After decades of preparation, the agency responsible for bringing the Los Angeles Metro’s Gold Line — which runs from eastern LA to the San Gabriel foothills — further east says its plan is finally moving forward. But doubts continue to swirl over whether the light rail system will ever make it to Claremont.
The Metro Foothill Extension Construction Authority is slated Friday morning to sign an agreement with contractors Kiewit-Parsons to extend the Gold Line at a cost of $2.1 billion. The 12.3 miles of new rail could add stations in as many as six cities: Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Pomona, Claremont and Montclair, with construction set to begin next year.
Of the six new stations, though, only four are currently guaranteed under the contract.
The Metro has secured enough funding for the extension as far as Pomona, but construction of the easternmost 3.3 miles of rail — which includes the proposed Claremont and Montclair stations — will cost another $550 million.
The agency has just $100 million of that secured, and needs to raise another $450 million in funding by October 2021 for that part of the project to proceed, extension authority spokesperson Albert Ho said.
Rising material prices nationwide, a loss of qualified foreign-born workers due to tighter immigration policies and the ongoing trade war with China, among other factors, have contributed to the funding shortfall, according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
“That amount of money doesn’t just appear out of nowhere,” Ho said.
Claremont City Manager Tara Schultz said the city expected there would be a budget shortfall, but was surprised by how much money was still needed to get the Metro to Montclair.
Still, she said the Gold Line extension authority has been successful at filling shortfalls before, “so we’re going to give them the benefit of the doubt and give them that time.”
Extension of the Gold Line from its current terminus in Azusa through Pomona will be completed by 2025, the Metro has estimated. And if the segment to Montclair secures funding, it could be operational by 2028 — five years later than initial estimates.
The project may receive some more funding from California’s SB-1 gas tax, Ho said, as well as LA County’s Measure M sales tax and other state grants. But for the most part, it’s unclear where the remaining funds will come from.
Uncertainty over whether the Metro will meet its funding deadline already has some Inland Empire leaders ready to give up and pursue other alternatives.
“I’m going to come back to you … with a recommendation that we throw in the towel,” San Bernardino County Transportation Authority Executive Director Raymond Wolfe said of the Gold Line extension at his agency’s board meeting on Sept. 4. “I think it’s time for us to start to make some tough decisions on a project that has been a challenge for many years.”
Because Montclair is in San Bernardino County, SBCTA had pledged $95 million for the Gold Line extension, according to Otis Greer, SBCTA’s director of legislative and public affairs.
But the agency is still about $20 million short of fulfilling this pledge, Greer said, and is now considering reappropriating the funds for another project that could be operational by 2025: a new passenger rail project between Pomona and Montclair called Arrow.
“We believe that the Arrow service … could meet the need that the Gold Line was going to fill, and create connectivity between Pomona and Montclair at a fraction of the cost,” Greer said.
Arrow, for which construction began in July, is currently slated to extend only as far west as the San Bernardino Transit Center, the eastern terminus of the Metrolink’s San Bernardino Line, according to Greer. That’s nearly 30 miles east of Claremont.
But Greer said service could continue on the existing Metrolink rail all the way to Pomona, allowing Claremont and Montclair residents to transfer to the Gold Line there once it’s operational. SBCTA’s Transit Committee will decide if extending Arrow is feasible sometime in October.
The Gold Line extension authority is not currently considering alternative projects like the Arrow, Ho said, adding that San Bernardino has already “committed their funds” to the Gold Line project.
“Passing the San Bernardino County border into LA County — they have no say in that,” he said. “We’re not concerned about what they’re doing. We don’t even know what they’re really proposing.”
Meanwhile, Claremont city leaders continue to support the Gold Line extension as it is currently planned.
“Claremont is 100 percent on board in getting the Gold Line to Claremont and Montclair,” City Councilman Ed Reece said. “Throwing in the towel at this juncture would be a mistake.”
The Gold Line would serve several unique purposes, including linking foothill cities to the Montclair Transcenter, which offers connections to three area bus systems, he said.
“I’m going to come back to you … with a recommendation that we throw in the towel … I think it’s time for us to start to make some tough decisions on a project that has been a challenge for many years.” – San Bernardino County Transportation Authority Executive Director Raymond Wolfe
He also noted that the Gold Line would make transit more accessible to diverse segments of Claremont’s population.
“It’s a more cost-effective method of transportation,” he said. “I think that would be helpful for both our seniors and our college students … It gives them another way to get to downtown LA.”
Students said they would welcome the Gold Line.
“I like getting into LA. That’s one of the reasons I came to this school — because it was near a big city, not in a big city,” Alex Dean PO ’22 said.
Currently, 5C students have access to the Metrolink, which stops in the Claremont Village and costs $5.25 for a one-way student ticket to LA Union Station. A one-way Gold Line trip costs $1.75.
The 5Cs also offer the Foothill Transit “Class Pass,” which allows students to take free bus rides into Los Angeles.
Initial plans to expand the Gold Line called for demolishing the Claremont Metrolink stop to make room for the new Metro station. When officials considered permanently removing the Metrolink stop rather than rebuilding it across the street, outraged 5C students and residents successfully fought to keep it.
Now, their protests could have been for nothing. If Claremont doesn’t get its Metro stop, there may be no need to demolish the Metrolink station.
Students said they might be more likely to travel into LA or the surrounding area if transit were cheaper and more convenient.
“The 5C bubble is real,” Serenity Wade HM ’21 said. “I feel like I have to go out of my way to get access to public transit.”
While the Metrolink runs almost due west from Claremont to Union Station, the Gold Line travels north through communities such as Monrovia and Pasadena, then LA neighborhoods like Cypress Park and Chinatown.
“I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t just gone straight to Union Station [on the Metrolink],” Dean said. “It would be good for people to see places other than downtown LA.”