Despite years of future construction on the schedule, City Hall thinks conditions in Downtown Santa Monica are poised to improve with the pending completion of several large projects.
City Manager Rick Cole used his regular report to City Council last week to provide updates on Downtown construction projects. While many of the currently under construction projects will be finished soon, others are scheduled for as far out as 2019.
“The community of Santa Monica has put up with a tremendous amount of construction,” he said.
Cole said the mix of city, federal and private projects are all on parallel tracks with most of the large projects scheduled for completion in the next year or so. He said the city has done everything it could to minimize the impact of the work but said some problems were inevitable.
“It’s been a headache, no question about it,” he said. “Not the nightmare that many people expected and predicted, but it has been very discouraging for people that wanted to visit their downtown and found that sometimes they had to put up with some construction delays.”
Two transit projects are responsible for much of the currently visible construction: the Expo light rail and the Incline replacement.
Director of Public Works, Martin Pastucha said the Incline project is about 90 percent complete at this point, with a targeted opening before the July 4 weekend. The Incline, connecting the Pacific Coast Highway to Ocean Ave., is being rebuilt to meet seismic standards with wider bicycle and pedestrian access. The project is a partnership between local, state and federal agencies. The project timeline was extended slightly last year to allow for construction of a new pedestrian bridge over a portion of the bridge.
Expo projects include construction of the actual line, stations, the Esplanade project along Colorado Ave. and a shuttle/pick up lot.
The Expo tracks are finished. Crews have been installing a fence along the centerline of the tracks to discourage pedestrians crossing mid-block and that work is almost finished. Minor work continues at the stations, but the majority of the heavy work is done. Crews are still working on a kiss and ride lot adjacent to the Downtown station. That facility will allow private shuttles and cars to pickup/drop off Expo riders. Pastucha said there are some small delays related to electrical and irrigation work but the project is still expected to finish by Expo’s May 20 opening.
Two projects are currently underway on Colorado between 5th and the Pier. The first is the Colorado Esplanade that will create a new pedestrian connection between the train and Pier. Crews have widened the sidewalk, converted Colorado to one way between 4th and Ocean, installed new drain systems, repositioned underground utilities and altered the flow of traffic onto the street. Pastucha said work remaining includes planting of 37 additional trees and new streetlights. Several so-called “scramble” crossings are scheduled for intersections along the Esplanade.
Separate from, but very similar to, the Esplanade are improvements to 4th Street. Crews are widening the sidewalks and installing new lights with the goal of finishing by Labor Day.
Several projects have been finished or are scheduled for the Downtown Parking Lots.
Bridging the Expo and Parking lot projects is the rebuilding of Parking Lot 5 to include a rehabbed Big Blue Bus transit center. That facility will house public restrooms, the BBB transit hub and a small retail space. Construction is scheduled to begin in March of 2017 and run through September of that year.
Elevators have been rebuilt in several parking structures. Pastucha said eight of nine elevators are back in service with the last scheduled to return in April. The elevators were 50-60 years old and, while functional, they were in need of upgrades including expansion to allow for medical equipment to fit inside.
Many of the structures are being evaluated for future maintenance. Construction will start in Parking Structure 1 next year to fix structural problems but Pastucha said any work will be done with as little disruption as possible to users.
Miscellaneous work Downtown includes replacing traffic bollards on Santa Monica Blvd. and Broadway. Staff is also installing some new bicycle friendly technology such as bike boxes painted into streets, new bike racks and “loop detectors” or video cameras that will allow bicycles to trigger streetlights. Landscape work continues at Palisades Park including replacement of turf near the entrance to the pier.
The pier bridge itself is scheduled for replacement but Pastucha said that work wouldn’t begin until 2019.
Private construction in the area includes two hotels at the corner of 5th and Colorado. A Hampton Inn and Courtyard by Marriott are scheduled for completion in the summer or fall of this year.
Cole reiterated that residents should see some improvement in the coming months.
“The huge projects, the impactful project, the ones that have put up k-rails and disrupted traffic are going to be coming down this summer … These are big steps forward for mobility in our community and again, we really appreciate all the cooperation by merchants, residents and by visitors,” he said.