The second phase of the Expo Line cleared a major hurdle today, as a judge threw out an environmental lawsuit from neighbors who allege the line will cause gridlock on West L.A. surface streets.

The final ruling, which is in line with a tentative ruling issued in December, allows the Expo Construction Authority to move ahead next month with awarding a contract on the $1.5 billion project, which is scheduled to open in 2015. But the plaintiffs — Neighbors For Smart Rail — are not giving up.

“NFSR will be filing an appeal and is confident that the appellate court

will review the plain facts of the case and find that the Expo

environmental review was fatally flawed and must be corrected,” the

group said in a prepared statement.

The second phase of the Expo Line will run from Culver City to Santa Monica. The first phase, from downtown L.A. to Culver City, has been beset by delays and cost overruns. At last word, most of Phase 1 — the portion to La Cienega Boulevard — was expected to open this summer, about a year behind schedule. The remainder, to Venice and Robertson boulevards, is supposed to open sometime in 2012.

Phase 1 is 8.6 miles long and is currently budgeted at $927.5 million. The second phase is 6.6 miles long and is projected at $1.5 billion. Much of the extra price tag ($266 million) is due to the cost of buying right-of-way on the approach to the terminus at Colorado Boulevard and 4th Street.

At its meeting this month, the Expo Construction Authority selected Skanksa/Rados as its design-build contractor. Skanska's bid was about $100 million below the competing bid from URS/Shimmick. The board is expected finalize a contract with Skanska/Rados in March.

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