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Rail Transit for Santa Monica: Any Comments?:

Rail transit between Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles was the subject of a “scoping” open house on Tuesday, March 6, in the east meeting room of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.  Over 150 citizens browsed among large aerial photographs of the Westside, which depicted alternate alignments and station locations for Phase 2 of the Expo Line light rail system, slated to run from Culver City (the western terminus of Phase 1 now under construction) to downtown Santa Monica.

Representatives of the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority, which is building the transit line, were on hand to answer questions and listen to comments and suggestions.  (Virtually all of the Construction Authority staff are also employees of the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, better known as Metro.)  Posterboards mounted on easels, a continuously running slide show and public comment forms completed the agency’s presentation, which was one of four held on the Westside between February 27 and March 15 in advance of the April 2 cutoff date for public comment.

The “open house” format of the gathering seemed to encourage intelligent questions and thoughtful comments in one-on-one (or few-on-one) discussions between the public and staff, and it certainly minimized the potential for raucous controversy that a more traditional “town hall” format might have engendered.

The Expo Line is so named because it follows (more or less) the former Exposition Boulevard right of way on which The Los Angeles & Independence Railroad began running trains in 1875 to its Santa Monica wharf.  Later known as the Pacific Electric’s “Santa Monica Air Line,” the route carried passengers in the Red Cars until 1953; freight service ran to Fisher Lumber as late as 1987.

The alignments depicted on the aerial photographs March 6 generally followed either Olympic Boulevard or the old Exposition right of way through Santa Monica to a terminal at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue, where the City last year acquired the former Sears automotive location on the southeast corner.  Other stations under consideration are near 14th Street and Colorado, Olympic and Cloverfield Boulevard, Exposition and Bundy Drive, Exposition and the San Diego Freeway and Exposition and Overland Avenue.

A substantial controversy has arisen as to whether the route should follow the Exposition right of way from Culver City through Palms and Cheviot Hills or take a longer (and therefore slower and more expensive) route on more densely populated Venice and Sepulveda boulevards as proposed by some Cheviot Hills residents. (See the optional alignments shown in the map above.)

Phase 1 of the Expo Line, which runs from downtown Los Angeles south to the USC campus and then west generally along Exposition, is fully funded and began construction in September 2006; it is expected to begin operations to Venice and Robertson boulevards in Culver City by June 2010.  Phase 2 to Santa Monica, which has yet to be funded, is now in the planning and comment stage; operational projections vary from 2013 to 2015.

The Construction Authority is accepting written comments from the public until April 2, 2007.  Another comment period will follow the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Report, probably during winter (i.e., January, February) 2008.  Written comments should now be addressed to: Mr. Joel Sandberg, P.E., Project Manager, Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority, 707 Wilshire Boulevard, 34th floor, Los Angeles, CA 90017; jsandberg@exporail.net.

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