Metro Board approves funding plan for Foothill Extension light rail project

A extension of the Gold Line from its terminus in Pasadena for 11-plus miles to Azusa will likely break ground this summer, which would make it the first Measure R rail project to begin construction.

The Foothill Extension got the go-ahead when the Metro Board of Directors voted unanimously on Thursday morning in favor of a funding plan for the line at the Board’s meeting in downtown Los Angeles. “We’ve been waiting for this day since the early 1990s,” said Board member John Fasana, who also serves on the Duarte City Council and who has been an avid supporter of the line.

The funding agreement spells out details over how Metro will transfer up to $810 million in Measure R sales tax money and other funds to the Foothill Extension Gold Line Construction Authority, the agency building the line that Metro will operate when complete. Stations will be in Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale and Azusa, which will have two stops.

Hundreds of parking spaces are planned along the line. That should provide help to current Gold Line patrons who live east of the current line and must try to find a spot at the parking garage at Pasadena’s Sierra Madre Villa station, the last stop on the Gold Line. The garage often fills early in the morning.

Under Metro’s long-range plan, the Foothill Extension wasn’t scheduled to be complete until 2017. But Construction Authority officials plan on speeding that process by, in essence, receiving a loan from the firm chosen to build the line and then repaying it back using Measure R funds.

The Construction Authority believes it can use such a financing mechanism to finish the line by mid-2014 — arguing that the sooner it’s built, the cheaper it will be to build it. The Metro Board has already voted to begin operating the line if it’s done earlier than 2017. The Construction Authority had been aiming for a 2013 opening but the agreement — with provisions about first completing a needed maintenance yard in Monrovia — pushes that date into the next year.

The agreement seems to end a long-running dispute between supporters of the Foothill Extension and Metro. The dispute most publicly flared in 2008 when the Metro Board declined to pursue federal funding for the Foothill Extension, wanting federal support for other projects.

As a result, many public officials in the San Gabriel Valley refused to support the Measure R sales tax increase on the November ballot, saying they didn’t trust the Board to actually deliver $735 million for the Extension (the number bumps to $810 when inflation is considered) in a timely basis. The sales tax passed with 68% of the vote in the county and was supported by a majority of voters in the Valley.

Metro Board member Antonio Villaraigosa acknowledged there had been “trepidation” from San Gabriel Valley officials over promises made by the Board that it would move forward on the Foothill Extension. He also said he was pleased that the Foothill Extension was moving forward because of the widespread support of Measure R across the county and that the unity shown by the Metro Board should help persuade the federal government to invest money in transit projects in Los Angeles County.

Metro Board President Ara Najarian echoed that point: “We’re not the divided county that people were poking fun at us for.” Metro Board member Mike Antonovich, whose supervisorial district includes the line, predicted the Gold Line would create thousands of jobs from both construction and development of areas near the rail project.

The agreement includes a process to resolve any disputes between the Construction Authority and Metro over how the line is constructed. That’s been a big point of negotiations the past few weeks. The agreement also allows the city of Monrovia to move forward on acquiring property needed for a rail car maintenance yard along the line.

It is important to note that the agreement does not fund construction of the second phase of the Foothill Extension, which is planned to run from Azusa to Montclair or the third phase from Montclair to Ontario airport.

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