The Los Angeles County Metropolitan
Transportation Authority is considering
five alternatives to constructing a 6.2-mile freeway extension
through South Pasadena—and each option would have varying impacts
on the city, the South Pasadena City Council was informed last week.
In an update on the SR-710 study to the city council on Sept. 18, William Sherman, chair of the South Pasadena Freeway and Transportation Commission, said that he had recently attended the MTA’s technical advisory committee meetings, where five scenarios for extending the 710 were presented.
“We do not want any surprises to the city, like they had in Pasadena over San Rafael, so this is our opportunity to inform people of what they’re discussing at the MTA and what’s going on,” Sherman said.
The first option presented by the MTA is the “No Build” alternative, “which is really a misnomer” because a range of projects other than a full-fledged extension of the 710 could still be built over the next 20-25 years, resulting in impacts for South Pasadena, Sherman said.
Bus Rapid Transit
The second alternative, dubbed “Bus Rapid Transit,” involves exclusive bus lanes or mixed-use bus lanes all the way from Whittier Boulevard to Colorado and back, Sherman explained. The MTA plan to install exclusive bus lanes would start from Huntington Drive, extend into Garfield and then go north on Fair Oaks all the way to Columbia Street in Pasadena, Sherman said.
The plan would not only significantly affect local businesses but would likely result in the removal of on-street parking and the elimination of bulbouts on Fair Oaks Avenue, Sherman said.
“We discussed with them [Metro] the possibility of making this [Bus Rapid Transit] only during peak hours,” Sherman said, adding that in a presentation less than two weeks ago Metro officials indicated they were leaning toward the option of installing exclusive bus lanes at all times.
Light Rail Transit
The third option is what Metro calls Light Rail Transit. This will be a rail network extending from the 60 freeway to the Fillmore station, Sherman said, adding that the first third of the transit will be an elevated rail line, followed by a tunnel about 30-40 feet underground and about 20 feet in diameter.
Within South Pasadena, there would be a light rail station on Huntington Drive, where Fair Oaks dead-ends, Sherman said. Similar stations would be on Fair Oaks/Fremont and Mission/Fair Oaks, he said, adding that the stations would take out the Rite Aid store as well as the parking lot adjacent to it.
“They’ve indicated in the report that they gave to us in December that they would have a surface parking lot at Mission and Fair Oaks as well as on Huntington/Fair Oaks,” Sherman said.
“There maybe some loss of property taxes and sales tax revenue from the properties that they take, but this is really unclear because we don’t know if there will be any transit-oriented development in these areas,” Sherman said. “The pictures they’ve shown us do not appear to indicate that they have any plans for structures at the top of these stations.”
'TDM' and 'TSM'
The fourth alternative is what Metro calls Transportation Demand Management (TDM) and Transportation System Management (TSM), Sherman told the council. These would entail “improvements” to five intersections in South Pasadena—on Fair Oaks/Mission; Fair Oaks/Monterey; Monterey/Fremont; Fair Oaks/Fremont; Huntington Drive/Fair Oaks.
“Exactly what that means I’m not clear,” Sherman said.
Also part of TDM and TSM is the idea of “reversible lanes” between Grevalia and Monterey, Sherman said. The plan would effectively divert traffic north during certain parts of the day—during morning rush hour, say—and south during other parts of the day. “This might impede left turns during certain parts of the day,” Sherman said.
Freeway Tunnel (F-7X)
The fifth and final option is the Freeway Tunnel, which Metro refers to in short as F-7X. “At the present time, what they’ve explained to us is that they want to construct a two-way tunnel—one tunnel going north and the other south,” Sherman said. Each tunnel would be 57 feet in diameter.
However, Metro has introduced a possible variation of one tunnel consisting of four lanes of traffic, Sherman said. Although the plan would effectively reduce traffic in the tunnel, Metro would have to charge higher toll fares to make up for the loss in revenue from fewer vehicles. There is no indication whether such a tunnel would be viable, Sherman said.
Any tunnel construction in South Pasadena would create vibrations as boring machines dig underground at the rate of about 10 feet a day—“a very slow boring process,” Sherman said. On top of that, the city will be required to share responsibilities for emergency management, although it’s not yet clear whether the fire and police departments would need extra equipment or training for the purpose, Sherman said.
“Air quality is a big consideration,” Sherman said, adding: “The good news is there are no plans for any ventilation tunnels in the City of South Pasadena. That was on the menu at one time but that has now been cleared.”
Metro is considering two locations for the air vents—one on Colorado and the other at Walnut. “This air comes out at the same temperature as room air, and if the air is vented there, it won’t be rising like in a smoke stack but will settle there and move in whatever direction the wind blows,” Sherman explained. “So it’s always possible that the City of South Pasadena could experience some pollution from the tunnel.”
“Will tunnels lower your property values?” Sherman asked. “It’s very unclear. A question was asked at one time—what about insurance? Will the people who have a tunnel beneath their homes have any problems getting insurance? It never has been defined—it’s been brought up and discussed.”
Any 710-related construction would be funded through what Metro refers to as the Three P’s—a public-private partnership around a company created for the sole purpose of constructing a tunnel, Sherman said, adding that Metro would put up the money for construction.
“They would recoup the money by charging tolls,” he said. “So that means at the end of the day, the public pays for this tunnel.”
The cost of constructing a tunnel isn’t at all clear. “There have been reports of as low as $4 billion or $5 billion, and there have been reports of as high as $15 billion,” Sherman said, adding: “We have been asking for a price tag on these projects—and it has really never been established.”
Evidently according to Metro, if a tunnel is constructed, it would eliminate off existing freeways such as the 5 as well as from surface strets approximately 170,000 vehicles a day in the year 2035.
“They tell us that about 25,000 vehicles that travel on Huntington and Freemont will no longer be using [those streets] because they’ll be traveling through the tunnel,” Sherman said. “I find that hard to understand.”
There’s also talk of bundling all the five alternatives along the following lines:
• Tunnel/Bus Rapid Transit
• Tunnel/Light Rail Transit
• Bus Rapid Transit/Light Rail Transit/ TDM/TSM
However, Metro has not presented any data on bundling—not even a discussion, Sherman said. All the agency has to say on the matter is “this is something we’re going to evaluate in the future,” according to Sherman.
“The city is working on a resolution—they’ve had resolutions on the tunnel in the past, and they’re working on a new one,” Sherman said. “We are continuing to form a relationship with adjacent cities such as Glendale, La Canada, Flintridge and Pasadena to try and pool our resources and information and questions so that we can work together on resolving a plan for continuing our EIR and EIS study” of the SR-710’s potential impacts, he said, referring to the environmental impact report and the environmental impact statement.
City Manager Sergio Gonzalez said that South Pas would be working not just with neighboring cities but also with concerned groups of people in such communities as El Sereno and Highland Park.
Metro expects to finish a final draft of their report in March 2015, Sherman said.