Javier Solorzano, 18, left, chats with his brother Daniel, 11, as they ride… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board on Thursday approved $690 million in funding for the extension of the Gold Line in the San Gabriel Valley, marking a significant step forward for the project.
The money would go toward extending the light rail line 11.3 miles from its current terminus at Sierra Madre Villa Avenue in Pasadena to Azusa. The board's approval means the project is on track to break ground in June and begin service in 2014.
The extension is one of several major rail projects being planned for L.A. County in the next few years, including an extension of the Expo Line into Santa Monica, a new line down Crenshaw Boulevard into the South Bay and an extension of the Eastside portion of the Gold Line.
There has been much debate about which projects should get funding, and county Supervisor Mike Antonovich said it's important that a line outside the city of Los Angeles received money.
"We need to have a regional transportation network and not one that just favors one city," he said. "Los Angeles has cannibalized the funds, and this is the first time we have been able to bring 'regional' to the front of the plate instead of the back of the bus."
Antonovich said the extension -- with stops in Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale and Azusa -- would move the area toward a "truly regional transit system."
Cities are looking at creating a high-tech corridor and building housing and multi-use commercial projects along the line, which parallels the 210 Freeway.
Planners would like to eventually extend the Gold Line all the way to LA/Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County.
With the Thursday vote, $690 million in revenue from Measure R will be transferred to the Gold Line Construction Authority. County voters approved the measure in 2008 to increase the sales tax by half a cent on the dollar for 30 years to raise $40 billion to construct specific mass transit projects.
The Gold Line funding effectively moves the scheduled opening of the Azusa extension to 2014 from 2017, Antonovich said, because it allows for the construction authority to seek bids for faster construction in a private-public partnership.
Building the extension would generate 6,900 jobs, a third of them construction-related, during the three-year project, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
The second phase of the project would add stations in Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Pomona, Claremont and Montclair and is estimated to cost about $600 million to $700 million.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was in Washington earlier this month lobbying Congress to support the region's rail projects. He has made a priority of extending the subway to the Westside.