With an increasing number of cities and communities opposing closing the gap in the SR710 Freeway between California Boulevard in Pasadena and Valley Boulevard in El Sereno, the crowd of about 200 in the South Pasadena High School auditorium on Wednesday evening leaned heavily against the extension.
South Pasadena has been joined in its continuing battle to shut down the project by La Cañada Flintridge, unincorporated La Crescenta, Glendale, and Los Angeles communities El Sereno, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Mt. Washington and Tujunga.
Wednesday's forum was a called meeting of the South Pasadena City Council. Moderator Philip Putnam, Mayor Pro Tempore of South Pasadena, said that though he wondered how Alhambra, San Marino, and Monterey Park can take a different position, the audience should be respectful of those who supported the extension, a suggestion that was followed for the most part.
The 2 ½ hour meeting’s main focus was the proposed tunnel, and it’s disadvantages and benefits, but other methods of transportation were presented, including two options considered by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro), and Caltrans.
The five options currently under review, according to Metro official Frank Quon, P.E., are
- No build
- Transportation System Management/Transportation Demand Management (TSM/TDM)
- Bus rapid transit with refinements
- Light rail rapid transit with refinements
- Freeway with a tunnel
A hybrid of these is also being considered, Quon said, and studies and analyses are being done.
Speakers opposed to the 710 extension cited concerns about increased pollution, especially near schools, and “induced congestion.”
They favored a “multi-modal” regional solution that would rely on public transportation with increased rail and bus lines, more frequent service, affordability, and an emphasis on using electric vehicles.
South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti expressed particular interest in safer routes for bicycles. “Let’s get people out of cars and give them and option,” he said.
Induced congestion is the concept that a new freeway or lanes added to existing freeways will reduce congestion, but ultimately will increase the number of trips people take because traffic is less. When congestion builds up again, the road is widened, and the cycle is repeated. It is one of the primary reasons La Cañada Flintridge opposes the extension, because it will bring more travelers onto the portion of the 210 Freeway that cuts through that community.
The Argument for Closing the 710 Gap
SCAG Executive Director Hasan Ikharata spoke in favor of closing the 710 gap. “The board, with no objection, adopted the plan with the 710 in it,” he said. “We make no secret that we support the 710,” as well as air quality and the environment. “Every study we did showed the importance of this project to the regional transportation system. This project is a critical link.”
He then chastised some of those present for misusing data from a study that was only a draft that was never completed. Other speakers, notably Asm. Anthony Portantino, took him to task for that, saying that the study had been posted online.
An area of controversy was how maintenance and operation of the tunnel would be funded. Several speakers accused Metro, Caltrans, and SCAG of promoting the gap closure as a way to move goods out of the Port of Los Angeles and supporting the roadway with tolls on trucks, and then later saying that there would be no goods movement on the route.
Ikharata replied that the 710 northbound was never envisioned to move goods, only the 710 southbound, but Portantino asserted that the three agencies had given opposite answers indifferent meetings. Ara Najarian, a Glendale City Council member, said that truck tolls will have to cover tunnel operation, because foreign investors would manage the tunnel and they would collect the tolls. It would be a business deal.
The Measure J Sales Tax Extension
A member of the audience asked, “Should we support Measure J?” (Measure J would continue the ½ cent sales tax on goods and services in Los Angeles County, and apply the funds to transportation.) The question drew a flurry of loud “Noes” from the crowd, but panelists on both sides of the 710 issue expressed support for the measure.
Ikharata referred to earlier comments regarding deferred maintenance on roadways, and said, “We need to maintain our transportation system. That maintenance is not going to be free. All it does is keep up the system.” Measure J also gives regional control rather than federal, he said.
Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates Transportation Planners, who earlier gave a lengthy presentation on the dynamics and philosophy of transportation and alternative methods to improve mobility and access, agreed with Ikharata. “Because I like to build,” he stated. “You just have to build the right solutions. I support Measure J.”
Najarian said to “keep an open mind on Measure J. The funds do not have to go to the tunnel.” He noted that Mayor John Fasana of Duarte, who supports the 710 extension, insisted on an amendment that would allow funds to be moved from highway projects to transit projects. This would mean that if the extension is not built, the money allocated would not be lost but could be put toward other means of transportation.
“Don’t kill Measure J just because you don’t like the tunnel,” he said.