Battle for funds pits the long-awaited Gold Line to Inland Empire vs. Valley and Southeast L.A. projects – San Bernardino Sun

With a $97 billion California state surplus, local leaders thought they could grab some of that money to build a 3.2-mile extension of a Los Angeles County light-rail line into San Bernardino County, which would be the first of its kind to cross county lines.

But getting the $748 million in gap-funding needed for the extension of the foothill Gold Line, recently renamed the L Line, from Pomona to Claremont and Montclair, is far from a sure thing.

In fact, legislators from the San Gabriel Valley and western San Bernardino County failed a few weeks ago to get earmark funding for the project in a state budget bill, despite sending letters seeking priority and meeting officials in Sacramento. Instead, the extension must compete for state funds against other rail projects in Southeast L.A. County and the San Fernando Valley, among others.

“Everyone is looking for money. There might be some sharp elbows on this project,” said Ara Najarian, a Glendale city council member and chairman of the L.A. Metro Board of Directors.

The unusually high $97 million surplus was not being dedicated to transportation. Some of it went into other infrastructure projects and some went into the state’s rainy day fund. In addition, the state has set aside a one-time funding bonus of $1.8 billion for Southern California transit projects. But it’s unclear exactly how much of that L.A. Metro would get.

The money is part of the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP), and of that, a minimum of $900 million is reserved for projects that have received TIRCP funding previously but need more for completing a project. That qualifies the foothill Gold Line extension as a leading candidate for the state funding, said Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, who leads the San Gabriel Valley Caucus in Sacramento in a unified front to get project funding.

“Now that we have these excess funds, hopefully we can get funding for that shovel-ready project,” said Rodriguez, who represents Pomona, Ontario, Chino, Montclair and part of Upland. “Why not give it to the type of project that can help with traffic and congestion, especially in the Inland Empire?”

FILE – Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line (L-Line) overpass, seen here during an event celebrating 50 percent completion of the Gold Line light rail (L-Line) extension project in San Dimas on Friday, June 17, 2022. The project, which started in 2020 during the pandemic, extends the light-rail system into Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and Pomona. In July and August 2022, state and local leaders are efforting to get funding for the next extension into Claremont, and ending in Montclair. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Here’s how the funding process works:

L.A. Metro must submit projects to the state in order to get the TIRCP money. The California Transportation Agency awards the grants. This process will take place within the next few months, according to L.A. Metro and legislative officials.

The next step is for L.A. Metro’s board to prioritize the projects that should get state surplus funding, Najarian said.

“The state didn’t just give Metro the money,” he said. “Metro will give the state a list of priority projects.” He said there are four projects that are top contenders for the state money. They are:

Gold Line Foothill Extension. The East L.A. to Azusa line, now being extended to Pomona, is the longest light-rail line in the county. If it reached Claremont and was built across the county to Montclair’s TransCenter, the two new stations would add about 7,700 weekday passenger boardings. That project would eliminate 14,900 daily car trips on the 210 and 10 freeways in the first year, 2028, according to studies by L.A. Metro. It also would reduce the amount of annual vehicle miles traveled by 46.4 million, with the Claremont and Montclair stations accounting for nearly two-thirds of the reduction from the six stations between Azusa and Montclair. The extension would reduce pollution and greenhouse gases as well.

East San Fernando Valley Light Rail Transit Project, which would extend north from the Van Nuys Metro G Line (formerly Orange Line) to the Metrolink Station in Sylmar/San Fernando. It would become the first light-rail train in the San Fernando Valley. The project received nearly $1 billion from the federal government, but its total cost will be between $2.8 billion and $3.6 billion. Construction may begin at the end of the year, and the line would become operational in 2028.

West Santa Ana Branch light rail. Despite the name, this 19.3-mile line would not go to Santa Ana. It would run from Artesia to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. It has been called a first-of-its-kind light rail proposal to serve lower-income communities in southeast L.A. County. The cost is a whopping $8.5 billion. Completion of the first phase is estimated to be 2033.

Inglewood People Mover would run about 1.6 miles, from the new Crenshaw rail line to Sofi Stadium and Intuit Dome, serving football and basketball fans. This would be an elevated monorail-type system.

Najarian said he wants the Gold Line extension to receive the state surplus funding. He agrees with a letter sent to him by State Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-Burbank, chairman of the California state Senate Appropriations Committee, asking Metro to prioritize the Gold Line extension into Montclair for the TIRCP grant.

