ON THE ROAD: Metro staff to recommend 710 tunnel

“On the Road” is an occasional series on transportation — mostly public transit.

By Robert D. Thomas

In a letter to stakeholders (LINK), Metro staff has announced that it will recommend a single-bore tunnel be drilled underground from the northern terminus of I-710 (Long Beach Freeway) in East Los Angeles to its connecting point with the junction of I-210 and SR 134 (Ventura Freeway) in Pasadena. The tunnel would be a toll road, restrict trucks to under 33 tons, and include express bus service.

The recommendation will be delivered to the Metro Board of Directors Ad-Hoc Congestion, Highway and Roads Committee tomorrow and to the full Metro Board of Directors on Thursday, May 25.

The tunnel would bridge the two portions of the freeway, a link that has existed since the city of South Pasadena successfully waged a decades-long fight against a freeway that would have divided its town. Instead, drivers now exit the 710 at Valley Blvd. and wind their way through several towns — most notably Alhambra and, ironically, South Pas — to reach I-210.

In 2011, Caltrans (which has major responsibility for highways in the state) issued a draft environmental impact report (LINK) and said it would study five alternatives for bridging the gap. According to the Metro letter, about 8,000 responses were received during the DEIR process.

One question answered was whether it would be a single-bore or double-bore tunnel. According to the fact sheet (LINK) the tunnel would run approximately 6.3 miles and would consist of a bored tunnel (4.2 miles), short (0.7 miles) cut-and-cover tunnel segments at the south and north termini, and at-grade (1.4 miles) segments. The tunnel would have no intermediate interchanges or vertical ventilation shafts. Ventilation would come from stations at both ends of the tunnel.

It’s no surprise that Metro and Caltrans would recommend the tunnel. Both agencies view their primary responsibility as increasing mobility — indeed, the operating sentence in Metro’s letter is: “The alternative that best addresses the mobility benefits is the SBFT, with tolls and truck restrictions. The alternative reduces regional and local congestion associated with north-south travel demand within the study area and delivers the best transportation performance and benefits with the least environmental impacts.”

However, the ultimate decision won’t rest with Metro and Caltrans. As Metro’s letter notes, there’s no funding yet available for a tunnel The agency estimates it would cost $3.15 billion (in 2014 dollars) of which approximately $50 Million is earmarked for Transit Systems Management/Transit Demand Management improvements — i.e., roads, signals, etc. The construction is expected to take between 4 and 5 years. IMHO, based on other major transportation projects in our region, both estimates are considerably understated.

Moreover, while there is strong support for the tunnel in both Alhambra and East Los Angeles, which currently bears the brunt of the “missing link” traffic, there appears to be strong opposition to the tunnel in the northern end (i.e., Pasadena). That battle will take place in the legislature and courts.

It’s also worth noting that the 710 gap isn’t the only “missing link” in the Southland’s transportation infrastructure. Perhaps the most obvious is the end of the Glendale Freeway (SR 2), which was originally conceived as a freeway that would continue down Route 2 along what is now Santa Monica Blvd. to I-405. Local opposition also ended that project decades ago and left a situation where traffic from the Glendale Freeway now empties onto Glendale Blvd.

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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