City will continue to review Gold Line overpass
Claremont has moved one small step closer to a possible overpass for the incoming Gold Line.
The unanimous decision allows further scrutiny of a proposed 30-foot high concrete grade separation that, if approved, will cross Indian Hill Boulevard adjacent to the existing Metrolink/freight train tracks. Under the recommendation, which was amended by city staff before the meeting, the overpass plans will be evaluated under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and passed through the city’s Planning Commission, Architectural Commission and Traffic and Transportation Commission before arriving back to the council for additional review.
The city has until February 2017 to send the overpass plans through the proper channels to be voted on by the council. If they don’t arrive in time or they get rejected, the city will revert to the original CEQA-approved plan of an at-grade crossing.
City Manager Tony Ramos presented the plans a few weeks after they were made available during two public meetings in January and February. Mr. Ramos stressed that the designs presented were conceptual and open for review.
He also mentioned that the design hinges on voter approval of a sales tax to pay for much of the $1.2 billion needed for the Gold Line addition this November.
“Let me be real clear: if this fails at the ballot in 2016, this is a moot discussion,” Mr. Ramos said.
If the measure passes, construction will begin in 2017 with an estimated completion date of 2023.
The overpass was proposed by the Gold Line Construction Authority as a way to alleviate traffic and “gate-down time” along the narrowed portion of Indian Hill. City Engineer Loretta Mustafa presented simulations of what peak traffic may look like in 2023 if the line was built at-grade versus the grade separation.
Total gate-down time, with a Gold Line train passing through every five minutes (or 12 trains per hour) as forecasted, is estimated to be 18-23 minutes per hour at-grade, versus 7-12 minutes per hour with the overpass, according to Ms. Mustafa.
A computer simulation of the proposed overpass was also presented, showcasing the bridge and the proposed Gold Line station at the Claremont Depot. The council approved the Depot as the new home of the Claremont Museum of Art in December.
Mr. Ramos also stated that the Gold Line Construction Authority would provide $23 million to complete the project. “Any add-ons after that will be the responsibility of the city,” Mr. Ramos added.
The council scrutinized the traffic report, with Mayor Corey Calaycay asking Ms. Mustafa if the increased traffic on Indian Hill would force drivers to spill into side streets to avoid traffic.
Mayor Pro Tem Sam Pedroza refuted a viewpoint written by resident Ludd Trozpek in a recent edition of the COURIER. The article slammed the council for rushing approval of the overpass and accused Mr. Pedroza of withholding the grade-separation proposal for the public as vice-chair of the Gold Line Construction Authority, as well as presenting a “take it or leave it” attitude.
“This project, from the first time we had public discussion on it, has been in the beginning process. It’s not even close to the end of the process,” Mr. Pedroza said. “So, this take-it-or-leave-it concept is absolutely untrue.”
“I got the information about this project, this idea about the grade separation project, at the same time as the city did,” he added.
In his initial presentation, Mr. Ramos said he became aware of the grade separation proposal in mid-December and the Gold Line representatives presented the plan to council on January 12 due to the holiday.
During public comment, resident Mark von Wodtke cautioned the council to take a step back and look at the overpass as it relates to the village. He also questioned the findings of the traffic survey.
Resident Mark Hoeg, who called the conceptual design “cold, cheap and ugly-looking,” had strong words for the proposed bridge.
“If you build this, it will really put a dagger in the heart of our town,” Mr. Hoeg said.
Planning Commission vice-chair Richard Rosenbluth offered an additional vetting process by the Traffic and Transportation Commission to fully review the traffic impact that may be created by the Gold Line, overpass or not.
Ellen Taylor expressed excitement about the Gold Line coming to Claremont, but brought forth the idea of a lowered-grade railway to move through the city. That suggestion was echoed by a number of other commenters. Other commenters mentioned lowering Indian Hill beneath an at-grade track as another alternative to the proposal.
Mr. Ramos said the Construction Authority looked into the possibility of a below-grade track, but found them “financially unfeasible,” citing exponential costs. A lowered Indian Hill, Mr. Calaycay noted, would have to stretch from Arrow Highway up past First Street, impacting large numbers of homes and businesses in between.
During discussion, Councilmember Larry Schroeder called for more research into the overpass.
“The citizens of Claremont are very process-oriented and like to have an issue thoroughly vetted,” Mr. Schroeder said. “I don’t think we should just reject a grade separation for the Gold Line out of hand without some consideration.”
Mr. Pedroza, after reiterating that he never advocated one way or another for the proposed bridge, praised the “Claremont process” of thoroughly looking into and considering an issue.
“I want to make sure that we keep true to the Claremont process, and that means dialogue,” he said. “It doesn’t mean, ‘oh, you don’t like it? Let’s just say no now.’ That isn’t the Claremont process. We’ve never been that way.”
The motion to send the proposed grade separation back for further commission review passed unanimously, 5-0.
Additional items addressed at Tuesday’s council meeting include the funding of a program manager position for Sustainable Claremont, a contract extension for the city-wide park and right-of-way landscaping services. A report on those items is available online and will be published in print in the next edition.