By Alison Hewitt, Staff Writer
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
A stretch of the Gold Line proposed to run from Pasadena to Azusa would attract 9,500 passengers each day, Gold Line officials and the Federal Transit Administration have agreed.
Reaching that number is the result of months of negotiations over how to calculate how many people would likely ride the proposed extension, Gold Line officials said.
The FTA will use that figure together with the estimated cost of construction to determine whether the Gold Line extension will be cost-effective.
If the light-rail project is not, the FTA will no longer consider funding it, said La Verne Mayor Jon Blickenstaff, who chairs the Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.
"It's just what I would consider one of the major milestones for the extension of the Gold Line," Blickenstaff said. "It's a huge step in the direction of funding. It's not a guarantee, but we could not proceed without this step having been accomplished."
Gold Line supporters hope to eventually extend the line to Montclair and possibly L.A./Ontario International Airport.
Gold Line Foothill Extension staff are still working with the FTA to agree on the estimated cost of building the 12-mile, Pasadena-to-Azusa portion, CEO Habib Balian said.
"We have an estimate - roughly $400 million," Balian said. "Now we go through the process of them looking over our shoulder and reviewing the estimates of the cost."
If the FTA agrees with that estimate, the Gold Line extension will meet the bar for cost-effectiveness and be allowed to begin the first of a couple of design phases, Balian said.
Officials will be expected to increase the cost-effectiveness of the project before funding negotiations can begin, he said.
Alisa Do, the legislative director for Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, said the office was glad to see the FTA and Gold Line authority continuing to work together.
"This is one in a long step of things that the Gold Line has worked with the FTA on to get as strong a project as possible," she said. "The Inland Empire is the fastest-growing region in our country ... and that's going to be factored into who's going to ride this line."
Another area congressman was also happy with the agreement.
"I'm very pleased that the FTA has approved a ridership model for the Gold Line expansion," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena. "Along with the state-funds matching language, language we were able to obtain in the transportation bill last month, the Gold Line has taken some strong strides forward."
Pasadena Star News Editorial 5/11/07
COMING up with an estimate of how many people would ride the Gold Line light-rail from Azusa to Pasadena is more art than science.
We're relieved the powers that be have settled on 9,500 passengers a day as a working number. Not that we have a clue as to whether that is a realistic number. We're gonna guess no one else really does, either.
Predicting the number of future riders came about after several months of numbers crunching. But considering the accuracy of past guesstimates, they may just as well have cast lots.
The point is, it's not the number but what it signifies.
Having an agreed upon passenger count could drive the final spike in a funding agreement between the foothill cities consortium and the Washington bureacrats who hold the purse strings for the $1.163 billion Gold Line Foothill Extension project. The overall project will extend the light-rail train 24 additional miles from east Pasadena to Montclair, and maybe, eventually, out to Ontario International Airport. The first-phase will go out 12 miles to Azusa at a cost of about $400,000 million.
Both the Gold Line folks and the Federal Transit Administration agreed upon 9,500 last week. La Verne Mayor Jon Blickenstaff, who heads the cities consortium, said the FTA must now sign off on the cost-effectiveness of the light-rail extension. "It's a huge step in the direction of funding," he told our reporter.
Westside politicians in competition for funding more westside subways, like to throw old estimates in the face of the Gold Line officials, who predicted the Pasadena-to-Los Angeles (existing) line would be carrying 26,000 to 32,000 people daily by July 2004. Since it opened in 2003, it has averaged between 14,000 and 15,000 passengers.
So, it seems the Gold Line folks are resisting the temptation to be overly optimistic this time. That's probably wise.
Still, lower ridership expectations are no reason to postpone funding this project. Neither is the fact that the Gold Line carries fewer passengers than the Metro subway lines in Los Angeles, which run through dense, urban areas. The Gold Line runs through the San Gabriel Valley foothills - areas of suburban sprawl. These are not as dense as downtown Los Angeles or even the more urbanized San Fernando Valley, so we would expect fewer riders on the Gold Line than on the Red Line subway. To compare this project to the Red Line as some Los Angeles politicians do, is to compare apples to oranges.
Frankly, whatever estimate you use, the Gold Line Foothill Extension is worth building. Even if it takes 10,000 cars off the Foothill and San Bernardino (10) Freeways a day, it would be worth it in gridlock relief alone, not to mention reducing smog and global warming emissions. A larger light-rail system that goes to more places and touches more communities will pick up more ridership - it's that simple.
In a country that is spending $1 billion a day on a desperate war in Iraq, it is a no-brainer to endorse a light-rail train out to the Inland Empire - the fastest growing region in the country - for the cost of about $1 billion in total.