Construction industry shows interest in building Foothill Extension

As we posted earlier in today’s transportation headlines, things appear to be chugging along smoothly for the Foothill Extension of the Gold Line, which would extend the current Gold Line for 11.4 miles from Pasadena to Azusa with six new stations and some much-needed new parking.

The Foothill Extension Construction Authority, the agency created to build the line, held a meeting last Friday for contractors who want to be considered to build the line — including such work as design and construction of tracks, stations, crossings, utilities and a maintenance facility, among other tasks.

More than 150 people attended the meeting, a sign that there’s certainly interest in the construction community to work on the first phase of the project, which is expected to cost $440 million. Construction firms have until Feb. 26 to submit their qualifications and the Construction Authority in late March will announce those who are eligible to actually bid on the project.

The Foothill Extension is trying a novel financing concept on the line. Under Measure R, the Foothill Extension was going to receive a stream of money over the next seven years so that the line would be complete by 2017. But Foothill officials want to move that date to 2013, reasoning that it’s cheaper to build it now instead of waiting several years. To do that, they plan to ask for a loan from construction firms to get the line done by 2013 and then repay the firms with interest from Measure R.

The key here is that Foothill officials believe that they’ll still come out ahead: money will be saved by completing the line earlier and, of course, the public gets the benefit of not having to wait an extra four years for light rail to reach deeper into the San Gabriel Valley. And, so far, the construction industry (the photo at right shows the turnout to last Friday’s meeting) seems comfortable with such an arrangement — they get some work and can still make money on the deal.

Just my two cents on this: if Foothill can pull this off, this could be a financial arrangement that is possibly mimicked by other transit projects around the county. Measure R provides billions for such projects, but that money flows into county coffers over three decades. If the goal is to build projects sooner rather than later, such loans could be a very useful tool if they’re done smartly and don’t raise the overall project costs.

Here’s a link to a power point presentation that Foothill officials provided to interested construction firms.

Photo: Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority