In a victory for environmentalists and many traffic-weary residents, the Exposition Construction Authority board has voted to use the existing railroad right-of-way along Exposition Boulevard to extend the rail line from Culver City to Santa Monica.
Although the Thursday vote does not decide the route once and for all, it represents "a milestone" for Phase 2 of the project, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who serves on the board of both the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Expo authority.
Phase 1, the segment that will run from downtown to Culver City, is under construction but continues to generate controversy about crossings near schools and other issues.
The Exposition route, used by Pacific Electric's Red Cars to carry passengers between USC and Santa Monica until the early 1950s, has long been the preferred choice of many local residents and environmentalists who say it is the most direct, least expensive and least damaging to the environment. After reaching Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, the line would continue along Colorado Avenue to near the ocean, the board decided.
Some opponents, however, contend that the chosen route through the Westside will produce noise and pollution, worsen traffic congestion and pose dangers for schoolchildren, pedestrians and drivers at several intersections.
The Cheviot Hills Homeowners Assn., for example, had advocated sending the line along Venice and Sepulveda boulevards rather than along the edge of Cheviot Hills. The group asserted that a light rail running along those busy commercial and residential streets would attract more riders than a route through neighborhoods of single-family homes.
In rejecting that alternative, the Expo authority indicated a desire for expediency.
"This is a project that is desperately needed," Yaroslavsky said Friday. "We want to get it done as quickly as possible so we can bring relief and alternatives to gridlock to the hundreds of thousands of people who live and work in West L.A."
Karen Leonard, a Cheviot Hills resident who lobbied for the right-of-way alignment, praised the board's decision to put a station -- probably at street level -- at Westwood Boulevard. "It's the highest projected demand on the route," she said. Samantha Bricker, the Expo authority's chief operating officer, said that of the Phase 2 stations, Westwood is anticipated to have the most daily boardings: 5,200 by 2030.
Opposing an at-grade Westwood station was Terri Tippit of the West of Westwood Homeowners Assn. "The only way it's going to be right is [if some stations] are underground," she said. "You can't have at-grade at Overland, Westwood, Military, Sepulveda, Barrington and Centinela."
"If they build it, they need to build it right," she added of Phase 2. "Don't build it the fastest, cheapest way just to have it up and running."
In most cases, Bricker said, it costs less to elevate a station than to put it underground. Grade-separated crossings are planned for, among others, Olympic Boulevard; Bundy Drive at Exposition; Pico and Gateway boulevards at Exposition; and Venice Boulevard.
The Expo authority will further analyze the right-of-way alignment for a final environmental impact report, due later this year.
Many issues remain, Bricker said, including the future of a proposed Expo bike path, grade separations and the location of maintenance facilities.