessary transportation opportunities as well.”
Clark feels that a potential station near 20th Street has these same possibilities.
“A station there would put the hospital and the college within walking distance,” he said.
Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown thinks that city leaders should take into account the fact that both options have certain advantages.
“I have heard that some members prefer a location at 14th or 17th Streets, while others prefer a station near 20th Street,” McKeown said. The councilman agrees with Katz that having a stop that can incorporate serving the needs of the college can be advantageous to both the light rail line and the city.
“Expo will best benefit both Santa Monica and the region if we can site a light rail station to serve specifically Santa Monica College between 16th and 20th Streets,” said McKeown.
Clark feels that the 14th or 17th street site for transit-oriented housing and community amenities is a good location.
“I really like the idea of seeing that kind of development arranged around Memorial Park,” said the former Santa Monica planning commissioner.
City officials have created a blueprint for a possible dual use facility in mid-Santa Monica, based on the construction authority’s recommendation.
“We have conceptual plans for a somewhat intensified activity center, with transit-oriented park-side housing, at Memorial Park,” McKeown confirmed. “That’s between 14th and 17th Streets, so at the moment, a station near 17th Street seems most sensible.”
Santa Monica City Council, which will consider the location of the third station this fall, will also need to decide if it will travel along Colorado Avenue or Olympic Boulevard.
The configuration of the route of the second stage of the Expo Line will be settled later this fall, said Bricker.
“The Federal Transportation Agency will receive our draft this month,” she said.
The two most debated segment configurations are the Venice-Sepulveda Boulevards route and utilizing the MTA-owned former railroad right-of-way along Exposition Boulevard that would run along the Interstate 10 freeway near Cheviot Hills.
Both options would feature a mixture of at-grade, or street-level, crossings, and grade-separated or aerial stations.
The Expo Line to Santa Monica is envisioned to be completed in 2016, although funding has not been secured.