By Steve Hymon, May 25, 2017
The Metro Board of Directors approved a motion today by a 12 to 0 vote that calls for Metro to fund local road improvements to address traffic congestion caused by the 4.5-mile gap in the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena. Many Board Members said they hoped to do something immediate rather than wait years for a freeway tunnel that may never have enough funding and/or political support to be built.
Among those improvements that can now be funded: traffic signal upgrades and synchronization, local street and intersection improvements, improved connections to existing bus service and the promotion of rideshare in the area.
The motion approved by the Board today is the latest development in the decades-long saga involving the freeway gap. The 710 opened to Valley Boulevard in Alhambra in 1965 but a planned extension north to a junction with the 134 and 210 freeways in Pasadena has since met near constant funding and legal challenges. Over the years, there has been widespread agreement the gap increases traffic on local roads but considerable disagreement over what should be done about it.
“I’ve thought the tunnel was the best approach, but I’ve also come to the realization that it’s un-fundable and if it happened it was many, many years away,” said Board Chair and Duarte Mayor Pro Tem John Fasana, adding that the tunnel would not confer immediate benefits to residents and businesses impacted by the gap.
In 2011, and with $780 million in new funding from the Measure R sales tax (approved by L.A. County voters in 2008), Caltrans and Metro essentially started from scratch with a new environmental study to identify a project to tackle and help relieve traffic caused by the gap. The project’s environmental study looked at five alternatives: the legally-required no build option, a freeway tunnel, light rail, bus rapid transit and the “Transportation System Management/Transportation Demand Management (TSM/TDM)” alternative — which is now the Metro Board’s official ‘locally preferred alternative’ for the project.
The new study found a freeway tunnel would meet the project purpose and need, and offer the most mobility improvements (see this project status update and the project’s performance evaluation matrix below). But the Metro Board was faced with this dilemma: there was only $780 million in funding available for a tunnel expected to cost much more. And with more legal challenges to a tunnel likely on the horizon, prospects were very dim for finding other funding sources.
Under the motion approved by the Board, $105 million from Measure R would be used for local road projects described above. The remaining funds from Measure R could be used for new mobility improvement projects.
Other funds would also be available to Metro’s Central Subregion — i.e. unincorporated East Los Angeles, El Sereno and the city of L.A. — would be prioritized for ‘multi-modal and safety enhancements’ that are within the project’s study area.
Public testimony continued for well over an hour. There was considerable support for the Board’s action with many speakers heaping scorn on a prospective tunnel while saying it was time to move on to other options.
The project’s final environmental study is scheduled to be completed later this year. Even if Caltrans selects the freeway tunnel as the preferred alternative, the motion approved by the Metro Board would prevent funding a tunnel with Measure R funds — the only money currently available for a tunnel.