To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Massive tunneling machine stuck under downtown Seattle, fix could cost taxpayers millions


By Dan Springer, May 8, 2014

(See website for a video.)

At 57 feet in diameter, it's touted as the world's biggest tunneling machine. It was even given a name, Bertha.

But now, after digging just over 1,000 feet, Bertha is broken down and stuck underneath Seattle's downtown waterfront.

The tunneling machine is the key workhorse in a $3.1 billion tunnel project aimed at replacing the Alaska Way Viaduct, a double-decker elevated highway that was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. Bertha's meltdown, though, has put the project in jeopardy of being the West Coast version of the biggest public works boondoggle in U.S. history, Boston's "big dig" -- which cost taxpayers $14.6 billion, nearly four times the original price tag.

"People should be very worried about what's going on right now," said Dori Monson, a radio host on KIRO in Seattle. "To have the state saying, 'we're not paying for the overruns.' You have the contractor saying, 'we're not paying.' The contractor has a provable history of making other people pay. So that means it's going to be the taxpayers."

The contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), already has put in for $190 million in additional pay due to unforeseen problems.

Among the issues the project has encountered are: too much groundwater; a labor dispute involving the International Longshore and Warehouse Union; and a well that Bertha ran into, damaging her massive cutter head and main bearing. The steel pipe was put there by the state, and STP thinks the state should pay.

How exactly Bertha got stuck underground is an open question. The running theory is the machine overheated when it hit the well pipe, but the issue will be argued by the attorneys.

"Who's ultimately responsible and liable for that time and cost is going to be determined by a review of the contract," said Chris Dixon, of Seattle Tunnel Partners.

State officials say the contractor knew about the well and hit it anyway. The Department of Transportation gave Fox News documents supporting its case.

The issue is critical, because fixing the tunnel-boring machine is expected to take until March 2015 and cost $125 million. That's $45 million more than STP paid for Bertha.

State officials say they're trying to protect taxpayers.

"We have written the most robust contract we could possibly write with the best experts from around the country," said state DOT Secretary Lynn Peterson. "And we brought a team together on the legal side to make sure we're protecting taxpayers at every step of the way."

The state has denied a majority of the contractor's change orders, but that doesn't end the dispute.
A court ultimately will decide who's responsible for the delays and cost overruns. That puts taxpayers in danger of being on the hook for a project some fear may never get finished.

Breathing Uneasy: Living Along the 710 Freeway Corridor


By Sarah Parvini, May 6, 2014

This is part of series examining the 710 Corridor and its impact in the surrounding communities, produced in partnership with the California Endowment.

 The I-710 and 60 Freeways.

 The I-710 and 60 Freeways.

Angelo Logan remembers growing up playing baseball in his neighborhood park as semi-trucks grumbled overhead, dropping plumes of exhaust onto the field. A Commerce native, he would ride bikes with his friends up and down the congested streets and "navigate among the big rigs."

For him, the harsh health impacts of living along the freeway were an everyday reality.

"At a particular time there was a slew of cancer on the street I lived on. We called it Cancer Alley," said Logan, who still lives in Commerce, one of the cities along the 18-mile stretch of the 710 corridor. "And on this street it was constantly, 'Oh did you hear? This person has been diagnosed with cancer. This person passed away from cancer.' And some of these people had never smoked a day in their lives."

Now co-director of the East Yard Communities For Environmental Justice, a community organization that fights for a healthier environment for Southeast Los Angeles County residents, Logan is advocating for a 710 freeway expansion alternative that would better serve the communities living along the corridor.

The I-710 Corridor Project is a massive infrastructure overhaul that seeks to update the freeway spanning from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the 60 Freeway. As the local economy expands -- last month, shipments through the Port of L.A. jumped to the highest levels since 2007, according to the port -- the impacts of truck traffic on an aging freeway continue to grow.

The 3 Alternatives

Alt 1: Enhanced goods movement by rail; clean trucks program; expanded night gate operations at Ports; traffic signal coordination. This is a no build alternative.

