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The Metro Expo Line of the Los Angeles County Metro Rail is a light-rail line currently under construction in Los Angeles County, California, USAmarker, which will run from Downtown Los Angelesmarker to Culver Citymarker and eventually to Santa Monicamarker. Upon completion of the Santa Monica phase, it will be the first Metro Rail line to terminate very close to the beach area; neither the Blue Line to Long Beachmarker nor the Green Line to Redondo Beachmarker actually end up close enough to their respective beaches. It will also be the first Metro Rail line to serve and terminate on the Los Angeles Westside, as it currently lacks rail service and a possible Metro Purple Line extension to Santa Monica is years away from completion. Its route makes use of the former Pacific Electric Santa Monica Air Line right-of-way, alongside which irregularly runs Exposition Boulevard, from which its name comes. The Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority (Expo) [152764] is the project manager and the agency that is constructing the line; however, some of the staff are also employees of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro).

In December 2005, the board of Metro approved the Final Environmental-Impact Report for Phase 1. All funds to construct the line have been obtained from local and state sources, obviating the need to wait with other localities for funds from the federal government. Expo broke ground on Friday, September 29, 2006. The line will start operations to the Culver Junction (Venice/Robertson Boulevards) in Culver City circa August 2011, and an initial segment to Crenshaw Blvd may open circa December 2010. The final segment to Santa Monica is expected to open in 2014 or 2015.

History

The line was originally built in 1875, with the name “Los Angeles & Independence Railroad.” Southern Pacific bought it in 1877 and later leased it to electric-railway companies after it was electrified in 1908. These electric railroads merged under the name of Pacific Electric in 1911. It was known as the Santa Monica Air Line [152765] for most of the history, providing freight and passenger service between Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Pacific Electric discontinued the passenger service on the Santa Monica Air Line in 1953. Southern Pacific continued the freight service, with the last freight service to Fisher Lumber in Santa Monica taking place in 1987 and to the Culver Junction circa 1989. Metro purchased the line from Southern Pacific in 1990 for future public-transit use.

The Expo Line is the second oldest railroad in Southern California, built in 1875 with the name The Los Angeles & Independence Railroad in order to connect the Nevadamarker silver mines to the then existing Port Los Angeles in Santa Monica (later moved to San Pedro). The Los Angeles & San Pedro Railroad, which then became the Southern Pacific San Pedro division and now is the Alameda Corridor, was built in 1869.

Donald Douglas was a regular commuter on the Expo Line, then known as the Santa Monica Air Line. He used to fantasize on the Air Line about airlines becoming a reality in the future. Indeed his Douglas Aircraft Company would become one of the major aircraft manufacturers.

Air line literally means a straight line through the air between two points. Therefore, it is used in the railroad industry to indicate a railroad line that directly connects two places without curves or winding routes.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was initially the No. 1 opponent of the Expo Line, claiming that the preferred method of transportation in Los Angeles should be subways, not surface rail, and almost succeeding in preventing the purchase of the Expo Line right-of-way by Metro circa 1990. He later changed his philosophy and opposed subways as being too costly and his Proposition A has prevented the use of local funds for subway construction. He is now a strong supporter of the Expo Line. He had also advocated bus rapid transit (BRT) for the Expo Line and had introduced the Venice/Sepulveda Boulevards street diversion (see below) to be used for the BRT buses. He now acknowledges that this relic from early busway considerations might not be a good idea, saying that the diversion would slow down the line while the speed being crucial for these lines.

The Friends 4 Expo Transit [152766] (and its predecessors), the grassroots group that has advocated the Expo Line since the late 1980s, played a big role in the acquisition of the Expo Line right-of-way by Metro and helped prevent the Expo Line being built as a busway (bus rapid transit) and succeed in having it built as light-rail.

Name

Currently this is the only LACMTA Metro Rail line that is known by a name independent of its color on maps. Friends 4 Expo [152767], the grassroots organization that has strongly advocated the line since the late 1980s, originally used the name "Expo Line" however later campaigned for the name "Aqua Line." This name was recommended by the Metro staff to the Metro board [152768]. The name Aqua Line was also used by a guerilla-artists group called Heavy Trash which posted prank "Metro Aqua Line" future-station-location signs throughout the Westside during the 2000 Democratic National Convention, to stir up NIMBYs and to provoke civic dialogue [152769].

On May 4, 2006, a community meeting by Metro was held at Dorsey High School in Mid-City. In this meeting a color for the line was discussed in public. Metro board member and city council member Bernard Parks, whose district is served by the line, was actively involved in the discussion of line color with several hundred attendees. He later opposed the adoption of aqua as the color for this line as he felt aqua identified more with beach communities on the western end of the line than it does with inland communities on the eastern end of the alignment.[152770].

On August 24, 2006, Metro board members debated for over an hour as to the color of the line. Council Member Parks introduced a motion that the line be officially known as the Expo Line and designated on maps with the color "rose." The board passed a modified motion, which named the line "Metro Expo Line" but deferred the color issue to sometime after more public input is sought and before the line goes into service.

