San Gabriel Valley cities still divided over 710 Freeway tunnel; Pasadena stepping up fight against it; two new meetings planned

Sept. 16, 2016

By Steve Scauzillo

PASADENA >> In an effort to fortify opposition to a 710 Freeway extension, Pasadena City Councilman Steve Madison hosted a forum Thursday night that laid out alternatives to building the 4.9-mile tunnel Caltrans has proposed to construct between the end of the freeway and the 210/134 Freeway interchange.

Madison’s meeting also hinted at a stronger role to play for Pasadena City Hall, as well as west San Gabriel Valley residents.

One of the 200 attendees asked how Pasadenans can kill the tunnel project, which urban planning experts said won’t ease local traffic between El Sereno, Alhambra, South Pasadena and Pasadena — roughly where the tunnel would go — and would waste money that could be spent on more practical solutions, such as a north-south boulevard, more bike lanes and widening other nearby north-south streets.

Madison hinted that the silence from major political players in the state may have to be broken. He said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Jerry Brown “wield power” over the 710 Freeway fight.

“There will come a time when we make a strong demand to them to put a stake through the heart of the tunnel,” Madison said.

He later suggested the city take this kind of forum on the road, visiting neighboring cities, to drive home the point that the tunnel plan should be defeated.

“Tunnel projects around the world don’t have good records in terms of budgets and integrity,” he said, referring to cost overruns of a freeway tunnel project in Seattle and in Boston, where the so-called Big Dig ran four times the original cost estimate.

Caltrans estimates the dual-bore tunnel would cost $5.6 billion.

The 710 Coalition — a five-member group formed in 1982 that includes the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel and San Marino — sent a response to the forum, calling it “one-sided.”

“Completion of the 710 is not about one city,” the coalition said in its response. “It’s about the entire Los Angeles region.”

The coalition supports the tunnel and says it will reduce congestion and air pollution in local neighborhoods.

At the forum Thursday, Paul Moore, a principal with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates and a traffic engineer by trade, went point by point through the draft Environmental Impact Report on a possible 710 Freeway project that studies the different options before Caltrans.

The four-lane tunnel that would extend from the 710 Freeway terminus at Valley Boulevard on the border of Alhambra and Los Angeles to the interchange in Pasadena where the 210 and 134 freeways meet is one option.

Others include building a bus rapid-transit line, a light-rail line and surface-street management. The report also considers whether Caltrans should build the tunnel at all.

Moore pointed out the EIR says a tunnel would add more vehicle miles traveled, more air pollution and only ease traffic on some streets, while shifting more traffic onto other arterials. In most cases, a 40-minute commute would improve at most by 30 seconds to one minute, he said.

Moore said he believed Garcetti has yet to weigh in on the 710 project because he doesn’t want to give those opposed to an extension a reason to vote against Measure M, the half-cent sales tax initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that would add $120 billion for 38 transportation projects over the next 40 to 50 years.

The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro, has omitted the extension project from its ballot measure and has postponed any vote on the north 710 EIR until mid-2017.

Metro took an unprecedented step of including language in the measure saying, “No net revenues generated from the sales tax shall be expended on the State Route 710 North Gap Closure Project.”

The language was enough to reassure Madison, who said he is voting “yes” on Measure M.

The Pasadena City Council Legislative Policy Committee voted in support on Aug. 16, according to William Boyer, a city spokesman. A recommendation to support goes before the City Council on Sept. 26.

Madison liked some of the projects, but said he wished the measure included funding for extension of the Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to Burbank Airport.

Caltrans and Metro announced two upcoming meetings on the costs and benefits of the tunnel project, a separate analysis done in tandem with the EIR. The meetings will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 E. Green St., and Sept. 26 at Centro Maravilla Service Center, 4716 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., Los Angeles.

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About Steve Scauzillo

I love journalism. I've been working in journalism for 32 years. I love communicating and now, that includes writing about environment, transportation and the foothill/Puente Hills communities of Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut and Diamond Bar. I write a couple of columns, one on fridays in Opinion and the other, The Green Way, in the main news section. Send me ideas for stories. Or comments. I was opinion page editor for 12 years so I enjoy a good opinion now and then.