(photo by Kevin Herrera)

DOWNTOWN — With a flourish of gold-painted shovels, a gaggle of city, county and state officials broke ground on the final stop of the Exposition Light Rail Line, which should be coming to Santa Monica in 2015.

The event marks the end of a 22-year process that required uncommon cooperation and collaboration between multiple jurisdictions to bring the rail line from its beginning in Downtown Los Angeles to its terminus 15 miles away in Santa Monica.

When complete, it should take 46 minutes to travel from Los Angeles to the city by the sea.

The first phase of the $2.4 billion project, which starts in Los Angeles and ends in Culver City, is almost online, and the Exposition Construction Authority has already begun work to prepare the path down Colorado Avenue for the second phase that will end in what is now a vacant lot at Colorado Avenue and Fourth Street.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this day,” said County Supervisor and Expo Board Chair Zev Yaroslavksy. “This groundbreaking marks the first rail transit on the Westside of Los Angeles since the Red Car was dismantled half a century ago.”

Yaroslavsky was joined by top brass from surrounding cities like Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Assemblymember Mike Feuer, who played integral roles in funding the project with the 2008 passage of a half-cent sales tax and fought for the project at the state level.

“This is really a milestone event,” said Darrell Clarke, former Santa Monica planning commissioner and leader of the pro-light rail group Friends of Expo. “A lot of good friends have been working together a long time to achieve this vision.”

The process began in 1989 with the sale of a package of right of ways by the Southern Pacific Railroad to the Los Angeles Transportation Commission, said Santa Monica City Councilmember and Expo Board member Pam O’Connor.

“It’s a rare resource, ripe for using,” O’Connor said.

It stalled in its design phases in the mid-1990s only to get steam behind it again at the end of the decade. Clarke and others worked tirelessly, promoting the light rail concept at community meetings and fomenting a “groundswell of support” that helped push the project closer to reality.

The vision seemed possible in 2008 when over two-thirds of voters passed a half cent sales tax expected to raise $40 billion over the next 30 years.

That money represents the backbone of the light rail funding, supplemented by state and federal grants.

Attendees were urged to be enthusiastic not only for the culmination of past work, but the economic benefits yet to come.

Politicians estimate that the construction will bring between 9,000 and 10,000 construction jobs to the area, breathing new life into a beleaguered industry that’s now at 13.5 percent unemployment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

They also stressed the connections that will grow between cities on the Westside which some predict will get more business from people stopping on the train rather than zipping by on the freeway.

“The freeway rent these communities asunder,” said Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom. “The light rail will help us reconnect. We will all be better off having this project.”

Santa Monica will host three of the seven stations in Phase 2. The first will be located at Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street, and become the focus of the Bergamot Transit Village mixed-use development that is making its way through the planning process.

The line then turns down Colorado Avenue with stops at 17th Street and Fourth Street.

The groundbreaking was, in some ways, a passing of the torch from those who lobbied and gathered support and the people charged with making sure the project comes to a timely conclusion.

The Expo Authority has all of the approvals it needs, and a lawsuit from a group of Cheviot Hills homeowners is the last obstacle to overcome, Clarke said.

“I’m happy to sit back and watch the construction professionals do their job,” Clarke said.

Others are less content to wait on the sidelines.

“I’m not going to relax until I’m on the train riding east,” O’Connor said.


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