Crews hard at work in a trench near Palms installing utilities for the future Expo Phase II. All pictures, Damien Newton/Streetsblog Los Angeles
When Stephen Villavaso, known to many Streetsblog readers as the volunteer traffic engineer who makes CicLAvia possible, asked me if I would like to ride along on a tour of Expo Phase II construction, I jumped at the chance. Villavaso is also one of the engineers working for Skanska-Rados Joint Venture – the design-build contractor of the Expo Line Phase II. Villavaso manages the design for the construction project which involves regularly driving up and down the future light rail and bike path talking to workers, monitoring construction, and just keeping abreast of everything that’s happening on site.
For those just joining us, the Expo Line is a 15.2 mile, $2.4 billion Exposition Light Rail Line that will connect Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica via Culver City. Construction on Phase I of the line, from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City, began in 2006 and opened to the public in 2012. Phase II of the project, which will extend the line out to Santa Monica, is now underway. Construction is expected to be completed by 2015 with revenue operations beginning the following year. The Expo Line is and will be run by Metro.
While I’ve been covering the Expo Line since before Streetbslog launched in 2008, it seems there is always something new to learn about it. On this day, I learned something that should seem obvious…building a light rail line is hard. I mean really hard.
I unexpectedly ended up discussing how to move power lines, how to protect existing underground utilities, how many different types of concrete are needed, how to protect workers during excavation, that maybe some federal safety requirements are a little over board, and a lot of other things.
But the good news is that progress is definitely happening. Even if it’s sometimes hard to see.
Where the Expo Line runs under an existing bridge just west of Motor Avenue, Villavaso explained that the last time he was there, a large trench was in the ground. This time, the trench had been filled and there was no sign that a lot of work had happened in the area. ”This is really exciting,” he said gesturing to what now appeared to be just a dirt road. The last time he had done one of these tours was about a month and a half earlier, when he had been accompanied by Nat Gale from the Mayor’s Office.
We made six stops on our tour, starting at the Cloverfield/Olympic Bridge, going back to the start of Phase II at Venice Blvd., and stops at Palms and Motor before heading back into Santa Monica. In Santa Monica, we stopped at the Bundy/Centinela Station and the terminus (or beginning pending your point of view) at Downtown Santa Monica.
Our thanks to Stephen Villavaso for leading me around and answering my questions. My wife, who is also an engineer, was laughing at me while I was listening to the audio to write this story, so it must have taken some real self-control for Stephen to keep a straight face.
A full essay, with more of photographs from the project sites, is available after the jump.
Instead of going chronologically as how we spent the day, we’ll organize the essay from east to west, starting at the terminus of Expo Phase I.
Those familiar with Venice Boulevard know that the bridge over the Boulevard is well underway. But from the side, it’s hard to tell exactly how far along the bridge is. For the record, it is already completed over Venice Boulevard.
At Venice Blvd., crews are working to finish the work at the raised station to connect to the rest of the Phase II. The Venice crossing is a difficult one at street level, one that is much discussed by the Expo Bicycle Advisory Committee. While the work in the air looks pretty daunting, both Villavaso and workers claim they know what needs to be done to finnish the job.
Here’s the “zoom back” view of the same scene. You can see the construction worker in the left-hand side of the structure. Those pipes sticking out from the side are to deal with water runoff the day or two a year that it rains. As you’ll see, runoff is a major challenge the Skanska-Rados team deals with.
From the Venice crossing, we headed over to the future Palms Station.
The team is constructing an outline of an utility room that will go under Palms Station. We joked about this being the TOD planned for the area, but only because I am very funny. It’s sort of amazing to see all the rebar and work that has to go into the construction to make sure the two structures remain vibrationally independent. Every little change requires an amazing amount of planning, work, and inspection to make sure the future utility room occupant and the train line itself, are safe.
Eventually, tracks will run on fill above the street on either side of the recently poured slurry encased ductbank at this Palms location. Currently, conduit and electric are being installed for the station platform.
You can see how close Palms Blvd. runs to the future rail line. The power lines running overhead are just part of the electrical power needed to clear the way for the rail line.
Here’s the utility room builders again just from a close up. As you can tell, I was fascinated with this part of the project.
