Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Light rail in Santa Monica gains steam
BY JOHN WOOD - [Santa Monica] Daily Press Staff Writer

Construction on the first half of rail line between Los Angeles and Santa Monica likely to begin soon; $500M for second half still needs to be raised.

CITY HALL — The money is in place and construction likely will begin early next year on the first half of an estimated $1 billion light rail line that eventually will connect downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica, transportation officials said Monday.

The first phase of the project will connect downtown Los Angeles to the intersection of Venice and Robertson boulevards in Culver City, via USC and 10 other stops. That part alone is expected to cost $490 million and be open to the public by 2010.

It will cost another $500 million to extend the rail line from Culver City to Santa Monica, officials said. That money hasn’t been raised yet.

“It’s been hard work to get it this far, and it’s very exciting,” said Santa Monica City Councilwoman Pam O’Connor, also a board member for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is in charge of the project. “Concurrent with (the first half) we need to work on phase two. The real benefit of the line comes from when the total length of the line to Santa Monica is complete.”

Richard Thorpe, MTA’s chief project management officer, projected there will be 45,000 daily riders on the rail line by 2020. Fares will be equal to what’s charged on other modes of public transportation. If the line were open today, the fare would be $1.25, Thorpe said.

A special meeting of the Santa Monica City Council was held midday Monday at the conclusion of a bus tour of the proposed 9.6-mile line. Transportation officials and elected leaders munched on deli sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies while Thorpe presented the plans, which go before the MTA board of directors in January. Thorpe said work will commence on the project soon after plans are approved.

“We’re getting ready to finalize (federal and state environmental review documents),” Thorpe told council members and a group of some 25 transportation officials from around Los Angeles. “The real key we’re shooting for is that January board meeting ...

“This is only phase one of the Expo Line,” he added. “We need everybody’s support. We need community support, but especially local elected officials.”

It’s unclear when work would begin on the second half of the project. O’Connor said officials are looking into various methods of raising the estimated $500 million and construction will begin once the funds have been identified. At the earliest, the second half of the rail line will be completed a few years after the first half.

Funding for the first part of the project came from a mix of local, state and federal sources, Thorpe said. More than $305 million came from local sales tax and lease revenues, as well as direct contributions from cities. Sacramento contributed another $49 million to the rail project and $135 million was obtained through federal funds for congestion and air quality.

While MTA officials consider how to raise money for the second half of the project, what route the rail line would take in Santa Monica is still undecided. City Councilman Mike Feinstein said Monday two stops were currently being considered. One is downtown at Fourth Street, possibly where the Sears building is currently located. The other is off of Cloverfield Boulevard near Interstate 10.

Feinstein said those stops wouldn’t be accessible to enough of Santa Monica’s workers and asked rail supporters to consider a stop at Bundy Drive and Centinela Avenue on the eastside of Santa Monica, and another at 14th Street and Olympic Boulevard. He said City Hall was exploring covering I-10 at 14th Street, which would allow them to build a parking lot accessible to commuters. A city park could then be built on top of that lot, he suggested.

No matter where the stops are placed, officials agreed the Westside is badly in need of more public transportation. The cities of Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles and Culver generate 10 percent of the county’s sales tax revenue, but historically the region has benefited from just .01 percent of transportation dollars, according to an October update to a study commissioned by the five cities.

Even a small investment in transportation will have an enormous impact, said Steve Cunningham, transportation director for Culver City.

“We’re choking,” Cunningham added. “It’s time to change that.”


Webmaster Comments:

Current timeline we're hearing:

  • December 2005 -- Final EIS/EIR is released and posted on MTA website.
  • January 2005 -- MTA Board certifies the Final EIS/EIR and selects final route options, particularly the route downtown (Flower or Hill).
  • Mid-2005 -- Preliminary engineering and Design/Build bid documents are completed. Construction contractor is hired.
  • 2006 -- Construction begins.
  • 2009-2010 -- Trains run to Culver City. There's a suggestion of initial completion to Exposition Park in 2008, to support a new NFL team coming to the Coliseum that year.
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