Route

The Phase 1 route is the locally preferred alternative (LPA) officially adopted as part of the approval of the Final Environmental-Impact Report in December 2005. The Expo Line (also known as the "Mid-City/Exposition Light-Rail Transit Project") will begin at 7th/Flower Streets marker and then travel south on Flower St. South of the Picomarker station, it will branch off from the Blue Line, continuing on Flower St to Exposition Blvd. The rest of its route is exclusively on the Pacific Electric Santa Monica Air Line right-of-way, alongside which Exposition Boulevard runs irregularly. Phase 1 will end at the Culver Junction (the intersection of Venice, Robertson, and Exposition Boulevards, within short walking distance to Downtown Culver City). A second phase of the line will continue from Culver City to Santa Monica mostly on the original Pacific Electric Santa Monica Air Line right-of-way.

Stations

Station Mileage Trip time† Connections Opening projected
Preexisting stations
7th/Flower marker 0.0 miles 0 minutes Red Line  Purple Line  Blue Line  Harbor Transitway
Metro Rapid: 714, 720, 760, 770
Metro Express: 450X

Foothill Transit: Silver Streak
1991
Pico/Flower marker 0.7 1 Blue Line  Harbor TransitwayMetro Rapid: 728, 730 1990
Phase 1 (under construction)
23rd/Flower 1.5 3 Harbor Transitway 2010 or 2011
Jefferson/Flower 2.2 5 Harbor Transitway 2010 or 2011
Trousdale/Exposition 2.7 7 2010 or 2011
Vermont/Exposition 3.1 8 Metro Rapid: 754 2010 or 2011
Western/Exposition 4.1 10 Metro Rapid: 757 2010 or 2011
Crenshaw/Exposition * |5.6 |13 |[[Metro Rapid]]: 710, future [[LACMTA Crenshaw Corridor|Crenshaw Corridor]] transfer point. |2010 or 2011 |- |[[La Brea/Exposition (LACMTA station)|La Brea/Exposition (La Brea)]] |6.8 |16 | |2011 |- |[[La Cienega/Jefferson (LACMTA station)|La Cienega/Jefferson (La Cienega)]]* |7.7 |18 |[[Metro Rapid]]: 705, 780 (if extended) |2011 |- |[[Venice/Robertson (LACMTA station)|Venice/Robertson]]* |8.7 |20 | |2011 |- |colspan=5 align=center|'''Phase 2 (planned)''' |- |[[Palms/National (LACMTA station)|Palms/National]]* |9.6 |22 | |2014 |- |[[Westwood/Exposition (LACMTA station)|Westwood/Exposition]]* |11.0 |25 | |2014 |- |[[Sepulveda/Exposition (LACMTA station)|Sepulveda/Exposition]]* |11.6 |26 | [[Big Blue Bus]]: Rapid 7 |2014 |- |[[Bundy/Exposition (LACMTA station)|Bundy/Exposition]]* |12.6 |29 | |2014 |- |[[26th/Olympic (LACMTA station)|26th/Olympic]]* |13.6 |31 | |2014 |- |[[17th/Colorado (LACMTA station)|17th/Colorado]]* |14.3 |33 | |2014 |- |[[4th–5th/Colorado (LACMTA station)|4th–5th/Colorado]]* |15.2 |35 |[[Metro Rapid]]: 704, 720
[[Big Blue Bus]]: Rapid 3 |2014 |} ''Notes:''
* indicates that parking is planned.

† These are estimates for the near-optimal trip times, based on 45 MPH cruising speed, 2 MPH/s service acceleration/deceleration, 30 s wait at each intermediate station (including signal delay), and signal priority/preemption. The actual trip times may vary due to miscellaneous factors. The estimates by the construction authority are substantially higher in order to find out the worst-case scenarios for the environmental study.

USC/Exposition Park Station

The attitude of the high-level administration of the University of Southern Californiamarker (USC) toward the Expo Line has been generally negative, while the attitude of students and neighbors has been positive. Originally USC opposed at-grade light-rail next to its campus, claiming that light-rail would separate the university campus from Exposition Park. But the locally preferred alternative in the final environmental-impact report only contended with a short tunnel segment at the junction of Flower St and Exposition Blvd. The final environmental-impact report left the USC/Exposition Park Station as an option, citing that it would be built if funds (approximately $5M) could be obtained and local support is present. Many acknowledged the importance of this station, citing its convenient accessibility by the USC students/employees and Exposition Park guests. Moreover the station would be crucial for a future NFL venue in place of the current Los Angeles Memorial Coliseummarker, as well as for future Olympic Games. The Exposition Park/Coliseum authority has taken a strong position in support of this station. Recently the USC Student Senate [152771] has passed a . On the other hand, USC President Steven Sample [152772] remained the sole opposer. Expo (Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority) worked to secure the funds for this important station and to negotiate its design. A remaining issue that the construction authority needed to resolve was USC’s request for special architecture for all stations serving the campus.

On September 19, 2007, the board of Metro approved the funds ($7M) for the USC/Exposition Park Station [152773]. Therefore, this station will open with the rest of the line in 2010 or earlier. USC has not made any contributions to the cost of the station. Expo has also abandoned the considerations for special architecture requested by USC for the three USC stations and ceased the communications with USC in this regard.

