Two weeks after failing to secure state grant dollars that would have completed a first-ever Los Angeles-to-San Bernardino County light-rail line, supporters from both counties are seething after learning the project shockingly received zero dollars from the state transportation agency.
The Jan. 31 announcement from the California State Transportation Authority (CalSTA) to not fund the L Line (formerly Gold) extension another 3.2 miles from Pomona to Montclair prompted numerous theories as to why the would-be historic project was snubbed.
Glendora-to-Montclair project. The extension of the Gold Line light-rail will cost $2.16 billion. A contract was signed on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, to go to Pomona. But the extension to continue to Claremont and Montclair needs about $758 million more. Cities and local state leaders failed to secure the state surplus funding on Jan. 31, 2023. They are seeking answers and looking for other fund sources. (courtesy of Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority)
Construction project on the L Line (formerly known as the Gold Line) where it passes through San Dimas on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. Funds to add the line into Claremont and Montclair were denied for a third time on Jan. 31, 2023. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
FILE – Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line (L-Line) overpass, seen here during an event celebrating 50 percent completion of the Gold Line light rail (L-Line) extension project in San Dimas on Friday, June 17, 2022. The project, which started in 2020 during the pandemic, extends the light-rail system into Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and Pomona. On Jan. 31, 2023, supporters failed for the third time to get funding for the next extension into Claremont, and ending in Montclair. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)
Map shows route of extension of the L Line currently under construction to Pomona, to be completed in 2025. The portion to Claremont and Montclair is unfunded. (courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority).
Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority hosted a photo opportunity at the Glendora Station for local officials on Monday, May 17. (Photo courtesy of Metro)
A new study from Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) shows how its L Line, formerly the Gold Line, and Metrolink would link up for the first time at three upcoming stations. (Courtesy of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority)
An LA bias? Montclair City Manager Edward Starr pointed to what he sees as an L.A. bias from the state agency that favors splashy, L.A. city and L.A. County rail projects over any project that serves San Bernardino County commuters.
“It is time for the state to recognize that the consistent failure in delivering light rail to San Bernardino County continues to push the perception that the County does not receive fair consideration from the state when it comes to the delivery of tax dollars,” Starr wrote in an email on Feb. 1.
He backed up his claim by citing voter approval last November of Measure EE that gives the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and other elected representatives authority to investigate alleged shortfalls, and advocate to receive “equitable share of state funding and resources.”
The voter-approved measure includes secession from the state as a possible solution.
Peering into the ‘black box’ The Transit and Intercity Rail City Capital Program pot had $3.7 billion for the entire state for this funding cycle, said Marty Greenstein, assistant deputy secretary for communications for CalSTA. The agency awarded $2.5 billion to 16 transit projects in the state.
L Line supporters could not get a reason why their project was skipped, with some calling the CalSTA process “a black box.”
“We are working on getting some understanding on why we did not receive funds,” Metro Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority CEO Habib Balian told his board on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
Through LA Metro, the Gold Line Authority was asking for $798 million, the total cost. It had been turned down twice before, in October 2021 and March 2022, for general fund dollars when the state had large budget surpluses. The third and most recent denial was from a competitive grant program that stemmed from a $98 billion state surplus.
When asked for reasons why this project, planned for nearly 25 years to reach Montclair, was not funded, Greenstein replied: “It is competing against a lot of other projects. There is only so much money going around.”
While he could not name the names of those who dole out billions in state tax dollars for some projects, but deny others, he said the decision is made by a panel within Caltrans’ Division of Rail and Mass Transportation. “That’s who does the heavy lifting,” he said.
What makes a worthy rail project? He said the Caltrans panel analyzes applications to determine if they meet the state’s criteria. A list of criteria include: reduction of vehicle miles traveled, reduction of greenhouse gases caused by converting single-car drivers into mass transit users, and connectivity to other transit lines.
The L Line’s stations in Pomona, Claremont and Montclair are the only three that would also have Metrolink (San Bernardino-to-LA) passenger rail stations, a unique design that would increase ridership on both systems and produce interconnectivity, studies show. The Claremont and Montclair L Line stations would add 8,000 daily boardings or about half of the line’s total adjusted ridership, the Authority reported.
“By getting it to Claremont and Montclair, these last stations will generate the biggest riders benefits,” said Claremont Mayor Ed Reece, who chairs the Construction Authority board.
With the addition of the L Line electric train, Metrolink boardings would triple in Montclair. Also commuters from the Inland Empire who drive the 210, 10 and 60 eastward every morning to jobs in Los Angeles County, and westerly back home, would have a less expensive and quicker mass transit option.
Completion of the line to Montclair would take about 15,000 car trips off the roads each day and reduce 26.7 million vehicle miles travelled annually, eliminating 1.75 metric tons of carbon emissions that add to global climate change. The project would create 5,500 jobs and generate $860 million in economic output as well as $13 million in tax revenues, Balian said.
