Congress members urge MTA to include funding for Gold Line project to Claremont – Pasadena Star-News

This story appears in the 5/18/12 edition of the Pasadena Star-News.

Congress members urge MTA to include funding for Gold Line project to Claremont

Letter to Mayor Villaraigosa and MTA Board

A proposal to extend a half-cent transit sales tax established under Measure R needs to include funding for the Gold Line extension to Claremont, three local members of Congress said in a letter Thursday to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

But MTA staff did not respond to the letter positively.

The letter was sent by Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, Rep. Judy Chu, D-El Monte, and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena. It urged the MTA board to include funding for the second phase of the Foothill Gold Line light-rail extension, from Azusa to Claremont, in a proposed ballot measure making permanent the transit sales tax, slated for the November ballot.

County Supervisor and MTA board member Mike Antonovich read parts of the letter aloud at a meeting of the MTA Executive Management Committee on Thursday.

Following the reading, Antonovich was told by MTA staff members they they would not include funding for the second phase of the Gold Line extension in the ballot measure.

Napolitano, Chu and Schiff asked the MTA to make a “correction” to its future funding documents that would add the “$764 million needed to complete the voter-mandated project to the county line in Claremont as specified in Measure R.”

“We want to make sure that the gap funding, the $764 million needed to complete the project, gets included in their expenditure plan,” said Habib Balian, CEO of Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension.

Balian said the MTA staff response to the letter Thursday was the first indication that the MTA staff was not considering the second phase of the Foothill Gold Line extension in its plans. The inclusion is particularly important because the MTA has prohibited the Gold Line from pursuing federal “new start” dollars – leaving those for Los Angeles-area subway projects.

Napolitano, Chu and Schiff said they support four regional projects: the Westside Subway, the Regional Connector in downtown L.A., the Crenshaw light-rail Line, and the Foothill Extension of the Gold Line to Claremont as part of a county-wide rail network. And they said the MTA must include all four in the language of the future ballot measure.

The ballot measure would be created by Assembly Bill 1446, which awaits Assembly approval.

The measure would remove the sunset clause from 2008’s Measure R, which is scheduled to end in 2039. By creating a permanent revenue stream, the MTA could sell bonds quicker and move up construction on all four projects.

A.B. 1446 specifies that projects that the agency is working on should be part of the ballot language.

The letter from the three House members was framed as part of an upcoming vote by the MTA board to endorse the bill – deemed crucial for its passage. The letter implied that San Gabriel Valley members of the MTA may not support the measure without the updated project list.

Balian said the issue is quite simple. The entire Pasadena-to-Claremont Foothill Gold Line Extension was included in the Measure R long-range project plan. But the Gold Line received only $810 million, enough to extend it from Sierra Madre Villa station in east Pasadena to the Azusa station near Citrus College and Azusa Pacific University. Construction is underway and the line should be running by 2015.

MTA staffers reportedly told Antonovich that the funding issue for the second phase was “ambiguous.”

“What is not ambiguous is the definition of the project that was included in Measure R, which is from Pasadena to Claremont,” Balian said.

The MTA board’s next meeting is Thursday. The meeting’s agenda was not posted as of press time, and it is not known if an endorsement of A.B. 1446 or an updated project plan will be on the agenda.

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