Construction of L.A. Metro’s Westside Purple Line halted over safety issues

A worker in a hard hat and yellow vest overlooks a tunnel from a railing
A Metro worker monitors construction of the Purple Line extension in Century City.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles transit officials have shut down construction on part of the Westside’s $2.4-billion Purple Line Extension for two weeks amid a litany of “serious safety concerns” that have injured dozens of workers since July 2021.

Workers have fallen off ladders, crushed fingers, slipped in mud, been struck by falling slurry and hit in the face by a failed hose while building a 2.6-mile phase of the Purple Line, a nine-mile subway that will eventually run from Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center

Metro officials say they have warned the project contractor, Tutor Perini O&G, about unsafe conditions at the underground site, but the substandard conditions remained.

“There is an ongoing pattern of safety issues that have not been adequately addressed by TPOG and that has continued to persist unchecked,” Metro officials said in a letter sent to the contractor Friday.


The letter warned the group that underground construction could not resume until the company assesses past failures and comes up with a plan to establish a culture of safety.

“For almost two years, Metro has written letter after letter expressing concerns with safety issues on the project and the number of recordable incidents and preventable accidents that have occurred,” the letter stated. “For whatever reason, TPOG has been unable or unwilling to take proper steps to address Metro’s safety concerns and the situation continues to get worse as illustrated by the number of recordable injuries since that time.”

Tutor Perini O&G, a joint venture, did not respond to calls Monday.

Since July 2021, there have been 32 injuries inside and around the project, according to documents sent to the executive board Friday. Thirteen of the more serious injuries required medical attention and reporting to state workplace safety officials. Those regulators have been on site multiple times in the last six months to investigate injuries.

“Safety is and will always be our first priority,” Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero said. “The safety of those building our county’s transportation projects must always be protected. We expect the contractor to improve its safety policies and to demonstrate its full compliance with all of Metro’s contract safety requirements before we allow work to continue.”

Sotero said the last time Metro suspended construction for safety concerns was in August 2016 on the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project.

“It’s rare that Metro takes this course of action to ensure worker safety,” he said.

Inside the dusty subterranean tunnel, ventilation is poor, standing water and muck are common, and ramps to and from the tunnels are unstable, according to Metro documents describing worksite conditions. Officials found equipment that was improperly rigged and conveyor belts that were missing safety netting.


Since construction started in 2018, there have been 43 injuries that needed medical attention.

The new Crenshaw/LAX line is already bringing new money to the cultural hub of L.A.’s Black community. But many fear high prices will push residents out.

Oct. 7, 2022

The previous year, the board chose the joint venture, led by Sylmar-based Tutor Perini, to construct the line, despite skepticism about the company’s bid and its record. The company had been embroiled in a protracted legal battle over alleged unpaid expenses for workers and had largely been locked out of the building boom. But Tutor’s bid was hundreds of millions of dollars lower than its competitors.

A building trades council whose members work on Metro projects expressed support for the shutdown.

“The safety and health of our members is the most important thing to us. If the project owner (Metro) has to take a stand, we support their actions,” said Anne-Marie Otey, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. “We hope the violations will be fixed in an expedited way to get our members back to work. Taking shortcuts is not the answer.”

The full subway line that connects downtown to the Westside is to be completed by 2027, just before the 2028 Olympics. But this could put a wrinkle in their plans. Other lines have seen setbacks and delays, including the Crenshaw/LAX line, which was years behind schedule after flawed construction had to be redone.

Earlier this year, on a different leg of the Purple Line extension, a construction worker was killed at the Mid-Wilshire site after being struck by a service vehicle used to ferry parts and people. The site was operated by joint contractor Skanska-Traylor-Shea.


Worker’s death during construction of the Purple Line extension is the first such fatality for Metro in 10 years. Work is halted pending investigation.

March 24, 2022

The shutdown comes as the agency is undertaking a massive building spree before the Olympics and embarks on an even more ambitious plan. Over the next four decades, Metro plans on doubling the size of its rail lines — with tracks that will connect cities at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, as well as the South Bay, downtown, the beach and San Fernando Valley to the working-class communities of the Southeast. Fueled by a voter-approved sales tax, the board has touted the buildup as an economic boon to the region.

“It’s disappointing to see projects be held up over a contractor not living up to their contract,” said Eli Lipmen, executive director of Move LA, a group that pushed for the voter-approved tax that funds the subway line. “It’s not the first time this contractor has overpromised and underperformed.

“These are real people with real families. We should be providing the highest level of safety for them,” Lipmen said. “They are working in challenging conditions, and we want them to come home to their families.”

In a memo to the executive board, chief safety officer Gina Osborn and the head of program management Bryan Pennington said Metro staffers are “extremely concerned that TPOG’s poor safety culture on this project has created an environment in which new employees are not being trained, where superintendents are not enforcing policies and procedures to keep people safe, and employees are routinely exposed to hazards created by poor housekeeping.”

“We’ve been sort of monitoring closely the injury rates since last year,” Metro board Chair Ara Najarian said.

Of course, he said, everyone wants the project done. But, he said, this sends a message that Metro is willing to put “a pause on it” to get it completed right.


The current suspension took effect Friday and will run until Nov. 7, although it can be lifted earlier if the company meets Metro’s demands.