Claremont Gold Line still in works, but funding remains elusive
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
For many residents the idea of light rail service coming to Claremont faded when the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority announced a few years ago that it had funding to reach Pomona, but no further. Still, some people, including Councilmember Ed Reece, have never given up on completing the last few miles and are fighting to get the Gold Line to The City of Trees.
Funding remains the obstacle, and local elected officials had hoped to secure the money from Sacramento this fall. However, that did not happen during the most recent legislative session which closed last week.
“It is funded all the way through Pomona at this point,” Councilmember Reece said. “We have almost the entire San Gabriel Valley state delegation, both in the assembly and senate, supporting the Gold Line, as well as more specifically, Assembly Member Chris Holden is actually championing the cause and moving it forward.”
Councilmember Reece is a local transportation advocate and serves as the chair of the Gold Line’s construction committee. He is also vice chairman for the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments transportation committee and serves on the Southern California Association of Governments transportation committee.
The 12.3-mile Gold Line extension, now called the L Line, was originally scheduled to connect the line’s current terminus in Azusa through Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Pomona and Claremont, ending at Montclair Transit Center. Built along the former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe right-of-way, planning began in 2003 and the final environmental impact report was certified in March 2013, with a groundbreaking in December 2017.
“In late 2018, as part of a multi-step competitive process to hire the Alignment Design-Build contractor to complete the main contract for the project, the Construction Authority received bids that were hundreds of millions of dollars above the amount of funding secured,” according to a news release from Foothill Gold Line.
As a result, the decision was made to build the light rail extension in phases with Pomona North being the new end of the line. In August 2019, the construction authority awarded the “design-build” contract to Kiewit-Parsons, including $805.6 million for the first nine miles of the project, with a two-year contract option to complete the full 12.3-mile project to Montclair, for a total contract award of $1.18 billion.
However, that contract extension was predicated on the construction authority securing the additional money by October 2021, which did not happen when the legislature recessed without authorizing the funding.
During Tuesday’s Claremont City Council meeting, councilmember Reece announced the unfortunate news from the state, but expressed confidence that a deal would still be reached.
“We have to reevaluate what the new costs are going to be moving forward, and so Gold Line staff are evaluating what those future costs are going to be, they will be higher than the $545 million,” Councilmember Reece said. “There is significant support in continuing the Gold Line through to Montclair. Our partners in Montclair are in full support of it. This project is shovel-ready, design-ready. If you were at the state level and wanted a project to fund that you could turn on tomorrow, this is that project.”
Both the Pomona North and La Verne stations are currently under construction, as well as rail crossings at major streets in the area. Along the entire corridor the project has reached “substantial completion,” meaning it’s about one-third built overall. The rail line is projected to be complete through Pomona by 2027, at which point it will be turned over to Metro which will run tests and open the line later that year.
During a recent afternoon, D Street which runs through La Verne’s downtown business district, was closed to through traffic and a construction fence lined the south boundary of the University of La Verne where the future Gold Line station will be built. Foothill Gold Line authorities have placed “businesses open during construction” signs in the area to mitigate the disruption caused by construction.
Councilmember Reece said he is hopeful that the funding to complete the line to Montclair will finally come through in the next legislative session and that the Gold Line could be in service here in 2028 or 2029.
“If we got it to Montclair we would see 8,000 more boardings per day. That means fewer cars on the freeway, fewer cars on the street and doing some good for the environment as well,” he said. Eventually, one may be able to take the Gold Line all the way from Claremont to Long Beach.
The plan for Claremont includes an overpass at Indian Hill, which drew a lot of both positive and negative community input during public meetings over the past few years. However, the overpass was a requirement by the California Public Utilities Commission which oversees railways in the state. The plan also includes a station at the current Metrolink Parking lot and the construction of a parking garage.
“Getting the Gold Line into Claremont and on to Montclair will really provide a number of opportunities for our community and a number of alternative ways to go to and from work, and to and from exploring Southern California — a different way to move about that is not always car-centric,” Councilmember Reece said. “I am excited, when it comes, it will be great. And I think we will see more people coming to visit Claremont as well, to enjoy our restaurants and our shops here in Claremont, which is great for our small businesses.”