Federal, local leaders tour Montclair ‘Gold Line’ expansion site as project allies push for funds – San Bernardino County Sun

Rep. David Price, a high-ranking Democrat from North Carolina, looked out the bus window and tried to imagine a new light-rail train line stopping in Montclair and Claremont connecting riders to the foothill cities of Los Angeles County.

The chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee and member of the House Appropriations Committee was invited to the two cities this week by fellow committee member Rep. Norma Torres, D-Pomona. The congresswoman, plus officials from both cities, want to plant the seed of the stalled project within the much-debated infrastructure bill proposed by President Joe Biden.

Though a $1 trillion infrastructure plan passed the U.S. Senate last month, different versions are still swirling in the House, as are related reconciliation bills that could pay for local mass transit projects such as the unfunded extension of the L Line, formerly the Gold Line, from Pomona to Claremont and Montclair. Currently, the extension to Montclair has a price tag of about $540 million.

Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina (left), is greeted by Habib Balian, CEO of the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority, at the Montclair TransCenter on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021 for a congressional hearing on possible funding of the L Line, formerly Gold Line, extension project from Pomona to Claremont and Montclair. Montclair Councilwoman Tenice Johnson, left, joined the tour. (Photo by Steve Scauzillo/SCNG)

“I certainly think we should explore that,” Price said Monday, Sept. 13, after the bus tour ended at the Montclair Transcenter, the transit hub where the line would terminate. “The purpose of this visit was to learn about the project, have a more informed approach as we think about funding sources. I’m open to that consideration.”

On Tuesday, Price and Torres took their case to Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands. The three were scheduled to talk about funneling federal dollars into the L Line extension as well as other Inland Empire transportation projects. Earlier Monday, Price and Torres toured the Malaga Bridge in Fontana with the hopes of funding a $15 million reconstruction that includes expansion of Foothill Boulevard with sidewalks and bike lanes, Torres said.

“I think it is absolutely possible for this kind of money to come into our region. I think President Biden is really looking at opportunities like what we were seeing today,” Torres said Monday.

The L Line from L.A.’s Union Station to Pasadena opened July 26, 2003. An extension to East Los Angeles followed in November 2009, then the line was built to the Azusa/Glendora border, opening March 5, 2016. Work is 36% completed on the 9-mile extension from Azusa to Pomona. But extending the line to Claremont, then to Montclair in San Bernardino County has been cast in doubt since the price tag for the full extension from Azusa soared to $2.16 billion, more than a half-billion dollars over budget.

The timing of Price’s visit to Montclair came a few days after the failure of a state funding bill for the 3.3-mile leg that would connect Pomona to Montclair on the L Line. The bill with the local project died because it was tied to funding for the high-speed rail train, a controversial and much more costly project not supported by a majority of legislators.

In order to receive federal dollars, the L Line extension would need to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. This requires a federal environmental review, a process that could take two to three years to complete, officials said. The Pomona to Montclair extension was originally scheduled to open in 2028. Even with federal dollars, however, it could be pushed back to 2030 or 2031.

A Gold Line light-rail train stops at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. The line is being extended to Pomona, but is short of money to get to Claremont and Montclair. (File photo by Richard Guzman)

“The local leaders need to decide for themselves if this is a project they want to federalize,” Torres said. “If they make that decision we want to be prepared on the federal level.”

Local officials said they would again pursue state funding next year. But by talking to members of Congress on the appropriations committees, they were hedging their bets.

“We need options. There is no one-size-fits-all” approach, said Montclair Councilman Bill Ruh. “We need to look at whatever we can do to make this happen. If it is not the state it is the federal government or a combination.”

Ruh, who co-led the bus tour Monday, said the electric-powered light-rail train is less polluting than commuter rail. Also, fares cost much less and light-rail would operate more frequently than Metrolink. Most importantly, it runs along the 210/Foothill Freeway corridor, not the 10 Freeway as does Metrolink, bringing riders to City of Hope in Duarte and job-centers and cultural spots in Arcadia, Pasadena and L.A.’s Chinatown.

Of the 3 million trips along the 210 corridor, 97% are by car and only 3% are via transit, the Gold Line Construction Authority data shows.

Claremont Councilman Ed Reece pointed out during the tour that the train would give transit options to the 8,500 students and 3,500 faculty and staff at the Claremont Colleges. He told Price about a recent study that estimates the extended line would add at least 8,000 daily boardings.

“Can you imagine how it will impact our freeways and our environment in a positive way,” he said.

Will bringing the members of Congress to Montclair and Claremont make funding happen? That remains to be seen.

“It absolutely is building momentum,” Ruh said. “They have to see it and understand it.”

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