To say San Gabriel Valley officials are pinning big hopes on the newly approved light-rail line to downtown is like saying the drive home from work on a Friday evening is a tad on the slow side.
In one fell swoop, business leaders and city officials predict, the line will draw in shoppers, transform Pasadena into a cultural hot spot, and maybe stave off a controversial freeway.
The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission on Wednesday approved the 13.6-mile light-rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena.
Superlatives flowed as community leaders spoke of the $841-million project, an extension of the Blue Line between Long Beach and Los Angeles. Even East Valley officials are excited--they hope the project will open up the rest of the San Gabriel Valley to light rail.
The line coming to the western San Gabriel Valley, Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole said, will be as important as the railroads slicing across mountains and deserts a century ago to bring Midwestern settlers to a land of orange and avocado groves.
It will be as big, Cole said, as the Pasadena Freeway coming to town half a century ago.
“It ties us with the largest public works program now going forward in the United States,” the mayor said. “It will significantly change the city, and we are quite hopeful it will change (Pasadena) in a positive way. It will allow us to have safe, convenient and affordable options for travel.”
The line, with 13 station stops, will run north from Union Station in Los Angeles to Sierra Madre Villa Avenue in east Pasadena. Plans call for the track to run below the street level in a one-third-mile-long covered tunnel through Old Pasadena.
There will be six station stops in Los Angeles, six in Pasadena, and one in South Pasadena.
A one-way trip from downtown to east Pasadena will cost the same as a Southern California Rapid Transit District express bus, now $1.10. The cars will be the same as those on the Blue Line to Long Beach.
“You would be hard-pressed to (make the trip) in 25 minutes in a car, even on a Sunday. And it would cost you more in gas,” said John Jontig, Pasadena light-rail project director.
Local and regional transit officials predict that the transit, economic and social implications will be extensive for northeast Los Angeles communities, South Pasadena, Pasadena and the western San Gabriel Valley as well. “This is really just the spine of what we hope will be a transportation network,” Cole said.
Unlike Orange County or the San Fernando Valley, where there have been controversies over rail transit, the smog- and traffic-plagued San Gabriel Valley has presented a relatively uniform voice of support for the light rail.
“I’m tickled pink” by the Pasadena line, said merchant Jack Smith, president of the Old Pasadena Business and Professional Assn., a group boosting the revival of the neighborhood that has transformed itself from a ghost town at night to a thriving area where the sidewalks are packed late at night.
However, he said, “approving it is one thing. Getting it built is altogether a different matter.”
For the freeway-fighting forces of South Pasadena, the advent of light rail is a boon, said Mayor Harry A. Knapp, a leader of those opposing completion of the Long Beach Freeway to Pasadena.
“We’ve been looking forward to this all along,” he said. “It’s part of the transportation mix we’d like to see in the L.A. Basin.”
By removing commuter traffic from the Pasadena Freeway and the Foothill Freeway, Knapp asserted, the light-rail line would lessen the demand for completion of the 6.2-mile gap on the Long Beach Freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena.
For Pasadena, the light rail “will pull the city together,” said Nat Read, former president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and staff member of the Tri-City Transportation Coalition, which has lobbied extensively for the rail project.
Read said: “It will bring the city even closer to downtown Los Angeles. And it gives Pasadena greater regional importance.” Besides that, he said, “it will relieve some of our dependence on the automobile and the single-occupant auto.”
The project even carries significance for the eastern San Gabriel Valley, said Claremont Councilwoman Judy Wright, who has long been active on regional transportation committees. “It opens the northern part of the San Gabriel Valley for light rail, and we hope it one day comes to Claremont.”
The transportation commission on Wednesday hired consultants to prepare environmental reports for an extension of the light-rail line from Pasadena to Irwindale. From Irwindale the system would connect with a proposed Metrolink shuttle to Claremont and Pomona.
Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alatorre, newly elected chairman of the county transportation commission, predicted the rail line would be serving Pasadena by November, 1997.
The project was delayed by three years of bare-knuckle negotiations between county transit planners and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, which owned 336 miles of rail lines.
Actual construction is scheduled to begin in early 1994.
When the line reaches Old Pasadena, it will run between Raymond Avenue and Arroyo Parkway in a grade separation, an open-topped tunnel covered with steel mesh. Submerged for one-third mile, it will cross under Green Street, Colorado Boulevard and Union Street and then re-emerge at Holly Street.
The tracks will then take an eastward path down the median of the Foothill Freeway toward the final destination at Sierra Madre Villa Avenue.
The county transportation commission left one question unanswered in approving the Pasadena line: how to pay for the track that will run below street level in Old Pasadena.
The commissioners deferred a decision on the $50 million it will cost to submerge the line.
Pasadena officials said a submerged line is crucial. “It is a life-safety issue for pedestrians. On a weekend, we have 9,000 to 10,000 people (walking) in the area,” Pasadena Councilman Bill Thomson told the commission, which will reconsider the city’s proposal in February.
Since the Blue Line opened from Long Beach to downtown in July 1991, 12 fatalities have occurred along the 22-mile route.
Submerging the track, county transit officials said, could tack 11 months onto the project’s completion time.
The commissioners committed $16 million in county funds to submerge the line. To make up the rest of the $50 million, Pasadena has proposed lending the county $34 million. To recoup that money, Pasadena would levy a surcharge over 30 years on the electricity its municipal power company will sell to the county to operate the trains.
Hudson is a Times staff writer, and Winton is a free-lance writer.
Getting the Green Light
The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission has approved a 13.6-mile light-rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena. The line, with these 13 station stops, will run north from Union Station in Los Angeles to Sierra Madre Villa Avenue in east Pasadena.
Passengers: 124,000 a day total Long Beach-
Pasadena (year 2010 estimate); 50,000 to 75,000 a day downtown Los Angeles-Pasadena segment (year 2010 estimate).
Each Train: 2-3 cars, each holding up to 230 passengers.
Frequency of Trains: 6-9 minutes in each direction during rush hours; 15 minutes other times.
Hours of Operation:
6 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Fare System: Tickets purchased before boarding from vending machines; random checks of tickets by transit personnel.
Fare: Equivalent to RTD express fare for same route.