Expo Delay? CPUC Judge’s Ruling Could Push Opening to 2013

Yesterday, the California Public Utilities Commission denied two proposed street crossings in South LA near Dorsey High School and the Foshay Learning Center.  Citing the ADA, Judge Kenneth Koss ruled that the authority needs to create pedestrian bridges, which would add another $18 million to the current $862 million price tag for Phase I of the project.  While Expo officials are already pleading that they don’t have the $18 million, it seems extremely unlikely that Metro would let a nearly $1 billion project die because they couldn’t come up with $18 million for pedestrian bridges.

However, the greater concern to Expo advocates is that the environmental and design phases for the bridge could easily delay the project’s opening for up to three years.  The light rail line was scheduled to open in 2013.

Damien Goodmon, head of the Citizen’s Campaign to Fix the Expo Line, wasn’t completely happy with the ruling.  He tells the LA Times that his group will continue to push for grade separation at each of the South LA schools.

However, if you know the loqacious Mr. Goodmon, you know that he wasn’t done with just a statement to the Times.  The full text of his media statement can be found after the jump.

n a decision regarding the Expo Line Construction Authority’s proposed
street-level crossing next to Dorsey HS, the judge has ruled MTA’s
crossing unsafe and the community and LAUSD’s safety concerns valid. 
The decision is a tentative decision that will either be adopted or
amended by the full PUC commission on November 21, but it is a major
milestone in the construction of the Expo Rail Line and struggle

"This is a major battle victory in a long and unfortunate war," said Damien Goodmon the Chair of United Community Associations, who’s project is the Citizens’ Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line (Fix Expo).

"We are pleased that the Judge heard the safety concerns of the
rail safety experts, traffic experts, LAUSD and the community.  And we
are regretful that the Commission didn’t allow hearings on many of the
other crossings.  We believe that as the evidentiary hearings on
Farmdale and Harvard revealed the evidence used by the Expo Authority
to support their assertions that they are building a safe project is
unfounded and has been manipulated."

"We believe it is now incumbent upon our from the council
members to the congressional leaders to listen to the Judge’s and
experts concerns about the safety of this crossing, and take into
account the impact to the community of the grade separated options. 
This is a transportation project that will impact this community for
100 years.  It is important we have a safe light rail line that is a
compliment and a good neighbor to the South LA communities that it
passes through."

"Our intent is to now go back to the community and discuss this
further, but for now we are relieved that the street-level crossing has
been taken off the table."

Russ Quimby international rail
safety testified in the hearing that the street-level crossing left a
high risk of catastrophic accident (http://fixexpo.blogspot.com/2008/10/international-rail-safety-expert-russ.html):

As proposed, the Farmdale Avenue crossing creates a high
risk that students will be injured and killed because the proposed
safety mitigation measures essentially put the burden on students to
maintain their own safety. The proposed crossing also creates a higher
risk of a catastrophic accident. [....]

By
"catastrophic accident," I mean an accident involving fatalities and/or
injuries to a large number of people. As proposed, the at-grade
Farmdale Avenue crossing creates the notable risk that a catastrophic accident may well occur under one of several different scenarios.  For example:

First,
that a train will collide with a vehicle with sufficient force to
either derail the train into and/or push the vehicle into the proposed
"holding pens" where several hundred students are trapped inside,
killing or seriously injuring scores of students in a single accident.

Second,
that a train will collide with a vehicle (particularly a truck or bus)
rupturing and igniting a fuel tank which would engulf students in the
holding pen in flaming diesel or gasoline.

Third,
a combination of the above two scenarios where the students are crushed
and burned simultaneously by vehicles and/or a derailed train.

Regarding possible delay to the project:

"We have been saying the Farmdale crossing was not safe for over 15 years now.  But out of bureaucratic arrogance and political
indifference, MTA and our political leaders have fought us at every
turn.  So if there is a delay to the project, the delay is of MTA’s own
making.  References to the history of public comments regarding the
safety of the project are available on the web."

Link to history of community comments documented in MTA’s own studies: http://fixexpo.blogspot.com/2008/10/fact-community-has-been-expressing.html

Regarding budget impacts:

"MTA has appropriated $222
million extra dollars to the project – including to add a $54 million
overpass in Culver City, all the while telling us that there’s no money
for grade separation in South LA.  They have resources, they have many
options, they just have and continue to lack a concern for safety in
South LA."

Some excerpts from Koss’ ruling, which is available on the web here: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/efile/PD/92649.htm

"A.07-05-013, for authority to construct and at-grade crossing at Farmdale Ave. in the City of Los Angeles, should be denied. "

"Authorization to construct a light rail line over an existing pedestrian  tunnel crossing at Harvard Blvd., in the City of Los Angeles, requested in  A.06-12-020, should be denied."

"Expo Authority proposed a state-of-the-art system of gates and other warning devices at the Farmdale crossing, including swing gates to allow pedestrians to exit the rail right-of-way when all other gates are down.  All of these gates, however, can be avoided easily by pedestrians. Considering the large number of crossings during peak periods, and the student populations using the crossing, we find that any system of gates or other warning devices at-  grade would not eliminate all potential safety hazards."

"The parties discussed several other crossings at or near school sites along other light-rail lines.  However, none of these cases presented the unique characteristics of the proposed Farmdale crossing at Dorsey.  This issue, therefore, provided little or no weight in our determination of practicability. "