By Anita S. Brenner, March 12, 2015
Last week, Caltrans issued a voluminous environmental impact report (EIR) on the proposed 4.5-mile underground freeway connection between the 710 and 210 freeways.
It's a big report. Local resident Jan Soo Hoo noted, “The page count
for this document is almost too much to comprehend. There are 1,294
pages in the report and 966 pages of appendixes for a total of 2,260.
Within these is the 42-page Executive Summary. The real meat of the
study is contained in the sections called ‘Technical Studies' and there
are 24,635 pages of these for a grand total of 26,625 pages.”
I took a quick look at the technical studies. For example, page 95 of
Appendix A to the subsection entitled, “Geologic Hazard Evaluation to
Support Environmental Studies,” reveals that the proposed 710 Freeway
tunnel crosses “potentially active” local faults.
Wow. U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones has repeatedly said that a major earthquake in this region is inevitable.
Somehow, the statement that the proposed tunnel will cross
potentially active faults was left out of the 42-page Executive Summary.
The Executive Summary also omits this statement from page 107 of the
Geologic Hazard Evaluation: “No Caltrans seismic design criteria for
tunnels are currently available. For this preliminary design phase to
support the environmental documentation, it was agreed that the Caltrans
seismic design criteria for an Ordinary Nonstandard facility will be
used as the basis for seismic design of the Freeway Tunnel Alternative.”
What the heck does “no criteria” mean? Doesn't “no” mean “no?” If
there are “no seismic design criteria” why did Caltrans apply the low
“Ordinary Nonstandard facility” test to an underground freeway tunnel in
a potentially active fault zone? Who “agreed” to that?
Naturally, I Googled the phrase “ordinary nonstandard facility.” Lo
and behold, there is a 15-year-old Caltrans memo that says, “Bridges are
categorized as either Important or Ordinary depending on the desired
level of seismic performance.”
By applying a lower desired level of seismic performance, Caltrans
has downplayed the seismic risk, lowered the cost of construction and
skewed the EIR to favor the tunnel.
None of this appears in the 42-page Executive Study.
Due to the voluminous size of the EIR report, Caltrans has extended
the review period. So far, there are only two public hearings scheduled —
both are in April. One month is hardly enough time to read 26,625
pages, let alone track down elusive and ubiquitously Caltrans-esque
definitions of seismic criteria.
In 2010, the La Cañada Flintridge City Council came out against the
tunnel, citing health concerns to local school children under a USC
study. In 2012, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) wrote a letter asking for
consideration of other alternatives.
“I urge Metro to give full and serious consideration as to how funds
for a tunnel project could be better spent,” Schiff wrote. “I suspect
that for less than the actual cost of a tunnel, Metro would have the
funds necessary to undertake all of the remaining options under
consideration — combined.
These options, transportation system
management, bus rapid transit and light-rail would help move people in
an environmentally friendly manner without disrupting our
The real issue with the tunnel plan is the lack of vision. We don't
need more freeways. Caltrans needs to fix the freeways we already have.
That, and create robust public transportation.
If Caltrans wanted to embrace the future, it could pitch a different vision to us.
Imagine a Metro and light-rail system that would connect the schools —
PCC, USC, UCLA, the Claremont Colleges, Cal State L.A., and high
schools like Loyola — and the airports, LAX
and Burbank, along with hospitals, USC Norris, Huntington Hospital,
Childrens and Kaiser, along with tourists spots like Downtown L.A.,
Koreatown, the Arts District, the beach and Culver City.
The freeways would be empty.
It would be awesome.