Lead Story West Edition

Officials mark halfway point of rail line construction

LEIMERT PARK — Officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) celebrated what they called the halfway point of the construction of the Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail Line with a community festival here May 7.

Metro officials, along with state and local elected officials gathered in the Leimert Park Village to mark the occasion.

“Today we celebrate the halfway mark of the Crenshaw/LAX project, a huge milestone for the community, for Metro and for the city,” Metro CEO Phil Washington told the crowd.

The family-friendly event included short films, yoga instruction and artist-led workshops, along with poets and musicians performing and bounce house and other activities to keep children occupied.

The Inglewood High School Marching Band and the Crenshaw High School ROTC Color Guard participated at the start of the program.

“Managing the approval process and working with the community has been the biggest challenge on the project,” said Jim Gardner, senior project manager for Walsh-Shea Corridor Constructors, which is building the Crenshaw-LAX rail line.

Merchants along the project have complained since before construction started about what the project would do to their businesses.

Street closures make it difficult for customers to find local shops and foot traffic vanished after crews blocked the sidewalk, according to local merchants.

In all, about 550 businesses, mostly mom-and-pop operations with fewer than four employees, have been affected by the construction, Metro officials said.

“Metro established the Business Solution Center, Business Interruption Fund and Eat Shop Play program very early in the construction process,” said Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, a member of the Metro Board of Directors. “These are three very important mitigation programs that have been vital for the community of mom-and-pop businesses located along the construction zone.”

“The community has had to go through quite a lot, particularly the businesses,” County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said, agreeing with Dupont-Walker. “Dust and parking inconveniences, blocks in the road, all of that has made a huge impact on businesses.”

Metro has agreed to give qualifying shop owners up to $50,000 a year until the work is done to help them keep their doors open.

The Crenshaw-LAX light rail transit line was designed to improve transit options for residents of South Los Angeles and connect riders to existing transit services throughout the region.

U.S. Department of Transportation top officials helped celebrate the project during ground-breaking ceremonies in January 2014.

“Bringing light rail to this community will spur local economic development and make it easier than ever for residents to access downtown Los Angeles and beyond,” U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at the time. “The Obama Administration is committed to investing in good transportation projects like the Crenshaw-LAX line to create ladders of opportunity for millions of Americans, and we are proud to help make this project possible with a $545 million loan.”

The department’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program provided a $545.9 million loan toward the $2.058 billion project.

The project also has received $130 million in other Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration funds. Remaining funds are being provided by state and local sources, especially Measure R, a ballot measure approved by county voters in 2008 that increased the county sales tax one-half cent for transportation projects.

The Crenshaw-LAX route runs south along Crenshaw Boulevard from Exposition Boulevard south before following an existing rail line alignment southwest into Inglewood.

The route proceeds past the San Diego (405) Freeway before turning south at Manchester Avenue and running along the eastern boundary of Los Angeles International Airport before connecting to the existing Green Line. A separate people mover project is planned to bring people from the Green Line to the airport itself.

Once complete, Metro officials estimate the line will serve between 15,000 and 21,000 riders a day.

Travel time from the Expo Line to the Green Line will be about 20 minutes, according to officials.

Three months ago, a tunnel boring machine named Harriet was introduced to the public as the piece of equipment being used tocreate a mile-long underground tunnel to serve light rail stations south of Leimert Park. Three ground level stations are being planned at the start of the line at Crenshaw and Exposition Boulevard, at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Crenshaw and at Leimert Park.

The line will connect existing rail service on the Green Line with the Expo Line, making it easier for riders to reach downtown Los Angeles, the Westside, South Bay and the cities of Inglewood, Hawthorne and El Segundo.

Additionally, the project includes six new bridges, a light rail vehicle maintenance facility and power substations.