Alt 5C: Improvements to freeway; adding a general purpose lane in each direction; modernizing interchanges and making freeway improvements and having a truck by-pass lane at the 405/710 interchange.

Alt 7: A 710 freight corridor from the southern end of the freeway to Commerce; improvements and enhancements to freeway and interchanges.

There are three versions of the 710 project currently being considered that would address congestion and safety issues related to traffic between the ports and the Pomona Freeway. The proposals, also called alternatives, include widening the freeway and including a four-lane, zero-emission "Freight Corridor" for trucks only.

While construction on the 710 is slated to begin in 2020, Logan says the current expansion options don't keep the neighboring communities in mind.

"The communities have been bearing the brunt of industries that use the 710 as a Walmart super highway," Logan said. "They get to the shelves of Walmarts while the people see no benefit, and all they get is the negative impact."

The South Coast Air Basin, which includes the 710 corridor communities, has been designated as an extreme ozone non-attainment area and a non-attainment area for small airborne particulate matter, according to a June 2012 environmental impact report (EIR) on the corridor project. That means the area doesn't meet national air quality standards.

Data from the South Coast Air Quality Management District also shows high levels of air toxins along the 710 that have been linked to various health problems, such as decreased lung function, asthma, increased lung and heart disease symptoms and chronic bronchitis, the report says.

The highest levels of estimated cancer risk in 2005 -- about 1,200 to 2,000 in a million -- also occur in that area, especially around the ports and rail yards and along the 710, the report shows. Experts say these health impacts disproportionately affect low income households.

"There is an element of environmental justice here. Many of those people have low socioeconomic means," said Ed Avol, an expert on respiratory health and air pollution at the University of Southern California. "They tend to be communities of color."

But, Avol admits, a solution marrying cleaner air and the port economy won't come easy.

"I think we have to be realistic. We can't close the ports," he said. "We need to think of public health as being a part of this, and we need to begin by thinking of how to move cargo without further deteriorating the air quality."

Logan says many locals feel their ideas for improving life along the 710 are not truly being heard -- that's why East Yard Communities has been fighting alongside the Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice to promote another option, called Community Alternative 7 (CA7).

CA7 addresses the needs of the residents, Logan says, while acknowledging the importance of the port economy in Los Angeles. The plan includes a comprehensive public transit element and a mandatory Zero Emission Corridor, as well as pedestrian and bicycle access. It also proposes leaving current general-purpose lanes the way they are.

Last October, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a senate bill that would require Caltrans and other agencies involved in the 710 expansion to include CA7 as the new EIR is drafted, and consider it as an alternative to address the air quality, public health, and mobility impacts the project will have on neighboring communities.

"Statutorily requiring the project environmental impact report to consider specified mitigation measures that exceed the project's scope is a precedent I don't wish to establish," Brown wrote in his veto message.

When asked by KCET to write how they would improve the corridor at a film screening last week, many residents who live along the 710 pointed to a better expansion plan and working toward cleaner air as potential solutions.

"Take the expansion projects away from communities," one card response reads. "Measure pollution levels and disease rates."

"Divert traffic away from [the corridor]," another said. "The air quality is deplorable. Area residents disproportionately present with asthma. Undoubtedly, this is due to high traffic and nearby factories."

Logan echoed these concerns. The best case scenario, he said, is that Caltrans will eventually consider the community alternative as a viable option for the freeway.

"I would like to see local folks build the project so we can start to see natural assets," he said. "That way folks can use it without seeing a constant black cloud overhead."

How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Train


By Ben Poston, May 7, 2014

I used to bike to work in Los Angeles. I liked it so much I wrote a column about it last year in the LA Times.

Then I got hit by a car coming home one night last April on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. I kept cycling to work most of last year, but after my bike was stolen and I was nearly hit a half dozen times, I eventually gave up.

