For jobs’ sake, don’t stop Expo
October 23, 2012
For more than a year, construction crews have been hard at work on the second leg of the Expo Line, building bridges that will separate trains from surface street traffic and laying the groundwork to extend the popular light rail line all the way to Santa Monica.
Some 400 construction workers are on the job today, along with more than 4,000 others whose work is directly or indirectly tied to the project.
But, with $300 million already spent on this urgently-needed $1.5 billion project, there’s an obstacle that’s suddenly threatening to stop Expo in its tracks.
While this light rail project enjoys widespread public support as an important transit alternative to the severely clogged 10 Freeway that runs alongside it, a small group in the neighborhood has been waging a long-running battle against Expo. Their arguments, challenging the project’s environmental review process, already have been rejected at the state trial and appellate court levels, and now are before the state Supreme Court.
I’m confident that the Expo Authority, which won at both the state trial and appellate court levels, will prevail again before the California Supreme Court. But in the interim, there’s a new and worrisome twist in the case: the challengers are asking the high court to issue a stay that would immediately shut down work on the project until the justices have decided the matter.
This week, I joined with other local officials in calling on the court to please keep the Expo project rolling forward without interruption.
Shutting down work at this juncture would be devastating on so many levels. Our recession-wracked region still has unemployment that’s way too high—and it’s even worse among construction workers.
Just ask Lawrence Douglas, a carpenter apprentice who just started working on Expo a month ago, after 14 months of looking for work. Or Tim White, a crane operator who’s also found work—but wonders whether the job will disappear abruptly in the next few weeks. Or Clementino Perez, a drilling supervisor who knows that each paycheck ripples out well beyond the individual who earns it: “We have a lot of people working over here, and if they shut us down, we’re going to be staying home. That affects the economics for all our families.”
And the impact doesn’t stop there. The county’s taxpayers, who are paying for the project with funds from the voter-approved Measure R, will see the tab go up by at least $90 million if there’s a court-ordered stop in construction. And the project would take at least a year longer to build—which is bad news for the tens of thousands who are looking forward to ditching their cars and riding the train each day. (Already, Expo’s first segment, from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City, is attracting 20,000 riders a day, and growing.)
Attorneys representing the Expo Line recently filed papers with the California Supreme Court strongly opposing the neighborhood group’s motion for a stay. I believe their arguments are extremely persuasive, and that the high court will see the importance of keeping this project moving forward even while the case as a whole is under review.
But I also think that this issue is too important to be left just to the lawyers. Everyone in Los Angeles has a stake in this project.
Let’s keep Expo on track to open all the way to Santa Monica by 2015, and please, let’s keep construction workers out of the unemployment lines and out on the front lines of building a better transit future for all of us.