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|Expo Rail Builders Listen to Santa Monica at Design Kick Off|
By Gene Williams
May 11, 2011 -- As construction on the second link of the Expo Line between Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica is set to begin, a crowd of more than 200 gathered at the Civic Auditorium to review plans and meet the project’s contractors.
Called a “Design Kick-Off Meeting” by Expo officials, the purpose of the event was to share information and collect public comment as the light railway enters the design-build stages.
While it is too early to tell what, if any, consensus or themes emerged during public comment, Expo officials called the evening a success.
“I would say I heard enormous support for the project,” Mike Aparicio, project manager for Skanska/Rados, the joint venture team of contractors that will build the light rail system, told the Lookout.
“I heard a lot of concerns about traffic during construction and the need to partner with the City to mitigate traffic impacts,” Aparicio said.
“But what really strikes me is the appetite from the community to participate in the design process whenever they can,” he said.
Dozens of present and former City officials and community leaders attended the meeting, which at times seemed more like a large family reunion than a discussion of heavy infrastructure.
But while the mood was generally upbeat, at least a few participants objected to what was presented that night.
Talking with a Skanska/Rados contractor, Howard Robinson, a local land-use consultant, questioned the wisdom behind designs for the Expo Station at 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard.
Although Expo will stop directly across the street from the Bergamot Arts Center, riders exiting the train will have to walk some distance down Olympic Boulevard and enter the facility at 26th Street, Robinson said.
That doesn’t make sense, he said, adding that Bergamot Arts Center gets 800,000 visitors each year.
Robinson, who said he represents the Bergamot businesses, suggested that the station be redesigned to include platforms on both sides of the track for more direct access to the Bergamot Arts Center.
Although the contractor Robinson was speaking with didn’t rule out the idea, he said making the change could cost “millions.”
Darrel Clarke, a former planning commissioner and a supporter of Expo since 1989, confirmed that there is concern about how well the 26th Street station will connect with surrounding facilities.
People in Santa Monica are “interested in the (Expo) line interfacing with the community,” Clarke told the Lookout.
The 26th Street station “doesn’t do that,” Clarke said, adding that Expo might agree to change its plans but would probably expect the City to pick up the extra cost.
It seems likely that City Hall might support a redesign of the 26th Street station.
The Bergamot Transit Village – a nearly one-million square-foot mixed-use development – is slated to be built on the opposite side of Olympic Boulevard, directly across the street from the arts center.
In keeping with the City’s 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update, City planners and community members have repeatedly called for making the area a “walkable,” “connected,” and “pedestrian friendly” urban neighborhood.
Another feature of Expo’s plans that has raised controversy, a maintenance facility near Stewart Street, will be discussed at a later meeting.
Residents of the mostly working-class neighborhood near the city’s eastern border have long opposed having the maintenance yard in their neighborhood and fought to have it moved elsewhere.
A separate contractor, Maintenance Design Group, is being brought on board to handle that part of the project, and a separate meeting with neighbors will be scheduled soon, Expo officials said.
Unlike recent City-run public meetings on construction projects, Monday’s meeting presented by Expo officials did not conclude with a summary or analysis of public comment gathered that evening.
Instead, the participants listened to a 30 minute presentation by Expo officials and were then invited to look at drawings and talk informally one-on-one with Skanska/Rados contractors for an hour until the meeting dissolved.
Participants were also invited to submit written comments.
Expo officials said they will review the community input and present their findings at meetings later this spring.
In addition, Expo officials said they have already collected 9,000 comments from stakeholders and have completed a 15,000 page Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Phase 1 of the Expo Line linking Downtown Los Angeles with Culver City is nearly complete and should open in 2012.
Phase 2, which will take the train the rest of the way to Santa Monica, is expected to be completed in 2015. The project is estimated will cost $1.5 billion.
A second public meeting on Phase 2 will be held Wednesday, May 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Vista Del Mar Family Services campus on Motor Avenue in Los Angeles.
“What really strikes me is the appetite from the community to participate in the design process whenever they can.” Mike Aparicio
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