A 13.7-mile light rail line connecting downtown Los Angeles with Pasadena that's nearly half-finished narrowly averted a regulatory pile-up that could have delayed completion for several years.
The project, called the Metro Gold Line, is scheduled to open next summer. However, California's Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which oversees rail safety in the state, only recently approved street-level crossings at key intersections. The commission's decision came in a 3-to-2 vote.
The alternative was to build rail tunnels at the intersections, a move that transit officials say would have delayed completion of the project for a minimum of two years and possibly as much as a decade.
"Total relief" was how Rick Thorpe, CEO of the Los Angeles to Pasadena Metro Blue Line Construction Authority (the name of the line was changed to the Metro Gold Line recently), described his reaction to the verdict. Thorpe said he had met with the PUC commissioners and key staff members within days of the crucial vote, but still wasn't sure of how the vote would go.
The Metro Gold Line courses through three municipalities -- Los Angeles, South Pasadena and Pasadena -- and includes 13 stations. More than 400 workers are deployed each day to try to meet the completion date, Thorpe said.
Thorpe said the system will accommodate three-car trains that can carry as many as 645 passengers. The trains will run every eight minutes during peak hours and every 20 to 30 minutes during off-peak hours. Approximately 33,000 riders are expected on opening day. Travel along the entire 14-mile route is expected to take 33 minutes.
That 33-minute ride has taken more than two decades to bring about.
The rail line received initial approval in the early 1980s as part of a regional system after the passage of Proposition A, which provided sales tax funding for the expansion of transit service.
The environmental impact report was approved in 1990, and construction began in 1994. Less than four years later, however, construction was suspended because of cost overruns and inefficiencies on the part of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
The Blue Line Construction Authority was formed by the state legislature in January 1999 after it was clear that the MTA would not be able to finish the project on time or on budget.
Thorpe was hired by the authority's board of directors to guide the project to completion on a tight budget and timeline. He is close to accomplishing this task and credits the use of a design-build construction process and some creative financing.
Thorpe, who's worked at transit agencies in San Diego and Salt Lake City, said funding has been a key issue. Public-private partnerships have helped to ease financial concerns. Joint development near the Del Mar station in Pasadena is expected to produce $11.6 million in revenue. Land adjacent to the Sierra Madre terminal owned by the authority was sold to private developers for $6 million. "Creative financing has been essential to this project," Thorpe said.
The Metro Gold Line is the first phase of a proposed 37-mile line. If funding is made available, a 24.4-mile second phase will be constructed through 10 communities connecting east Pasadena and Claremont. Construction could start in 2004 and be completed in 2008.
For more information about the Metro Gold Line, visit www.metrogoldline.org.