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Council Gets Expo Line Rolling  

As of September 1, 2011, ALL 1,875 retail establishments are prohibited from providing light-weight, single-use plastic carryout bags to customers at the point of sale. MORE

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

September 15, 2011 -- A day after the Expo light rail groundbreaking in downtown Santa Monica, the City Council got down to the project's nuts and bolts.

The council gave city staff the direction they need to get the project up and running in cooperation with the Expo Metro Line Authority, while negotiating for the kinds of design and construction details they say the people of Santa Monica want.

“We have been striving for decades to move this project forward and it is simply amazing to be at this point,” said Mayor Richard Bloom. “We really can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I'm very confident...that we're going to keep this project on schedule, finish it on or under budget and we'll be riding the rail to Los Angeles by 2015,” said Bloom.

When finished, the Expo tracks will run 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica in 46 minutes.

The line is expected to attract some 64,000 riders, and Phase Two – the leg of the line from that will pass through Santa Monica – is budgeted at $1.5 billion. It's scheduled to be completed in late 2015.

The terminal at 4th Street and Colorado Avenue was universally praised. The design marked the end product of months of negotiation, as city staff thought that the original design would have clogged up traffic at 4th and 5th streets. The station also took up the entire former Sears automotive center lot.

The new design features double platforms and the trains enter on a straighter path that doesn't tie up as much street space. It also leaves the southern end of the lot open for development, something the council and city staff were quite pleased about.

The original design was “an 800 pound gorilla,” said Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis. “You and our staff have come up with an elegant solution,” she said, addressing CEO of the Expo Authority Rick Thorpe.

But now that the plans are moving from the conceptual phase to something more concrete, the council's concerns became more specific.

“I anticipate there will great interest [from the community] once they start to hear jackhammers,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. He wanted to know what kind of community outreach Expo was prepared to do.

They plan to have quarterly meetings with the whole community, said Thorpe, and will meet more frequently with every property owner on the line as soon as construction starts.

Businesses and homeowners will also be given a number for an “outreach coordinator” they can call.

“If a subcontractor dumps a pile of dirt on their driveway, they can call up and will have an immediate response,” said Thorpe.

The council was so concerned about the impact on the streetscape as the train travels along Colorado Boulevard that they added an amendment to the city's agreement with the Expo Authority to make the street as “pedestrian and fellow-vehicle friendly as possible.”

This was after Thorpe had explained that pedestrians would only be able to cross the street every three blocks, and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) would likely require fencing along the Colorado portion of the tracks.

“I think that there are some things that we can do that don't require the kind of fencing that would change the nature of the street,” said McKeown, who showed a series of slides of cities – mostly in Europe – which didn't fence off their train tracks.

“People just get out of the way and there doesn't seem to be the need to separate pedestrians and other vehicles from rail that's running on a street any more than we separate them normally,” he said.

But Thorpe reminded the council that there's a difference between trains and streetcars.

“The distinguishing aspect is really the speed of the light rail,” he said. “We're talking about trying to get from Santa Monica to Los Angeles in 46 minutes.” All the same, he said Expo was willing to be flexible within the constraints laid down by the PUC.

As detailed maps were projected, Davis wanted to know just how far the train route will be above ground as it goes from Bergamot Station to Colorado Boulevard and what will be done about the noise the elevated train will generate.

She was told by Expo staff that it will rise on a grade starting at 26th street and will be totally elevated as it crosses Cloverfield and Olympic boulevards. Expo is conducting noise studies and may add noise barriers.

Three tracks will pass by Stewart Street, one going into a nearby Maintenance Yard, and McKeown and Davis were both concerned by the effect that many tracks will have on the area's traffic.

The third track that goes into the yard will only be used “occasionally,” said Thorpe. As for the other tracks, they'll carry trains that will stop traffic for a shorter period of time than a regular traffic light would, he said.

The Council received the Expo Light Rail design plans and approved the Master Cooperative Agreement with the Expo Metro Line Authority unanimously. Councilmember Bobby Shriver was absent.

The meeting was later adjourned in the memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, particularly Santa Monica residents Dora Menchaca and Carolyn Ann Mayer-Beug and the manager of the Wilshire Boulevard Gap store Ronald Gamboa, his life partner Daniel Brandhorst and their three-year-old son David Gamboa Brandhorst.

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