On November 1, 2009, USC President Steven Sample announced his retirement in Los Angeles Times [152774]. When asked to cite his biggest setback, Sample said it was "a major, major, major disappointment" that he could not persuade transit authorities to place the Expo Line light-rail route fully underground along Exposition Boulevard between USC's main campus and the museums, sports facilities and gardens in Exposition Park. He said the line will create physical and psychological barriers, and dangers for pedestrians. Although, despite Steven Sample's focus on light-rail as a barrier with safety risks, Exposition Blvd currently separates USC from Exposition Park with three lanes in each direction of rapid and dense vehicular traffic, including heavy trucks.

Phase 2 expansion

The expansion to Santa Monica for the Expo line is known as Phase 2 or the Westside segment. Phase 1 (or the Mid-City segment) to the Culver Junction (Venice/Robertson Boulevards) in Culver City is planned to begin operations in 2010 and Phase 2 in 2013–2014.

Phase 2 route

From the Culver Junction at Venice/Robertson Boulevards, the Expo Line will follow the Pacific Electric Santa Monica Air Line railroad right-of-way, alongside which runs Exposition Boulevard irregularly, all the way to just east of 17th St in Santa Monica, for about five and a half miles. At 17th St the line will enter the median of Colorado Ave for the final one mile to the terminal station between 4th–5th Streets just off Colorado Ave.

Right-of-way from Culver Junction (Venice/Robertson) to Home Junction (Sepulveda/Exposition)

The route will use the original Pacific Electric Santa Monica Air Line right-of-way between the Culver Junction (Venice/Robertson) and the Home Junction (Sepulveda/Exposition) through northern Palmsmarker and Rancho Parkmarker.

The alignment passes through densely populated Palms and then through Rancho Park, just south of the highly populated area of the Pico Blvd vicinity. Part of this alignment is in a quiet, affluent suburban neighborhood, where the right-of-way borders Cheviot Hills and then goes through Rancho Park.

This alignment is a shortcut over the existing city streets and also allows higher speeds without directly impeding the street traffic since the exclusive railroad right-of-way already exists. There are three crossings in this alignment that already have grade separation, i.e., an underpass or overpass:

National Blvd and Motor Ave: Existing railroad bridges will be rebuilt to accommodate dual tracks and the bicycle/pedestrian paths.

I-10 (Santa Monica Freeway) underpass: Currently this is a narrow tunnel under a short freeway bridge, called Palms Overhead. The existing tunnel, designed for a single track, is only 25-ft-wide, which is barrely enough to allow dual tracks. To ensure safety, such as of any pedestrians who could wander into the tunnel, in emergency situations, etc., the tunnel may have to be widened. Moreover, it may be necessary to widen the tunnel to about 60 ft to accommodate the bicycle/pedestrian paths next to the tracks. The bicycle/pedestrian paths would also help discourage graffiti around the tunnel and help reduce the noise echoed out of the tunnel. The tunnel could be gradually widened from one or both ends toward the opposite end, without affecting the traffic on the Santa Monica Freeway above.

The remaining crossings are:

Bagley Ave

Overland Ave

Westwood Blvd and Military Ave

Sepulveda Blvd

Stations
1951-parcel-map overlay for Pacific Electric Railroad Palms Depot (Palms Station) of the Expo Line (then Santa Monica Air Line), shown along with the possible future station location (aqua rectangle).


There are two stations along this alignment. The first one would be just west of Palms/National/Exposition Boulevards, which would serve the extremely densely populated Palmsmarker. The second one would be just east of Westwood Blvd, which would serve the densely populated Pico Blvd vicinity and the extremely congested Century Citymarker and Westwoodmarker. The Palms station could require acquisition of several parcels within the station area to create adequate space for the station, as well as to provide convenient access and parking accommodations. The Pico Blvd vicinity/Century City/Westwood station area between Westwood Blvd and Overland Ave is already available within the 200-ft-wide right-of-way. This station would need to be carefully designed so that it would blend with its suburban surroundings. The parking structures and lots in the nearby Westside Pavilion shopping mall [152775] are currently lightly used and could serve as a park-and-ride opportunity for this station.

The figure on the right shows the location of historic Pacific Electric Railroad Palms Depot (Palms Station) [152776] in a 1951-parcel-map overlay, as well as a previously suggested Metro Expo Line Palms Station location (aqua rectangle).

Some design suggestions by right-of-way neighbors


Stream daylighting for the Metro Expo Line.


The Expo Line is envisioned as a transit parkway (see the adjacent picture). Between the freeway underpass and Overland Ave, the line goes in a preexisting soil trench, next to Northvale Rd (formerly, Exposition Blvd), surrounded by dense trees and plants. Note that this trench was built in the early days of the railroad in 1875 in order to level the tracks through the slopes of Cheviot Hills. In this design the dual tracks sit in the middle of the 100-ft-wide right-of-way, separated by fences. On one side or both sides of the right-of-way, there is a paved two-way bicycle/pedestrian path. The parkway sits in a preexisting soil-lined trench, with its slopes covered with trees and plants. There would be only shallow concrete retaining walls, which otherwise be considered as not being aesthetic. The transit parkway design also avoids the use of visually displeasing overpasses.

