The second phase of the Expo light-rail line took a big leap forward today, as the Expo Construction Authority awarded a $541 million contract to Skanska/Rados.

The authority also voted to approve a bridge over Sepulveda Boulevard, which could go some way toward mollifying homeowners who fear the line will bring gridlock to surface streets.

Expo Phase 2, budgeted at $1.5 billion, is slated to open sometime in 2015.

The line will run from the end-point of Phase 1, in Culver City, to 4th Street and Colorado Boulevard in Santa Monica.

The original plan was to cross Sepulveda Boulevard at-grade, which opponents argued would cause traffic tie-ups in both directions. A bridge is more expensive, but the cost is offset somewhat because the Expo Authority no longer has to buy up land to widen Sepulveda. The City of L.A. agreed to pay the difference, which worked out to $5.3 million.

The authority also voted unanimously today to approve a project labor agreement for Phase 2, an item of major importance to the building trades unions. Union leaders Maria Elena Durazo and Richard Slawson showed up to support the PLA, along with several dozen union members.

Representatives of Associated Builders and Contractors showed up to oppose the PLA, which requires that small businesses hire one union worker for each non-union worker up to 10 employees, and then to use union labor above that. That provision, they argued, would bar 80% of construction workers from participating on Phase 2 work.

“This is a bankruptcy act for small business,” said Victor Mendez, of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

Slawson, the executive secretary of the L.A./O.C. Building & Construction Trade Council, countered that the PLA would rid the project of “cheating contractors” who don't pay into the state disability fund, and would guarantee that the project employs local workers.

“ABC is a group that is totally anti-union,” he said. “They don't want fair playing fields.”

The PLA passed unanimously. Bernard Parks, a pro-business councilman who was recently the target of a $1.2 million labor campaign, was absent from the meeting. Councilman Paul Koretz said that Parks would have recused himself from the vote on the PLA, due to a “conflict of interest.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who defeated Parks in 2008 with strong labor backing, was a key supporter of the PLA, which was not in place on Phase 1.

“This is local hiring with teeth,” Ridley-Thomas said. “The consensus has evolved that this is a good thing. Ground is being broken.”

The Harbor Commission voted Thursday to use project labor agreements on all of its projects. Unions will next turn their focus to King/Drew Medical Center and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which are expected to take up PLAs in the next several weeks.

LA Weekly