I wrote about that experience earlier this year, including how I resorted to my car as the main mode of transportation to and from work. I described how convenient and easy it was to cruise into work at a 50-mile-an-hour clip and how I had become the “opportunistic, lane-hopping L.A. driver I once joked about.”

I knew my honesty would leave me open to criticism, but whoa, LA really let me have it.

Some cyclists called me a wimp, saying they had been hit multiple times, so toughen up and get used to it. A few said, “So if you got hit in your car, would you stop driving?” No I wouldn't, because I’d have the armor of an automobile, so I’d probably still be alive.

Many readers lambasted me for becoming part of the problem -- the aggressive drivers who terrorize cyclists and pedestrians and contribute to the city’s smog levels that are the worst in the country. I will clarify one point: I’m not a maniac out there. I drive with the flow of traffic, which on many stretches of Sunset tends to be 40 to 50 miles an hour.
Then there were the public transit people. They made the most compelling argument: Why was my argument framed only as bike vs. car? What about buses? What about the subway and light rail? (Attention Los Angeles County residents and out-of-towners -- yes, LA does indeed have a subway).

One transit advocate Tweeted: “This makes me sad. He shouldn’t bike if feels unsafe, but he never considers walking and transit instead of driving?”

Some were infuriated I didn’t even mention public transit, especially considering I live in Los Feliz, which is close to the Metro Red Line stop at Sunset Boulevard and Vermont Avenue.

The same transit proponent went a little overboard on Twitter: “I want to find out where he lives and wait outside his house for him one morning to have an intervention okay maybe too creepy.”

Still, I got the message. Why wasn’t I taking the Metro?, I asked myself.

Mainly because I tend to be lazy and impatient, which I think is a fairly common human trait. But also because I like to exercise in the morning before work and I usually run a little late, so the car was always the easiest choice. Also, the car commute takes me 20 minutes door to door, while I knew the subway ride would take about twice that.

I began feeling guilty for adding to the region’s air pollution woes. For a long time I justified my car commute by thinking “How is the exhaust from one car really going to impact the environment in a giant city that’s already polluted?” But I started to see the inverse of that argument: One person can’t save the planet, but I can make it a little better by not driving every day.

In March, I injured myself playing basketball and the doctor encouraged me to walk more as part of my rehab. I figured this was my chance to give the train a go.

Since I started riding the Metro two months ago, I haven’t looked back. It’s now my preferred mode of travel and I only drive when my job requires it.
With gas prices typically at more than $4 a gallon, I know that I’m saving serious cash every month, not to mention the wear and tear on my car.

Though I have to leave earlier than before, I’m enjoying the slower pace of transit commuting. During my 20-minute morning walk from my apartment to the Red Line stop I usually stream National Public Radio or listen to music on my smart phone.

I read magazines and newspapers on the train, which is relaxing. It’s also nice to walk among my fellow Angelenos instead of being isolated in my car bubble. The best part is the ride home: I don’t have to sit in traffic or deal with it at all, which is much less stressful.

So that’s it. My LA commuting saga is over. I’m taking the train as often as possible and enjoying it. I’d encourage anyone else to give it a try.

Metro Mega Projects: P3/Capital

Here's an invitation from The Transit Coalition on Metro Mega Projects:  P3/Capital scheduled for tonight,  May 8th @ 6pm.  

There will be a discussion on the SR-710.

As quoted below:  " Some are curious about the latest on the I-710 gap closure project and the community implications."

To attend this meeting you must register.  There is a cost of $22. (lowest available)

Event to be held at the following time, date, and location:
Thursday, May 8, 2014 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM (PDT)
Metro Gateway Headquarters, Gateway Conference Room
1 Gateway Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90012

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Don't Miss This Unique Chance to hear David Yale, Metro Deputy Executive Officer of Regional Programming for the Countywide Planning Department as he reveals the latest information about the Public Private Partnerships in development at LACMTA and details about some of the Capital Projects. One Multi-Billion Dollar project coming up is the I-405 Rail Tunnel and Vehicle Toll Road proposal. Some are curious about the latest on the I-710 gap closure project and the community implications.

