Light rail moves a step closer to Claremont

A cyclist waits for the traffic signal at Arrow Highway and E Street adjacent to newly built light rail lines in La Verne. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

by Steven Felschundneff |

The light at the end of the Metro Gold Line tunnel may finally be reached if new state transportation funds are allocated to complete the rail system through to Claremont and Montclair.

When Governor Gavin Newsom and the legislature finalized the 2023/2024 state budget earlier this summer they earmarked $5.1 billion for key transportation projects over the next three years. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s cut of that is expected to be $1.3 billion, the largest allocation of any regional agency.

On Monday, Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority CEO Habib Balian expressed optimism that final leg of the project, now called the A Line, would at last get built thanks to the significant cash infusion.

“The Construction Authority is seeking approximately $798 million to finish the final construction segment from Pomona to Montclair that includes the last two stations of the 25-station Foothill Gold Line system that has been underway since the 1990s,” Balian wrote in a news release. “We are hopeful that the funding needed will come from this new state funding opportunity, following the Metro board’s unanimously reaffirming this past March that the Foothill Gold Line from Pomona to Montclair was the County’s number one priority for any new state transit capital funding.”

The 12.3-mile Gold Line extension was originally scheduled to connect the rail line’s current terminus in Azusa through Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Pomona, Claremont, and Montclair. In 2018, when construction bids came in “hundreds of millions of dollars above the amount of funding secured,” the decision was made to end the line near the intersection of Bonita and Garey avenues in Pomona. Several times since then the construction authority has tried to secure money for the final leg even as the price tag has ballooned due to rising construction costs.

Back in February the California State Transportation Agency elected not to fund the final 3.2 miles of the A Line when it doled out Transit Intercity Rail Capital Program monies from the previous fiscal year. At the time, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board had identified the two-station extension as its second most important priority for Los Angeles County. However, the state chose to fund only Metro’s top priority, a new light rail system in the San Fernando Valley.

According to the California State Transportation Agency, the current round of funding includes $4 billion from the Transit Intercity Rail Capital Program and an additional $1.1 billion from the Zero-Emission Transit Capital Program. Unlike the previous funding cycle during which individual projects had to receive state approval, this time local transportation agencies will be given the authority to select top projects.

“The Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority and the City of Claremont are both optimistic that the recently approved transit capital funding from the state will be utilized to complete the Foothill Gold Line to Claremont and Montclair,” said Mayor Ed Reece, who has been a strong proponent of getting light rail to Claremont. “I am confident in the strong partnership the construction authority and Metro have created, and I look forward to working collaboratively with Metro over the next few months to ensure all necessary information is provided to allow this important regional project to secure the funding needed.”

Claremont has made a significant bet that light rail will eventually find its way to town, in part by concentrating much of its planning for future housing on sites adjacent to the proposed station. Most notably, the large South Village mixed use project will be a “transit oriented development,” incorporating higher density housing with access to public transportation and jobs to enable people to reduce their reliance on cars. As such, its success is closely tied to the expansion of the A Line to complement existing transportation options, including Metrolink trains and Foothill Transit buses, both of which have stops adjacent to South Village.

Completing the final roughly 3.5-mile segment is expected to generate 7,700 weekday boardings, more than half of the total ridership for the six station extension, according to a letter Claremont sent to Sacramento last year. Trips from the Claremont and Montclair stations are projected to replace 26.7 million vehicle miles traveled annually, eliminating millions of tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the local atmosphere.

In June the Gold Line Construction Authority held a celebration in La Verne to commemorate completion of the 9.1 miles of track connecting Azusa and Pomona. Contractors are now halfway finished building the four stations, and officials anticipate welcoming the first passengers in early 2025.

“While the guidelines are not yet finalized, the shovel-ready Pomona to Montclair final segment fulfills the requirements set out in the draft guidelines published by CalSTA, and we expect to work collaboratively with Metro over the next few months to provide all necessary information to ensure that the project meets the final guidelines and can be submitted as part of the County’s allocation package for this new funding opportunity,” Balian wrote.


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