Keep the Expo rail line on the rails

Sheila James Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) chairs the state Senate Health Committee.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors is poised to finalize and adopt its long-range plan on Thursday to invest more than $152 billion over the next 25 years in the county’s transportation system. The light-rail Expo Line, which will link downtown L.A. with Santa Monica and is on track to be completed by 2015, is a crucial addition to that system. It would seriously lessen air pollution and traffic congestion by transporting many people who now drive, diminish our addiction to oil and, as a bonus, offer an easier and cheaper way to get to the beach. This light rail (not to be confused with the proposed Red Line “subway to the sea,” which is not yet scheduled for funding) will run, for the most part, along an old railroad right of way on Exposition Boulevard.

Phase 1 of the Expo Line, which will connect downtown with Culver City, is now under construction and scheduled for completion in 2010. Suddenly, there is pressure from advocates of other transportation projects to stop construction in this middle stage and redirect the funds. That would be a huge mistake.

The complete Expo Line light rail will connect two major employment hubs: downtown and Santa Monica. Santa Monica, Culver City, Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood and UCLA generate 427,000 jobs and 300,000 commuters and 18% of L.A. County’s sales tax revenue daily. The Westside is, after downtown, the second-largest employment area in the region. By 2030, according to the MTA ridership model, Expo will have at least 62,000 boardings a day.

Neighborhood groups have been meeting with the MTA about the best route for Expo’s Phase 2, which will complete the line, and about the smartest, safest ways to handle crossings. For all the fervency that the affected communities are bringing to the discussion, the parties just as fervently agree about the need for the line itself.


Although no one disputes the need for the Expo Line, some people say that the Metro Gold Line project to extend that line from Pasadena eastward to Azusa should be undertaken first. The extension is a worthy proposal, but projected total Gold Line ridership is only 34,000 a day. Expo would serve up to three times as many people a day, and it would eliminate more cars from rush-hour traffic on the freeway that, according to the Federal Highway Administration, contains two of the nation’s 10 most-congested traffic bottlenecks. The Expo Line would also connect people not now served by Metrolink to that system, which runs from its downtown hub to many parts of the region, including many San Gabriel Valley cities that would be served by the Gold Line extension.

So let’s keep the Expo Line on track. Then this summer, as we’re stuck in traffic on the 10 or on Olympic, Pico or any other east/west corridor, we’ll know relief is on the way.