A work crew was excavating a portion of Colorado Avenue on Tuesday in advance of the closure of the eastbound side of the street between Fourth and Fifth streets. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

A work crew was excavating a portion of Colorado Avenue on Tuesday in advance of the closure of the eastbound side of the street between Fourth and Fifth streets. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

DOWNTOWN —  Drivers accustomed to turning right on Colorado Avenue off Fourth Street will come back from Presidents’ Day weekend with a slightly different commute on their hands.

The eastbound section of Colorado Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets will shut down permanently on Monday evening to make room for the construction of the final station on the Exposition Light Rail line located at the former Sears Automotive lot at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue.

That will mark the end of the 15-mile light rail line that officials say will give passengers access to a predictably 46-minute commute from Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles, a dream to those who spend hours each morning in heavy peak-hour traffic.

Construction is expected to be completed by 2015, and passengers will be able to officially get on board the train at the end of a minimum six-month testing period in which the Exposition Construction Authority will test the line and create a schedule, said Gabriela Collins, a spokesperson with the authority.

“So far, things are looking good,” Collins said.

An estimated 64,000 passengers a day are expected to use the train by 2030.

City officials don’t seem concerned about the potential traffic impacts of the Colorado closure.

Not many people turn right on Colorado from Fourth Street, said traffic engineer Sam Morrissey, although anyone whose regular commute includes Colorado will notice the change.

“There will be barricades in place and machines tearing up the road,” he said.

Broadway, Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue are expected to take on the additional traffic, Morrissey said, and city officials are working with the contractor to create signs that direct people away from the Fourth Street exit.

“We worked hard with Expo and their contractors to get the message out,” Morrissey said. “It’s a big change at the focal point, the entry to Downtown. We want people to be aware and know that what’s coming is going to be great.”

Brought it upon themselves

Closing down the traffic lane was not in the original plans for the station as designed by the Exposition Construction Authority.

Santa Monica officials negotiated for and spent $8.9 million to change the orientation of the final stop to improve access to pedestrians and prevent trains from slowing as they arrived at the final stop, said Kate Vernez, the deputy city manager for special projects.

It also frees up room for private development at the site, although what that will be  — housing or retail — is unclear at this point.

“The station is so much more improved from a functional point of view, and it further increases the value of the land and makes it that much more attractive in terms of the city’s bargaining positions (with developers),” Vernez said.

Within a few years, going east anywhere on Colorado Avenue between Fifth Street and Ocean Avenue will be a thing of the past.

City officials plan to begin work on the Colorado Esplanade project, which is slated to begin this year.

The Colorado Esplanade is a promenade meant to connect the Exposition Light Rail station to Ocean Avenue, the Santa Monica Pier and the new park in front of City Hall recently named Tongva Park.

It will expand the bicycle lanes and create a sidewalk that measures a minimum of 40 feet wide. To make room for all of the extra bike and walking facilities, Colorado Avenue will close is eastbound lane the rest of the way to Ocean Avenue.

The eastbound lane will stay open while the esplanade is being built, Morrissey said.

Construction crews will be a regular sight on the western end of Colorado Avenue, much of it coming from the Exposition Construction Authority itself.

Although construction began in 2012, much of the focus was relocating utilities like sewer lines and building the early stages of the bridge at Olympic and Cloverfield boulevards, Collins said.

That’s largely prep work. The real changes will begin in 2013, including demolition work at Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street and the station being built at Colorado Avenue.

ashley@smdp.com

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