Claremont Gold Line overpass one step closer to reality

The redesigned Gold Line overpass got the stamp of approval from the Traffic and Transportation Commission (TTC).

The commission voted 4-1 in favor of the bridge on September 28, with commissioner Jack Blair the only dissenting vote. The design now moves on to the city council, where it will be scrutinized before a final vote is cast on October 10.

New TTC Chair Zachary Courser noted a decision on the bridge needs to be made quickly, and lauded the process of bringing the new bridge design to the commission for further study, a process that didn’t happen when the original bridge design was considered in 2016.

“I think it is time to act on this before we start losing too much time,” he said. “If we had started in 2016 and taken sufficient time, we could have even more time to think this over. But I think the train’s leaving the station and it’s time for us to make a decision.”

Groundbreaking for the upcoming Gold Line expansion is set for December, with an expected completion date of late 2025-early 2026.

The current direction by the council is to keep the Indian Hill Boulevard crossing at street-level, but it was revealed in June that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) may mandate a bridge over Claremont’s main thoroughfare, citing traffic and safety concerns.

This led the city to go back to the drawing board, offering up a new design for the overpass that is more open on each side, less heavy up top and more curved. The design by local architect John Bohn was showcased at public meetings at the Hughes Center and Blaisdell Center over the summer.

Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor noted in his presentation to the TTC that if the city were to contest the CPUC’s direction, it would be an uphill battle. The city would have to hire a consultant to gather data that would counter the CPUC’s findings, which could be an expensive endeavor and could delay the project.

“Additionally, based on the city’s experiences in fighting with the PUC on water issues, and given the traffic data, staff does not believe we are likely to prevail at the CPUC in requesting an at-grade crossing at Indian Hill,” Mr. Tudor said.

Mr. Blair asked Mr. Tudor a point blank question—what would happen if the Gold Line weren’t built?

Mr. Tudor noted that all transit-oriented development would suffer, and the city would not have another option in terms of public transit. He acknowledged there was going to be “difficult times” during construction, but the end result would benefit the city.

During public comment, Planning Commission Chair Richard Rosenbluth asserted there was insufficient analysis on the bridge in regards to traffic and train control, and cautioned the commission to take their time to make a decision.

Ludd Trozpek recommended considering placing the Gold Line below-grade, as Pasadena did with the Del Mar station. He challenged Mr. Tudor to come up with estimates about how much it would actually cost.

“I don’t think anybody has done them. I think this is stuff people pulled out of thin air to stop discussion on the idea of this,” he said.

Mr. Tudor countered that the proximity of the Village West to the rail corridor as an impediment to an underground rail. Tacking on more expensive underground construction on a project that is already underfunded by some $250 million also would not help.

“I think that leverage starts to really disappear when we start to add things on that are going to add that kind of dramatic pricing to the project, and that’s where we start to get concerned that the answer then becomes it [the Gold Line] doesn’t come here,” Mr. Tudor said.

Commissioner Chuck Freitas touched upon the concept of a bridge acting as a divider between north and south Claremont, and countered that having no bridge would act as an even greater divider, with traffic problems forcing people to go elsewhere.

“I don’t think people would ever think about going down College [Avenue] or Indian Hill Boulevard, they would go around it, to not be caught up in all of this,” Mr. Freitas said.

County Supervisor offers amended motion

Claremont is getting a larger seat at the table when it comes to the future of its Metrolink station, according to LA?County Supervisor Hilda Solis.

Ms. Solis, who is also a Metro board member, introduced an amended motion that will study the benefits and drawbacks of eliminating the Claremont Metrolink station as part of the Gold Line project at the Metro Board of Directors meeting on September 28.

Specifically, the new motion allows Claremont staff to be included in the project team during all phases of the 60-day study, and permits city staff to look over the draft final report before it is sent to the board. It also analyzes when the Metrolink service would be discontinued and how long the city would be without either rail service, should the station be taken out.

During her motion, Ms. Solis emphasized that her intention was not to get rid of the station, but only to study how best to accommodate the Gold Line, Metrolink and freight trains in a soon-to-be crowded corridor.

“I want to make very clear to the residents in particular in Claremont, because there was a lot of back and forth and misunderstanding in the press, quite frankly, that didn’t clarify what our intent was. And our intent was to not rule out anything,” she said. “It’s to very clearly negotiate, come up with the best plan that will sufficiently help our population get to where they need to get, and do it in a manner that is less disruptive but efficient and saving us time but also with respect to our budgets.”

Board member John Fasana lauded the amended motion.

“There was some concern that this might ruffle some feathers by focusing on this Claremont station,” Mr. Fasana said. “But I think it’s only fair to the public that the city of Claremont and others know what’s being discussed and that we’re being forthright with them up front, which is what this motion does.”

Mayor Larry Schroeder, who was at the meeting along with Mr. Tudor and Councilmember Corey Calaycay, said that having both rail systems in Claremont allows residents options to get to where they need to be, and thanked the board for allowing Claremont to have a larger role in the process.

“Having both systems, in their capacity, will get more cars off our roads, and any consideration to eliminate the station must not be taken lightly and must involve our community,” he said.

The motion passed unanimously.

Commission weighs in on amended motion

Mr. Tudor gave a report about the amended motion to the TTC meeting later that evening. When Mr. Courser asked how much power Claremont has in looking over the draft study before it goes to the Metro board, Mr. Tudor said he didn’t know, citing that the exact process of the study had not been laid out yet.

In his remarks, Mr. Courser expressed concern that Claremont is being characterized as an impediment with respect to the Metrolink—slowing it down, costing too much and being too close to Montclair or Pomona.

“I would hope, just personally, that we don’t make any irreparable decisions that deny Claremont future access to transportation and that we take a really long term view of the situation,” he said.

During public comment, Erik Griswold said Claremont needs a Metrolink station—even if it’s only a three-car platform like at Cal State LA.

He invited commissioners to walk with him to the Montclair station after the meeting.

“It will take 25 minutes,” he said. “It is not the most pleasant environment.”

—Matthew Bramlett


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