Expo Line light rail operator Sheila Celestain, 55, guides the lead car… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
After numerous delays and cost increases, Los Angeles County transportation officials Friday said the first segment of the long-awaited Expo Line will finally open to the public April 28.
The light-rail line will carry commuters 7.9 miles between downtown Los Angeles and the eastern edge of Culver City in about half an hour.
"Some of us didn't think we'd live long enough to see this day, but we made it," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who is also a Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member. "This is a milestone."
Officials struggled for several months to set an opening date because of various problems uncovered during testing. Those included technical issues where the Expo Line shares tracks with the Blue Line, which runs between Long Beach and downtown L.A.
Rail operators receive signals from the track, but at the junction between the two lines at least one of those signals was not going through. Officials said Friday the problems had been fixed, the line would be safe and the California Public Utilities Commission had cleared it to open in late April.
The entire first phase of the line was supposed to open another 0.7 miles west into Culver City, but officials said that station wouldn't be ready for service until some time this summer.
Officials expect the first segment to carry some 27,000 passengers a day.
Construction has already begun on the second phase of the line, which extends the route several miles west. When both phases are complete — the second is estimated to be finished in 2015 — the Expo Line promises to take passengers from downtown L.A. to Santa Monica in 46 minutes, with 19 stops.
It will be the first light-rail line into the traffic-choked Westside since the days of the Red Car trolleys, and when complete, officials expect it to be one of the mostly heavily used in the country.
"The opening of Expo Line Phase I is a critical step toward creating the multifaceted transit network that Angelenos deserve," Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa said during a preview ride for the news media.
"It's the first phase of a line that will ultimately connect downtown to the ocean," Villaraigosa said. "Not in 50 years have we had a line into the Westside."
The delays in the first phase were somewhat typical of a line that has had problems throughout much of its construction. The first phase, initially slated to open summer of 2009, originally carried what was considered a cheap price tag of $640 million. But the cost grew to more than $930 million.
Some officials attributed the delays and increases to design enhancements, safety concerns and higher construction prices. Others said there was initially confusion about funding sources and a disjointed process of construction, design and other contracts.