The Los Angeles Sentinel recently held an editorial board meeting to address many residents’ concerns over the ongoing Expo-Line. Participating at the meeting on behalf of the Expo Line were Exposition Construction Authority CEO Samantha Bricker, Council members Bernard Parks (D-8) and Jan Perry (D-9) and representing the community were Charisse Bremond-Weaver, president of the Brotherhood Crusade and activist Lillian Mobley. The meeting was conducted by Sentinel managing editor Kenneth Miller and assistant managing editor Yussuf J. Simmonds.
Sentinel: Will the Expo Line turn into a subway near USC?
Expo: During the environmental planning phase of the project, it was determined that a grade separation was necessary at Figueroa and Flower based on traffic levels at these crossings. The complex geometry of the 110 Freeway offramps in that area makes it difficult to build an aerial grade separation. As a result, the grade separation will be in a shallow trench which will extend from south of Jefferson Blvd., will go under Figueroa and Flower and will surface at Trousdale Ave, which is in front of USC. USC had requested that the trench continue all the way to Vermont instead of surfacing at Trousdale. USC was told that the trench could continue to Vermont only if USC paid the cost differential of $120 million. USC declined to pay this cost so the line surfaces at-grade at Trousdale, which is right in front of USC. There is an at-grade station at Trousdale and the line continues at-grade to Vermont where there is also an at-grade station.
Sentinel: Why does the Expo Line only go underground near USC and not for the entirety of the project?
Expo: Light rail projects typically operate at grade. There are other at-grade light rail projects in Los Angeles County such as the Gold Line to Pasadena and all over the country, including Portland and Phoenix. In 2003 Metro adopted a grade crossing policy which developed objective criteria for determining when a crossing should be at-grade or grade separated. The criteria takes into account traffic, safety, engineering concerns and other issues. This grade crossing policy was applied to the Expo Line, and a grade separation at La Brea was added to the project, in compliance with the grade crossing policy. There are also grade separations at La Cienega, Flower/Figueroa and Venice/Robertson, all of which met the criteria of the grade crossing policy adopted by Metro.
Sentinel: What is the Expo Authority doing to reduce the impact of noise from the line?
Expo: The light rail trains are electric and so the trains themselves create very little noise. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) requires bells to sound when a train approaches and crosses an at-grade crossing protected by gates. The CPUC also requires the train to sound a horn prior to entering the crossing. The Expo Authority has proposed stopping the warning bells once the gates are down and will apply to the CPUC to implement some of the measures successfully implemented by the Pasadena Gold Line, including the use of a quieter quacker horn on the trains in non-emergency situations and installing shrouds on the warning bells to focus the noise at the crossing.
The environmental document also identified areas along the alignment where noise will need to be mitigated. These mitigation measures include soundwalls, which are being built in the areas identified in the environmental document, such as residential areas.
Sentinel: What effect does this project have on air quality in our community?
Expo: Light rail trains are electric and so will have a beneficial impact on air quality in the community because it reduces the number of cars on the street that produce harmful emissions.
Sentinel: What are the economic benefits of the Expo Line for the community?
Expo: The Expo Line will provide enormous benefits to the community by providing reliable and affordable access to jobs, health care, and entertainment. Further, studies have shown that joint development opportunities around stations can revitalize neighborhoods, can provide live/work options, and attract businesses and other job opportunities. The Expo Line will link residents and businesses to other areas of the City and will connect to the Long Beach Blue Line, Red Line and regional transportation. Further, the Expo Line will connect people to businesses in the Crenshaw and Mid-Cities Communities which will spur economic growth. It will also provide an alternative to the heavily congested I-10 freeway and will allow easier and faster access to cities along the corridor such as Culver City, Exposition Park and eventually Santa Monica, when Phase 2 of the project is completed.
Sentinel: Have you hired people from this community to work on the project?
Expo: Yes. The Expo Authority has set a 30 percent local jobs program goal for the project, which the contractor has agreed to meet. This means that 30 percent of the work hours will be performed by those who live in zip codes along the Exposition corridor. As of September, the Expo project had 132 active workers and 26 or 19 percent were from Expo corridor zip codes. Out of the 132 active workers, 79 are minorities. All Expo jobs are union jobs and the contractor has sponsored 24 individuals into the local unions and has conducted orientation sessions with PVJobs to assess skill level and place interested individuals into construction jobs in the area. So far, over 1000 people have attended these orientation sessions and over 100 have been placed in local jobs.
Sentinel: Have you hired minority contractors to work on the project? What percent of your contractors are minorities?
Expo:There is a 20 percent DBE goal for design, professional services and construction. As of the end of August, over $58 million in subcontracts had been awarded to DBE firms. This contract amount will increase as additional construction work packages are awarded.
As of the end of August, there were 12 DBE firms with subcontracts totaling $6.2 million for design services. 10 of these 12 DBE firms are minority firms. There were 18 DBE firms with subcontracts totaling $7.2 million for professional services. 12 of these 18 firms are minority firms. There are 11 DBE firms that have subcontracts totaling $45.5 million. 6 of these 11 are minority firms. These numbers will continue to increase as additional construction work packages are awarded.
Sentinel: How were the artists selected for the project? How do we know they will reflect the culture and history of the neighborhoods along the project?
Expo: Metro formed art advisory panels, comprised of interested residents, stakeholders and arts community members, to develop profiles of all of the station areas, taking into account the culture and history surrounding the stations. There were also 3 special artist workshops held along the Expo Corridor, including one in Leimert Park. Metro issued a Call for Artists to over 3800 artists and arts organizations in California and advertised in several local papers seeking artists for the project. A total of 203 artists responded to request and a selection panel made up of arts professionals, artists, the Art Advisory Group and members of the Urban Design Committee reviewed their qualifications. Over 50 people participated in the selection process. Eight station artists were selected and 75% of the artist contracts being awarded are to minorities and women. The artists will meet with stakeholders and their concepts will be shown at community meetings so that the community can comment and provide input on their work.
Sentinel: There appears to be some community opposition to this project. What are the origins of the opposition? What is the basis for the opposition?
Expo: Large capital infrastructure projects inevitably generate community concern and in some cases, opposition. There is often concern by some residents regarding the change that the project will bring about in the community and fear of that change. In other cases, there are legitimate concerns regarding construction impacts, noise, safety, and traffic issues and it is our obligation to address these concerns and mitigate them to the extent possible.