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The Wheels Start Moving on Expo Line Construction  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

June 2, 2011 – So far, the Santa Monica extension of the Expo Light Rail Line project has been real in concept only, but starting this month, work crews will begin what Expo officials call “pre-construction” on and under the city's streets.

Soil sampling, surveying and exploration to identify underground utilities all need to be done before work on Phase 2 of the rail service begins, and the city is getting together with all the parties to the massive undertaking twice a week to make sure the job goes smoothly.

“We're meeting to make sure the building is done in such a way as to minimize disruption,” Assistant to the City Manager Kate Vernez told the Lookout Wednesday.

Vernez and City Engineer Lee Swain defined a few of the terms that will probably become familiar to Santa Monicans in the next few years, but may still be foreign as work gets underway.

Expo is the agency created by the state to oversee the design and construction of the train service from Los Angeles to the sea. It will be dissolved once the project is done.

LA Metro will be the owner/operator of the system once it's up and running. The contractor in charge of actually designing and building it is Skanska-Rados, along with its small army of subcontractors.

These are the players who meet with city officials Mondays and Thursdays until the work is done – in 2015 if all goes well.

The rail line is being built in what's called a “design/build” process, said Swain.

Rather than designing the entire system from soup to nuts, elements of the system are designed and built as construction proceeds, a method that Swain said will enable the project to be finished within its ambitious timetable.

Starting this month, Skanska-Rados will bring in crews to work along the Expo Rail right-of-way running along Olympic and Colorado Boulevards.

Their work is expected to continue through September, and residents can expect to see contractors hard at it from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Two to three crews will be responsible for surveying the path of the future train as they prepare the layout for construction to come.

“Potholing” – a term for exploratory excavation – will locate and identify existing underground utilities before the real digging begins.

Saws and jackhammers will be used in paved areas to remove sections of asphalt, and heavy machinery like back-hoe loaders and concrete, vacuum and dump trucks will be brought in as needed. Expo Line authorities assure the public that the work area will be watered down and the air will be monitored as these projects proceed.

After the potholing is completed this summer, designs can be drawn to rearrange and relocate utilities along the right-of-way.

That underground work is likely to take 12 months, Swain said, and then tracks can be laid. Swain and Vernez want residents and business owners to be assured that the city is planning to keep traffic flowing.

“We're going to make sure there's going to be one lane open each way and adequate notice is given to businesses and residents,” said Vernez.

As the tracks are laid, only one side of the street will be closed at a time, until the final phase in which work will be done in the middle of the street and the outer lanes will be open, Swain said.

Three stations will be built along the line. Two of these, the Bergamot station near the eastern border of the city and the station at the end of the line at Colorado Boulevard and 4th Street, can be built on-site, minimizing traffic disruptions, Vernez said. The Memorial Park station will impinge on traffic somewhat, she said.

Then all that will be needed before the trains start moving will be for Expo to test the lines, Swain said. The agency hopes to do that by mid-2014.

In addition to this summer's potholing, crews will test the soil along the right-of-way.

Soil sampling will entail hand-digging or drilling small holes into the ground and removing samples from various depths.

Workers will use a truck-mounted drill rig, said by Expo officials to make a noise like a garbage truck, but not continuous.

As with potholing, the air will be monitored, but Expo officials say this work does not produce dust. They add that the work area will be cleaned up daily.

This summer's work will lead to temporary lane closures, say Expo officials. Access to businesses located on the Expo Line right-of-way will be coordinated with business owners before work in their area begins.

Residents are urged to obey all posted construction signs and refrain from entering construction work zones.

For more information, go to the Expo Line website at or call the Expo hotline at 213-922-EXPO.


“We're meeting to make sure the building is done in such a way as to minimize disruption.” Assistant to the City Manager Kate Vernez

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