Tunnel Plans Unveiled for Finishing 710 Freeway

Times Staff Writer

Three possible routes were unveiled Tuesday for twin 4 1/2 -mile tunnels that would connect the Foothill Freeway in Pasadena with the Long Beach Freeway in Alhambra -- a gap that, if filled, transit officials say, would reduce regional traffic congestion and improve air quality.

A preliminary study, funded by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, found that building an underground freeway with four lanes in each direction is physically, environmentally and financially feasible.

The tunnels were proposed several years ago as a possible alternative to extending the 710 Freeway through historic South Pasadena neighborhoods, a plan that has been opposed by generations of residents.

The study, which cost $550,000, represents the first small step in a multiyear process, transit officials said.

They still must try to bolster community support and secure the $3 billion needed to build what the study calls “one of the biggest and longest highway tunnels in the Western Hemisphere.”


The tunnels -- which may require a toll to help pay for construction -- are needed to reduce traffic not only in the San Gabriel Valley but also in downtown Los Angeles, because it would enable motorists to get from Long Beach to the San Fernando Valley without using downtown-area freeways, said Doug Failing, director of the California Department of Transportation in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Failing and his agency are making no recommendations. “All we are doing now is starting some conversations,” he said.

Over the next several months, Caltrans and MTA officials are holding community meetings on the proposal. The first one is June 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Lake Avenue Church, 393 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena.

One of the project’s most vocal opponents Tuesday still insisted the extension isn’t needed -- above or below ground.

“I think it’s a totally flawed report and a totally flawed proposal,” said Joanne Nuckols, who is so adamant in her opposition to the freeway extension that her Volvo sports a “NO 710" license plate.

In its report, consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff compared the proposal to giant tunnels being built underneath Seattle, Paris and Barcelona, Spain. They calculate that the L.A. tunnels would take nine to 11 years to construct.

Los Angeles’ proposed tunnels, at as much as 72 feet in diameter to handle four lanes of traffic, would be the world’s largest.

The consultants said a less costly option would be to build smaller, double-decker tunnels with two lanes of traffic on each level at a cost of about $2.4 billion. Eleven-foot traffic lanes would be hugged on each side with two-foot shoulders.

The most expensive option, costing up to $3.6 billion, calls for two smaller tunnels and a larger one that could be used either for trucks or as reversible lanes during rush hours.

The proposed tunnel routes are:

* Along the same path that had been suggested for the street-level extension, known as the Meridian alignment because it runs mostly along Meridian Avenue. At four miles, it is the shortest and most direct route. It would be built under more than 1,000 homes in Pasadena, South Pasadena and the El Sereno district of Los Angeles.

* A slightly longer path that would pass under the existing Fremont Avenue corridor. It also would be under mostly residential and some commercial property.

* A more eastern path that would follow under the Huntington Drive and Fair Oaks Avenue corridor, a mix of residential and commercial property.

The study recommended that trucks be allowed to use the tunnels and that a proposed freeway exit at Huntington Drive be abandoned as too costly at an estimated $1 billion.

Advances in tunneling technology have allowed transit officials to explore new alternatives in an attempt to finish the 6.2-mile gap in the 710 Freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena.

Thirty years ago, “the technology just simply didn’t exist,” said Roger Snoble, the MTA’s chief executive officer.

The same technology has been used to build tunnels along Metro’s Red Line and is currently in use along the Gold Line Eastside extension. Transit officials said the machine can dig 100 feet under the surface without disrupting neighbors.

“They won’t see it. They won’t hear it,” Failing said.

Snoble also isn’t worried about the Raymond fault, in the vicinity of the proposed tunnels. He said other transit tunnels were unaffected by the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake in 1994.

Some Alhambra residents don’t care if the state builds tunnels or a traditional freeway. An estimated 100,000 cars a day empty onto their city’s streets near where the Long Beach Freeway now ends at Valley Boulevard.

“Either one works,” said Barbara Messina, a former Alhambra City Council member who serves on the city’s school board. “The tunnel is a proven commodity. It’s been done in other areas and the costs are not exorbitant.”

More than $500 million in revenue could be generated from the fair-market sale of the more than 500 homes Caltrans has bought over the last three decades to build the proposed above-ground freeway, officials said.

Caltrans, however, is restricted in the price it can set on the properties. Under state law, transit officials say, property sales would generate just $50 million.