After more than two decades in the planning, construction will begin next week on an 8.5-mile light-rail line between downtown Los Angeles and Culver City.
Transit officials and Westside residents hope that the first phase of the Metro Expo Line, set to open in summer 2010, eventually will continue west to Santa Monica.
"Any of you taking the 10 Freeway going either east or west know [building the Expo Line] is something that we've got to do," Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said during a groundbreaking ceremony Friday.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said major rail construction projects, such as the $640-million Expo Line, will improve the quality of life in the region by easing traffic congestion and bettering air quality.
"The only way we are going to be able to address gridlock is through groundbreakings like these," he said.
The Expo Line will begin underground at 7th Street, continue past Staples Center -- where it will go aboveground -- and USC, turning onto Exposition Boulevard. The train will follow the route used by Pacific Electric's Santa Monica Air Line, which transported commuters from downtown to Santa Monica from 1914 to 1953.
There will be eight stops: on 23rd Street, Jefferson Boulevard, Vermont Avenue, Western Avenue, Crenshaw Boulevard, La Brea Avenue, La Cienega Boulevard and at Washington and National boulevards. Trains will run every five to 10 minutes.
Transit officials predict that by 2020, more than 43,000 riders a day will use the rail line.
"If just 1% of the people on the Santa Monica Freeway take this line, it will be the most successful [line] in the country," said Presley Burroughs, a longtime Crenshaw-area resident who has helped build support for the transit line over the last 25 years.
But not everyone was celebrating Friday.
Hattie Babb, who has lived on Exposition Boulevard for more than two decades, stood near the festivities, holding a simple black-and-white sign that said: "Mitigate or Compensate."
"I am concerned about safety for the kids and safety for the senior citizens who walk," she said, pointing to Dorsey High School, which is near the route.
Several members of Friends4Expo, a grass-roots group dedicated to building the light-rail line, also did their bit to protest. They wore aqua shirts to the event, in a silent nod to a quashed attempt to designate this project the Aqua Line.
Los Angeles Councilman Bernard C. Parks opposed the idea, opting for a rose-colored line on maps.
After months of debate, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority declined to pick a color and named it the Expo Line.