Note that there is an approximately twelve-feet-deep, twelve-feet-wide storm drain under the western sidewalk of Overland Ave where the Expo Line crosses. In order to build an underpass at this intersection, the “inverted siphon” (also called depressed sewer) method could be used to pass the storm drain under the light-rail line [152777]. It has also been suggested to divert this and another storm drain nearby (both feeding into the partly open Westwood Channel further downstream) to along the north side of the right-of-way between Overland and Military Avenues and then to daylight it as a creek. The water would be cleaned along the way, therefore reducing the pollution runoff into the ocean. This method could be used in conjunction with the inverted siphon, the latter serving as a backup during heavy storms. Note that recently there is a lot of activity with regard to daylighting the lost streams in Los Angeles, in order to reduce the contaminant runoff into the Santa Monica Baymarker. (See Save all of Ballona [152778], City of Los Angeles Integrated Resources Program [152779], and the LA Weekly article “The lost streams of Los Angeles” [152780].) This water-cleaning program is mandated by the federal Clean Water Act.

Alternatives for grade separation
A key question for the right-of-way alignment is whether the tracks would go at-grade as they have in some other sections of the line or if they would be above-grade (raised) or below-grade (underground or in a sunken ditch). Issues of cost, noise, safety, and traffic congestion are related to the choice to do grade separation or not.

Metro issued a grade-crossing policy for light-rail [152781] in 2003. This policy only considers grade-separation issues at specific crossings rather than for entire neighborhoods. The policy defines how to decide which rail crossings would be at-grade (traffic flow controlled by signals and/or gates) and which would have grade separation (an underpass or overpass). Grade separation ensures safety and speed and eliminates the use of horns or bells and possible traffic backup. On the other hand, each grade separation can cost $10 million or more per crossing.

While Metro has built tracks at-grade in other residential neighborhoods, this decision has created controversy. An LA Times article by Douglas P. Shut dated 2/22/2000 [152782] featured an interview with Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, County Supervisor and head of Metro, in which she expressed anxiety about crossing the Blue Line tracks. Among the concerns was the accident rate (as of 2000 there had been 53 deaths attributed to the Blue Line). Metro explored a proposal to rebuild the Blue Line to put it below grade. The cost for such a project once the rail line has been built was estimated at $1.6 billion—much too high to make it feasible. “… the best chance of paying for grade separations comes during construction; because once a system is built, the costs become prohibitive.” [152783]

There are key differences between the Metro Blue Line and the Expo Line. The former was built two decades ago with much different standards and long before the 2003 Metro grade-crossing policy for light-rail. The Gold Line, which opened in 2003, provides a more recent comparison. Since it has started operations, the Gold Line has only had two, nonfatal injury accidents, both caused by gross negligence and reckless behavior by a light-truck driver [152784][152785], and it maintains a higher average speed on its full route than the Blue Line. But proximity to housing and the many at-grade street crossings led to the state Public Utilities Commission restricted the speed of Gold Line trains in parts of South Pasadena and Highland Park (LA Times article dated 8/11/2007 By Rong-Gong Lin II and Jeffrey L. Rabin [152786]). The Expo Line is being built by the same CEO, Rick Thorpe, and project manager, Joel Sandberg, who built the Gold Line. Metro has also established a program of rail safety education.

Explicit rail crossings for the right-of-way segment

Metro has currently committed for grade separation (an underpass or overpass) at the following crossings in this segment: Venice Blvd, Palms/National Boulevards, Motor Ave, and Santa Monica Freeway. As noted above three of the five grade separations currently exist and need to be modernized; Palms/National, Motor, and Santa Monica Freeway. The four remaining crossings are discussed below:

Bagley Avenue: This is currently recommended to be a 55 MPH gated crossing. Since the tracks are next to a freeway overpass at this crossing, there is zero visibility coming from the freeway side of Bagley Avenue. In addition the crossing is in between two overpass inclines (National and Venice/Robertson) where the train would have little room to slow down or stop for an oncoming vehicle stuck in the gates. Therefore, this crossing might meet the criteria in the Metro grade-crossing policy for light-rail [152787].

Overland Avenue: This is currently recommended to be a 35 MPH gated crossing. The lower speed is due to the presence of a curve in the tracks.

Westwood Boulevard: This is currently recommended to be a 15 MPH gated crossing. The lower speed is due to the presence of an adjacent station.

Military Avenue: The volume of traffic on this section of Military Avenue is extremely low. It had originally been closed at the right-of-way but was opened to traffic in more recent decades. If grade separation is not possible at Military Avenue, an option would be to eliminate this crossing.

There are no other crossings in this section of the right-of-way.