Meeting co-sponsored by:
                                                          Robert Group

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We hope you can make it!

The Transit Coalition


Survey: Sexual harassment makes 20% of Metro riders feel unsafe


By Laura J. Nelson, May 8, 2014

Metro safety
 In a new survey, about 20% of passengers reported feeling unsafe due to sexual harassment or other "unwanted sexual attention."

One in five passengers on Metro trains and buses have recently felt unsafe due to sexual harassment or other forms of "unwanted sexual attention," according to new data.

A Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority survey of nearly 20,000 passengers on the sprawling bus and rail system asked whether they felt unsafe during the last month while riding Metro due to "unwanted touching, exposure, comments, or any other form of unwanted sexual behavior."

 About 21% of rail passengers and 18% of bus passengers said yes. About 17% of bus riders and 13% of train riders said they felt unsafe while waiting at bus stops or train stations.

"This is something that we’re going to look at very carefully," Metro spokesman Paul Gonzales said.

Metro typically asks about safety in its customer surveys, which the agency has conducted at least once a year for more than a decade. But this is the first time passengers have been asked about sexual behavior, said Jeff Boberg, an agency transportation manager who works with data and research.

Metro employees distribute paper surveys, printed in English and Spanish, on every transit line at least once every six months, Boberg said. Translations in nine other languages are available online for the 5% of Metro riders who do not speak English or Spanish.

SR 710 Stakeholder Outreach Advisory Committee (SOAC)

From Sylvia Plummer, May 8, 2014

Thursday, May 15, 2014  at 7:30 am

Metro Headquarters
One Gateway Plaza
Heritage Conference Room, 13th Floor
Los Angeles, CA  90012

Below are the preliminary meeting agenda and minutes from the last meeting.

Public can attend this meeting.  You need to sign in at the 3rd floor information booth.

If you plan to drive, parking is available under Metro Headquarters:  $6

You can also take the Gold Line to Union Station, Metro Headquarters is next to Union Station. 
Please let me know if you plan to attend.

SR 710 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) Meeting

From Sylvia Plummer, May 8, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014  at 1:00 pm

Metro Headquarters
One Gateway Plaza
University Conference Room, 4th floor
Los Angeles, CA  90012

Below is the preliminary meeting agenda.

Public can attend this meeting.  You need to sign in at the 3rd floor information booth.

If you plan to drive, parking is available under Metro Headquarters:  $6

You can also take the Gold Line to Union Station, Metro Headquarters is next to Union Station. 
Please let me know if you plan to attend.

Report on Zocalo 710 Meeting: Figuring Out the 710 Freeway's Future

From Sylvia Plummer, May 8, 2014

One thing I can say it was a full house, and many No 710 folks in the audience.  The panel was stacked - 100% in favor of the 710 tunnel. 

Pasadena and the Foothill freeway will pay the price:

Listen to Brian Taylor, UCLA  Institute of Transportation Studies director, and what he had to say about the traffic  (at 10:06 minutes)

"In terms of Goods Movement the corridor plays a very important role, and I think that's a concern of some residences that when connections are made it would relieve other sorts of trips on the 5 (freeway), on other....  and would allow (traffic) to move up to the Foothill freeway which would certainly include truck traffic, it would be quite significant.  But the actual traffic were that link ever completed, the share of traffic by people living and working nearby would be shockingly high.  And there have been pass analysis that have found that."

For those that missed the meeting, here's a link to the video:

Video and podcast from Zocalo Public Square’s forum last night on the 710 freeway


By Steve Hymon, May 8, 2014

 Above is both video and a podcast (you need to go on the website to view the video and to hear the podcast) from Zocalo Public Square’s forum at MOCA on Wednesday evening that was titled “What does Southern California need from the 710 freeway?”

