710 gap fight roaring again

This story originally ran in Neon Tommy.

Captured by the light-rail line that quietly bisects their communities, many people living northeast of the City of L.A. are questioning why the county's public transportation agency would consider easing a traffic bottleneck with a project more befitting the 20th century.

For more than 60 years, the state of California has sought to complete a connection on a freeway now known as the Interstate 710 from Long Beach to Pasadena. A handful of lawsuits, hundreds of public hearings and millions of dollars in studies later, a stubborn six-mile gap between Alhambra and Pasadena persists. The groups and public officials who back the original vision have eyed one city for halting the project through unwavering resistance and court action—South Pasadena.

“We are hoping they'll come to their senses,” says Richard Katz, a former state Assemblyman who's remained heavily involved in the region's transportation planning.

But the problem it seems goes much beyond a single town—where Trader Joe's is one of the largest employers—and speaks to the mind-numbing difficultly of appeasing L.A. County's diverse, sprawling and gigantic population.

The debate over whether the I-710 should be completed—most likely through parallel 4.5 mile tunnels—has returned this spring with 18 gatherings scheduled by the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). The events are designed to ascertain public concerns ahead of a complete analysis of ways to deal with the gap.

Metro hired two public relations firms to make the meetings more congenial and to engage with community members on Facebook and Twitter. At a meeting last Saturday in Pasadena, about three dozen residents from around the region showed up. There was roughly one organizer for every two attendees.

Concerns voiced at Alhambra meeting: Social media attempt to engage residents“It's unlike anything I've ever seen before,” one of the lead consultants, Mary McCormick, said of the outreach effort's breadth.

Residents from Santa Clarita, Arcadia, Pasadena and other cities throughout eastern L.A. County pleaded with Metro to take a more “transparent,” “systemic” and “holistic” approach to planning transit projects. While some supported the idea of extending the freeway, strident opposition from residents in South Pasadena and neighboring cities continued to dominate.

The tunnel as imagined would tear through ground underneath historic homes in a city of 25,000. Locals feel it would disturb the small-town utopian atmosphere that brings acclaim to “South Pas.”

“I've been fighting for a 100 years,” South Pasadena resident Mary Anne Parada said, exaggerating only slightly. “We have been fighting for our very lives.”

Metro's Board of Directors approved moving forward with the project last year. Measure R, a half-cent sales tax increase L.A. County voters approved in Nov. 2008, allocates $780 million to fund a small portion of an I-710 gap project.

If a three-year environmental study finds closure of the gap to be necessary, Metro's board would have the final say in spending those millions. (It's unclear what happens to the funds if a project is not undertaken.) Metro hopes to charge a toll on the stretch of freeway. Such a plan could attract a private company to front the remaining billions of dollars needed for construction in exchange for a share of the toll revenues. The most recent estimate suggests the actual building of the tunnel would cost $3 billion alone.

Two in three county voters approved of Measure R. That may well have been because of the diversity of projects included in it. There were highway improvements, bus pass subsidies, bikeways, subways and light-rail lines. The measure's architects—chiefly L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Metro board member Katz and powerful L.A. public transit advocate Denny Zane of a group known as MoveLA—knew they needed to include both green, forward-looking projects and stalemated ideas such as the I-710 extension to ensure overall passage.

“It was a grand compromise,” Zane said. “We would have rather had all-transit, but we would have never won support.”

Now, in South Pasadena, Beverley Hills and Cheviot Hills, small groups that have long-opposed three of the largest Measure R projects threaten to undermine that same coalition's new scheme to construct those projects faster than budgeted for through a massive loan from the federal government.

Groups refusing to let go of their community's character and public agencies trying to meet regional demands for improved mobility remain locked onto each other. Many would like to see a light-rail corridor or freight-rail tracks supplement the I-710 and fill the gap. Others suggest doubling the number of freight-rail tracks along existing rights-of-way to make it easier for cargo to travel from the Port of Long Beach to industrial hubs in the north and the east.

Katz said the aggressive and open meeting process during the next several weeks would shed greater light on South Pasadena's furor.

“We have to make clear they don't like [any kind of project,]” he said.

The one issue both sides finally agree on is that this bout will be the last.

“You could probably build the freeway with all the money we've spent on studies,” Katz said with laugh.

Reach Neon Tommy executive producer Paresh Dave at paresh.dave@neontommy.com. Follow him on Twitter: @peard33.

