Los Angeles County is poised to finally have a mass transit line to the sea. The Metro Exposition Light-Rail Transit Line (Expo Line) Phase I, running from the Seventh Street Station in downtown Los Angeles to Culver City, is slated to open in summer 2011 at a cost of close to $900 million. The 8.6-mile (13.8-km) line will run along the Exposition railroad right-of-way and share a track and two stations with the Metro Blue Line. Nine new stations in Phase I will offer potential transit-oriented development (TOD) opportunities. The final environmental impact report (FEIR) for Expo Line Phase II was certified this past February. Phase II, estimated to cost $1.5 billion, is expected to open in 2015, running from Culver City to Santa Monica, creating the light rail line to the sea.

The urban design vision for the “transit parkway” is being implemented with a focus on five major areas; landscaping and station design; station area plan; vertical elements; station canopy design; and public art. The multimodal transit parkway will combine the light-rail line, bikeway facilities, pedestrian linkages, landscape design, station architecture, public art, and related system facilities into a seamless, integrated project. The central aesthetic theme of the project is to weave a transit parkway through the existing urban fabric, allowing communities to come together, integrating neighborhoods, and enabling the transit system to become a source of civic pride.

Challenges remain in the effort to complete construction of the Expo Line Phase I, which parallels the congested Interstate 10; estimated travel time from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City is expected to be less than 30 minutes, with a projected daily ridership of 27,000 by 2020.

One of those challenges was cleared at the end of July when the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ruled that a tenth station, the Farmdale Station, would be built adjacent ot Susan Miller Dorsey High School in south Los Angeles, at an estimated cost of $15 million. Alternatives rejected were to tunnel underground, at a cost of about $100 million, or elevate the line, at a cost of about $30 million. To address objections based on public safety concerns, CPUC said extensive safety enhancements will be placed at the at-grade pedestrian and vehicle crossings, and automatic controls will limit the trains to 15 miles per hour (24 kmph) in the crossing. The delay was costing the Exposition Construction Authority nearly $1 million per month.

With certification of the Expo Line Phase II FEIR, preliminary design and engineering work has begun, with construction slated to start late this year. The Expo Line Phase II is expected to attract about 64,000 riders per day. With the ability to carry riders between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica in less than 50 minutes, the Expo Line stands to improve transportation mobility along the corridor, provide an alternative to the congested I-10 and east-west arterials, increase the capacity of the transportation system in Los Angeles County, and provide enhanced access to employment and activity centers along the corridor. A remaining challenge of Phase II is a potential lawsuit over the FEIR.

There will be nine or ten stations upon completion of Expo Line Phase I, and Phase II will add another seven, providing considerable opportunities for TOD. The success of a TOD project near a particular station is often a function of location, but having a well-organized station area task force (SATF) is also key. (“Boston’s Parcel to Parcel Linkage Plan,” September 2005 Urban Land, describes a TOD project and the critical role of a committed SATF; “Hollywood’s Time to Shrine.” October 2005, describes three successful TOD projects in that neighborhood.)

In terms of TOD innovation, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority and the West Angeles Church of God in Christ are discussing development of a park-and-ride parking structure to serve both Expo Line ridership at the Crenshaw Station, adjacent to the 5,000-seat West Angeles Cathedral in south Los Angeles, and the church congregation. If approved this agreement will represent a groundbreaking arrangement between a public entity and a private, faith-based organization.

The TOD discussion is anchored around plans for the seven-acre (2.8 ha) West Angeles Cathedral campus, which may include air rights over the Crenshaw Station. With the opening of the east-west Expo Line and the Measure R-supported north-south Crenshaw/Prairie Line, the Crenshaw Station stands to provide a leading TOD opportunity in south Los Angeles. Measures R’s sales tax support of mass transit has led to innovative 30/10 financing proposal to accelerate completion of California rail projects, now being negotiated between local and federal officials.

These challenges and opportunities point up the interest being generated in south Los Angeles and throughout Los Angeles County as the region matures in building out a viable mass transit system with bus, subway and light-rail alternatives to the automobile. The challenges also point up the difficulties attendant in building subway and light-rail lines in urban centers.