Signaling a change in course, a committee of the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority on Thursday, Oct. 10, voted to pursue an enhanced Metrolink rail system instead of extending the Gold Line light-rail from Los Angeles County into Montclair.

The committee, meeting in an old depot in San Bernardino, ordered staff to work with LA Metro and Metrolink to place Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains onto existing commuter rail tracks to move passengers from Pomona to Montclair, saying the innovative system would save taxpayers money.

This marks the first time the authority has broken with a promise to support bringing the Gold Line service over the county line. The 8-3 vote went along east-west lines, as members from Big Bear Lake, Rancho Cucamonga, Colton, Fontana, Highland, Rialto, Yucaipa and the Third Supervisorial District voted in favor of the new proposal. Those opposed represent Chino Hills, Montclair and Ontario.

RELATED: Montclair blasts San Bernardino County transit agency for considering altered course on Gold Line

Montclair City Manager Edward Starr said the vote was a blow to the city, which has invested $500 million in housing, retail and office developments near what would have been the Gold Line stop at the Montclair Transcenter, a multi-modal transit hub. He said the city’s new transit-adjacent housing in north Montclair would have provided 5,800 passengers a day to the Gold Line but an overlay of smaller trains on Metrolink tracks won’t have the same frequencies, will be less convenient, and will cost more to ride and attract fewer riders.

SBCTA Executive Director Ray Wolfe said the new “Gold Link” trains would be a great addition because they could later be expanded into Rancho Cucamonga and points east.

While at a meeting last month Wolfe said he wanted the agency to “throw in the towel” on the Gold Line, he softened his language on Thursday.

“We are not precluding the opportunity of a light-rail extension to our county. We are simply saying that today it isn’t the right opportunity for us,” Wolfe told the committee.

Nonetheless, Wolfe said he would return $41 million from a state cap-and-trade grant aimed at reducing greenhouse gases given to the SBCTA for a Montclair Gold Line stop. He said the agency would apply for a new grant for the DMU-Metrolink heavy-rail project in January.

Glendora-to-Montclair project. The extension of the Gold Line light-rail will cost $2.1 billion. A contract was signed on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, to go to Pomona, with the option to continue to Claremont and Montclair. (courtesy of Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority)

The Gold Line Construction Authority is extending the LA-to-Azusa line to Pomona with an option to continue to Claremont and Montclair that expires in October 2021. Because of the high cost of labor and materials, the authority ran out of money and would need $450 million to build the line to Claremont. The cost to go a short distance into San Bernardino County is $97.4 million.

The SBCTA has raised about $80 million for its small section but is $17.4 million short.

“Staff is concerned the shortfall could grow as time goes on as other costs such as right-of-way and consultant services are not set,” according to an SBCTA report.

Wolfe said the Metrolink “Gold Link” would cost less, about $55 million for new DMU trains, track alterations, new signals and grade crossings. Also, track modifications are necessary to prevent short-line passenger service from interrupting existing passenger and freight trains that operate on the same tracks.

The two “Gold Link” trains would run every 30 minutes. LA Metro’s Gold Line runs about every 6-10 minutes during peak hours. But Wolfe said he’s not sure SBCTA can afford to operate the Gold Line as frequently as it runs in LA County, a concern not raised until Thursday.

In addition, monies allocated for the Gold Line not used for “Gold Link” could be redirected for other projects, such as a bus rapid transit line, improvements to Metrolink service, helping agencies buy electric buses as mandated by the state, and partially funding a parking structure at the Metrolink station in Rancho Cucamonga, according to the staff report.

L. Dennis Michael, mayor of Rancho Cucamonga and committee member, was concerned about LA Metro and the Gold Line Construction Authority’s large funding gap. Without a stop in Claremont, the train would never reach Montclair, leaving San Bernardino County without needed train service to take drivers off the clogged 10, 60 and 210 freeways.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with looking at an alternative. We owe it to ourselves the opportunity to look at other options,” Michael said.

Likewise, Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren said the DMU trains, which will be used in the future Arrow passenger rail service between Redlands and San Bernardino, represent a new technology worth pursuing.

“This could be a big win, not only for San Bernardino but also for Los Angeles,” she said.

A suggestion by Montclair Mayor John Dutrey to hold off on any action and establish a sit-down with Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties’ transit agencies was not supported.

Wolfe will report back to SBCTA’s Transit Committee on the “Gold Link” alternative Dec. 12. The project would need approval by the full board.

Source link