State Lawmakers End Current Legislative Cycle Without Any Commitment To Extend Gold Line

The state legislature’s budget committees today closed out discussions with the governor’s representatives without any commitment toward providing funds for the extension of the Gold Line into San Bernardino County over the remainder of the fiscal year.
The Gold Line is a 31-mile light rail system currently running from Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles to Azusa. Work is now underway on the extension of the line from Azusa through Glendora and on to Pomona.
Members of the California Senate and Assembly representing districts in Los Angeles County and western San Bernardino County were this morning seeking from their colleagues and the governor’s office $540 million to construct the next 3.32-mile link of the line from Pomona to Montclair.
Today was the deadline for representatives from the governor’s office and selected members of State Senate and Assembly finance committees to outline budget priorities during the current legislative season. When the group focused on several transportation matters, no agreement could be reached, and the goal of earmarking funding for the Gold Line continuation into San Bernardino County was forsaken.
State Senator Anthony Portantino and Assemblyman Chris Holden were primary advocates of finding the funding to have the line reach the Montclair Transit Center by 2027, before the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. The Gold Line was not the issue in the failure to come to an agreement on transportation spending, participants in the discussion said. Rather, differences between the governor’s office and the legislators over the wisdom and necessity of spending commitments on the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed rail project caused those talks to bog down. Accordingly, funding issues relating to transportation projects all over the state went unresolved.
The Gold Line, which is also referred to by the nomenclature L-Line, is a more efficient and well-travelled transportation system than the one existing rail line, Metrolink, that runs between Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. The track for the diesel-powered Metrolink, is shared with cargo trains, and it does not have frequent departures or arrivals, with the shortest time between departures from San Bernardino into Los Angeles running 20 minutes at certain times of the day and as much as two hours at other times.
Consequently, Metrolink is not heavily used and it does little or nothing to alleviate heavy traffic on the freeways into and out of Los Angeles on a daily basis.
The Gold Line, which runs on a separate track dedicated to passenger transport alone from Downtown Los Angeles to Azusa, uses lighter cars and more fuel-efficient engines, with staggered departures and arrivals of as little as every eight minutes. The Gold Line is thus heavily used, and its cars, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, neared capacity on virtually every run.
The Los Angeles County-based Gold Line Construction Authority right now is engaged with a nine-mile, $806 million extension of the light rail line from Azusa to northern Pomona, such that at present work on the leg between Azusa and Glendora is ongoing.
The track will reach Pomona by late 2025. Thereafter, the line was previously slated to be extended another 3.3 miles from Pomona through Claremont to Montclair at that city’s existing Montclair Transit Center. From there, the intention had been to extend it from Montclair to Ontario Airport. According to the Gold Line Construction Authority, the extension of the line from north Pomona to Claremont will entail a cost of $450 million. Previously, the Gold Line Construction Authority in conjunction with the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency, when it was previously known as San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), intended to continue the line from Claremont to Montclair, and then from Montclair to Ontario Airport. SANBAG had accordingly dedicated $39 million in available transportation money toward the Gold Line project, and did a joint application with the Los Angeles Metro Transit Agency for a State of California Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program grant. That application was successful and it brought in $250 million on the Los Angeles County side, which made a significant but not complete inroad on the $850 funding deficit that jurisdiction had, and provided another $41 million of the then-projected $80 million cost for the San Bernardino County portion of the projected expense on the eastern side of the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County border to get the line to Montclair.
Subsequently, however, when the project went out to bid, it turned out the cost of building the line from Claremont to Montclair would not contain itself to an earlier $73 million projection or the later $80 million estimate, but had escalated to $96 million.
In reaction to that projected cost overrun, San Bernardino County Transportation Authority Executive Director Ray Wolfe convinced a majority of the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency board in the fall of 2019 to pull the plug on San Bernardino County’s portion of the Gold Line funding. On October 10, 2019 the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency’s transit subcommittee, composed of representatives from the cities of Big Bear Lake, Chino Hills, Colton, Fontana, Highland, Montclair, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, Yucaipa and the Third Supervisorial District, endorsed Wolfe’s proposal to dispense with constructing the new Gold Line track into San Bernardino County altogether and to instead have Gold Line passengers heading eastward from Los Angeles or the San Gabriel Valley load onto another train at the Claremont Station which will run on the existing Metrolink track. Only the representatives from Ontario, Montclair and Chino Hills dissented in that 8-to-3 vote.
San Bernardino County transportation officials declared their intention to return the $41 million State of California Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program grant that had been freed up to allow the county to overcome the gap between the $39 million in available revenue from the half-cent sales tax collected throughout San Bernardino County for transportation improvements for completing the Gold Line extension from Claremont to Montclair and the earlier projected cost of the 1.2-mile extension.
While sentiment toward the Gold Line among public officials on the east side of the San Bernardino County/Los Angeles County divide runs more negative than positive, the overriding commitment of Los Angeles County officials at both the municipal and county levels, as well as what appears to be a reliable determination to create a working and well-used east-west rail system in Southern California within the executive and legislative branches in Sacramento augers that the Gold Line will likely be extended into San Bernardino County, first to Montclair, then to Ontario Airport, on to San Bernardino and ultimately to Redlands. The question remaining is what the timetable for that construction will be. There is potential the line will, perhaps in the latter half of the 21st Century, reach Palm Springs in Riverside County.
The most enthusiastic proponent of the Gold Line in San Bernardino County presently is Ontario Mayor Paul Leon.

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