Foothill Gold Line CEO Habib F. Balian: Gold Line an economic catalyst for San Gabriel Valley – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

The following Opinion appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on October 29, 2014.

Gold Line an economic catalyst for San Gabriel Valley: Guest commentary – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

By Habib F. Balian

When a transportation infrastructure project as robust as the Foothill Gold Line is discussed, it’s usually in terms of improving mobility — certainly a major need in the semi-regular traffic jam that is Southern California.

Too often lost — but not forgotten by planners, economists and the business community — is the economic impact an investment such as this will have on our region as a whole.

Throughout the San Gabriel Valley, signs of this economic transformation can already be seen in the form of transit-oriented and related developments.

Last month, ground was broken on the Station Square Transit Village in Monrovia, the largest public works project in the city’s history and a direct investment of more than $40 million into the local economy.

A month later, on Oct. 18, the Foothill Gold Line held a track completion ceremony a short walk from a two-story Target store in downtown Azusa — one of several transit-oriented developments planned for that city. Recent months have seen Glendora and Pomona both moving forward with their own projects tied to next phase of the light rail line currently undergoing advanced design.

These and other retail, housing and commercial developments will pump billions of dollars into the local economy. According to a study funded by the Federal Transit Administration, every public dollar invested in the Foothill Gold Line will return $43.50 in private investment and economic development.

Another study, by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, projected that construction of the Pasadena to Azusa phase alone would generate $930 million in direct and indirect business revenues, create 6,900 jobs and result in $39 million in state income taxes, sales taxes and local fees.

The notion of transportation infrastructure as an economic engine is not a new one. Postwar investment in highways, rail lines and bridges created millions of jobs, expanded our ability to move goods from one end of the continent to the other, and helped build the American middle class.

It’s no coincidence that our major economic centers have, at their core, highly effective transportation networks. Even Los Angeles County, as maligned as we are for our congestion, is home to the world’s largest, most sophisticated goods movement system and voter-approved, locally funded transit network in the state’s and nation’s history.

Economic conditions are more complicated now, but the broader impact of sound transportation investment has never wavered. In its most recent Regional Transportation Plan, the Southern California Association of Governments reported that every dollar spent on highway and transit projects over the next 25 years would return $2.90 in increased worker productivity, improved air quality and business opportunity.

The Gold Line is a true example of how public investment in transportation creates bigger opportunities for our region as a whole. Since the project’s first phase, to Pasadena, opened 11 years ago, more than 1,800 residential units and 175,000 square feet of retail and commercial space have been built within an easy walk to Pasadena’s six stations. In South Pasadena, the Gold Line has helped transform the downtown into a vibrant shopping district, filled with higher density housing, restaurants and boutiques.

Similarly, the 11.5-mile Foothill Gold Line from Pasadena to Azusa, which is on budget and more than 80 percent complete, offers built-in economic development opportunities between and around its six new stations in Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale and Azusa.

As subsequent phasing takes the Gold Line further east to Montclair, the possibility of connecting centers of learning, technology and health research throughout the corridor will become a reality, creating opportunities that visionaries could only dream of a decade ago.

In the coming months, as the Station Square Transit Village takes form and the Pasadena to Azusa light rail segment of the Foothill Gold Line edges closer to completion, the region’s vision and insight will be realized.

This is not simply a transit project. It’s an economic catalyst for the region.

Habib F. Balian is chief executive officer of the Foothill Gold Line.

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