A hearing officer for the California Public Utilities Commission moved the Expo light-rail project closer to completion Wednesday by tentatively approving construction of a controversial street-level crossing next to Dorsey High School.
The proposed decision by Administrative Law Judge Maribeth A. Bushey supports a revised plan for a station, speed restrictions for Expo trains, motor vehicle gates and other safety improvements for a rail crossing at Farmdale Avenue and Exposition Boulevard in central Los Angeles.
"The now-proposed Farmdale station addresses directly the greatest risk for pedestrians — trains moving through the crossing at top speed — by mandating that each train come to a complete stop at the station and then proceed through the intersection," Bushey wrote.
Her decision, however, must still go before the state commission, which has the power to adopt the ruling, modify it or come up with its own crossing plan. It will be at least a month before the matter is considered, officials said. The commission will accept public comment on the proposed decision until July 13.
The plan to lay track at street level by Dorsey has been opposed by some neighborhood associations, students, teachers, Dorsey alumni and community activists who have fought for almost four years to change the project's design.
Unless the rails are elevated or put below ground like other sections of the project, they say, the line will create an unacceptable risk for pedestrians and motorists, especially when students head to class in the morning and leave campus in the afternoon. The school has about 1,600 students.
"It is clear that the commission has pulled out its rubber stamp and doesn't care about the safety of Dorsey High School students," said Damien Goodmon, a community activist who chairs the Fix Expo Campaign, a coalition of community organizations, Dorsey alumni and civil rights groups.
After the commission rejected an initial design for the crossing in 2009, Expo officials added more safety measures to the plan. The package now includes traffic signals, warning signs, the latest vehicle and pedestrian gates, a pedestrian holding area and two station platforms, which will require trains traveling in both directions to stop before reaching the intersection.
In addition, Expo officials say trains will not enter the intersection unless it is clear, and the line will have an automated system to prevent trains from going faster than 15 mph across Farmdale.
Estimated to cost $900 million, the Expo Line will run 8.6 miles from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City via Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard — a 30-minute trip one way. Construction is scheduled to be completed next year. Extensions of the line are planned in the future.