By Elana Eden, September 23, 2015
A coalition in Los Angeles County wants to reframe the debate about closing the gap in the 710 Freeway, asking Metro to look "beyond the 710"—and toward a multi-pronged, multimodal approach to transportation problems in the region.
But several cities—particularly those in the proposed tunnel’s path—say the era of building freeways is over, and that Metro should instead study sustainable, "complete street" alternatives that alleviate regional traffic while benefiting local communities.
Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian—who serves on, and once chaired, the Metro board—co-chairs the Beyond the 710 coalition with South Pasadena City Council member Dr. Marina Khubesrian. In an interview with The Planning Report, they explained why they think a tunnel would be wrong for the area, and the benefits of a comprehensive "complete streets" solution instead.
For Khubesrian, a physician, one crucial factor is community health: According to the Air Quality Management District, the tunnel project could raise the risk of cancer by almost 15 times. The area, Khubesrian says, is already chillingly known as "the cancer corridor."
Additionally, the tunnel would cost several billion dollars, and cities worry it could become a drain on funding for other projects the region may need.
Beyond the 710 worked with transportation consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard to develop an alternative proposal—one that costs $705 million, and which consultant Paul Moore says addresses numerous problems felt by residents throughout the area.
The proposed bundle of solutions includes extending a Metro rail line, improving a north-south surface transit route, funding a regional bike plan, and taking steps to enhance pedestrian safety. As part of a strategy for travel demand management, it would subsidize transit passes for students in the corridor—which Moore says would eliminate more driving trips than the tunnel would carry.
The debate in the San Gabriel Valley has become so heated that several cities—including Glendale, South Pasadena, Burbank, and Pasadena—are looking into leaving the area’s Council of Governments and forming a new alliance, to receive separate funding and make its own transportation decisions.
For Mayor Najarian, this disagreement has revealed an important lesson around regional planning that he thinks should be recognized countywide:
"Communities most affected can’t just be one more vote in the decision-making process," he says. "They have to have a weighted and seriously accentuated voice… The stakes are much higher for cities and communities where projects are located. Decision-making cannot be based on a one-city-one-vote process."