EDITOR'S NOTE: A Metro spokesperson has provided a statement after the time of publication. The quote has been added. (Jan. 26, 2022)
LOS ANGELES — Wearing a white construction cap and orange safety vest, Brian Hill walks along Century Boulevard and Aviation Boulevard and looks up at the light rail station.
The Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail project is still under construction. A chain-link fence surrounds the property.
But after setbacks that included having to redo work along one part of the route and the delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, this could be the year the much-anticipated $2.1 billion light rail line comes online.
“We’re in the final phases of testing and finishing out all the work and improvements done on the project,” said Hill, a spokesperson for Walsh-Shea Corridor Constructors, the contractors of the project.
Hill gave Spectrum News a tour around the light rail site on Aviation and Century and later, Slauson Boulevard and Crenshaw Boulevard.
“It looks like this year,” said Hill about completing the project and then handing it to Metro for further testing. “We’re closer than ever.”
"The project has reached over 99.5% completion," a Metro spokesperson said in a statement to Spectrum News. "Metro is committed to delivering the high-quality transit line that the community deserves. The contractor continues working at all stations, with an emphasis on safety, systems and train testing. Metro's anticipated opening date is late summer 2022, if the contractor meets its current schedule."
The Crenshaw-LAX Transit Project broke ground in 2014 and is inching closer to finally being completed. The rail line is one of several anticipated ongoing public transportation and construction projects in Los Angeles, as the city improves its segmented transit system and prepares to host visitors for the 2028 Olympic Games.
This portion of the light rail line will travel 8.5 miles from Mid-City through South Los Angeles and eventually to the South Bay. The project will feature eight new stations and pass through Leimert Park, Hyde Park and downtown Inglewood. A separate yet constructed phase will weave through Mid-Wilshire, West Hollywood and Hollywood.
Officials had expected the Crenshaw-LAX rail line to open in 2019, but the contractors, a joint venture of Walsh Construction and J.F. Shea Construction, encountered several construction issues delaying the project. The LA Times reported the most recent setback was Metro officials found the contractors incorrectly installed rebar in several parts of the rail line location. The contractors also faced scheduling and worker issues.
“The issues related to the wall have been corrected,” said Hill. “The issue of not having enough labor was caused by not having enough qualified people in the labor unions. This still exists today and is compounded by impacts of COVID. Despite these concerns, we remain steadfast and focused on completing and turning over a safe transit project to Metro in the up-and-coming months.
The new light rail is significant, said Hill.
City officials are hailing the rail line as an essential public transportation option that could seamlessly transfer people in and out of the Los Angeles International Airport, which is notoriously known for its heavy traffic congestion.
While it doesn’t directly connect to LAX, the line will join an Automated People Mover, which is under construction in a separate project. It will take people to an LAX terminal area or a brand new rental car facility. The Los Angeles World Airports broke ground on the people mover, which will shuttle passengers away from LAX’s main terminal to the brand new Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility, one of the largest in the U.S.
“You’ll be able to take this line, get off the station near 98th Street, take an escalator, go upstairs and jump on the people mover and directly right into the airport,” said Hill.
The rail line will also pass through the Crenshaw District, which is undergoing a $100 million revitalization. A 1.3-mile stretch of the neighborhood in South Los Angeles is transforming into a hub to celebrate black businesses, arts and culture.
The rail line will allow visitors to see and connect with Black-owned businesses.
“When you look at the connectivity, if you jump on this line coming out of the airport and you’re heading northbound, it’s going to bring a lot of visibility to the businesses [and] to that community,” said Hill. “There’s a lot of changes and improvements. I grew up here. Knowing what it looked like 20 to 30 years ago to what it looked like today, it’s impressive. It’s a good thing to see.”