Gold Line to end in La Verne, Claremont stop uncertain

Claremont’s place in the Gold Line plans might be less certain than previously thought.

The Gold Line Construction Authority revealed Monday that due to higher-than-expected costs, the project will balloon by $570 million to an overall cost of $2.1 billion.

Gold Line Construction Authority CEO Habib Balian told the Claremont city council on Tuesday evening that the news was the culmination of unfavorable market conditions, including higher steel tariffs, material costs, labor shortage and two cities along the line who have litigated with the authority.

“I think if we talked about this two or three years ago, you would have never thought we’d have these kinds of conditions that we’re in,” he said. “But that is where we are, and it’s made the project very costly.”

The problem came to light when four design-build teams came back with bids that were hundreds of millions of dollars over the estimate, which was completed in 2016.

To remedy this, the construction authority has proposed to split the extension project in two—use the money they have now to construct the light rail line from Glendora to La Verne by 2024, two years ahead of schedule, and go out to bid separately for the remainder of the line from La Verne to Montclair. Mr. Balian told the council that this would save tens of millions of dollars in costs.

This would complete eight miles of the original 12.3-mile project, and would cover the majority of grade crossings, Gold Line structures and freight system relocation, the authority said.

The plan is subject to additional environmental review, as the state has to study La Verne’s viability as a terminus (end of the line) station. That will delay the project by an additional six months, the construction authority said.

If the authority finds a funding source for the second leg of the line, Claremont will have to wait two extra years—until 2028, as opposed to the original target date of 2026—for the Gold Line.

To make that date, the authority has until August 2021 to find a funding source, Mr. Balian told the council. That funding could come from a number of different areas, including cap-and-trade funds from the state, he later added. 

The new plan also allows for the construction authority to isolate the costs of re-aligning the tracks through Pomona, Claremont and Montclair—a difficult and costly part of the project. The current plan is to remove the Metrolink/freight line, place it further south while expanding the rail corridor and lay the light rail tracks north of the new train tracks.

The plan also calls for moving the current Metrolink station east of College Avenue and building the Gold Line station in front of the Depot.

In a statement, the city said it was “shocked and disappointed at the announcement that construction of the Claremont Gold Line station is uncertain.”

“For over 15 years, the city of Claremont has worked to bring the line to Claremont. Our community has supported the construction of the line and contributes to the funding of the line through our sales tax dollars,” the city continued.

City Manager Tara Schultz said in the statement that Claremont remains on board with bringing the Gold Line to the City of Trees.

“Today’s announcement, while incredibly disappointing, does not lessen the city’s commitment to bringing the Gold Line to Claremont,” Ms. Schultz said. “Staff will continue to work with the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority on the project and assist with identifying funding to complete the line. We will keep the community informed throughout the process.”

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Opanyi Nasiali was concerned about the news, especially since voters passed Measure M, a sales tax increase without a sunset date that would pay for multiple transit projects in Los Angeles County, including the Gold Line.

“Can you assure us that you are going to fight for this project to be finished sooner rather than later by getting money from Metro?” he asked.

Mr. Balian said that he could.

“It’s our priority to finish the project all the way to Montclair,” he said. “That is our goal, that is what our procurement is all about, that’s how it’s going to be environmentally cleared, that’s what we’re going to do.”

The council was concerned about the Gold Line’s status as a priority project for Metro, but Mr. Balian assured them that that’s still the case. Councilmember Joe Lyons, at one point, suggested that Claremonters campaign for the Gold Line the same way they did with the Metrolink station—by showing up at a Metro board meeting.

Councilmember Sam Pedroza, who sits on the Construction Authority’s board, emphasized that the project has always had its challenges. While he called the news “discouraging and very upsetting,” he has faith in the authority to make Claremont a Gold Line city.

“This project has always had its uphill battles. It’s the little engine that could,” he said.

“That being the case, my comment to that is we are tired of climbing,” Mr. Nasiali responded.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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