Support by the board of the Palms Neighborhood Council
The right-of-way alignment passes through a large section of the very densely populated Palmsmarker [152788]. On March 7, 2007, the general assembly of the Palms Neighborhood Council [152789] passed a motion supporting the routing of Phase 2 of the Expo Line along the Exposition right-of-way. On April 4, 2007, another motion passed, stating, "We request the project to study locating a station in Palms behind the current location of the PRICE self-storage facility [152790] on National Blvd between Palms Blvd and Motor Ave. This location would serve Big Blue Bus No. 12 and Culver CityBus No. 3 [152791]."

Support by the board of the South Robertson Neighborhood Council
The Exposition right-of-way route borders densely populated South Robertson from the south [152792]. On July 11, 2007, the South Robertson Neighborhood Council [152793] passed a motion supporting the routing of Phase 2 of the Expo Line along the Exposition right-of-way.

Support by the board of the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council
On June 8, 2004, the Mar Vistamarker Neighborhood Council supporting the Expo Line built on the existing Pacific Electric Exposition railroad right-of-way. The Mar Vista Neighborhood Council on October 3, 2007, supporting the permanent elevated Venice/Robertson Boulevards Station instead of the interim Washington/National Boulevards (Wesley St) station. A similar motion was also passed by the Del Reymarker Neighborhood Council. On November 29, 2007, the Metro board ruled in favor of building the permanent Venice/Robertson Station instead of the temporary Washington/National Station [152794][152795]. The right-of-way route passes the edge of Mar Vista, while the Venice/Sepulveda route cuts directly through it.

Opposition by the board of the Cheviot Hills Homeowners' Association
Even though the Expo Line does not actually go through but only borders Cheviot Hills, which is a quiet, affluent neighborhood with an older median age, there has been a great deal of opposition by its residents ever since the early ideas of using the Expo Line for public transit.

During the initial-planning phase of Metro Rail in the 1980s, when Metro planners had advocated the Expo Line, lobbying by the Cheviot Hills Homeowners’ Association [152796] ultimately forced the abandonment of the Expo Line until its late-1990s revival. Recently there is a group of residents in Cheviot Hills and Rancho Park supporting the Exposition line going by their neighborhood [152797]. showed that now about a third of the Cheviot Hills residents preferred the Expo Line going by their neighborhood—a huge increase from less than 5% support in the past. Despite the increasing popularity of the line, the Cheviot Hills Homeowners’ Association recently chose to oppose the Expo Line [152798], in sharp contrast with the increasing support trend among the Cheviot Hills residents [152799]. In fact, to make the vote on the Expo Line seem unanimous, the homeowners’-board members in support of the line were discouraged to use their votes [152800].

Most Cheviot Hills residents who are against the Expo Line are primarily worried about their property values and not being able to preserve their neighborhood as the way it is, once the light-rail is built [152801]. They are worried about the possibility of increased high-density development in the vicinity of Cheviot Hills fueled by light-rail. There was a strong reaction from the public when a former president of the homeowners’ association was quoted saying [152802][152803], "Do you think the people who live in Cheviot Hills are going to take this bloody train. No, they are going to get in their cars. The people who are going to use this are the people who work in the hotels in Santa Monica, and they are going to come from the Hispanic areas nearer downtown. Now they take the bus."

Nevertheless, since the line already goes through similar residential sections in East Culver City and Mid-City, any preferential treatment for Cheviot Hills would have severe implications of social and racial discrimination. For this reason it is highly unlikely that the position of the Cheviot Hills Homeowners' Association board would have any effect on the determination of the route for the Expo Line. (See, e.g., the links [152804] and [152805] for information regarding the environmental justice law.) Meanwhile, the strong opposition of the Cheviot Hills Homeowners' Association board to the Expo Line was strongly criticized by the Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez in his recent article "It’s wrong to waste a right-of-way" [152806].

Home Junction (Sepulveda/Exposition) to Olympic Blvd/Exposition right-of-way

Between the Home Junction(Sepulveda/Exposition) in the Westside and the intersection of Olympic Blvd and the Exposition right-of-way in Santa Monica (near the Watergarden and Bergamot Station), the Pacific Electric Exposition right-of-way will be used.

Stations
The stations along the Exposition right-of-way include Sepulveda/Exposition Boulevards, Bundy Dr/Exposition Blvd, and 26th St/Olympic Boulevard. The Bundy Drive stop based on previous studies will be grade separated.

17th St to the Downtown Santa Monica terminus at 4th St

The Exposition right-of-way purchased by Metro ends at 17th St in Santa Monica. The line will follow the median of Colorado Ave between 17th St and 5th St in Santa Monica.

The platform for the terminal station is in the former Sears Auto lots surrounded by Colorado Ave and 4th St freeway off ramp on the north and south and 4th St and 5th St on the west and east, respectively.

Colorado Ave alignment for the Metro Expo Line in Downtown Santa Monica.


Southern Pacific sold the Pacific Electric Exposition right-of-way west of Fisher Lumber on 14th St to various entities in the 1960s. Fisher Lumber was recently purchased by City of Santa Monica for redevelopment [152807]. Therefore, the right-of-way effectively has been extended from 17th St to 14th St; although, there is a single building just west of 17th St.