The forum — which was sponsored by Metro — focused on the 4.5-mile gap in the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena and the ongoing study by Caltrans and Metro that seeks to improve traffic congestion in the area.

The project’s draft environmental document is scheduled for release next February and is considering five alternatives: a freeway tunnel to close the gap, a light rail line between East Los Angeles and Pasadena, bus rapid transit between East L.A. and Pasadena, traffic signal and intersection improvements in the 710 area and the legally-required no-build option. The project is scheduled to receive $780 million in Measure R funding, although additional money would be needed to build some of the more expensive alternatives — if, in fact, the Metro Board of Directors ultimately decides to build anything.

NBC-4′s n moderated the panel that included Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency Linda S. Adams, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) executive director Hasan Ikhrata and UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies director Brian Taylor. I thought Nolan framed the 710 issue well, calling it a “Gordian knot” and that “I’ve never seen a transportation issue as convolutedly complicated as this one.”

As the panelists pointed out several times, the 710 discussion goes back to the 1950s and original state plans to complete the 710 between Long Beach and Pasadena. Less than half of the state’s original freeway plans for our region was built – the reason, for example, that the 2 freeway ends at Glendale Boulevard and the Marina Freeway only exists west of the 405. As Brian Taylor noted, however, the 710 remains somewhat unique among the unfinished freeways because while there are uncompleted segments, there are very few areas where there is such a pronounced gap.

What to be done about it? Both Toebben and Ikhrata said that closing the gap made the most sense and would take traffic off surface streets in the western San Gabriel Valley, help improve air quality (the freeway would keep traffic moving instead of sitting and idling) and would likely also ease congestion on other freeways that motorists use to skirt the 710 gap, most notably the 110 and 5 freeways. “It’s more expensive to do nothing,” Ikhrata said, adding that billions of dollars were lost in travel delays.

When Toebben was asked if motorists would be willing to pay a toll to use the tunnel, his answer was a simple “yes.” He later noted that he lives near Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena and sees motorists each day use it as a way to close the 710 gap by using Orange Grove, the 110 freeway and the 5 freeway to get back to the 710. “Am I willing to pay three, four bucks — I don’t know what the cost will be — to avoid those other routes and get off those freeways so that others who need to travel those freeways, can? Yes, I’m willing to do that. I’d venture to say that every single person who lives anywhere close to this freeway, and I’m including myself, will see less traffic on their streets if a tunnel was built than they see right now.”

UCLA’s Taylor took the most nuanced and expansive view, first explaining the basic mechanics of freeway traffic congestion when commuters and those running errands compete for too little physical space on roadways (go to the 29 minute mark of the video). The result: throughput of the roads drops dramatically and a traffic jam ensues. He also pointed out that Measure R half-cent sales tax increase spreads the cost of mobility to everyone, whether they are using the mobility or not.

With that in mind, Taylor said that solving traffic congestion on a regional level could be done today if the area so choose with congestion pricing — i.e. tolling roadways so that motorists paid the true cost of driving (air pollution, freeway expansion, travel delays). That would drop demand for road space down to reasonable levels and allow traffic to free-flow instead of idle along. “Let’s argue about whether to close the gap or not, because we want to make sure that we never want to price people’s travel…if we did we would have a free flowing system,” Taylor said. “[But] that’s politically unacceptable.”

There was a brief Q&A session after the main discussion and it was pretty clear that some in the audience felt their view was missing: that closing the gap with a freeway tunnel would ultimately lead to more traffic and air pollution. And some of the questions revealed (yet again) the depth of the disagreements over this issue: when one audience member asked why building a rail line for freight from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was not being considered, SCAG’s Ikhrata replied that building a freight rail line to Pasadena made little sense as most freight from the ports moves east, not north.

Here’s an article on Zocalo Public Square’s website. And here’s the SR-710 Study home page.

Figuring Out the 710 Freeway’s Future

How Does This Road Impact Traffic, Pollution, and Commerce Across Southern California?


