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Light Rail Moves Closer to Santa Monica

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

July 1 -- There may soon be light at the end of the tunnel for the construction of a light rail on the Westside that has been on the drawing board for two decades, but the trains are still one stop short of Santa Monica.

A recent about-face by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that restored $1.3 billion in Proposition 42 gas tax funds for transportation projects statewide will help build a $640 million exposition line from Downtown to Culver City.

Though there is not enough money to extend the line to Santa Monica, Mayor Pam O'Connor, a member of Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, said the restored funding for the 9.6-mile phase I of the project is a step forward to make Phase II, reaching the beach, a reality.

"Let's get it built as far West as we can," said O'Connor. "Getting it built station by station Westward will increase pressure to bring it all the way out to Santa Monica and the ocean.

"The issue, though, as always is finding enough funding to build and operate lines," O'Connor said.

Phase II -- a 7-mile stretch from Culver City to Santa Monica -- is expected to cost between $450 and $500 million according to Kate Vernez, assistant to the Santa Monica city manager for governmental relations, who has followed the project for the City.

The return last month of Proposition 42 monies -- which were approved in 2001 by state voters to fund a variety of maintenance and public transportation projects throughout California -- is only being guaranteed by the governor for the fiscal year the begins July 1, Vernez said.

"We want prop 42 money to be restored for several years, not just this one," she said, adding that doing so would increase the likelihood of the State helping fund the Santa Monica extension.

In addition, a bill supported by Representative Henry Waxman (CA-D) that may come up for a vote this summer in Washington would designate Santa Monica as the end of the line for the Countywide light rail, a move that could mean increased federal funding as well for Phase II, Vernez said.

In the meantime, the group responsible for planning construction of Phase I, the Construction Authority Board, is scheduled to convene for the first time on July 14.

While Transit officials estimate they can complete the Culver City extension by 2010, a date has not been determined for the second leg.

"I haven't heard anyone say that they are not going to extend it out to Santa Monica," said O'Connor. "We have always been pushing for that funding, but that's not a reality yet."

When completed, MTA officials estimate the rail line could be one of the most heavily traveled in the United States, with nearly 72,000 passengers a day.

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