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Gold Line moves forward, but will Claremont be left out?

The Gold Line finalized a design-build deal with Kiewit-Parsons and celebrated in a lively ceremony at Pomona City Hall last Friday. But whether or not the light rail gets to Claremont is still the $450 million question, as that leg of the line remains unfunded.

The $805.6 million deal with the joint venture, first announced in August, is a big milestone for the project as it secures a builder for the extension, which is currently fully funded to Pomona.

Friday’s ceremony featured a laundry list of prominent elected officials—including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, US Representative Norma Torres, LA County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger, State Senator Anthony Portantino and State Assemblymember Chris Holden—touting the Gold Line and saying it would not only get to Montclair, but all the way to the Ontario International Airport.

Claremont Mayor Corey Calaycay and councilmembers Jennifer Stark and Ed Reece were also present.

Pomona mayor Tim Sandoval, who also serves as the chair of the board for the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority, said that while there was still work to be done to get the Gold Line past Pomona and into Montclair, “We are committed to doing all we can to make that vision a reality.”

The current Gold Line extension kicked into high gear with the passage of Measure M in 2016, which added a half-cent to sales taxes countywide to fund regional transportation projects.

The project was initially estimated at around $1.6 billion, but bids came in way over budget, forcing the construction authority to readjust the price tag to $2.1 billion and separate the project into four phases.

The contract signing kicks off a two-year window to secure the money needed to build the Gold Line to Montclair, Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority CEO Habib Balian said.

“We’re starting that process now,” he said. “We’re going to be working with the state, and all our state legislators are very supportive of this project.”

If the money is secured by October 2021, the Claremont station could open by 2028. The extension into Pomona is set to open by 2025.

Mr. Balian said the Pomona to Claremont portion would be state-funded, noting a funding source is possible through SB1, better known as the gas tax, or through the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA).

Mr. Holden told the COURIER that funding at the state level could come from greenhouse gas reduction funds or as a result of projects that may not happen, such as the possible high-speed rail project from Merced to San Jose.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to go the distance, that’s why having the federal government here and other partners is going to be important,” Mr. Holden said. “But I do think there’s a lot of momentum, a lot of goodwill that’s built up around the Gold Line. The communities that are impacted I think recognize the value of it. I think there will be opportunities for us to start to explore separated funding options. But we’re going to try to turn as many rocks over in the state as we can.”

When asked what representatives from Claremont and Montclair have said to him regarding the project, Mr. Balian said they were “very anxious” to have the project.

“They want that commitment,” he said. “They understand the realities that we can’t get to Claremont and Montclair unless we get to Pomona first, so this is an important step.”

Mr. Portantino, whose state senate district includes Claremont, offered up two famous quotes from the film Field of Dreams in his speech. “If you build it, they will come,” and “Go the distance.”

He had a message for San Bernardino County: “It’s coming, get on board and buy a ticket.”

“Because we got to connect this to the Ontario Airport, we got to cross county lines, we got to move people in a modern, 21st century way and get people out of their cars, and the Gold Line is the standard for that,” Mr. Portantino said.

The message could be a response to the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority’s (SBCTA) Executive Director, Ray Wolfe, telling board members in early September that he would rather pursue “another alternative” to the Gold Line, which was first reported by the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

On the agenda for Thursday’s SBCTA board meeting is discussion about an alternative to the Gold Line called the “Gold Link,” which SBCTA says would be a cheaper “hybrid rail” option on existing Metrolink tracks that could connect Pomona to Rancho Cucamonga via Diesel multiple unit (DMU) trains—which are smaller and quicker than Metrolink trains.

The Gold Link proposal’s estimated capital investment is $55 million, according to the agenda, which is much lower than the roughly $97 million SBCTA would pay towards the Gold Line’s Montclair portion.

Mr. Balian said last Friday that SBCTA “has to be a partner” in the Gold Line project. “This is something that they have to want,” he said. “They have to be leaders in this, just as much as the construction authority is a leader in this.”

“You’ll see folks here that represent Montclair and the Inland Empire who want to see the project continued,” he added. “It’s very obvious there’s support for this project.”

Despite the work that still has to be done to secure the funding, Mr. Holden was clear that the Gold Line into Claremont is going to happen.

He told a story about former Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley—after he won his first championship with the Lakers in the 1980s, he predicted they were going to win it all again, which they did.

“Sometimes you have to make the declaration that you’re going to see this thing all the way through, and then that helps set the momentum that gets people’s mindsets wrapped around the possible,” Mr. Holden said. “So as far as I’m concerned, it’s going to happen. Claremont is going to get a project and Montclair is going to get a project and, ultimately, Ontario.”

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

 

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