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Expo Line Moves Closer to Santa Monica with Weekend Opening  


By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 1, 2012 -- The first phase of the Expo Light Rail line, which will eventually stretch from the heart of Los Angeles to Downtown Santa Monica, carried its first passengers this weekend.

Over the course of Saturday's grand opening ceremonies, more than 45,000 people boarded the trains as they rumbled for the first time with passengers from Seventh Street and Figueroa Avenue, near the Staples Center, to La Cienega Boulevard at the foot of the Baldwin Hills.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm,” said Metro Spokesperson Helen Ortiz-Gilstrap. “I overheard people talking about how this will change their commuting habits.”

The train will make it easier for residents to come to downtown (LA) for sporting events and concerts without the trouble of driving their cars and finding (not to mention paying for) parking, Ortiz-Gilstrap said.

Once the line reaches its final destination in Downtown Santa Monica by 2016, as many as 400 passengers are expected to get on and off the train every five minutes during peak at the station on Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue.

Phase I runs 8.6 miles and cost approximately $932 million, Expo officials said. Phase II will add another 6.6 miles to the line and cost approximately $1.5 billion.

Saturday's festivities looked less like a commute and more like an extended block party, Ortiz-Gilstrap said, with community events, food trucks, and other activities at four of the 10 new stations interspersed over the nine miles of track.

The excitement continued into Sunday when each train was packed full of sightseers who rode back and forth on L.A.'s newest light rail.

Little children pointed to the rose gardens as the train passed Exposition Park, while young girls loudly gossiped about their weekend.

A group of old women reminisced together, in accented English interspersed with Spanish, about how much the neighborhood had changed in the many years they had lived here as the conductor announced Crenshaw Boulevard would be the next stop.

Twenty years ago to the day – on April 29 – Crenshaw and Exposition was about to be engulfed in the fiery chaos of the Los Angeles riots.

Those days were a distant memory for most as the train passed through neighborhoods drenched in the calming warmth of the Sunday sun.

Less than 40 minutes after the train departed Downtown Los Angeles, it reached the stop at La Cienega and Jefferson – the final stop, for now.

The platform, some 40 above the street, overlooks La Cienega Boulevard as it winds to the south and disappears into the Baldwin Hills.

Culver City is the actual final destination of Expo Phase I, but the station isn't yet complete, Metro officials said.

Ortiz-Gilstrap said that Metro is expecting to open that station – at Robertson Boulevard – sometime in June.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials told The Lookout that the project has had to deal with several setbacks, specifically in the Downtown Los Angeles area, where the tracks cross the Blue Line running from Long Beach to Los Angeles.

Phase I was originally scheduled to be opened in November 2011, but due to some technical problems, was pushed back until April.

However, according to Metro officials, Phase II is “completely independent” and therefore, the set-backs with Phase I don't affect Phase II.

At the moment, crews are busy at work, preparing Santa Monica for the coming construction.

Construction crews have already begun relocating an existing sanitary sewer line currently located under Colorado Avenue between 17th Court and 14th Court, according to Santa Monica City officials.

They are excavating approximately 1,200 linear feet along the parking lane on the south side of the Colorado Avenue and some areas of the sidewalk to install new manholes and pipes, officials said.

There is still plenty of work to be done before the new Expo line reaches its ultimate destination. But, as the train chugged down Exposition Boulevard, outpacing the many cars crawling along the I-10 freeway in bumper-to-bumper traffic, many considered it well worth the effort.


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