Hundreds of people turned out for Metro’s “All Communities Convening” meetings, held during the last week in El Sereno, Pasadena and Monterey Park, to review the SR-710 gap closure Environmental Study.
All three meetings offered the same format; attendees watching a video — also available online at http://www.metro.net/projects/sr-710-conversations/ — and presentations on the “refined” five alternatives included in the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), as reported by EGP on July 11 .
The completion of the SR-710 freeway to 210 Freeway gap has been under consideration in some form or other for more than 50 years. In some areas it is as controversial today as it was in the very beginning.
Metro has narrowed down the alternatives under review to 5, four of which aim to reduce local and regional traffic congestion through multi-modal concepts, including: a bus rapid transit (BRT) system; a light rail system like the Gold Line; better traffic management including synchronizing traffic signals, ramp metering and street widening, and a controversial underground freeway tunnel connecting the 710 and 210 freeways. The tunnel could have one or two levels, be a toll road, or be a bus transit route.
The 5th or “no build” alternative would just implement planned improvements in the 2012 Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) Regional Transportation Plan (RTP).
Meetings held in recent days drew a variety of responses from people in attendance, including in El Sereno on July 18 where each of the five proposals had some measure of support.
Long-time 710 gap closure opponent and El Sereno resident Tom Williams said the evaluation criteria for the alternatives is flawed because the freeway tunnel is not a fair comparison to the light rail or bus rapid transit alternatives. George Cabrera Jr. expressed concerns over safety, noting two recent gasoline truck fires, and Peter Orona Jr. invited Metro representatives to his home to take in the clean air he feels is threatened by the gap closure project.
But Aurora Perez, who identified herself as El Sereno’s honorary mayor, said she favors the freeway tunnel because it will improve traffic for future generations. She said the El Sereno community has been neglected for too many years, mostly because they oppose any type of change.
Mike Roseberry, also of El Sereno, told EGP he favors the light rail option. “They need to break up that money and start spending it on the streets,” he said.
However, Sandra Arias and Edward Chavez, both residents of the Maravilla neighborhood in East Los Angeles, told EGP they oppose the light rail alternative because it would mean more construction and the taking of some property through eminent domain in East L.A. They say the area has already received more than its fair share of transportation projects, which have over the years sliced up the community with freeways and most recently, the Gold Line extension in 2009.
The only reason Mednik Avenue at 3rd Street is wide enough for the light rail alternative, said one attendee, is because homes were taken there for the 60-freeway expansion in the mid-1960s.
In Pasadena on July 20, opponents of the SR 710 toll tunnel proposal protested prior to the Metro convening meeting.
Tuesday in Monterey Park, where many of the streets have become the unintended overflow valve for traffic at the end of the freeway, most of the 50 or so people in attendance seemed to agree that traffic at the city’s major intersections needs to be addressed as part of the plan, but appeared split on whether the tunnel option is the best way to go about it.
The back and forth discussion by those in the audience included some people comparing the tunnel proposal to tunnels found in other parts of the world. People opposed to the project expressed concern over the price tag, potential air pollution and increased traffic.
On the other hand, backers of the build alternatives say they are already overwhelmed by traffic and are being taxed for a project that has been stalled for years.
“If we had built this tunnel over 40 years ago, it would have cost less,” said Monterey Park’s Mayor Teresa Real Sebastian, a supporter of the tunnel option. “If we wait 40 years into the future it’s going to cost more, let’s build it today.”
Metro expects to circulate the Draft Environmental document and conduct Public Hearing on it in Spring 2014, with the final Environmental Document and alternative selection by Spring of 2015.