7 thoughts on “710 gap fight roaring again”

  1. There are three salient facts one must consider to understand why this white elephant should be shelved once and for all.
    1) There is no evidence that a 4.5 mile tunnel will improve congestion or traffic speeds on existing freeways or North-South roadways. In fact a study (ITERIS) done by SCAG (Southern California Council of Governments) done in 2008 shows only minimal improvement if any.
    2)This project cost is not 3 BILLION, but more like 12 BILLION. The cost would be borne by the public either through taxes, tolls, or increased goods costs because of increased shipping costs. We can not afford this!
    3)More freeways mean more traffic means more pollution. Who wants these noxious exhaust fumes in the San Gabriel Valley. They even want to vent the fumes next store to the Huntington Memorial Hospital and South Pasadena High School!
    This 20th century idea must be stopped.
    Dr. Bill Sherman

    1. And these are all issues we can identify and protest once the EIR/EIS begins and design details become better known.

      I agree that the exhaust vents should not be placed next to sensitive uses such as hospitals and schools. In fact, they should be required to scrub and filter much like an industrial plant does. One option is to petition the California Air Resources Board and U.S. EPA to classify each vent a new stationary source of air pollution. Los Angeles is still not in compliance with the Clean Air Act. That will add to costs but will improve the project from an environmental and health standpoint. If you have not already done so, I suggest you contact an environmental attorney or the NRDC for help in addressing venting.

      1. Actually everything needs to be sorted out in Scoping – start with the basics

        1. What are the Needs and Purposes of the “Project”?
        Commuter congestion OR
        Truck Passages from Ports to High Desert Corridor OR
        Truck diverted from I-5 for Caltrans Express/TollLanes cash cows

        2. Give us all alternatives to start with – don’t spring them on us at the DEIRcirculation
        Will the surface route be removed from the EIR?
        Will Zones 1, 4, and 5 be removed??

        3. What is the Base Case? – A tunnel starting from south of Hellman and goes straight to California with portals extending to I-10 on south to I-210 on North

        Then we can do alternatives to this – shorter and cheaper is from I-710 South Stub to SR2 at Verdugo/EagleRock (=Zone 2 in 2008-2010 studies…)

        4. The Air quality is of concern during construction and operations…operation would probably require an AQMD permit as the exhaust vents – probably between Helmman and Valley and California/PAlmetto on north would require scrubbers = air treatment facilities requires permits BUT
        4.1 Needs a “Hot Spot Analysis” – detailed air pollutant dispersion model around each of the stacks
        4.2 Needs a detailed health impact assessment as to health effects for those exposed to the exhaust plume –
        South End – Alhambra SW corner and CSULA
        North End – Huntington Hosiptal and Old Town Pasadena
        4.3 Eventually they will need a “Electrostatic Precipitators (ESP)” to remove the particulate, including – PM0.1
        After the PM is cleared then the NOx/CO will require gas scrubers…..$$$$$$$$$$$$
        4.4 Venting the tunnel would require fans with capacities of more than 2000sqft x 30Kft = 60Mcuft every 15min, 4M cuft/min 67000cf/sec / two vent = 30Kcfs – WOW, hope the numbers are correct, too many 000000 OR $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

        Yeah I am a techie – built, planned, designed tunnels and recommend them for CaHiSpeedRail through Alhambra and LA

        Tom

  2. Does anyone know of a map or document detailing exactly where the tunnel is going be laid, the digging is going to occur, and where these so called 500 house will be removed from as mentioned the previous comment? my online searches have only turned up documents and maps with very vague references to the area between Valley Blvd and Del Mar Blvd.

    1. After the last three years of having troubles with the public participation for the Technical Feasibility, MTA/Caltrans have given up putting anything on paper. Mayor Narjarian asked for a cost estimate before going forward with this monster….and MTA had their financial consultants produced the most recent cost estimate for MTA…Now they and even this article came up with the link Agenda Item 2 of the February MTA Board meeting. The Item report used a number for the first time in several years, 21,000ft = 3.98 mi (previous estimates were 4.5 miles = 23,800ft).

      The Tunnel will NOT follow the older Caltrans “Meridian Route”. Using google-earth or any other measurement method, draw a straight line and measure the distance between the two stubs of 710 = 4.32mi/22,800ft., 1000ft less than the earlier distance, which included several turns for the surface freways. In order to get down to the 21,000ft shift the line down to California Blvd in Pasadena and shift the line up from Valley to Alhambra (which where Parson-Brinkerhoff had the tunnel entrance start)…wow we get 21,000ft…BUT we don’t connect the two stubs = surface/overhead bridges, viaducts and Connector Roads…

      In order to get down to the tunneling levels – the project requires excavations from the surface down to tunnel levels (>170ft below the surface from MissionRd (Alham.) north to the north side of Waverly/Palatine Hill, say just south of Huntington Drive.

