Metro study recommends 710 tunnel, sub-committee votes to put alternative before MTA board

Although a Metropolitan Transportation Authority report studying the benefits and impacts of the proposal to connect the Long Beach (710) Freeway to the Foothill (210) Freeway concluded last week that a freeway tunnel is the preferred alternative to address projected traffic congestion in the area, an ad hoc committee voted Wednesday to recommend to the Metro board another option.

The May 10 report advocating a single-bore freeway tunnel was a status update to the State Route 710 North Project environmental process, which examined various alternatives to improve transit with the fewest negative impacts in an area that extends more than 100 square miles to include East Los Angeles and the west San Gabriel Valley.

“Studies completed over the past few years clearly capture the mobility benefits included in the Single Bore Freeway Tunnel, with tolls and truck restrictions,” the MTA report said. “This alternative reduces regional and local congestion...and delivers the best transportation performance.”

The study is the latest update on a joint effort by Metro and Caltrans that began in 2011 to review the environmental impacts of a possible 4.5-mile 710 freeway tunnel that is expected to carry a price tag of at least $5.6 billion, alongside four other alternate scenarios that included the expansion of rapid transit systems and bus lines, and a series of systemic traffic improvements.

On Wednesday morning, Metro staff presented an update to the Metro Board of Directors Ad-Hoc Congestion, Highway and Roads Committee. During the meeting, the five-member ad-hoc committee passed a motion, 3-2, submitted by MTA Board Chair John Fasana, which instead recommends adopting the Traffic Systems Management/Traffic Demand Management alternative — designed to upgrade local street systems. Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker and Janice Hahn had the dissenting votes.

Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian, who represents the North County/San Fernando Valley sector on the MTA board and is vice chair of the ad hoc committee, has opposed the 710 tunnel proposal since its inception. He said the Fasana motion is a clear statement of the intent of the MTA board not to fund any money for the tunnel.

“It’s the first time any motion passed that could potentially kill the tunnel if this recommendation is adopted by the full board,” Najarian said. “The motion represents the capitulation the San Gabriel Valley representative, Fasana, to give up on this whole tunnel advocacy.”

Both the status update and the Fasana motion will head to the May 25 Metro board meeting for consideration. The motion requires votes by seven of the 13 board members to pass.

Critics of the proposed 710 tunnel include the cities of Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, San Marino, Sierra Madre, Pasadena and South Pasadena, all of which cite concerns over health, cost and sustainability.

As a joint coalition formed to analyze and respond to Metro’s environmental impact report for the 710 alternatives, those municipalities previously proposed “greener” alternatives such as rapid transit upgrades, improved bus services and free transit passes for area students.

Alhambra and Monterey Park have been the most outspoken supporters of the extension, along with a group known as the 710 Coalition, whose members said last week’s Metro status update “validates” the coalition’s position.

“The people in our city and the San Gabriel Valley have suffered enough from the traffic and population increasing, so obviously I’m going to support [the 710 tunnel],” said Alhambra Mayor Dave Mejia.

He added that the recommendation that came from Fasana Wednesday isn’t inclusive of the neighboring cities such as San Gabriel and Rosemead.

“If [the Metro status update] would have come back with a suggestion to try a different transportation system I would have supported that, but I’m fully supportive of what the study said,” he said.

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