L.A. Metro completes 11.5 mile extension to Azusa, aims for Montclair next

Gold in Them Hills

L.A. Metro completes 11.5 mile extension to Azusa, aims for Montclair next

Detail map of the new extension running east along Highway 210 (Courtesy Metro)

This year, a new northward extension of the Gold Line (Pasadena to Azusa) and the Expo line (Culver City to Santa Monica) are opening or have opened to the public, and a third extension of the Gold Line (Glendora to Montclair) may break ground as soon as the summer of 2017, pending the adoption and passage of a November ballot initiative to raise the sales tax by half a cent over the next 40 years. The initiative would also retain the voter-approved sales tax increase of 2008’s Measure R. A southward extension of the Gold Line (Downtown to East L.A.) and the first spur of the Expo (Downtown to Culver City) were among the projects funded by Measure R and opened in 2009 and 2012, respectively.

The Gold Line’s extension into these heretofore car-centric burgs isn’t just about increasing ridership by 13,600 daily boardings by 2035; it’s also a way to make once relatively inaccessible areas part of a newly defined urban corridor. At least, this was the thinking underpinning many of the speeches given by public officials such as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on the Gold Line extension’s opening day ceremony on March 5. “We want to come here and visit our friends here too,” he said, before remarking that “we want to see a vibrant region that eases congestion for everybody.”

San Gabriel Valley residents riding the new Gold Line Foothill Extension on opening day with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority)
San Gabriel Valley residents riding the new Gold Line Foothill Extension on opening day with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority)

The Gold Line’s northward extension has occurred in three primary phases: first, from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena, then from Pasadena to Azusa, and now potentially from Glendora to Montclair. While the Metro operates the trains and manages the fares, a separate agency known as the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority is responsible for all of the planning, stakeholder meetings, and each construction phase. Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority CEO Habib F. Balian
remarked in a phone interview that the March 5th opening was “very successful. It’s very complicated when you start operation of a project like this, let alone when it’s transferred from one agency to another. But it’s all gone
very well.” Balian has overseen phase two and is already 30 percent into the design and engineering planning of phase three. His hope is to be “shovel ready” by the summer of 2017, if this November’s proposed ballot initiative passes.

Balian’s duties as planner aren’t simply about navigating the geotechnical challenges of laying track on top of the earthquake-fault-prone soil of Southern California, but also creating a piece of infrastructure that will hopefully add as much beauty as it does efficiency to its environs. In phase two, Balian and his team decided to make a bridge over the 210 freeway a significant part of the new line. “Once we got the funding in place in 2008 for the 210 bridge specifically, I thought ‘what a great opportunity to make it a gateway.’ If we started early enough and gave real direction to the designers and brought on an artist, it wouldn’t cost us any more than if we did it any later in the project.” Artist Andrew Leicester was commissioned to work on the bridge, while artist Christie Beniston helped select an orange highlight color for the previously gray operations campus in Monrovia. If phase three gets its funding, Balian is already working with artists to create meaningful motifs and patterns for the line’s alignment, which includes retaining walls, sound walls, bridgework, and abutment walls.

The result is a section of public transit that heavily incorporates aesthetic considerations while making it possible for a resident of Azusa to get to downtown L.A. in under 50 minutes, regardless of traffic conditions.