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Forum Takes Closer Look at SR-710 Debate

A forum Monday at Cal State Los Angeles billed as a discussion on whether to “Extend or Nor Extend?” the 710 Freeway, turned into a lively debate that could have appropriately been re-titled

“Rail or Tunnel?”

Approximately 200 people attended the forum co-hosted by the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA and the League of Women Voters of Pasadena.

Lea este artículo en español: Foro Examina el Estudio SR-710 [1]

Efforts to fill the 4.5-mile gap between the 710’s terminus in Alhambra and the Foothill (210) Freeway in Pasadena, has drawn heated debate, public protests and lawsuits, halting the project for nearly six decades.

Caltrans and Metro in March released the draft impact report/environmental impact statement (DIR/DEIS) on the five proposed alternatives, which vary in cost. The transportation agencies have in the past said they are taking a regional view of the impact each of the alternatives will have, as well as looking at the direct impact to communities along the 710 to 210 corridor.

A woman reads a Metro pamphlet on the SR-710 North study during a forum at CSULA Monday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez) [2]

A woman reads a Metro pamphlet on the SR-710 North study during a forum at CSULA Monday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The forum featured an informative and engaging discussion between four city council members —Barbara Messina (Alhambra), John Fasana (Duarte), Ara Najarian (Glendale) and Michael Cacciotti (South Pasadena) — whose names kept coming up as experts on the alternatives and history of the controversial project, according to Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute and forum moderator.

“I assume most of you have read the report,” Sonenshein jokingly asked, drawing laughter from the audience, aware that the report, including all studies and amendments, is 26,000 pages long.

The five alternatives include a traffic management system, a rapid bus line, a light rail, a freeway tunnel and the required “no build” option.

On Monday, the freeway tunnel – which would extend the 710 north as a high-speed with limited access roadway – and the light rail transit – which would provide a rail service directed to provide transportation from East Los Angeles to Pasadena – were the most debated.

Messina told the audience she strongly supports the freeway tunnel because it would alleviate a “regional issue.”

She worries that if the light rail is approved, it would cause more damage than good.

“It will destroy too many businesses and residences,” she said, prompting laughter from members of the audience who have the same concerns about the tunnel.

On the other hand, Najarian said he strongly supports a light rail train because at $2.4 billion it will be cheaper to build then the $5.65 billion estimated cost to build a freeway tunnel.

The discussion grew heated as panelists disagreed over whether a nearly five-mile tunnel, with no outlets except at its entrance and exit, would be safe.

Messina said it is “very lame” to think that a tunnel is dangerous because they have existed for hundreds of years.

Fasana also favors the tunnel alternative, but said the real question is whether trucks should be allowed.

It’s not clear if trucks would be allowed and that raises concerns about what happens if a big rig overturns or if there is a fire in the tunnel. Emergency response could become an issue, said Najarian.

“If something happens, you are stuck there,” Najarian pointed out.

The tunnel’s high price tag has raised the specter of a toll charge to make up for costly maintenance, which has yet to be addressed.

A tunnel will most definitely mean a toll, Najarian said firmly. “A soccer mom traveling on that freeway will not pay that toll,” so it’s going to be the truckers who will be on the hook for toll charges, Najarian said.

Concerns about a large number of trucks traveling through the tunnel are unfounded, Fasana argued. Most trucks travel east because that’s the direction goods are moving, not north and south, he argued.

Cacciotti sees more benefit in building a light rail system through the area. The best traffic solution is to provide more public transportation options in the northeast area, he said. Cacciotti doubts that a tunnel will improve local traffic as it’s supporters claim.

“Many of these cars are local, they won’t move off the streets,” he said.

The L.A. basin needs more freeways and highways, Messina countered. “People are not going to get out of their car,” she said. “We need to invest in our transportation system.”

Messina said adding a light rail line between East Los Angeles and Pasadena would ultimately devastate East Los Angeles the most.

On the other hand, a tunnel could bring up to 40,000 jobs to the area, said Messina, adding it’s the reason labor unions favor the tunnel option.

But with the same amount of money it would cost to construct the tunnel you could build three or four light rail lines, argued Cacciotti.

While many in the audience following the forum said they appreciated the clarity of the information presented, a few people said that they were disappointed there were not representatives from some of the cities and neighborhoods in the study area, which covers much of the San Gabriel Valley as well as portions of unincorporated East Los Angeles and the city of Los Angeles.

Forums such as this should strive to have equal representation from all communities, said El Sereno resident Melissa Preciado.

“Next time, I would like to see Councilmember Huizar and representatives from Monterey Park because they will be just as much affected by this project,” Preciado said.

Monterey Park resident Elizabeth Lopez, however, told EGP that when she went into the forum she was already a big supporter of the tunnel, but the panelists did done a good job of clarifying the various points of views.

“I was happy to hear arguments were coupled with facts,” Lopez said. “At the end, I felt very well informed.”

East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President Blanca Espinoza told EGP that some people in her community have lost interest in the issue because they don’t feel Metro takes their point of view seriously.

She recalled when Metro began discussions over the Eastside Gold Line Extension, which began construction in 2004. Residents would attend meetings and voice their concerns, “but in the long run, [it was Metro] that decided what to do,” she said.

Lopez also expressed disappointment that she did not see more of her Monterey Park neighbors.

“I thought at least the elected officials would be here,” she said.

Metro and Caltrans are scheduling three public hearings where residents can ask questions and submit comments:

—Saturday, April 11, at the Roscoe C. Ingalls Auditorium on the campus of East Los Angeles College, with a map viewing from 10-11 a.m. and a public hearing from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and

—Tuesday, April 14, at the Pasadena Convention Center, with a map viewing from 5-6 p.m. and a public hearing from 7-9 p.m.

–Wednesday, May 6 at La Cañada High School auditorium, with a map viewing 5-6p.m. and public hearing from 6-9p.m.

–Thursday, May 7 at the Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church, map viewing 5-6 p.m. and public hearing 6-p.m.

The full study is available at http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/resources/envdocs/docs/710study/draft_eir-eis [3]

The full document can also be viewed at the Caltrans District Office, 100 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Copies are also available at public libraries listed here: http://www.metro.net/projects/sr-710-conversations/ [4].

Comments will be accepted through July 6.

[Update April 3, 2015 : Two public forums announced in the month of May.]  

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