Before ground is even broken on Metro's $6-billion underground Purple Line, construction crews are testing the soil and working closely with paleontologists to make sure no fossils are destroyed.
A portion of the subway project, designed to run 9 miles from downtown L.A. to the Westside, will take place near the La Brea Tar Pits, which contain fossils from the last great ice age.
"We are looking at the condition of the soils as we go down the different levels and also see where we are getting the fossils," said contractor Joseph Demello.
"We expect that we're going to find large deposits of late Ice Age vertebrate remains, so across the street at La Brea Tar Pits we have hundreds of thousands of fossils and we find the remains of saber-tooth cats, dire wolves, horses, bears," said paleontologist Aisling Farrell.
During the pre-construction phase of the subway project, work crews are digging about 70 feet into the earth. Paleontologists have come across many small fossils.
"These came from about 50 feet below ground and most of these are marine fossils," said paleontologist Kim Scott.
With money from Measure R, which voters passed in 2008 for transportation projects and matching funds expected from the federal government this spring, Metro is hoping to break ground on the Purple Line this year.
Officials say ensuring the protection of fossils during the pre-work phase of the subway project will be critical when the real work begins.
"That will enable the contractor to have more information to better build the station boxes and tunnels for this project," said Metro spokesman Dave Sotero.
Metro officials say when the entire project is completed you can ride the rails from downtown to the Westside in about 25 minutes. In a car during rush hour it would take you an hour to an hour and a half.
However, once construction of the subway begins, it is not expected to be completed until 2036.