Decades-Old Battle Over 710 Freeway Spills Over Into New Areas

Tunnel a stronger option with Cedillo’s support amid resident outcries.

By Daniel J. Malignaggi, EGP Staff Writer

A possible solution to address the traffic congestion facing commuters along the 710 Freeway may face even more gridlock than the traffic itself.

More than 1,000 residents of northeast Los Angeles petitioned the city council on Wednesday to oppose any extension of the 710 Long Beach Freeway through their neighborhoods. Mt. Washington resident Nancy Campeau argued the plan would “destroy their historic neighborhood.”

Metro and Caltrans officials have started looking into possible scenarios that would connect the 710 Freeway to the 210 Freeway after more than 40 years of contention. Local neighborhood residents and elected officials have already taken sides in debating the issue that has now expanded to a new group of neighborhoods.

The 710 Tunnel Technical Study, commissioned by the two leading transportation agencies, has completed the on-site drilling that led to a geo-technical study to determine the feasibility of completing a tunnel route for the connector.

The study, predicated on a “route-neutral” approach, opened up the potential 710 Freeway gap closure to a total of five zones—broader than just the original highly debated location between Alhambra and South Pasadena. Two of the zones are predominantly based in Northeast Los Angeles, with affected areas such as Glassell Park, Mt. Washington, Highland Park, Eagle Rock and a larger swath of El Sereno.

This tunnel option has seemingly taken priority, and may soon be the only one. Sen. Gil Cedillo, representing a large portion of the area in which the freeway could pass, has pushed SB 545 that would eliminate any surface route through the Assembly Transportation Committee. According to Cedillo’s office, the bill is being voted on again with amendments, and should soon be presented to the entire Assembly, with the hope that the governor signs it this fall.

Cedillo opposes an above ground route, “however he is a supporter of a tunnel to alleviate the region’s traffic congestion,” says his spokesperson, Christy Wolfe. “The Senator is pragmatic on the issue…he is keeping all options on the table until some of the options are ruled out.”

He believes there is community support for a tunnel, says Wolfe. “We have attended many meetings and received a lot of input from the community, and they support a way to do this that preserves homes.”

Joseph Riser, who chairs the Hermon local issues committee, says that no one in his community has taken a strong position yet, although they are being “vigilant and watching carefully” and looking for Councilmember Jose Huizar to look out for the best interests of residents. Riser predicts that traffic congestion will only get worse, and that some sort of 710 Freeway fix has to get done—but not necessarily through his community in Northeast Los Angeles, although he feels impacts would be minimal.

The Glassell Park Neighborhood Council was upset about not being well informed about local meetings to discuss the route study taking place in their community, and feels at a disadvantage to the more affluent and well organized communities like South Pasadena that have foiled the 710 Freeway plans for decades.

Other residents in Northeast L.A have been furiously rallying against such a tunnel making its way through the region that they believe would damage communities, topography and quality of life.

Prior to descending on city hall Wednesday, the Mt. Washington Association published an article on its website that outlined possible tunnel route locations and potential negative impacts to the local environment by increasing smog and noise, and lowering property values.

Resident Dr. William Mallen spoke out against putting one end of the tunnel near Mt. Washington, claiming it would spew pollution into his neighborhood and cause increased cancer rates and pulmonary disease.

“This is not about moving civilians, it’s about moving commerce,” said Mallen. “Move commerce on trains, not on neighborhoods that have been established for years. Why should we sacrifice and put up with a cancer risk?”

At this point, however, Caltrans officials maintain that any debate over a specific route is extremely premature.

“I believe that it is very important for the public to know that there is no route,” said Caltrans representative Deborah Harris. “All we are doing is testing [soil, rock, groundwater, seismic activity etc.]”

Harris admits that there has been much input from residents, some of which has not been in support of a project. “Most people have the same questions…everyone wants to know how it will impact me, some people are in favor, some are not…everyone wants information but right now its important to know that we are just testing the soil.”

Caltrans will report more information early next year, most likely in January. Harris says reports will not include any route ranking system or comparison.

However, Harris says the Technical Study group will be proposing to conduct “cursory” research on traffic, air quality, portals and costs, due to the high volume of questions that residents have asked about potential impacts involving these issues.

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August 13, 2009  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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