      In order to excavate, all the houses, trees, and roads have to be removed from a surface area of about 250ft wide (=three house plots long) x 6000+ft long (at about 60ft per house plot width)= 3 x 100 = 300 plots, but on the NNE/SSW angle add many parts of lots – up to 500, which was the earlier count for the surface freeway parallel through El Sereno.

      So Alhambrans beware —- The tunnel hits EMERY PARK TRACT and remember this is to reduce the congestion in Alhambra, so you sacrafice and maybe if B.Messinia is in a good mood she will help you and other homeless find shelter in Alahmabra somewhere. BUT DON’T BE A NIMBY….

    2. The placement of the portals (tunnel entrances) is not completely set in stone. That is to come in the EIR/EIS phase. That said, Tom is right that Caltrans and Metro have already have a good idea where the portal will need to be. I expect it needs to be in the zone between Valley and Mission so they can avoid the Union Pacific railroad trench that follows Mission. In which case, those homes and businesses have been gone for a generation.

      You can see the original route of the freeway on the L.A. County GIS.
      http://planning.lacounty.gov/gisnet

      The properties without parcel boundaries are owned by the state. Start at the end of the 710 at Valley and pan north. You can see that the freeway would go through residential areas of Alhambra, L.A.’s El Sereno neighborhood, South Pasadena, and Pasadena.

      I personally think completing the EIR/EIS process is therapeutic and is necessary to provide closure for all involved. The process will give us all the details we crave to make informed decisions about the project, including routes, costs involved, etc. The last cost estimates I saw pegged the tunnels at $5 to 6 billion.

      Very few people are now talking about continuing a surface route. I certainly will not support one. I attended a transportation forum that discussed the 710 gap closure a few weeks ago. All of the speakers agreed that a surface route will be eliminated, which leaves only the tunnel. In addition, the Parsons engineer responsible for the project also added that the tunnel should not be used by trucks. Freight trains and other trucking routes are better suited for freight. His preference is that it be built with transit in mind (I agree).

      Also, if the tunnel option is chosen, Caltrans will be required to sell its Alhambra, El Sereno, Pasadena, and South Pasadena properties that it does not need. The devil is in the details, but there is some legislation on the topic — California Gov’t Code 54235-38. The money it makes in the sale will go toward paying for the tunnel. Selling those properties will also go a long way to cleaning up the blight and healing the communities.

      The worst thing for all involved is to drag the battle out for years longer.

  3. Your article assumes that the origin is reliable but is in many ways off-base. SoPas doesn’t get impacted BUT your other Neighbor, El Sereno, AND YOUR EMERY TRACT ALHAMBRA gets hammered with the loss of 500 of our homes. Based on the MTA/PPP study the tunnel would be connected by “Connector Roads” from the South Stub over Valley, UPRR, and down to the portal/tunnel entrance on the north side of Alhambra Ave./Mission Road…

    The included MTA/PPP estimate of $3B is error ridden – 21000 ft doesn’t buy anyone anything – and would require removal of 500 houses in LA/El Sereno and ALHAMBRA/EmergyParkTract – NOT South Pasadena…

    Get facts straight in the future… Also the Portal $$ do not even cover the costs of excavating 200+ x 200+ x 5000+ft holes in LA/Alhambra and Pasadena for the entrances to the “tunnel”. The Tunnel estimate is also without any trucks and thereby who can pay $15 tolls each way to go less than 4mi as included in the $$report.

    Nine LACity Neighborhood Councils representing more than 300,000 residents have voted against the SR710North Extension Tunnel in any form and have supported a Multi-Mode system of arterial improvements throughout NELA and western San Gabriel Valley. The MM also provides for more first/last miles vans, shuttles, and feeder buses for really making the transit work.

    As the 710 tunnel or freeway does not deal with the NE>SW commuters of the 134/210, 110, Colorado-EAgle Rock, Figueroa, Huntington Dr, and Valley arterials all it will do is dump two more lanes of traffic onto the Eastbound 210 at 3-7pm which won’t help the situation. The MM would provide equivalent of 3-5 lanes of arterial commuter capacity and perhaps even reduce the congetion on the 110…210 and 10 are hopeless with or without 710.

    So your entire article falls apart and was a waste of time for anyone who knows anything about freeways and transport.

    Highways don’t work anymore but the MTA/Caltrans enigneers and admin want to keep working til they retire.

    What happens when gasoline and diesel reach $4.50/gal???
    Oh By The Way, we are supporting Park-N-Rides at the LACity boundaries and Congestion District Pricing of arterials in east LA (=Tolls) and increased parking fees for full cost recovery (=$25/day for public and private spaces west of LA River.

    Tom

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