SGV cities getting ready for Gold Line to Azusa

The laying of the final Gold Line track re-introduces the first passenger-service rail line into the foothill communities since the Pacific Electric trolley disappeared more than 60 years ago.

While the $1 billion, 11.5-mile extension from east Pasadena to the edge of Glendora won’t be completed for another 11 months, and will not carry its first passenger until March 2016, the driving of the last spike connecting 28 miles of double track has historical and practical implications for the region.

“This project brings all of those cities together. There are no political boundaries for this project,” said Habib Balian, CEO of the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority.

For the last 4 1/2 years, workers have laid track from the existing Sierra Madre Villa Station in east Pasadena to the Azusa Pacific University/Citrus College Station at Citrus Avenue and Foothill Boulevard located on the border of Azusa and Glendora. The celebration “last spike” ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the future Downtown Azusa Gold Line Station, 795 N. Dalton Ave., Azusa.

The project will mark the first extension of the Gold Line in the San Gabriel Valley since it began running to Union Station/Los Angeles in 2003. It is a project that fought for its existence every inch of the way, breaking from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to form its own entity and fighting for funding from Metro in L.A. to Sacramento and Washington.

It stood up to criticism from then-L.A. Mayor and Metro board president Antonio Villaraigosa as a low-density, low-volume passenger train that takes a back seat to his Purple Line subway extension under Wilshire Boulevard by rallying support from San Gabriel Valley bedroom cities, local businesses and members of congress.

In the past several years, the Gold Line has seen some successes. It added an $898-million extension from Union Station to East Los Angeles five years ago. And by fall next year, work will have been completed on the foothill extension funded by taxpayers through 2008’s Measure R.

A third extension, from the APU/Citrus College Station to Montclair, will be shovel-ready by 2017 but is not currently funded.

Overall, the line surpassed low passenger estimates of about 20,000 daily boardings to serve 44,149 passenger boardings on an average weekday, according to Rick Jager, a Metro spokesman.

Balian estimates the foothill extension will take 14,000 daily boardings at the start. It will see an increase when the Regional Connector, that will create a single train ride from Santa Monica to Azusa/Glendora, is completed in the next three or four years.

“It is pretty exciting to see a project going on for so long get to this stage,” Balian said Thursday during a high-rail tour of the new track. “This is one of the biggest moments you can have for a project.”

As the clouds created shadows that danced off the red-clay San Gabriel Mountains, the parallel northbound and southbound tracks stretched eastward and seemed to meet, though only a trick of the eye. From the iconic bridge over the eastbound 210 Freeway to a pedestrian plaza in Arcadia and the art deco bridge traversing Santa Anita Avenue, the train is carving a niche into the San Gabriel Valley hard scape.

After gliding over the San Gabriel River, the tracks pass a row of giant beer tanks belonging to MillerCoors in Irwindale, the industrial buildings of Northrop Grumman, and then the Target building in downtown Azusa.

Monrovia is betting that $25 million in Metro and state funding for a transit plaza, a promenade for live music and food trucks, and a new park with an amphitheater will connect the south part of town and Gold Line station to its vibrant north Myrtle Avenue location.

Duarte, not to be outdone, has plans for a hotel and a movie theater, said Mayor Liz Reilly, both amenities Monrovia has had for years. “We will be closer to the Gold Line station than they (Monrovia) are,” she said.

The Duarte station lies across the street from its largest employer, City of Hope, a nationally known research and cancer treatment hospital that employs 4,300 people, many of whom she hopes will take the train to and from work.

But as the mountains sat down at the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon, the tracks reached APU/Citrus College station at the doorstep of the 1,250-home Rosedale planned development. It may be the first suburban housing project built train-station ready with a plaza to be built within walking distance.

Rosedale resident Ed Chen, 31, said he will ride the train to Old Pasadena for dinner and shopping, or to downtown Los Angeles, home of the hip Arts District near the Gold Line’s Little Tokyo Station.

A ride from the eastern-most station at APU/Citrus to Union Station will take about 46 minutes, said Chris Burner, Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority’s chief project officer.

Most of all, it will remove single-occupancy drivers from the increasingly congested 210 Freeway, Balian said.

Chen said the option to ride a train instead of drive his car was a selling point. It is also part of Rosedale Partners marketing campaign as seen on billboards, banners and inside Gold Line train cars. The last homes will be built by 2018.

“In Rosedale in Azusa, you have the best of both worlds,” Chen said. “You have the space, the quality of homes, the proximity to a university and the convenience of light rail. Plus, you don’t lose the whole San Gabriel Valley suburban aspect.”