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Rosemead sues Metro for shifting funds away from the 710 Freeway tunnel

The 710 Freeway ends abruptly on Alhambra's Valley Boulevard. The city of Rosemead has sued Metro for withdrawing financial support for a freeway tunnel that would extend the route north to Pasadena.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority dropped its financial support for a costly, controversial tunnel project that would connect two stub ends in Los Angeles County’s vast freeway network.

Now, in the latest salvo in the ugly fight over the 710 Freeway, Metro will be forced to defend that decision in court.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, the city of Rosemead alleged that Metro “abused its discretion and violated the law” when the agency’s directors came out against the proposed tunnel and agreed to spend more than $700 million to address congestion near the 710’s abrupt northern terminus.

Metro’s decision stripped the tunnel of nearly all its potential funding. The chances of the California Department of Transportation paying for the five-mile, $3.2-billion freeway tunnel without Metro’s support are essentially nil, officials said.

Because Caltrans had not finished the project’s environmental review or recommended what option the region should take, Metro’s vote represented “a blatant attempt to hijack” state environmental laws, Rosemead officials argued in a 417-page complaint.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn Metro’s decision and stop the agency from moving forward with its plans to address the gap between the 710 and 210 freeways by synchronizing traffic lights and adding meters on freeway ramps, among other projects.

In a statement, Rosemead Mayor pro-tem Steven Ly said the city will “protect its residents and businesses against any threats to their health and diminished quality of life.”

The 710 is a favored route for truckers shuttling between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and distribution centers in the center of the county. For decades, officials in the San Gabriel Valley have complained that its abrupt ending on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra causes health and air problems. Rosemead is about six miles east of the 710 gap and straddles Valley Boulevard.

The option the Metro board backed was among the possibilities studied during the project’s environmental review. The other options Caltrans will consider for the corridor are a light-rail line, a bus rapid-transit route or a variety of freeway tunnel options, including single-bore and twin-bore tunnels.

In a report earlier this year, Metro staff said traffic-light improvements and other infrastructure upgrades would do little to address congestion on surface streets and would have about the same effect as a tunnel on regional freeway traffic.

Metro said in a statement that the planned surface-street upgrades will be cost-effective. They added that the vote does not eliminate “other alternatives for future consideration by the Metro board when additional funding can be secured.”

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