This option requires reducing the traffic lanes on Colorado Ave to one lane in each direction to the west of 17th St. Moreover, City of Santa Monica is also considering turning the area between 17th St and 14th St into green space and transit-oriented development by enlarging Memorial Park and incorporating a new, mixed-use development.

The distance from 14th St to the Downtown Santa Monica terminus at 4th–5th Streets/Colorado Avenue is only 0.75 mile and there are only about half a dozen privately owned buildings in between. The acquisition of these buildings could easily be achieved, and the right-of-way could easily be extended to the Downtown Santa Monica terminus [152808]. This alignment option is desirable and would have much less impact on the automobile traffic, since the two lanes in each direction on Colorado Ave would be kept, and be faster but could be somewhat costlier than using the median of Colorado Ave or the Olympic Blvd option below.

Stations

A station at 17th St will be built for better connectivity to various parts of Santa Monica, as well as to Santa Monica Collegemarker. The proposed location for the Downtown Santa Monica terminus is just south of Colorado Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets.

On June 13, 2006, the Santa Monica City Council authorized the acquisition of land at the property of the Sears store at the southeast corner of 4th St/Colorado Ave for the Downtown Santa Monica terminus of the Expo Line. Transit-oriented development is also envisioned around this station [152809].

The process of the environmental-impact study for Phase 2 began with a brand-new draft environmental-impact study in November 2006, with Metro's award for the contract for the study.

Current status

See the construction-authority Web site for the most recent news [152810]. The latest monthly project-status update gives a comprehensive account of the current status.

Phase 1 status

The initial Expo construction started near USCmarker on May 14, 2007, with utility relocation [152811]. Heavy construction started on July 17, 2007, to build the Flower St/Exposition Blvd trench between Jefferson Blvd/Flower St and Pardee Way/Exposition Blvd.

First set of tracks laid for the Metro Expo Line.


Expo has started laying tracks as of June 28, 2008. (See the adjacent picture.)

The most complicated structure for the Expo Line, the Flower St/Exposition Blvd trench and tunnel, is immediately below the surface, with a depth of about 30 ft. Initially two shallow parallel trenches were dug, for the adjacently placed columns that formed the walls of the trench. Then approximately 3-ft-diameter holes were drilled in the trenches, and reinforced-concrete columns were cast in these holes, forming adjacently placed cast-in-drilled hole (CIDH) piles. Narrow and long strips of concrete crowns were cast over the adjacently placed piles. Once this process was completed, large precast reinforced-concrete girders were brought and placed across the piles. Wherever there is a street over the trench, the girders were adjacently placed and a concrete deck was cast over the girders and then pavement was poured over the concrete deck. Note that the steel cages and precast concrete girders were prepared at a makeshift casting yard in the right-of-way near Jefferson and La Cienega Boulevards. The next step is to excavate the earth under the girders, and then the tracks will be laid and the catenary wires will be hung. The construction for the CIDH piles took place at night and steel plates covered the trenches during the day, with minimal impact on traffic. The trench will be completed in late 2008 or early 2009.

On November 29, 2007, the Metro board ruled in favor of building the permanent Venice/Robertson Boulevards Station instead of the interim Washington/National Boulevards Station [152812][152813]. Funds are still to be identified.

On December 20, 2007, all Phase 1 railroad crossings were approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) except for the Farmdale Ave at-grade street and pedestrian crossing near the Dorsey High School and the Harvard Blvd below-grade pedestrian crossing for the Foshay Middle School [152814]. The remaining two crossings will be decided in the summer or fall of 2008.

On February 7, 2008, the board of the Expo Construction Authority unanimously voted to do an environmental-assessment study on all possible crossing alternatives, including but not limited to at-grade, above-grade, below-grade, pedestrian bridge, pedestrian underpass, street closure, or some combination, at Farmdale Ave [152815]. The study may take up to six months.

On February 13, 2008, the Expo Construction Authority requested CPUC to proceed with application process for the original Farmdale Ave gated at-grade-crossing design, in tandem with the environmental-assessment study by the authority for other alternatives.

With the CPUC approval of the Phase 1 railroad crossings, the construction in Mid-City has finally started with utility and tree relocation.

The project has now been delayed for at least fourteen months, due to the slowness of the design process, as well as unforeseen construction problems. The increase in cost so far has also been significant and the Expo construction authority is considering finding another contractor to build the rest of the line.

Expo Light Rail Line sign at Jefferson and La Cienega
The construction of the La Brea and La Cienega railroad bridges is also getting started [152816][152817].

On October 22, 2008, the Administrative Judge Kenneth L. Koss of CPUC ruled in his proposed decision that the application by Expo for an at-grade crossing at Farmdale Ave as well as a grade-separated pedestrian crossing (existing tunnel) at Harvard Ave should both be denied [152818]. He recommended that closing Farmdale Ave and building a pedestrian bridge is practicable and therefore at-grade crossing should not be built. He also ruled that the existing grade-separated crossing, a shallow pedestrian tunnel, at Harvard Ave is locked most of the day and not accessible, presents security concerns against criminal activity, and not ADA-compliant, hence should be replaced by a pedestrian bridge as well. Both decisions are pending for vote by the commissioners in late November, who could approve, reverse, or modify these rulings. Note that if the ruling stands, Expo needs to complete the environmental study on the pedestrian bridges and amend its application before it could be approved and the crossings could be built [152819][152820]. If built, the pedestrian bridges are expected to increase the cost of the project by about $18 million and Metro needs to allocate additional new funds to cover this cost. The ruling also highlighted a new criterion for practicability for grade separation, "environmental factors," which will have considerable effect on the decision of all future grade separations. According to this new criterion, grade separation would be avoided in areas where the grade-separation structure might pose environmental impacts, such as visual impacts.

