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Evan Barnes Sentinel Staff Writer
Francis Taylor Sentinel Staff Writer
Though it appears to be a done deal, trouble is brewing with the Expo Line and how it will traverse through parts of the community.
Some of the residents whose neighborhoods the Exposition Line will travel through are not satisfied with the way the proposed line is to be constructed, even though they generally support having the convenience of a public rail transportation system along the Exposition corridor.
Hundreds of those who live near the Metro Transportation Agency’s (MTA) proposed light rail transit line that will run along the existing, abandoned Exposition Boulevard railroad tracks packed the auditorium at Dorsey High School to express their objection to the transit line being constructed at grade—above the road surface instead of underneath in a subway tunnel.
Contrary to the myth that the proposed line will be underground along the pathway at the University of Southern California (USC) until it reaches Dorsey High School, Councilman Bernard Parks, who is on the Expo Line and the MTA board said, “It’s not a myth, it’s a lie. Some people have some legitimate concerns and those concerns should be addressed adequately for the public. The misinformation and the fabrication of information just to create anxiety in the public are unfortunate for everyone. Just look at the schematics. It goes underground around 39th and Flower (Streets) and it comes up almost immediately west of Figueroa (Street), and it stays above ground until (it reaches) La Brea (Avenue).”
The Expo Line will begin downtown—sharing the track with the existing Blue Line—serving the Staples Center, the Convention Center and connecting to the rest of the Los Angeles rail network. Construction on the Expo Line began in the fall of 2006 and workers are currently working utility and corridor improvements on Flower Street from Washington Blvd. to 23rd St.
Most of the controversy centers on the safety of the line relative to the convenience of the residents and builders of the line are concerned that the raising of these and other substantial (people) safety issues could delay construction indefinitely. There is even some rumbling about seeking an injunction from the federal courts.
The public hearing was convened by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to hear firsthand concerns from private citizens, residents and community block club representatives who believe the system should be underground along the entire route.
Those who attended included representatives from the offices of local officials such Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Diane Watson, Assemblywoman Karen Bass, Supervisor Yvonne Burke and City Councilman Herb Wesson.
The existing configuration is likely to be a death trap for the students of Dorsey High School, the elderly and others who for a variety of reasons will not adhere to the multiple barriers including flashing lights, whistles, bells, alarms, fences and other methods that will be placed to assure the safety of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
“Culver City negotiated no street-level crossings with MTA so their children will not have to walk across tracks with 225-ton trains traveling 55 mph,” one citizen said at the meeting, “Why should ours?”
Citing those as an example of legitimate concerns, Parks continued, “We’ve seen studies of rail systems all over this country that are great. And certainly if people get on the tracks inappropriately, you’ll find that there’s going to be some issues. When you begin to look at the amount of miles traveled, if people don’t abide by the signage or people walk down the tracks and those types of things, it’s no different than the liability we incur when buses get into accidents. It’s not that these things can be built and be guaranteed that they are all going to be liability free.”
However, safety was not the only concern raised at the hearing. Several speakers drew comparisons to how MTA was more willing to spend money for elevated or underground rail systems in more affluent parts of Los Angeles as opposed to the street rails that they planned in the poorer South L.A. communities.
One citizen pointed out that “if the MTA can spend the money in Culver City and for an underpass at Figueroa for USC students, they can spend the money for underpasses in South Los Angeles.”
The line is scheduled to open in the summer of 2010. While nearly all of those present at the meeting support the improved, alternate form of transportation, they along with Parks feel there needs to be some further studies done before the line can meet their approval.