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710 Freeway Project a ‘Big Moment’ for Southeast, East L.A.

What started out ten years ago as an 18-lane behemoth to serve freight truck traffic between East Los Angeles and the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles is slightly tamer these days as communities all along the route come together to take a final look at proposed improvements for a lengthy stretch of the I-710 Freeway.

Now reduced to a maximum of fourteen lanes and billed as a project to improve air quality and alleviate traffic congestion, the planned upgrade to an 18-mile stretch of the 710 Freeway will be the subject of three public hearings this week including one in the East Los Angeles area that will offer the public opportunities to give input.

Past involvement by community groups and individuals concerned about air quality impacts “has driven this project to become more of a sustainable, lower-emission producing project,” said Michael Cano, Transportation Deputy for Metro Board Chair Michael Antonovich.

The public’s comments at this week’s hearings will be recorded by a court reporter and included in the final report given to the Metro board, the governing body tasked with making the final decisions on the project. The community has the opportunity to demand mitigations to any problems in the project proposal, or take some options off the table “that are most damaging to the community,” Cano said.

This is a “big moment” for people in East Los Angeles to voice any concerns and “ask critical questions,” said Isella Ramirez, Co-Director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, EYCEJ, an organization that has focused on the project’s impact on air quality in local communities.

The East Los Angeles communities are “particularly impacted” by the proposed project, Ramirez says. Nearby communities that could be affected include East Los Angeles, Commerce, Bell Gardens, Bell, Cudahy, Maywood, Huntington Park, South Gate and Vernon.

Community members and officials say the likely preferred project plan is to add two truck-only lanes in both directions. Locally, communities could be dealing with the impacts of losing or gaining freeway on and off ramps, or the displacement of homes through widened freeways and redesigned configurations. In Commerce, a proposed on-ramp on Washington Blvd could mean relocating more than a hundred residents in the Ayers neighborhood, a plan that some businesses welcome. Caltrans, a lead agency on the project, has promised relocation benefits to anyone losing their homes.

Local cities and elected officials, as well as members of the community, are also finding the 10,000-page draft environmental impact report, which contains numerous technical studies, daunting to get through. Joe Aguilar, a councilman in the City of Commerce where an Aug. 9 public hearing will be held, called the report released last month “mind-boggling.” The community was given just 60 days to provide input, and the deadline is Aug. 29.

Recognizing this, Caltrans gave several cities, including Commerce and Bell Gardens, funding to hire consultants to review the report, and has indicated they may allow extensions on a case-by-case basis.

For organizations like EYCEJ, which has monitored hundreds of planning meetings over the years, this project is a “potentially exciting” opportunity to implement the zero-emission features they fought to incorporate into the proposals. But plans to place freeway off-ramps on streets lined with parks and schools, such as in Maywood, could mar that excitement.

“A goal of ours to make sure this I-710 freeway expansion project is really an improvement project that benefits the community,” said Ramirez.

Meetings will be held on Aug. 7, from 6-9pm, at Progress Park, 15500 Downey Ave, Paramount, California; Aug. 8, 6-9pm, at Silverado Park Community Center, 1545 W. 31st Street, Long Beach; and Aug. 9, 4-8pm at Rosewood Park, 5600 Harbor St., Commerce.

The report can be found at this link: http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/resources/envdocs/docs/710corridor/ [2]