“I want to make sure that the Gold Line makes it onto the priority list,” Portantino said. “The state made that surplus money available, and as far as I am concerned the Gold Line should be the top priority.”

Gold Line Foothill Extension approved to Pomona. To get to Claremont and Montclair, more funding is needed. State lawmakers who urged the governor and the state budget committees to fund the extension using state surplus dollars were disappointed on Sept. 9, 2021 when no bill was passed. But they will try again in 2022 when another state surplus emerges. Ed Reece of Claremont just took the helm as chairman of the Gold Line Construction Authority. His city, along with Montclair and the Construction Authority, sent letters in February 2022 to the governor and state lawmakers to ask for funding to complete the last leg and reach into San Bernardino County. (courtesy Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority).
Gold Line Foothill Extension approved to Pomona and under construction. To get to Claremont and Montclair, more funding is needed. State lawmakers who urged the governor and the state budget committees to fund the extension using state surplus dollars were disappointed on Sept. 9, 2021 when no bill was passed. In July and August 2022, they failed to get the project into a line item in the state budget. The San Gabriel Valley Legislative Caucus has advocated in July and August 2022 for priority for the Claremont-Montclair extension, which will cost $748 million. But that now must be decided by the LA Metro board.  (courtesy Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority).

Though the money would go to L.A. Metro, the project would be built by the construction authority currently building the Azusa to Pomona portion, which is set to be completed by 2025. The project has been planned, and mostly designed, and environmentally approved, to reach Montclair. But in 2019, costs rose, funding was short, and the project was truncated.

“We know that the total amount of funding is ultimately very limited, but we also know that the Foothill Gold Line is in a uniquely good position to be competitive,” said Habib Balian, CEO of the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority, in an emailed response. “No other light rail project in the region is environmentally cleared, has completed a significant amount of design work, and is truly shovel ready,” he said.

Claremont Mayor Ed Reece noted that the San Gabriel Valley legislative caucus has been advocating in Sacramento, and to L.A. Metro, to finish the Gold Line. He said the project would relieve traffic on the 210 and provide environmental benefits. Also, he said the funding would go directly into construction.

The recent closure for bridge work on the 210 Freeway in the east San Gabriel Valley affected many IE and high-desert residents who take the freeway into Los Angeles County to work, then return eastbound in the evening. The corridor has become a jammed freeway link between L.A. County and San Bernardino County, with only 3 percent using public transit.

“Think of what a difference it would make if they could turn around, drive to the Montclair station, get on the Gold Line, and go to work. It would cut their commute time,” said Montclair Mayor Pro Tem Bill Ruh.

The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) has not supported the extension of the Gold Line. Director Ray Wolfe said in September 2019 that the agency would pursue other alternatives, after declaring the agency should “throw in the towel” on the Gold Line extension to Montclair.

Montclair City Manager Edward Starr said the agency wrongly views the inter-county traffic as allowing San Bernardino County dollars to flow into L.A. County, and that running the Montclair section would be a cost burden.

Starr said San Bernardino County residents who used the train to Pasadena and Los Angeles to get to work would return and spend payroll dollars in San Bernardino County for food, recreation and entertainment, vehicles, clothing and home furnishings.

SBCTA officials did not respond to email inquiries.

Montclair, located just across the county line in San Bernardino County, has been planning for the light rail line to link with its large transit center for more than 10 years. In a letter to legislative leaders, Montclair Mayor John Dutrey wrote that the city has already seen construction of 1,100 residential units near the location planned for the light-rail station, and another 1,400 housing units are nearly ready to break ground.

Many legislators talk about eventually building the line to Ontario International Airport. But Starr said that would cost $2 billion and may be out of reach. Instead, if the line reached Montclair, shuttle buses could take passengers on soon-to-be-completed Express Lanes on the 10 Freeway and reach ONT in 10 minutes.

ONT is used as an alternative to LAX by Inland Empire residents as well as residents west of the airport in the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys, he said. If the line’s extension to Montclair were funded, it would be built by 2028 — in time to serve IE residents hoping to see sports at L.A. Olympic venues such as the Rose Bowl and the Los Angeles Coliseum, he said.

But supporters of the Gold Line’s extension into the IE failed to get state funding last year, when the money was tied up with a defeated high-speed rail bill. In the meantime, other rail projects are being planned in L.A. County that cost billions and are hungry for state dollars.

“We are waiting on L.A. Metro,” said Starr. “If it doesn’t happen this year, we try again next year.”


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