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Old Posted Dec 6, 2006, 6:41 PM
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Ontario courts Gold Line extension
By Mason Stockstill Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

ONTARIO - Though the city's western border is more than a mile from Los Angeles County, Ontario wants a piece of its big neighbor's transit system.

The city has joined a coalition of municipalities working to build an extension of the Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to this area.

More importantly, the city's leaders are pushing to locate the light-rail line's final station at LA/Ontario International Airport, rather than the currently proposed Montclair Transit Center.

"It makes a lot of sense for transportation corridors to have a main place they're going to," said Mayor Paul Leon. "Isn't it much better to say `I'm going to Ontario Airport' ... rather than just saying we're going to head east until the rail line ends?"

As it now exists, the Gold Line runs from downtown Los Angeles to east Pasadena.

When it was first proposed, the extension through the San Gabriel Valley on the old Santa Fe right-of-way was going to end in Claremont. But officials in San Bernardino County lured planners into Montclair, saying the transit center there made a natural terminus for the line.

Since then, the idea of going still farther into San Bernardino County and ending at the Ontario Airport gained traction among officials heading the charge.

"Because there's been interest from our board, we're going to sit down with folks in a preliminary way," said Susan Hodor of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Authority. "It will set the groundwork for what we need to do, should this be an idea that San Bernardino County would embrace."

The move by Ontario to join the Gold Line authority's board, approved by the City Council on Tuesday, comes at a momentous time for the rail project, whose existence depends on a strategic plan being developed in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates several light-rail transit lines, as well as a single subway and thousands of buses.

In order to qualify for federal funding, the Gold Line Foothill Extension needs to be listed as a high-priority item on the MTA's long-range plan, which is under development.

But the Gold Line is just one of several transit projects that could qualify for that money, several of which are becoming more politically popular.

For example, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa - who controls four seats on the MTA's 13-member board - promised during his 2005 campaign to work toward extending the Red Line subway in Los Angeles.

Carol Inge, the MTA's executive officer for planning, said the long-range plan will be updated next spring.

"At that time, this project, along with other projects, will be presented to the board for funding consideration," Inge said.

With transportation funding dollars scarce, the dueling proposals and political alliances have thrown the Gold Line project for a loop.

Still, the Gold Line extension has powerful allies.

Rep. David Dreier, R-Glendora, has said the project is a virtual done deal, though he's had to play "hard ball" with local leaders in Los Angeles over federal funding.

Additionally, the Gold Line extension is further along in its planning and environmental review process than the subway extension or other transit projects being considered, Hodor said.

"All the right-of-way is purchased. We have resolutions of support from all of these cities," she said. "We're really poised to begin construction as soon as these issues are resolved."

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