LOS ANGELES — A California Supreme Court ruling boosts the prospects that the Expo Line light rail project will link Los Angeles with Santa Monica by 2015 as planned.
The state’s high court ruled in favor of the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority on environmental challenges that could have shut down the $1.5 billion second phase of the project.
The first phase between downtown L.A. and Culver City is already open, with the final downtown Santa Monica phase to open in 2015.
The Expo Line Authority was placed in charge of constructing one of several light rail lines being built for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The second phase of the Expo Line has faced opposition from community organizers nearly since its inception.
Residents battled Expo Line planners over which crossings should be at street level and which ones should have more expensive grade-separated crossings considered safer for pedestrians.
The challenges heard by the Supreme Court justices were based on the state’s California Environmental Quality Act.
CEQA gives everyone standing to challenge construction projects, partly on the basis of whether the project will contribute to traffic congestion and harm the environment.
There were a number of claims, but it was whittled down to two issues: the appropriate base line to measure traffic and air quality; and mitigation for neighborhood parking, said Robert Thornton, partner with the law firm Nossaman LLP, counsel to the construction authority.
“The court appreciated that the agency went the extra mile in analyzing the impact of the projects,” Thornton said. “The opponents were complaining of the potential for traffic delays -- and we are dealing with a project that is an alternative to the single-passenger automobile traffic.”
The court was pragmatic in its ruling on this project, because it will improve traffic conditions, he said.
Work on the $1.5 billion, 6.6-mile Phase 2 extension is already well underway along the entire alignment, with all eight bridges under construction, according to the Expo Line Authority. Currently there are almost 400 workers on the project and this decision will enable them to remain on the job.
“We are gratified that the California Supreme Court has affirmed the lower court rulings. The decision is a win for taxpayers and the future riders who will soon benefit from a direct connection between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica,” said Expo Construction Authority CEO Rick Thorpe said in a prepared statement. “We remain focused on finishing the Expo Line on-time and on-budget in 2015.”
The project is part of Metro’s 30-year long-range plan adopted in 2009 to create a network of rail throughout the county.
Service on Phase 1 began in Spring 2012 and serves nearly 27,000 daily riders.
Metro is contemplating borrowing $10.2 billion through 2026 to complete the county’s planned rail transit network.