Montclair, Claremont ask state leaders to fund light-rail extension using budget surplus – San Bernardino Sun

The cities of Claremont and Montclair recently sent letters to the governor and state Legislature asking for a sizeable chunk of the $46 billion state budget surplus to fund a 3.2-mile extension of the LA Metro light-rail line from Pomona to their cities.

Both cities, as well as the board overseeing the current Glendora-to-Pomona extension of the L Line, formerly known as the Gold Line, have asked Gov. Gavin Newsom and key state lawmakers for $748 million to build the last leg of the project and push the light-rail service past Claremont in LA County to Montclair in San Bernardino County.

To extend the Metro L Line, formerly the Gold Line, to Claremont and Montclair, more funding is needed. California lawmakers who urged the governor and budget committees to fund the extension using state surplus dollars were disappointed in September 2021 when no bill was passed. But they are trying again in 2022. (Courtesy Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority)

Cities along the current project extension route, including Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and Pomona, as well as Fairplex in Pomona, University of La Verne and Cal Poly Pomona, are drafting similar letters of support, said Lisa Levy Buch, spokesperson for the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

“I hope that the groundswell of support in the region and beyond will help this project get completed across the county line to serve millions of commuters in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties,” Claremont Mayor Pro Tem Ed Reece, who chairs the Construction Authority board, wrote in an email.

The push includes a letter from Claremont dated Feb. 14, urging support, as well as two letters from Montclair, one dated Feb. 16 signed by Mayor John Dutrey, and a second one dated Feb. 22 signed by Dutrey and Mayor Pro Tem Bill Ruh.

Adding the two stations would generate more than 50% of the new ridership for the electric-powered trolley line, while eliminating 53% of the car trips and 60% of the vehicle miles traveled. In total, the extension to Montclair is expected to add 7,700 new L Line boardings each weekday by 2028 and eliminate 14,900 car trips each day, mostly from the 210 and 10 freeways, the letters said.

The train would become an alternative to 3 million vehicle trips that are made each day in the Gold Line corridor cities, of which only 3% are made by transit, the officials said.

Montclair wrote that the station to be built at the city’s existing Montclair TransCenter would allow riders from a dozen bus lines and Metrolink passenger trains from San Bernardino to hop on the light-rail line that takes riders to Pomona, La Verne, San Dimas, Glendora, Azusa, Irwindale, Duarte, Arcadia, Pasadena and Los Angeles’ Chinatown, Downtown LA and East LA. The standard cost of a ride is $1.75.

In addition, the Montclair L Line station would be reachable by bicycle riders along the proposed San Antonio Creek Channel trail, a $112 million project aimed at increasing ridership while reducing tailpipe pollution. The new trail would connect with a planned West Valley Connector project — a 19-mile bus rapid transit system with connections to Ontario International Airport and Metrolink, the Montclair letter stated.

Besides providing a mass transit option between their two counties, Montclair and Claremont are planning nearby housing projects along the lines, so people can ride the light-rail with minimal or no driving trips. The two cities combined have plans for 10,000 housing units near the Montclair and Claremont stations.

In north Montclair, the city already has seen construction of 1,100 residential units and has developer interest in about 8,000 more within a half-mile of the Montclair TransCenter, the city said. Montclair is attempting to buy land from Caltrans at the TransCenter for housing, including affordable apartments.

The two cities, along with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, as well as state senators and Assembly members from both counties, have been advocating for the cross-county line for decades as a way to connect commuters and weekend travelers with a more frequent, less expensive light-rail service that could remove cars from crowded east-west freeways.

But the environmentally certified project hit a snag in 2019 when rising materials and labor costs pushed the project into the red and truncated the foothill extension, ending it in north Pomona and leaving out Claremont and Montclair.

Project proponents missed an opportunity to keep the project going in October 2021, when an option on the contract with Kiewit-Parsons Joint Partners ran out and state lawmakers and the governor could not reach an agreement. At that time, the extension would have cost about $540 million — a considerable amount for the distance. But with inflation driving up the cost of materials and labor, the price tag on the 3.2-mile extension has increased by more than $200 million.

The new cost is $748 million and negotiations are underway with the contractor for an extension to build the project, should funding become available, said Gold Line Authority CEO Habib Balian. But the portion in San Bernardino County would be covered by about $90 million in set-aside dollars from the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, Buch said, which would bring the total cost of the extension to $838 million.

If funding becomes available by summer and the contractor agrees to the change-order, the line to Claremont and Montclair could be completed by 2027, Balian said. If a new contractor must be found, a new bidding process would add another year and a half, he added.

Either way, it all depends on whether Sacramento provides the money, something that may not be determined until the state budget is approved in June or July.

“I think we stand a very good chance,” Balian said.

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