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Crenshaw/LAX train project nears completion

The light is really at the end of the tunnel

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 6/23/2021, 3:40 p.m.
Metro's Crenshaw / Lax (K Line) is almost finished after years of delays...
Our Weekly Los Angeles Cover Art for Thursday, June 24, 2021. Our Weekly LA

Yes, 2020 was a “lost year,” by many accounts, due to the pandemic, but now, restrictions have been lifted, the economy is due to roar back and that clamor will soon include the whirring sounds of light rail trains down Crenshaw Boulevard.

In fact, on Monday, Mayor Eric Garcetti broke ground on the Airport Metro Connector (AMC) Project, a $898.6-million endeavor that will directly connect the Metro system to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) when completed in 2024.

“Everyone traveling to or from LAX should have access to modern, reliable public transportation that gets them to their destination on time,” said Garcetti. “The Airport Metro Connector is a historic step toward reimagining how travelers experience our airport — a turning point that will be a source of jobs and economic growth, reduce congestion, and help our airport realize its potential as a world-class gateway to Los Angeles.”

The AMC is the ninth station along the Crenshaw/LAX Line currently under construction. When complete, it will connect directly with the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) Automated People Mover project — a train connecting travelers directly to airport terminals that is expected to be complete in 2023.

The new AMC station located at Aviation Boulevard and 96th Street includes platforms to access Metro Rail trains, an expansive 16-bay bus plaza, a bike hub, a private vehicle drop-off zone, and direct access to the LAX people mover. The station will also feature a new Metro customer service center, interactive information kiosks, public restrooms, and commercial space for tenants.

“This is an exciting project that will serve as the ‘Gateway' to LAX for future generations — just as LAX has long served as the gateway to Southern California for so many millions of people,” said Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins. “The AMC station will also provide multiple connections to the Metro system and will help airport-area employees and travelers easily get to wherever they need to go in our region.”

This reporter attended a meeting last year where a Metro spokesperson said they anticipated completion of the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project by winter 2020, but there were some delays.

“Metro's contractor, Walsh Shea Corridor Constructors has not yet reached a sufficient level of systems testing to accurately forecast for the opening date of the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project,” according to an emailed statement from Metro. “Once they do, Metro will provide a forecast for the opening date of the project. This date will include five to six months for equipment testing and training of Metro operations and maintenance staff.”

The 8.5 mile project, which began construction in 2014, initially included eight new stations: Expo/Crenshaw, Martin Luther King, Jr., Leimert Park, Hyde Park, Fairview Heights, Downtown Inglewood, Westchester/Veterans and Aviation/Century. The new AMC project will add a ninth station.

Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project will extend light rail transit service from the existing Metro E Line (Expo) at Crenshaw and Exposition Boulevards in Los Angeles, and merge with Metro C Line (Green) at the Aviation/LAX Station on Aviation Boulevard and Interstate 105 in the City of El Segundo.

Once in operation, this line will offer additional transportation options to congested roadways and provide significant environmental benefits, economic development and employment opportunities throughout LA County. Riders will have easier connections within the Metro Rail system, municipal bus lines, other regional transportation services and hundreds of businesses in the Crenshaw area.

Those “mom-and-pop” businesses along the project corridor—challenged by the now seven-year project —may apply for financial assistance through Metro’s Business Interruption Fund (BIF), which is administered by Pacific Coast Regional (PCR). Metro has given more than 760 grants to 232 small businesses, totaling over $19 million since the project began.

“Mom-and-pop” businesses are defined as for-profit businesses, or non-profit, non-religious businesses with fewer than 25 employees. Assistance covers fixed operating expenses, including utilities, insurance, rent, mortgage and payroll.

“We have a grant approval every other week,” said Angela Winston, vice president and program manager for Pacific Coast Regional (PCR), project fund administrators for the Crenshaw/LAX and the Purple Line extension projects. “The Crenshaw/LAX project probably has the largest number of small businesses that are eligible.”

Because this has been a multi-year project, businesses can come back year after year for assistance.

“Just about all businesses on Crenshaw are repeat grantees,” Winston said.

Celebrating its 56th year in business, Jordan’s Hot Dogs at 5960 Crenshaw Blvd. has received assistance from the fund, which owner Cary Jordan said was a lifesaver. He originally opened his business in Watts, but moved to Crenshaw six years ago.

“If I had known, I’m not sure I would have moved,” Jordan said, adding that there were hints a project was coming to South LA, but he had no idea it would be at his front door. “It’s right in front of my business, so it has a very big impact.”

Jordan initially had to cut back on staff, but reached out for help and credits PCR, the Urban League and Metro’s BIF program for helping him keep the restaurant doors open.

“When it first started, we were barely making it,” Jordan said. “We got a lot of help from the Urban League and Ken Hitt. He was a liaison between us, the Metro, and the benefits.”

He added that the BIF was very helpful, as his business received not only financial assistance, but tools to help with marketing efforts, including the construction of their Instagram and website pages, which helped clients purchase food online.

“The Urban League and Metro were kind of like partners, they worked together,” Jordan said. “They built the program for us. We were able to tap into the companies that helped us put it together.”

High school students can reap the benefits of an extended project deadline. Artistic students will have until Monday, July 12 to submit created artwork celebrating the unique character of their neighborhood and its connection to the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project. Metro is producing commemorative pins inspired by student artists. Each pin will represent one of eight new Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project stations:

Eight winners will be selected by a committee of local community leaders and cultural figures. The winning artworks will be the inspiration for eight final pins, which will be distributed to the public free of charge in celebration of the opening of the rail project.

This contest is open to high school students only, grades 9-12. One entry per student will be reviewed. Winning artists will receive $500 for the purchase of the submitted artwork; a brochure with student artwork featured; an award certificate and a complete set of commemorative pins.

The families of Metro employees and contractors are not eligible. Students must be eligible to work in the United States as determined by the Department of Homeland Security and/or U.S. Immigration Laws.

To enter, submit a two-dimensional artwork made on 8.5” x 11” paper. All image-making media is acceptable (i.e. collage, painting, drawing, computer graphics). Provide a brief statement (200 words or less) about the artwork and how it celebrates the unique character of one of the neighborhoods along the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project.

Entries should be submitted through an online form (metro.net/claxartcontest) or dropped off at the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project Office; Attn: Crenshaw/LAX Art Contest; 3699 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90016. Office hours are weekdays, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. All entries must be received by Monday, July 12. In-person entries must be submitted by 3 p.m and online entries must be submitted by 5 p.m. Additional details, including questions to consider, are on the website.

The next Construction Update Community Meeting, where Metro will present an overview on the progress of the project, will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, July 29 via zoom. Residents can participate via Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/92426099853, or call-In: (888) 788-0099 (Toll Free) or (833) 548-0276 (Toll Free). The webinar ID is 924 2609 9853.