While people for and against a project to close the gap between the 710-Long Beach Freeway in Alhambra and the 210-Foohill Freeway in Pasadena may disagree passionately on whether the project, over 50 years in the making, is a good idea, it’s likely they can all agree on one thing: It is important for stakeholders to attend at least one of three “All Communities Convening” information sessions being put on by Metro starting next week.
Lea esta nota en ESPAÑOL: Metro Presentará Alternativas Refinadas para Cerrar la Brecha del SR-710 
The sessions will update the status of the 5 project alternatives still under consideration in the SR-710 North Environmental Study, and give people an opportunity to ask questions and be heard during the planning process, according to Metro.
The study looks at the various options to reduce traffic congestion caused by a gap from where the 710 Freeway ends and the 210 Freeway.
While many residents see it as a local control issue, the gap closure project has regional transportation implications. It’s goal is to relieve street congestion in several cities, along State Route 2, Interstates 5, 10, 210 and 605, as well as East/Northeast Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, say transportation authorities.
$780 million in voter approved Measure R tax revenue has so far been approved for the project; about 10 percent is being used to complete required environmental studies, according to Metro Highway Program Project Manager Michelle E. Smith.
Measure R is expected to generate $40 billion over the next 30 years for projects aimed at traffic relief, and for transportation upgrades in Los Angeles County. The 710 gap closure project is one of many projects under Measure R.
The upcoming information sessions — July 18, July 20 and July 23 — will include a presentation by a moderator, with members of the 710 study technical team on hand to answer questions, according to Metro spokesperson, Helen Ortiz-Gilstrap.
The sessions will layout refinements and variations made to the designs for the four build alternatives that address stakeholder comments, and better meet the “performance measures and objectives” of “improving connectivity and mobility, reducing congestions, increasing transit ridership and minimizing environmental and community impacts,” Ortiz-Gilstrap told EGP in an email.
Those alternatives include a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that among other things would include more dedicated bus lanes to provide “high speed, high frequency bus service” between East Los Angeles and Pasadena/La Canada; a light rail system similar to the Gold Line; better traffic management including synchronizing traffic signals, ramp metering and street widening, and the most expensive of all the alternatives, an underground tunnel connecting the 710 and 210 freeways.
Leaving things as they are, or a “No Build” option is the fifth alternative under consideration.
Ortiz-Gilstrap told EGP that the information being presented at each of the sessions will be identical, so residents only need to attend one meeting.
Metro completed the project alternative analysis last year and is now in the environmental document preparation phase which includes an extensive number of technical studies that will look at the impact of each of the alternatives on the air, water and cultural resources in the affected communities as required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The results will be included in the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), Metro Highway Programs Executive Director Frank Quon told EGP recently.
Despite Metro’s statements to the contrary, residents in some communities have alleged that the transportation agency has already decided on its preferred route. They are concerned their homes and businesses could be taken to make room for a tunnel or light rail system.
Quon told EGP that at the information meetings residents will be able to look at detailed maps of the alternatives to see what is really being considered, ask questions and raise any concerns.
“I would like to … be able to say, ‘here’s your home, what do you want to know about what’s going on around your home? What do these alternatives mean to you?’” Quon told EGP.
For example, one of the light rail transit variations includes an elevated track that goes down Mednik Street in East Los Angeles toward Cal State Los Angeles, before going underground in Alhambra and heading to Pasadena. It’s possible eminent domain could be used to get land needed for the stations, Quon told EGP.
The light rail option is estimated to cost between $2.4 and $2.6 billion and would require funding beyond the $780 million approved. The bus route is estimated at $50 million, the traffic and transportation management system would be less than that, and the “no build” option would basically be $0, Quon said.
A surface route, considered too disruptive to communities, has been eliminated, Quon said. The route involving Avenue 64 in Northeast L.A. is also long gone, according to Metro officials. However, one of the equally, if not more controversial alternatives, an 8-lane tunnel 150-200 feet below ground, is still on the table.
A public-private partnership could be formed to build the tunnel which could cost upwards of $5.4 billion, with the private investor operating the tunnel as a toll road to recoup their investment. If built, the tunnel would have portals on the south end of Valley Boulevard and the north end between Green St. and Del Mar, according to Metro.
Exhaust vents would utilize the latest technology to clean the air. Quon said. “It’s not going to be an open-ended pipe, regulating agencies won’t allow that.” Because some of the studies are still very preliminary, Quon said Metro is not yet able to answer every question being raised, but is attempting to share the information as it is developed.
The Draft EIR/EIS are expected to be published this fall and Metro envisions conducting another round of meetings before the release, according to Ortiz-Gilstrap.
Metro’s Board could receive a recommendation by the summer of 2015, she said.
For some of the opponents to the SR-710 freeway extension, however, it’s not about which route; they oppose all of the build alternatives. They say all four options are aimed at making it easier for companies to move goods at the expense of people’s health and finances.
However, two recent occurrences are giving them hope that the tide may be turning in their favor: The Metro’s Board’s vote to remove the SR-710 Gap from the list of highway projects to receive accelerated funding through Measure R, and the addition of new Metro board members, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Last week, about 150 opponents of the SR-710 freeway marched and chanted “No 710” at South Pasadena’s July 4th Festival of Balloons Parade, according to Joanne Nuckols of the No 710 Action Committee. The committee was marking a 60-year anniversary fighting the extension of the freeway through their community.
Nuckols says the removal of the 710 from the list of accelerated projects is a major victory: “It is the first time the majority of the board has voted against something on the 710,” Nuckols told EGP.
She also noted that as a councilman, Garcetti, along with Councilman José Huizar and former Councilman Ed Reyes authored a resolution opposing the 710 Freeway extension; above ground or by tunnel.
The 710 Freeway currently ends on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, just bocks north of Monterey Park where some city officials say they are frustrated that the project’s been stalled for so many years. It needs to be completed to help alleviate all the traffic spilling off the freeway and onto Monterey Park streets, the city’s mayor, Teresa Real Sebastian told EGP.
Monterey Park residents are tired of dealing with the pollution and traffic that has resulted from their main streets — Fremont, Garfield Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard —being used as connector roads to Pasadena, she said.
As a former South Pasadena resident, the mayor says she prefers the tunnel option because “it does not divide the city in half.”
Metro says it is doing extensive outreach to residents and community, religious, business and non-profit groups.
It emphasises that while all the alternatives are viable, the “no build” option would not resolve traffic congestion problems.
“When voters voted [for Measure R] the 710 was identified as a project in this area and it identified $780 million toward that project. So it’s a significant message that came from the voters of LA County,” Quon said.
The board’s decision to not fast track the project doesn’t kill it, it just doesn’t speed it up.
The “All communities Convening” schedule is as follows:
– Thursday, July 18, 2013 – 6-8 pm at Los Angeles Presbyterian Church, 2241 N Eastern Ave. in El Sereno
– Saturday, July 20, 2013 – 9:30-11:30 am at Blair High School, 1201 S. Marengo Ave., Pasadena, CA.
*This meeting will be streaming live or on-demand at SR 710 North Study USTREAM channel.
– Tuesday, July 23, 2013 – 6-8 pm at the Langley Senior Center, 400 W. Emerson Ave., Monterey Park, CA