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(photo by Byron Kennerly)

DOWNTOWN — When it comes to routing the Exposition Light Rail from Culver City to Santa Monica, utilizing the old right-of-way could be the right way to go.

Such was the conclusion of a draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) that was recently released for the second phase of the light rail project, finding that routing the train on the existing right-of-way, which is property designated for transportation use, would be the path of least resistance.

The study, which will be presented during a public meeting at Santa Monica High School on Feb. 18, examined four different alignment alternatives, including two that would travel along the Metropolitan Transportation Authority-owned right-of-way, which hits various Los Angeles streets, before branching off to either Colorado Avenue or Olympic Boulevard, taking it to the terminal at Fourth Street and Colorado in Santa Monica. The other two options would divert from the right-of-way and take Venice Boulevard to Sepulveda Boulevard before traveling down either Colorado or Olympic.

The Exposition Construction Authority is in the process of constructing the first phase of the project, which will take the light rail from Downtown Los Angeles to Culver City, costing approximately $868 million. The second phase, which would bring the light rail to Downtown Santa Monica and help relieve Westside congestion, is estimated to be completed in 2015 and cost anywhere from $932 million to $1.4 billion, depending on the alternative.

The DEIR has been in the works for several years.

“We’re excited it’s reached this milestone,” Darrell Clarke, the co-chair of Friends 4 Expo Transit, said. “It’s a long time coming.”

The Friends 4 Expo Transit has yet to take a position on the EIR results.

Both alternatives that would opt for the right-of-way were found to have fewer impacts and present greater opportunities to reduce regional vehicle miles traveled while the Venice and Sepulveda alignments would pose problems that could not be mitigated, the study said.

The Olympic Boulevard alignment is expected to see opposition from environmentalists who have expressed concerns about the proposed removal of coral trees along the median.

The Santa Monica Treesavers, which rallied against the plan to remove ficus trees in Downtown, is planning to meet with Expo authorities next Monday.

“From my point of view, it seems like it would serve the community better by being routed on Colorado,” Jerry Rubin, the co-founder of Treesavers, said. “I hope … they pay attention to the needs of the tree-loving and environment-loving community in Santa Monica.”

But businesses and property owners along Colorado have equally been vocal in their opposition to an alignment on their street, believing it would lead to traffic impacts and loss of parking spaces. Residents who live off of Colorado have also expressed similar concerns, pointing out that a light rail could affect the quality of life in the neighborhood because of noise.

The study also found that the two Venice/Sepulveda alignments would have both a bigger construction and traffic impact than the right-of-way alternatives. The DEIR also concluded that the Colorado options would pose a great impact to air quality.

One popular topic missing from the study is the construction of a bikeway and how it would fit in with the light rail project. The issue was left out of the report because MTA officials are no longer using federal funding for the project, instead looking to the recently passed sales tax measure that will be used to pay for public transportation purposes. Measure R, which passed in November, raised the sales tax to 8.75 percent in Los Angeles County, allowing the MTA to bring in $40 billion over the next 30 years.

The proposed bikeway on the other hand would be federally funded, requiring a different review process under the National Environmental Policy Act, according to Kent Strumpell, who serves on the board of directors for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. The NEPA study would be conducted by the different cities where the bikeway would exist, he said.

A bikeway covers a number of different categories, including bike lanes, paths and routes in which there is no lane designation.

“We really need Expo to make a commitment … that they are going to be planning on integrating the bikeway so it’s happening as efficiently and timely as possible,” Strumpell said.

melodyh@smdp.com