On November 13, 2008, the Expo staff gave a presentation on the storage and inspection facility to the Expo board [152821]. The storage and inspection facility is in early-design and environmental stages and needs to be finished before the line could be opened to service.

The original unofficial goal set by Expo was to open the line to service on February 10, 2010. The original official goal was June 2010 or earlier.

Phase 2 status

On April 2, 2009, the Board of Directors of the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority unanimously voted with all members present [152822] to select the original Pacific Electric Santa Monica Air Line railroad right-of-way. The Venice/Sepulveda Boulevards diversion was rejected. For the final mile in Downtown Santa Monica where the existing right-of-way ends, Colorado Ave median-running was selected. The Olympic Blvd median-running for the final mile was also rejected.

The Expo construction authority held the second round of three public informational meetings in Fall 2007. These meetings were used to announce the results of the alternatives analysis, namely the selection of alternatives for further environmental study. The table below summarizes the presentation of the initial Phase 2 study [152823]. The alternatives under consideration were reduced to four: light-rail (LRT) on the right-of-way alignment and light-rail on the Venice/Sepulveda Boulevards diversion, bus rapid transit [BRT] along the right-of-way, and not building anything. Note that the FTA cost-effectiveness rating in the last column is how the project is ranked by the Federal Transit Administration for qualification for federal funds.

The Expo construction authority held the third and last round of public meetings in March-April 2008, providing information and asking for public input on the proposed grade crossings, station and parking locations, bike routes, and more [152824].

On June 9, 2008 the Expo construction authority [152825] held an additional public meeting, this time in order to announce the final staff recommendations and gather public input for at-grade operation or grade separation at the remaining crossings on the Exposition right-of-way at Overland Ave, Westwood Blvd, Barrington Ave, and Centinela Ave, as well as on Sepulveda Blvd at Charnock Rd and Exposition Blvd for the diversion option [152826].

Results of the initial Phase 2 study for the Metro Expo Line
Alternative Ridership estimate (boardings per day) Cost estimate No. of acquisitions needed Environmental impact on the nature Environmental impact on the community FTA travel-time savings over transportation-system management (hours/day) FTA cost-effectiveness rating
LRT on the right-of-way 41,400 $930,000,000–$1,050,000,000 1 Medium Low 14,400 $18–$20 (Medium)
LRT on the Venice/Sepulveda diversion 34,700 $1,240,000,000–$1,280,000,000 33–39 High High 11,300 $28–$29 (Low–medium)
The draft environmental study began with the open-comment period for Phase 2 with four public scoping meetings.

Metro [152827] is working with FTA [152828] to finish their ridership model for the Phase 2 draft environmental study. This has been delayed several months due to the complexity of the Los Angeles urban structure, public-transit system, and traffic patterns. The ridership model is a crucial part of the study for route and station selection as well as for achieving federal funding. The difficulties associated with the ridership model, traffic counts, etc. have delayed the Phase 2 draft environmental study by six months. The results of the study will now be released in the summer of 2008. This will likely move the expected completion date of Phase 2 to 2014 from 2013.

Summary of the results of the Expo Phase 2 conceptual engineering and draft environmental study and preliminary results of the final environmental study

These results are also summarized in the two meeting presentations [152829] and [152830].

Ad hoc grade separations

Since the Expo Line doesn't have the necessary right-of-way to build a true grade-separated line, achieved by land grading of the right-of-way by trenches and embankments, ad hoc grade separations are used where necessary. Such ad hoc grade separations are very costly, typically $40 million per structure, substantially more if a station is on the structure. They have 4%-grade ramps supported by retaining walls at least 700-ft-long in either direction, creating visual pollution. The noise from the trains is also enhanced by elevation and change of the grade near the top and bottom of the ramps. Additionally, such ad hoc grade separations make future alterations on the light-rail line very difficult. Nevertheless, they are necessary if indicated by the 2003 Metro grade-crossing criteria for light-rail [152831], which evaluate traffic impacts, operation efficiency, and safety. Fortunately, since the Expo Line is a former railroad right-of-way, the number of existing at-grade (land-level) crossings is very limited.

According to the results of the ongoing draft environmental-impact study, Phase 2 will be built primarily at-grade, in the same way as Phase 1, with only a few ad hoc grade separations. Below are the details [152832].

Sepulveda Blvd was already decided to be built at-grade, as well as adjacent Military Ave. Overland Ave and Westwood Blvd will also be built at-grade, with the study now having determined that the 100 year flood zone between Overland Ave and Westwood Blvd doesn't prohibit this. In this way the environmental-justice claims about Harvard Blvd/Western Ave and Farmdale Ave versus Overland Ave (Foshay School [152833] and Dorsey High School [152834] versus Overland Avenue Elementary School [152835]) have automatically been resolved.

