"My God, it’s here – finally!" Culver City Mayor Micheal O’Leary declared Monday morning, moments before wielding a gold-colored shovel to break ground for Phase 2 of the Expo Line, which will extend the light rail line from Culver City to Santa Monica.
"The train is on the way," O’Leary said, even while acknowledging that it will be 2015 before the rails reach Santa Monica, where they will terminate at 4th and Colorado avenues.
Monday's groundbreaking marked a significant moment in the history of the Expo Line, which promises an easy ride from downtown Los Angeles to the beach and relief for motorists.
O’Leary said he’s "sick and tired" of asking relatives to visit Los Angeles only to have them say, 'Oh, I don’t want to go to Los Angeles. You can’t get around.'
"And they’re right," O’Leary said. "There is no public transportation." He quickly added: "Sorry, MTA."
O’Leary predicted the not-quite-ready Phase 1, from downtown to Culver City, will open in March 2012, although Expo officials say they can’t guarantee that. Work continues on train control issues where the Expo Line meets the Blue Line, which runs from downtown to Long Beach.
The Los Angeles area freeway system has "rent asunder" communities on the Westside and isolated them from one another, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom said at Monday's ceremony. As O’Leary acknowledged, Santa Monica is a destination city. Bloom joined his fellow mayor in predicting that light rail would be a unifying influence, as Westside residents rediscovered their neighboring cities instead of bypassing them.
Other officials at the groundbreaking repeated the theme that the system could become the most heavily used light rail branch in Los Angeles, serving commuters, tourists and beach-goers seven days a week.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky who chairs the Expo Authority Board, said building the Culver City-Santa Monica segment should put about 9,000 people to work almost immediately.
"The recovery of this economy starts with the construction industry," Yaroslavsky said. "The solution to the national economy starts rights here in L.A. County. California is 22 percent of the national economy; we’re about one-third of California’s economy."
However, building on Phase 1 began in 2006 and still isn't completed. Costs have also skyrocketed for Phase 1 from a predicted $640 million to $932 million.
However, Samantha Bricker, COO for the Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority, said lessons had been learned from past mistakes. She said Phase 2’s $1.5 billion budget, the hiring of a new contractor group and a determination not to spend time and money adding elements—more stations than in the original plan, for example—will keep the project on time and on budget.
Bricker said by 2030 the Expo Line from downtown to Santa Monica is expected to carry 64,000 people a day. In the nearer term, the line will be considered a success if it can reduce traffic on Interstate 10 by 5,000 cars to 10,000 cars a day within five years of opening.
Santa Monica Councilwoman and Expo Board Vice Chair Pam O’Connor predicted the crowd at Monday’s groundbreaking would gather again in four years to celebrate the first trains running to the beach.
Bricker agreed. "People are itching for an alternative [to driving] and can’t wait for this line to open."