Metro Officials Discuss Cost Benefits of Tunnel

Officials weighing the five designated alternatives in the SR 710 North Study will include results of a cost-benefit analysis — which rates the proposed 6.3-mile tunnel closing the gap between Alhambra and South Pasadena as the most cost-effective option — when selecting their preference.
At an informational workshop last week at the Pasadena Convention Center, Metro and Caltrans representatives told a crowd of about 100 engaged residents, city and community leaders that the single-bore, two-lane tunnel option offers the highest cost benefit.
According to that analysis, which was released in June 2015, the single-bore tunnel would get people to their destinations seven minutes faster during peak hours (and almost 14 minutes faster otherwise), with fewer accidents and less money spent on fuel and repairs.
Still, the economic analysis, long sought-after by opponents of the tunnel, including many in La Cañada Flintridge, will not be the determining factor as to which alternative is selected, project manager Michelle Smith promised.
“Not everything can be quantified,” said Loren Bloomberg, the technical consultant who directed the team that developed the cost-benefit analysis. “This is one element of the overall assessment, to expand the realm of things we can look at. It’s definitely not a one-stop shop for making a determination.
“The end result, comparing costs with benefits that are going to be delivered — all [the alternatives] have costs, all deliver benefits in different ways, so this is the economic qualitative assessment of how these alternatives look in that framework.”
A $40-million draft environmental impact review, released in March 2015, looked at five options: no-build; a traffic management system that would upgrade streets and sync traffic signals; a dedicated busway with high-frequency service; a 7.5-mile light-rail line between East Los Angeles and Pasadena and, finally, the tunnel, 4.2 miles of which would be completely underground.
During the question-and-answer session on Sept. 22, Ann Wilson, a division manager in the LCF’s administration department, received assurances that the cost-benefit analysis included the city.
“I remember you saying the city of La Cañada Flintridge was in the study area,” she said, “which was included in some things but not in other things.”
“You have a good memory,” Bloomberg said. “There are different study areas, but the study area we included as part of the emissions analysis was the broader study area; that was the transportation analysis study area. It does include La Cañada Flintridge as well as other communities outside of the central area … because it’s along the 210 [freeway].”
Wilson also stressed how important it was for the Metro and Caltrans officials to relay comments previously submitted as well as those made during the workshop when they report back to the Metro board of directors.
Those officials seemed to indicate they would. They also dismissed critics who claimed that they were underestimating the price of the tunnel.
Bill Sherman, a South Pasadena transportation commissioner, said it seemed like they were low-balling the cost of constructing the tunnel at $500 million per mile, especially when he compared it with estimates for a Sepulveda tunnel that are in the $1-billion-per-mile range.
“It doesn’t seem to be consistent,” Sherman said.
“The Sepulveda tunnel estimate was a planning estimate,” Smith explained. “This particular estimate for the work on the draft alternative had more engineering involved.
“So you were smarter than the people doing the Sepulveda tunnel?” Sherman asked.
“That may be,” Smith said. “But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying that the Sepulveda tunnel estimate was a planning estimate and the level of detail you put toward that is not the same as when you get to a more advanced part [of the process].”
A 150-day comment period on the draft EIR — “unprecedented,” Smith said — resulted in 8,000 public comments. Smith said she and her team will take the rest of the year responding to comments before they get on with selecting the preferred alternative. A final document should be completed in 2018, she said

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