Note that if Casden Properties, LLC, [152836] builds transit-oriented development at the location of the cement-mixing plant at Sepulveda and Exposition Boulevards following their environmental study, and if they would like to have a driveway across the tracks, this would require grade separation at Sepulveda in terms of a rail bridge and Casden Properties would have to pay for the additional cost. This option is now part of the Expo Phase 2 final environmental-impact report.

Also note that Barrington Ave will be built at-grade as well, with the study having determined that there is sufficient land to increase the number of lanes at this crossing in order to decrease the traffic counts.

While Centinela Ave was initially recommended to be at-grade, further studies showed that there was spillover on Olympic of traffic stopped at the crossing and possibly backing up on the tracks of traffic stopped at Olympic. Therefore, grade separation by means of rail bridge was later recommended here.

The proposed ad hoc grade separations are (in addition to the existing true, topological grade separations at the Palms/National Boulevards/I-10 and Motor Ave/I-10 bridges and I-10 tunnel): Pico/Sawtelle Boulevards (both streets together), Bundy Dr, Centinela Ave, and Cloverfield/Olympic Boulevards (both streets together).

Note that Bagley Ave will be left at-grade.

On the Venice/Sepulveda diversion option, there are numerous ad hoc grade separations required, increasing the cost greatly, already being higher because of the extra mile for the diversion. Given the results of the study that the diversion will also have a lower ridership (primarily due to increased trip time and also lack of connection to Westwood/Century City), it is unlikely to be adopted.

Stations

Palms Station may be built immediately west of the Palms/National bridge, possibly with parking under it. A possibility is to build it slightly further west, behind the storage facility and acquire the storage facility. This would bring the station closer to Motor Ave, as well as being closer to Palms/National, providing a convenient walking distance from both major streets.

Westwood/Century City station is being planned immediately east of Westwood, between Westwood Blvd and Overland Ave. Surface parking in the northern section of the 200-ft-wide right-of-way at this location is also being planned.

The other major station that would connect to Westwood as well as the commercial district in the eastern West Los Angeles is being planned just west of Sepulveda Blvd, in front of the cement factory, which is already sold to be a transit-oriented development site. There will also be parking at this location. Although, the station could also be built at Pico/Sawtelle Boulevards instead, which is very close to the business center immediately to the north. Also, Pico/Sawtelle Boulevards would provide better station spacing.

West Los Angeles station located at Bundy Dr (adjacent to Olympic Blvd) will be elevated with parking.

Bergamot Station, a future transit-oriented development zone, is being planned just east of 26th St.

The optional mid Santa Monica Station is now being planned at 17th St, instead of previously proposed 14th St.

Finally, the Santa Monica Station could be built just east of 2nd St on Colorado Ave, which would close the street in one direction. The other alternative is to build it on the Sears Automotive facility lot east of 4th St in a diagonal manner pointing toward Venice, for a future Green Line connection through Venice/Marina Del Rey/Inglewood.

Land use and maintenance facilities

The construction authority is currently very concerned about land acquisition because the cost of land in the Westside and especially Santa Monica is very high. But land acquisition is crucial in order to build a better line.

Possible locations for the maintenance facilities are the Albertson's shopping area in the Culver Junction, the area north of Pico/Sawtelle Boulevards, or just east of the Bergamot Station (just west of Centinela Ave).

Bicycle and pedestrian path

Bike route has been a problem. It's possible that the existing 25-ft-wide single-track I-10 tunnel will be used for double tracks, which will probably also slow the trains due to the narrowness of the tunnel. Since the bike path can't go through the tunnel, one suggestion is to route it through the restricted-use easement on the northern edge of the freeway, which has plenty of space and is well-situated for a scenic trail. But currently there is no bike bath between Palms/National Boulevards and Overland Ave, a distance of more than a mile. Also, the authority hasn't planned a bike path between Sawtelle Blvd and north of Pico Blvd, another large gap. To circumvent this the bike path could be included on the grade-separation bridge—only a thin deck, such as on the Rosecrans Ave/Aviation Blvd Green Line bridge, is needed, which has very low cost.

Optional stream daylighting

Regarding stream daylighting between Overland and Military, it seems less likely that the existing storm drains will not be modified, but water out of them could be pumped into a decorative creek if possible.

Critics focus on issues of grade separation

Safety and traffic congestion concerns regarding both Phase 1 and Phase 2 have focused on grade-separation issues. Public outcry over the at-grade crossing near Dorsey High School has delayed some decisions on Phase 1 ( LA Times article from October 21). The large volume of foot traffic after school might make this crossing dangerous even though it does not meet the Metro guidelines for grade separation. A public hearing on November 5 was heavily opposed to the current plan ( video of Fox 11 report).

See the February 14, 2008, Los Angeles CityBeat cover story, "Derailing L.A.," for the latest detailed news and information on the controversy surrounding the opposition groups and Dorsey High School issues.

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