Photos by Elizabeth Fuller and Patricia Lombard
Like most of our neighbors, we Larchmont Buzz publishers have been closely following Metro’s Purple Line Extension construction for the last five years. (And, yes, they really are now about half-way through the 10-year construction timeline, with the line still scheduled to open, on time, in 2023).
So when Metro Construction Relations Officer Ned Racine recently offered us the chance to tag along on a special hard-hat tour of the Wilshire-La Brea station construction area, we jumped (up and down like the 9-year-olds we really are) at the opportunity.
Our lucky day was last Friday, February 9, when we met up with our Metro guide, Construction Relations Assistant Manager Marlon Walker, several other Metro representatives, a large group of Urban Planning graduate students from UCLA, and two other media guests from the Beverly Press, at Metro’s local offices at 5055 Wilshire Blvd. Our Metro hosts were very welcoming, but made it very clear, from the very first moment, that safety would be the number one concern on our adventure.
For the next hour, in the safety of a big conference room, Walker and Communications Manager Dave Sotero filled us in on the details of the Purple Line project…and then Senior Safety Specialist Daniele Benoit made sure we were equipped with proper safety gear: steel-toed boots, hard hats, neon-yellow vests, gloves, protective eyewear, and two items we’d never seen before – individual emergency breathing kits, and a pair of numbered brass tags. Benoit taught us how to disassemble and activate the breathing kits, which are slightly similar to airline oxygen masks…and then showed us how we (like all of the construction workers on duty) would leave one of our numbered tags on a peg board at the top of the site while wearing the other on our emergency kit as we descended into the big hole. (This allows supervisors to know, with just a glance at the tag board, how many people are in the hole at any given time…and to know, if there is an emergency, how many people still need to be pulled out.)
After the big training session, our now somewhat clunky group clomped down the street to the construction gate at the NW corner of Wilshire and La Brea, hung our brass tags on the board, donned earplugs against the construction noise, and split into two groups for our trip down into the big station hole.
As Metro has been reporting on its TheSource blog and at its bi-monthly construction community meetings, excavation for the station at Wilshire and La Brea has been complete for a while now, and workers are now pouring concrete for the station’s floor, more than 80 feet below the surface of the Wilshire-La Brea intersection, and lining the floor area with an HDPE moisture barrier (see photo at the top).
As you might assume, an excavation project this big requires a really big opening, and there are actually several now at Wilshire and La Brea. The opening at the NW corner is the largest at the moment, and is visible as soon as you enter the construction site gate. To go down into the hole, however, you have to descend a small, narrow metal staircase at one corner, which gives you a great view, as you travel down, of the top, sides, and bottom of the site…and of the construction crew working on wall supports, dirt removal, cable installations, and more.
Down below, the space is truly cavernous, and – as our Metro hosts told us we would – we tour guests were quickly craning our necks in every direction to take in the full scope of the site. At the time we were there, most of the workers were taking a lunch break, but we were still able to see the projects they’re working on, the size and shape of the new station box, and to peer out toward the ends of the box, where huge tunnel boring machines will soon begin their work. (The machines – now en route from the manufacturer in Germany – will be inserted at the station site in March, and will then spend the next year tunneling toward Western Ave. When the boring machines successfully connect the new tunnel to the existing Purple Line tunnel at Western, they will be removed and taken back to Wilshire and La Brea, where they will be reinserted to begin their westward tunneling journey.)
Because of the large opening above us, the station box area actually felt fairly light and airy at the moment…and not quite as subterranean as we (at least I) expected. It definitely became clear just how far underground we were, however, when we began the almost eight-story climb back up the stairs at the end of the tour.
Before that, however, we had lots of time to look around, marvel at the amount and scale of the work that’s being done, and take lots of pictures…which we hope you’ll enjoy, below, with a great many thanks to our wonderful Metro hosts.