Ontario Seeks Commitment To Gold Line Extension

(April 23)  Touted as a forward-looking regional planning agency, San Bernardino Associated Governments is chartered to serve as the transportation agency for all of San Bernardino County. All 24 of the county’s city’s have representatives, in the form of the mayor or a city council member, on its board, and each of the county’s five separate supervisors are likewise voting members of the panel, known by its acronym, SANBAG.
There is a degree of difference among government officials, however, in just how forward looking into the future the agency should be. A case in point is the extension of the Gold Line, which civic officials on the west end of the county are championing and which the remainder of the county’s officials, expressed through the prioritization of project planning by SANBAG, are somewhat less enthusiastic about.
The Metro Gold Line is the real and conceptual extension of what was once an entirely-Los Angeles County undertaking, the Pasadena Blue Line, which was later rechristened the Pasadena Metro Gold Line. After a fitful progression, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, known as Metro, committed enough planning and construction funding to the project to extend the rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena and now to Azusa, where a station there will open in late 2015 or early 2016.
Metro has undertaken a study for extending the system to Claremont/Montclair and wants to look even beyond that to undertaking a $950 million extension  to Ontario Airport. Ontario municipal officials, in particular, are enthusiastic about that latter possibility. Ridership at Ontario International Airport is down and, in the words of Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, “giving more than two million people in the San Gabriel Valley the opportunity to just step on the train to Ontario Airport and then get off and fly hassle free without having to battle traffic or worry about parking, we think, is the way to go. It’s the wave of the future.”
When Montclair and Ontario officials pushed SANBAG last year to undertake studies on the extension, SANBAG, which as a whole considers the extension of the Mettrolink commuter line to Redlands and the double-tracking of the Metrolink lines near Upland, Claremont, and Fontana to be more important rail projects than the Gold Line, balked. Moreover, SANBAG considers the Gold Line extension a low priority because it sees little prospect that funding for it will come available from any sources  anytime soon.
Leon is so convinced that the Gold Line extension would be of benefit to the city he represents that he managed to obtain an appointment to the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority Board of Directors as the city of South Pasadena’s appointee. In addition, Ontario city councilman Alan Wapner, who represents Ontario on SANBAG, also was given an appointment to Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority Board of Directors as a non-voting member, as the SANBAG liaison.
Leon told the Sentinel it is a challenge getting SANBAG to see the Gold Line extension in the same terms he does for a variety of reasons, including the lack of funding, competing priorities, and the sheer inertia of needing to line up so many personalities and political jurisdictions to proceed. Yet he is convinced that bringing the Gold Line to the airport is worthwhile and he emphasized the need for advanced planning so that the project can be expedited once the funding becomes available.
“I am speaking for myself, without having talked to my council, but I can say that  there is a desire by the city of Ontario to have the Gold Line terminate at Ontario Airport or in as close of proximity to it as possible. We want to have the full support of SANBAG in accomplishing that goal. I believe the future of Ontario and the future success of the airport is in concert with not only us obtaining ownership and management of the airport but having the Gold Line there. Saying how soon that can happen is very difficult since the financing is something leaders outside of the city have to agree to, not only SANBAG but the federal government.”
Leon said that SANBAG deprioritized expending any money for studying the Gold Line extension  and then revisited the issue, “giving it the same priority as most other down the road bus or rail line projects. Montclair stepped up and said they would make a $3 million loan to get the study done.”
Leon said it is hard for the public to understand the value of doing studies – which can cost millions of dollars – when there is no money to actually complete such projects available.
“The value is that years and years can go by with no funding there, but if you have an off-the-shelf plan that is ready to go when the funding does materialize, then you can move forward and not have to do that study and get in line with other projects, some of which are less valuable and less important,” Leon said. “The overall process takes a long time. You need to actually start to plan before the money comes available. You stay ahead of the curve that way.”
Leon said advance planning by this generation is needed to alleviate problems future generations will otherwise face.
“Government has to be visionary and look 50 to 100 years into the future so we don’t find ourselves in the position where we are in the Inland Empire when it comes to improving  the major traffic arteries and public transportation we are now dependent on and which are inadequate. It is a Herculean task of building freeways that are bigger and fatter nowadays. If the freeway system had been planned out in the 1930s and 1940s with an understanding of what was to come 75 years later, we would not be in the fix we are now. We need to think in terms of public transportation that will serve 5 million people, not today and not even tomorrow. The Gold Line is absolutely necessary for the future. But realistically, it is not something that will serve me or my generation. It will be my grandchildren, who are toddlers now, and their children who will be the ones that will be the commuters lining up at its turnstiles.”

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