From Palms, we headed to Motor Avenue. Instead of looking at a station, we saw where tracks will be laid and where a lot of rebar has been installed but the concrete pour has not yet occurred. We also had an interesting conversation about electrical, paint removal and some other local issues.
It seems sort of a shame to remove all of this urban street art, commonly known as graffiti, but Stephen explained that it’s necessary not just for visual reasons but also because some of the paint used is lead based. After cleaning, a coating will be added to make it easier to remove paint going forward.
From the last view you could see the concrete that had already been poured and cured. In this photo you can see an ocean of crisscrossing rebar that provides the reinforcement for the future concrete upon which the tracks will be laid.
Anytime a worker has to go subterranean, there are a lot of regulations that need to be met. Here you can see the metal cable to connect a harness, a ladder that is regularly inspected, and an ventilation tube.
I enjoy this picture because you can see a lot of different aspects of the project coming together, from runoff plans to the graffiti removal, to the rebar.
From Motor Avenue, we headed over to Overland where the team was constructing runoff options both below and above ground.
On one hand, the team was excavating a large trench to access and connect some existing drainage pipes to maintain subterranean runoff movement. Runoff from Phase II has a lot of different potential destinations: the Ballona Creek and Pacific Ocean are just two possibilities.
Looking east, you also see this artistic looking channel to handle, I dunno, the next Great Los Angeles flood? In all seriousness, I include these pictures to show redundancy being built into the project to ensure that nothing surprising happens after the line is open.
Next, we made an unscheduled stop at the construction near Sawtelle Avenue. A quick trip up a very well inspected ladder yielded some interesting views.
I enjoy this picture because if you look at the support frame cross members, and then the beams facing us you see “Skanska-Rados,” an integrated team in every sense.
And here’s my OSHA complaint. A five foot tall wooden ladder had to be inspected how many times for safety? It had been checked both on 12/3 and 12/4. I visited the station on 12/5.
At the future Bundy Station, a worker installs electrical wiring around the rebar infrastructure. This electrical will eventually power the station.
Standing on the Bundy bridge looking east. I loved this view.
As with the other worker, everyone was hard at work creating the electrical grid that runs under the track.
From there, our next stop was the end of the line in Santa Monica. But for the purposes of this article, our next stop was near the Cloverfield/Olympic Boulevard crossing (which chronologically was where Villavaso and I first met.)
A look down from the raised platform at the future Expo Bike Path.
It doesn’t look as though a lot is going on in this picture, but just up the way I got to hop up a couple feet of concrete and got a much different view.
Once you’re up to the level where the train will run, you see a lot more going on.
Our last stop was the future Downtown Santa Monica Station, where not just a station is being built, but the team is working diligently to protect the communications vaults for Verizon and power vaults for Con Edison.
After listening to the audio from our conversations, I still wasn’t sure what I was looking at here so I asked Villavaso. He emailed: The radial bars make up the reinforcing steel of the pile cap. The coil bars for the shaft are visible below the cap. The mat beneath everything else is for a reinforced slab on piles. The slab is intended to bridge a communications vault.
That line in the sand? That’s where the Expo Line is going to end (or begin, depending your POV.) Thanks Stephen.
Here’s another one of the communications vaults, but this time it’s capped. All the work doesn’t just have to preserve the existing subterranean infrastructure, but also increase and improve it.
Here at the Santa Monica terminus, a construction worker ties the rebar mat together.
Santa Monica terminus reinforcing bar.
Just a view where you can see a lot of different things all happening at once – a retaining wall in both the final phases and the reinforcement phase, a crane off in the distance, piles of materials that are likely already in place by the time this piece is published.
Obviously, almost everyone on the Westside and Santa Monica is looking forward to Expo being completed as soon as humanly possible. But somehow after the tour, I wouldn’t be too upset at a delay (provided it weren’t too long.) This project, as any transit project, is a mammoth undertaking. With any project this size, there are things that can go wrong, but after the tour I’m a believer that the team that Skanska-Rados put together, including the electricians, construction crews, STEINY, and everyone involved in the project can make a plan for whatever comes up and deliver a safe and structurally sound project that will transform the west side of Los Angeles.