Losing out to Inglewood What surprised many was the $407.4 million given for a 1.6-mile people mover from LA Metro’s new K Line to SoFi Stadium, a football venue home to the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, as well as to the Kia Forum and the Intuit Dome (LA Clippers professional basketball team’s future home). It was the second time it received a state grant, the first occurring in 2020.
Losing out to a project that serves football and basketball fans over one that studies show would take single-car commuters from western San Bernardino County off the 210, 10 and 60 freeways to reach employment venues in Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles and eventually, Long Beach, seemed wrong to project supporters.
“I wonder how much influence the Rams and Chargers had on the governor’s office,” asserted Montclair Mayor John Dutrey on Feb. 6. Of course, it would not be surprising that these football teams would lobby for the Inglewood project. Likewise, Montclair, Claremont, all the eastern cities of LA County and every legislator in the San Gabriel Valley and some in the Inland Empire lobbied for the Pomona-to-Montclair line completion to no avail.
Some point to the benefits of the Inglewood project application sent in on its own, apart from LA Metro’s application, perhaps bypassing a log-jam of projects contained in Metro’s application.
The L Line extension ($798 million), along with the East San Fernando Valley Light Rail project ($600 million) and the West Santa Ana Branch project (from L.A. into southeast L.A. county) ($500 million) were the three projects included with asked-for amounts in LA Metro’s combined application for TIRCP funding. Only the East San Fernando Valley line in the city of L.A. received money, the largest award of any project in the funding cycle.
One reason was because without a state “match,” the San Fernando Valley project would lose a $909 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, Greenstein cited.
Likewise, the Inglewood people mover was also promised a $784 million grant from the FTA. The state placed a greater emphasis on these projects in order to leverage federal funding, Greenstein explained.
Federal projects get priority L Line projects and extensions, nearly 100% funded by local tax dollars from measures approved by L.A. County voters to tax themselves to build mass transit and alleviate congestion on freeways, were not given high priority.
“CalSTA heavily weighted projects at risk of losing federal funding. They looked at that more heavily over local funding. That’s my perception of it,” said Reece, Claremont’s mayor.
Dutrey said LA Metro and the Gold Line Authority made a mistake in not aligning the extension project for federal funding, particularly in light of the recently passed federal infrastructure law worth $1.2 trillion. The city of Montclair has asked for the project to undergo federal environmental review, as an addition to state clearance. Or, for a bill in Congress to allow existing state environmental approval to satisfy federal funding agencies.
“I believe that Metro made a huge mistake by not applying for federal funds for the Gold Line (to Claremont and Montclair),” said Dutrey. “This project should have been federalized.” He said if it had federal dollars, it may have received state dollars, as did those other projects.
“I kind of feel another big nail went into the coffin last Tuesday (Jan. 31),” he said.
Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, who helped plan the original Gold Line from Los Angeles to Pasadena, believes CalSTA saw the three Metro projects totaling $1.9 billion as too much, exceeding the Southern California allotment of $1.3 billion.
“They couldn’t give us full funding because it was over the $1.3 billion. That is the argument,” Holden said in an interview on Feb. 9.
Other effects If the project’s eastern terminus is Pomona, that could cause an influx of homeless who are forced to exit trains after midnight. Cities with end-of-line stations in Azusa, Long Beach and Santa Monica have complained about the homeless leaving trains and wandering the streets.
“We’re having conversations now around what can we do to help support not just end of the line stations, but all the stations’ ” said Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval, who is a member of the LA Metro board.
Montclair City Councilmember Bill Ruh said those making decisions on funding don’t realize the growth of housing in the Upland, Rancho Cucamonga and Ontario areas, where the 210 and 10 freeways pass through. Since the extension of the 210 into the Inland Empire, it has become jammed with San Bernardino County commuters traveling into the San Gabriel Valley and eastern San Fernando Valley.
“Many of the legislators don’t fully understand,” he said. “They look at a map and see Rancho Cucamonga and Upland and say ‘it can’t take them long to get to work.’ But just look at the 10 and 210 traffic.”
Based on two decades of planning for the light-rail to the expansive Montclair Transit Center, about 1,000 housing units have already been built near the proposed station. Another 1,400 are in development and its possible another 6,000 planned could be in jeopardy.
Montclair’s City Manager Ed Starr said the project, once scheduled to be completed in 2025, then 2028, could be pushed back to the early 2030s if a federalization process is undertaken.
But Balian, who doesn’t see federalization as a worthy approach, said he’s seeking funds from Metro to begin early construction work on the extension, including grade crossings and utility relocation, in anticipation that full funding could be granted next year.
“The state has bought into the program, building it all the way to Montclair. We don’t want to waste time,” he said.
Staff writers Javier Rojas and Jordan Darling contributed to this article.