Mar 29, 2010

Pasadena Star-News – Our View: Continue Gold Line's formula for success

It's not all that often we get accused of reporting too much good news on our front pages, but good things do happen. Friday's bulletin that the regional MTA board voted to fully fund the Gold Line Foothill extension from east Pasadena through Azusa is just that – a highly positive step for the San Gabriel Valley.

But we're not sure everyone fully grasps the importance of this mass transit line's growth on our economy and our communities. There will be more than just a train reaching the last station of Phase 2a near Citrus Avenue come early 2014.

First, there's the economics. This phase will generate 7,000 jobs, $1 billion in business revenues and $40 billion in tax revenues. The ticker on those numbers can start now, as the Construction Authority ramps up for the letting of contracts to extend the line, including a bridge over the 210 Freeway and a grade separation at Santa Anita Avenue in Arcadia, the latter approved by that city's voters in a special assessment. Those numbers, generated by the independent Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., are estimates for the first three years of construction.

Second, there's the reduction in traffic on the always congested 210 Freeway. While this line alone won't solve freeway gridlock, it will be a link in the chain of new mass transit and carpool projects that will work toward that goal.

Lastly, local cities will realize new growth – condos, apartments, retail, offices – along the light-rail corridor. Already, many cities are planning projects that incorporate a car-less ride into Old Pasadena and Los Angeles from within walking distance of homes and businesses.

More than a commuter route, cities must find ways to use the line as a magnet for attracting new shoppers. That issue came up at a recent Arcadia City Council forum and many candidates did not have a good answer for how to accomplish that. Arcadia could provide a shuttle service on weekends from the First Avenue train stop to popular destinations, such as the Arboretum, Santa Anita Park or even the mall and Caruso's proposed Shops at Santa Anita.

Likewise, deans at Citrus College and Azusa Pacific University should find ways to incorporate the train into recruiting. Perhaps with the help of local cities and the MTA, these colleges can offer free MTA passes to students. Having to build fewer parking lots could really help these two fine institutions grow more efficiently.

Imagine expanding much-needed nursing programs with the money saved by building fewer parking lots.

Yes, it is a paradigm shift for bedroom cities to switch their thinking from cars, freeways and parking lots to light rail, one that eventually may reach Montclair and even the Ontario International Airport.

That's the kind of forward thinking that needs to happen to make the Gold Line a success once it is built. Metro Chairman Ara Najarian said the funding of the Gold Line was about regional cooperation, part of what he called "a recipe for success." That formula needs to continue in a new way, starting now.