The endeavor to lay train tracks at street-level near Dorsey High School has been opposed for many years by community activists, Dorsey faculty, alumni, and students because of the risk of danger they felt it would introduce to the area. However, a state regulatory body recently cleared the way for construction of the Exposition light rail line and bolstered its decision by pointing out a list of what they called thorough safety improvements.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) adopted recommendations made in June by hearings officers, who supported a revised plan that called for two station platforms, speed limits for trains, motor vehicle gates, and other safety improvements for the proposed rail crossing at Farmdale Avenue and Exposition Boulevard.

Under the plan approved by the commission, a light-rail station will be built near Dorsey on Farmdale Avenue. The street crossing will also include traffic signals, additional street lighting, specialized traffic and pedestrian gates, and Light Emitting Diode (LED) train-approaching signals, according to the Exposition Construction Authority (ECA).

Tenth District Councilman Herb Wesson, in whose district the station is located, cautiously endorsed the decision saying, “In terms of improving safety and moving the project forward, the commission’s decision is significant. However, monitoring the project in all respects will continue to be a priority.”

The chief concern about the Expo Line among those in the community surrounding the high school was the safety of students and other community citizens. Councilman Bernard Parks said the concern of those in the community resulted from misleading feedback they received about the project.

“The concern came out of misinformation. The train must abide by the same laws of the road that other automobiles must adhere to,” Parks said.

Within the community that encompasses Dorsey, there were discussions of alternatives, such as an overpass or underground passage, however Councilman Parks said those options were not in the community’s best interest. “Going underground would not have been feasible financially because of the sewage and pipes that would have to be removed. An overpass would have been a magnet for graffiti and homeless people. And Dorsey would have been in a shaded area with no sunshine.”

Damien Goodmon of the non-profit group United Community Associations vehemently disagrees with Parks assessment of the situation. “(Parks is) wrong. He’s always opposed community efforts concerning public safety,” Goodmon said. “He’s not a safety expert.”

Goodmon was quick to point out that the CPUC’s decision is not final. “The decision is appealable and (United Community Associations) intends to appeal. Expo officials brought (the Expo light rail project) back after it was opposed and all they did was add a station to it. We will not approve a street-level crossing. This project has a high potential of catastrophic accidents,” Goodmon contended.

Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Marguerite LaMotte also expressed concern. “Along with a number of community residents, I am not pleased by the decision in favor of the street-level crossing at Farmdale,” LaMotte said. “This type of crossing, within a few feet of Dorsey High School, is fraught with potential safety problems. These issues were presented to the CPUC, which initially agreed with the community’s position. I am concerned that the street-level crossing does not represent the safest option for students and community members.”

After the commission rejected an initial design for the crossing in 2009, Expo officials added more safety measures as part of a settlement agreement between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The Expo Line’s first phase, which is projected to cost approximately $900 million, will run about eight and a half miles from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City along the Exposition Boulevard rail right-of-way.

The plan requires a train-control system that will limit trains to 15 miles per hour in the crossing. A parking lot will also be built for Dorsey High School staff at Farmdale and Exposition Boulevard, according to the ECA. “The Expo Line represents an important step toward increasing mobility in Los Angeles County, and the Farmdale Station will make it easier for the local community to access this safe and convenient transit alternative,” said ECA CEO Richard Thorpe. This idea was a plan from MTA that was endorsed by Mark Ridley-Thomas, said Parks.

“It is a great improvement to the community,” Parks said. “It is the simplest, safest solution.”

Goodmon begs to differ, however. “You have too many kids in too narrow an area. Kids in Culver City don’t have to deal with crossing the street under these circumstances. Kids at Dorsey deserve the same consideration.”

“These are fabricated numbers of cost to help the project go through without delay,” Goodmon charged.

Construction is expected to be completed next year.