By Steve Scauzillo
LOS ANGELES >> The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors voted Thursday to fund an 11.5-mile extension of the foothill Gold Line, while remaining hundreds of millions of dollars short of full funding.
Escalating costs have driven up the price tag of the nine-year project to $1.4 billion, leaving LA Metro searching for the last $249 million to pay for the light-rail extension from Azusa to the San Bernardino County line.
The transit agency will attempt to raise the extra cash by applying for Cap and Trade funds, paid to the state by polluters that emit greenhouse gases.
The availability of those funds can vary, but that doesn’t worry project proponents who say Metro and L.A. County will make the extension a priority.
“We will be the only project being submitted for Cap and Trade funds (in the county),” said Habib Balian, CEO of the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority based in Monrovia. “This is similar to the model Metro uses when they build federal projects.”
If Metro is denied the funding by the state, the Construction Authority will look at trimming project amenities such as parking spaces or pedestrian walkways, he said. The project will connect through Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne Pomona and Claremont, with five stations, four new bridges and dozens of at-grade street crossings.
If not enough cutbacks are found, the project could be shortened, Balian said.
“We could not build the project to Claremont without closing that (funding) gap, or most of it,” he said.
For example, only building the project to Pomona would be a possibility if the extra funding does not materialize. “We want to make that a last resort,” Balian said.
Another option is to skim funding from other San Gabriel Valley projects, such as improvements to the northbound 710 Freeway and nearby roadways, the 605 Freeway and the 57/60 Freeway interchange in Diamond Bar, according to a Metro report released Thursday.
The agreement allows the Construction Authority to break ground in October. Contractors will begin moving utility lines to make way for awarding the design-construction contract that would allow work to begin in September 2018. Balian estimates the extension would be built by December 2025 or early 2026. Metro would operate rail service three to six months later after testing is complete.
“The second phase of the Foothill Gold Line is truly significant because it’s the very first Measure M transit project out of the gate,” said John Fasana, Metro board chairman and Duarte city councilman.
Measure M, a half-cent sales tax for county transportation projects, was approved by 71 percent of voters last November. It supplies $120 billion to Metro over 40 years for dozens of major projects as well as road and transit upkeep.
When built, Metro hopes the line will pull commuters from San Bernardino County to downtown Los Angeles, the first Metro rail line built with the intent of taking Inland Empire commuters off the busy 210, 10 and 60 freeways. A ride from Claremont to L.A. would take about one hour and cost $1.75.
Fasana said the Gold Line from L.A. to Azusa averages 52,000 riders per weekday, far more than expected. The result has been crowded rush-hour trains and full parking garages. He said Metro needs to think about building enough capacity on new rail lines.
“Clearly, when you build it, they will come and they will ride,” he said.
The remarks come less than a month after Metro rejected extending the 710 Freeway from El Sereno to Pasadena, ending a 60-year debate. Carrie Bowen, Caltrans District 7 Director and Metro board member, said California has reached the point where new, “multi-modal” options are needed to move people and goods.
“You can’t continue to just expand freeways,” she said.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, one of three members of the 12-member Metro board from the San Gabriel Valley, joined Fasana at a press conference after the vote. “As someone born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley, this day is beyond exciting,” she said.
Metro CEO Phil Washington said he worked out a spending plan with Balian’s team, making the Foothill Gold Line second extension the first for Measure M, but not the last. The agency is planning a rail line from L.A. to southeast cities and an underground rail tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass. Rail lines to Westwood, El Segundo and LAX are near completion.
“The transportation revolution is on,” Washington declared. “We are the transportation infrastructure capital of the world.”
Metro intends to extend the Gold Line another mile to Montclair, but the board needs funding from the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency. So far, the agency has about $30 million, but needs an additional $37 million.
Montclair must complete a funding agreement within two years after the second contract is awarded, so the work can continue and connect the line with the transit center in Montclair, Balian said.
A bill by Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Chino, asking for the money has been incorporated into SB1, a law that allows for new transportation funding. The money is about 95 percent certain, said Ron Gonzales-Lawrence, an aide to Rodriguez.
Supervisor Hilda Solis speaks during The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board's press conference announcing budget for the Metro Gold Line extension to Claremont on Thursday, June 22, 2017. The extension is the first to be built with Measure M half-cent sales tax. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)