By Josh Stephens, June 2, 2015
DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE ROAD-For the
past few months, a coalition of transportation officials and regional
leaders in the Los Angeles area have been promoting a plan to bring one
of the world’s most massive highway tunnels
to one of the world’s most congested freeway grids. Last week, a group
that includes a member of Congress and is opposed to the tunnel idea
went on a public offensive and promoted a multimodal plan of its own.
too long, the debate over the 710 freeway has been fought with a
20th-century mindset that emphasizes more highways and all of the
congestion and pollution that comes with them,” U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff
said in a statement. “We need to adopt a new approach — more fitting for
the times — that moves past the tunnel debate, and offers a range of
options that will improve both the quality of life and transportation in
decades, Southern California officials have dreamed of closing the
infamous 710 Freeway gap. Running north-south from the Port of Long
Beach to the foothills, the 710 is a crucial corridor for the
goods-movement industry. Unfortunately for the region’s truckers — not
to mention its commuters — the freeway stops five miles short of its
logical and intended terminus, at the 210 freeway.
it comes to filling that gap, residents in South Pasadena and
neighboring communities long ago quashed the prospect of running a
conventional freeway through their upscale city. That’s why the dream of
a tunnel has long tantalized the region’s transportation planners. What
was once a fanciful, and perhaps infeasible, dream became real with the
release of an environmental impact report that includes several versions of a tunnel among its options.
Friday, Schiff’s coalition accused the Los Angeles County Metropolitan
Transportation Authority of having tunnel vision. Metro is considering
five alternatives described in the report, released in March, but has
yet to announce its preference. The 120-day public comment period
The Beyond the 710 coalition — consisting of five cities in the San Gabriel Valley plus Schiff — fired back with a plan that,
in stark contrast to the 20th-century mentality of building ever longer
and wider roads, employs a variety of smaller-scale mobility strategies
to accomplish many of the goals that a $5.6 billion tunnel would but
for billions fewer dollars and a smaller environmental impact.
plan calls for a range of improvements to the 710 corridor, including
the creation of a new boulevard in the mode of “complete streets”; a new
network of pedestrian and bicycle paths; enhanced bus service; and
transportation demand management strategies, such as giving free transit
passes to students at local colleges. In the long term, expanded light
rail and bus rapid transit would serve the corridor (options that are
considered in one of the EIR’s alternatives).
plan’s most symbolically weighty element would be the demolition of the
“stub” at the southern end of the gap, thus erasing much of the
tangible evidence of the freeway’s intended route. The stub would be
replaced by parklands, a bicycle path and a restored creek. The northern
stub would remain but would be better integrated into the network of
“It’s based on four pillars of modern planning:
community-serving transit, congestion reduction, Great Streets concepts
that encourage bike use and walking, and managing traffic demand,” said
John Harabedian, council member of the City of Sierra Madre, in a
The coalition estimates that high-priority projects would cost a total of $875 million.
idea is to serve the vast majority of drivers who are headed for local
destinations rather than the handful of trucks and long-distance
commuters who are simply passing through. The Beyond the 710 coalition
estimates that 85 percent of commuters who exit the freeway’s current
terminus at Valley Boulevard are heading for local destinations.
serve them, a new boulevard would be built to roughly parallel the
proposed tunnel’s route. The plan’s intention of preserving South
Pasadena and neighboring communities has won it the support of the
National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has added the
communities surrounding the gap to its list of “National Treasures.”
the coalition presented its plan as a progressive, reasoned alternative
to the tunnel alternatives, at least two groups say that the plan is
yet another example of local obstructionism. Several cities, including
Alhambra, that absorb traffic coming off the 710 have long supported the
completion of the freeway.
the goods-movement industry has been arguably the staunchest supporter
of efforts to fill in the gap. Both groups say that anything less will
only perpetuate congestion throughout the Los Angeles freeway grid.