710 Freeway Tunnel Proposal Collapses; LCF Applauds

Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK Jan SooHoo, a La Cañada Flintridge resident who’s fought the prospect of the 710 Freeway extension since 2009, was among those rejoicing when the L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to move away from the project at its meeting in Los Angeles on Thursday, May 25.
Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK
Jan SooHoo, a La Cañada Flintridge resident who’s fought the prospect of the 710 Freeway extension since 2009, was among those rejoicing when the L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to move away from the project at its meeting in Los Angeles on Thursday, May 25.

Ding dong, the proposed 710 Freeway Tunnel is “effectively dead,” as La Cañada Flintridge’s Jan SooHoo described it in a celebratory email to fellow opponents of the proposed multi-billion-dollar project.
Despite a recommendation from the L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority staff to approve a 4.9-mile, $3.2-billion single-bore tunnel, Metro’s Board of Directors on Thursday voted unanimously against it.
The decision essentially ended a 50-year debate over the controversial SR-710 project, the latest incarnation of which sought to bore beneath El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena to connect the “missing segment” of the 710 freeway between the 10 and 210 freeways.
Instead, the Metro board decided to rededicate $105 million of Measure R funds toward a host of incremental transportation improvement plans, such as coordinated traffic signal timing, ramp metering, street widening, as well as promotion of carpooling and transit use. Another $645 million will be available for further allocation along the corridor.
“To me, it made sense what came out of the report,” said board chairman John Fasana, a city councilman from Duarte. “But at the same time, a theory on paper doesn’t actually provide any relief to the affected communities. I felt the tunnel was the best approach, but I’ve also come to realize that it’s unfundable, and if it happened, it would be many years away.
“There are other improvements … that can counteract some of the increasing traffic that is always out there, and I think we have reached a point where a decision needs to be made.”
When the roll-call vote — which felt so historic that Eric Garcetti, the L.A. City Mayor and member of the Metro board, raised his cellphone to film it — was finished, a cheer went up in the overflowing boardroom. For more than two hours, many of the few hundred officials and residents who attended the meeting debated the project, probably for the last time.
LCF Mayor Michael Davitt contributed to the discussion, calling the tunnel “not practical and not fundable,” adding that “more importantly, it does not address regional transportation needs.”
The city of LCF has actively opposed the freeway extension since 1999, when then-City Councilman Anthony Portantino rallied his colleagues against what was then a proposed above-ground stretch of freeway intended to close the 710 Freeway gap.
Last week, LCF distributed a release applauding the board’s decision, thanking the board for a “difficult compromise.”
Locally, residents’ concerns included problems tied to increased traffic, which they argued would diminish air quality in the vicinity, including for students at the numerous schools situated near the freeway.
“Every council since [1999] has been dogged and determined to make sure it doesn’t happen,” said Portantino, now a member of the state Senate representing District 25. “And, oh my goodness, it’s an awesome day.”
In 1965, the California Transportation Authority opened the stretch of the 710 between the 10 Freeway and its current terminus on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra. The planned northern route of the freeway was delayed by protests from South Pasadena, which was among the entities that would file lawsuits to stop the extension over the next few decades, starting with the first in 1973.
The latest effort to close the gap began in 2008 with the passage of Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase that earmarked $780,000 for the SR-710 project, on which Metro and Caltrans partnered.
In 2012, a Draft Environmental Impact Report advanced five alternatives: no build; transportation system management/transportation demand management; bus rapid transit; light rail transit and a freeway tunnel.
In March of 2015, the Draft EIR/EIS was released and open for public comment; more than 8,000 comments were filed, Metro reported.
At last week’s meeting, comments from tunnel proponents indicated that they fear the TDM/TSM plan would not diminish traffic on the local streets in Alhambra and neighboring cities.
“TSM and TDM actually increase cut-through traffic in our neighborhoods,” Alhambra Mayor David Mejia said. “Our communities have suffered enough.”
Monterey Park Mayor Teresa Real Sebastian warned that her constituents would take issue with board members reneging on a promise to extend the freeway: “I caution this board against circumventing the wishes of the voters; voters were promised that a portion of sales tax would be used for the 710 Freeway.”
On the other side, LCF resident Anne Tryba told the board she was pleased that its members seemed primed to give local communities more control over future local projects, suggesting her city might benefit from more soundwalls.
And Richard Schneider, Mayor Pro Tem for South Pasadena, sought to persuade board members to bury the project forever.
“South Pasadena wants to make sure the tunnel is definitely no longer considered an alternative and not simply placed on the shelf where it can be reconsidered in the future,” Schneider said.
District 5 County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, also a board member, said she wrestled with the decision before deciding to sign on to Fasana’s motion to support the TSM/TDM alternative instead of the tunnel.
“We have issues right now that need to be addressed and the tunnel, whether it be built or not, is not going to fix what’s happening right now in our communities,” she said. “This motion will move us forward.”
“There’s no win-win solution,” Garcetti said. “But the only lose-lose is doing nothing.”
But SooHoo, a leader with the No 710 Action Committee, disagreed with Garcetti’s characterization: “This is going to be a win-win for everyone,” she said.
Along with Davitt, Mayor Pro Tem Terry Walker was in attendance, as were City Councilman Jonathan Curtis and Senior Management Analyst Ann Wilson. LCF’s longtime City Councilman Dave Spence, who died May 16, was recognized briefly at the beginning of the meeting.

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