 Conan Nolan, Gary Toebben, Linda Adams, Brian Taylor, Hasan Ikhrata

By Sarah Rothbard, May 8, 2014

The future of the 710—one of Southern California’s most important freeways—is an important issue and the subject of passionate debate. It’s also at the center of one of the region’s longest-running transportation questions: What, if anything, should be done about the fact that the 710 has never been completed? In front of a full house at MOCA Grand Avenue, NBC4 general assignment reporter Conan Nolan moderated a panel co-presented by Metro about how the freeway, and the five options on the table for dealing with the 4.5-mile gap between Alhambra and Pasadena, affects the entire region.

Nolan opened the discussion by asking Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) executive director Hasan Ikhrata if the current situation is untenable.

“The short answer is yes,” said Ikhrata, adding that something needs to be done now because of projected population increases over the next 20 years.

Why, Nolan asked UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies director Brian Taylor, has this freeway become a thorn in the side of L.A. transportation?

Taylor explained that the stalemate has gone on for years, and as a result, it’s become deeply emotional for many people. And its costs are spatially concentrated: People in one location would bear the burden of the project, but its effects would be felt all across the region. It’s akin to a sewage treatment plant or airport being built in a neighborhood. It’s easy to mobilize the people most affected—because their community will experience displacement—and more difficult to get others involved.
One of the options on the table is a freeway tunnel. What, asked Nolan, would this mean?

Taylor said that the 710 is unusual because it connects to the port in Long Beach and sees a larger share of long-distance travel than other freeways. However, most travel is local, and this freeway is no exception. In general, people on any given street are coming and going just a few miles. While truck traffic on the 710 would be significant, “the share of people living and working nearby would be shockingly high” on the 710.

Turning to Clean Tech Advocates senior advisor and former California Environment Secretary Linda S. Adams, Nolan asked how much building a freeway affects the environment. With new technologies reducing vehicle carbon dioxide emissions, is it what goes on the freeway that matters most?

 Public transit options—light rail and rapid bus transit—are also on the table. Are these viable?
Certain travel, said Taylor, is very well handled by public transportation. But many trips require a car—not just people going to work but midday errands and other trips that involve multiple stops.

Even when an area sees an increase in public transit, the percentage of personal vehicle trips drops by less than 10 percent.

Another option being considered is to build nothing at all. What would this mean for the flow of goods and services in Southern California?

L.A. Chamber of Commerce president Gary Toebben—who lives in Pasadena—said that the impact would be greater on people commuting to and from work than on goods and services.
And, said Ikhrata, it will cost more to do nothing—in terms of the costs of traffic congestion and poor air quality—than to do something.

Taylor said that many of our traffic issues have to do with the way we deal with the costs of transportation. We don’t want to charge people for road space, raise fuel taxes, or charge high parking rates—so instead, we raise money for transportation through general consumption taxes. Congestion, said Taylor is “the most politically acceptable solution to the fact that people don’t want to pay for the cost of transportation.”

“Bad pricing,” said Ikhrata, “kills good planning.”

There have been many complicated transportation issues both in Southern California and elsewhere. What is it about the history of the 710 that makes it so difficult?

California Governor Earl Warren proposed the 710 Freeway in 1949, said Taylor. What’s unusual about the project is that it’s lasted so long, the depth of feeling gets passed down from generation to generation. Usually, community opposition and regional interests are able to negotiate; in this case, after a half-century, that’s become impossible.

California is requiring cleaner cars and cleaner fuel; reducing vehicle miles traveled is the state’s third goal to reduce greenhouse emissions, said Adams. But “we know Californians are in love with their cars, and no one expects them to give up their cars,” said Adams. “The key is to provide options.”

Nolan asked if bumper-to-bumper traffic causes more pollution than a freeway tunnel would.
Ikhrata said that SCAG studies have shown that a tunnel would result in better air quality—and would decongest local streets and reduce costly traffic delays.