- Written by Ken Alpern
25 May 2012
GETTING THERE FROM HERE - Despite the overall excitement and anticipation of the Expo Line’s opening to La Cienega and, in late June, to Culver City, the Times story and revelation of the potential safety risks of the Expo/Blue Line junction at Washington and Flower (link) http://california.construction.com/yb/ca/article.aspx?story_id=172837497 is a source of concern on multiple fronts. The junction, despite the very close attention and repeated inspections by Metro and the CPUC, now raises a host of questions.
Questions that deserve answers … and action.
In a nutshell, the shared junction between Blue and Expo Line trains has a turn that is so sharp that passage of southbound trains caused relatively rapid wear and tear of both the train cars and the track. The theoretical risk is that future derailments could occur and threaten both safety and property damage.
This turn of events is one more nail in the coffin of future efforts (with perhaps the strong and notable exception of the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority) to create new construction authorities, independent of Metro, to build future rail projects because of the engineering and political problems of having one entity construct (in this case, the Expo Construction Authority) and operate (Metro) a given rail project.
How could this have happened? Well, the Expo Authority Board created a Phase 1 that was so over budget that the recommendations of the contractor and of Metro to replace the defective junction had to be shelved to save over $1 million and months of disruption to both the Blue and Expo Lines. Apparently, the Phase 1 Expo Authority Board and the Expo Authority weren’t better than Metro at building a rail line, after all.
However, it must be emphasized (and never forgotten) that the Expo Line’s opponents, who are very vocal and very powerful, are in large part the very reason why an Expo Line Construction Authority was created by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky—who himself was, for over a decade, a very vocal opponent of the project.
By creating an Expo Line Construction Authority, the buy-in of Downtown, Mid-City and Westside political leaders had, and still does have, a cadre of politician supporters who might otherwise cave in to local opponents of the project who have obstructed the project for decades and who still are trying to obstruct the project in any way possible. This despite the line enjoying support from the county, state and federal transportation agencies in one way, shape or form because of its providing an alternative to the megacongested I-10 freeway.
The only sure thing that can be concluded from the design flaw is that the Expo Construction Authority has handed Expo Line/Metro opponents, who are still vigorously legally challenging this line and have no intention of stopping, an incredible victory.
Again, the junction issue raises more questions than answers, and the finger pointing and blame-dodging of all parties—from the Authority to the contractor to Metro to the CPUC—isn’t sitting well with either Expo Line proponents or opponents.
Three things do appear to be true at this point:
First, the flawed junction is yet another reason why the bitter experience with the Expo Line Phase 1 contractor is part of a learning curve by the Expo Authority Board that won’t be repeated in Phase 2.
Second, Metro and the CPUC are all over this problem, have placed modifications to the track and are inspecting this junction as closely as possible, and report no new wear and tear to either the tracks or to Blue or Expo Line trains.
Third, there is a transparency that is sorely lacking within the Expo Line Construction Authority…but at least there is a public eye on this problem and it appears that safety will continue to be priority #1 with Metro at this junction site.
However, those who fought for the line have to remember their own responsibilities:
1) The job of advocating and providing community support isn’t over—some of the political goofballs who opposed this line (yeah, the I-10 freeway was and is just a delight) shut out Friends4Expo Transit and other rail advocates from the rail design, station design and other planning efforts for this project because they only met during the daytime in Phase 1, and are still doing this during Phase 2.
The community updates have been, and arguably are still, exercises only in “checking off” a token form of public outreach rather than really letting transit and grassroots leaders IN to the planning and decision-making for this project.
2) While better public outreach must be conducted with the understanding that the Expo Authority must be more inclusive to the actual decision-making process (the fiscal overruns and opening delays of Phase 1 clearly show that there is room for improvement), it must again never be forgotten that public outreach meetings now require police presence because of the disruptive and bullying behavior of Fix Expo and other virulently anti-Metro entities—who forced the creation of an Expo Line Authority to begin with.
This line will be a superb way to enhance the mobility of those who reside in the Westside, Mid-City and Downtown regions, and to the rest of the county which longs for better access to those regions, so it can’t be underscored that both the transportation world and now the media are all over this problem. There is NO immediate safety issue, and actions WILL be taken should safety issues be discovered during the ongoing and frequent Metro and CPUC inspections.
However, it’s obvious that—sooner or later—Metro will have to bite the bullet and replace this defective intersection (whether the contractors are forced to help pay for that or not). And it’s also obvious that the Expo Authority has a credibility problem that is sorely in need of resolution.
And it’s also obvious that the grassroots must both be allowed IN to the decision-making process for Phase 2, with evening meetings that allow for true inclusion into the planning and construction process …
… but with the understanding that Expo Line advocates and community representatives will neither be forced into being apologists for Metro or the Expo Line Authority, or forced to endure bullying by those who are thwarting the community will to create this decades-overdue passenger rail line.
Tags: Ken Alpern, Getting There From Here, transportation, Los Angeles, Expo Line, Blue Line
Vol 10 Issue 42
Pub: May 25, 2012