Council is anti-tunnel

CITY HALL — A proposed completion of the 710 Freeway is the wrong solution for the region’s traffic issues, City Council members said Tuesday.

The council voted 4 to 1 Tuesday to formally oppose a proposed tunnel linking the 710 and 210 freeways or any other gap-closure option.

“It’s the wrong message to send, the wrong money to spend,” said Councilman Ara Najarian, who recently became chairman of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which would eventually vote on the project, which is estimated to cost at least $12 billion.

Councilman Dave Weaver voted against the resolution, saying not enough research of the tunnel’s effects has been completed.

“I can’t vote for or against the project when I have nothing to look at,” he said.

The contentious topic generated several hours of public comment on all sides and drew more than 20 residents and elected officials from cities across the region.

Council members acknowledged the traffic issues many Southern California residents face because of the freeway gap, but said the tunnel was not the right solution for the 21st century.

“I’m not willing to sit here and tell everyone up in La Crescenta we are going to turn your highway into a giant parking lot for trucks,” said Councilwoman Laura Friedman.

Rather, commercial freight traffic should be moved to rail transportation, and mass-transit options should be improved, council members said.

“If we really want progress, we wouldn’t be focusing on the highways, we would be focusing on other ways to move freight around,” she said.

In recent months, Najarian has been vocal in his opposition to the tunnel, which he calls an outdated and grossly expensive project reminiscent of the “Eisenhower era.”

“The time to build the 710 connection has passed,” he said Tuesday.

The prospect of a 710 completion has triggered controversy for decades. Since Caltrans first broached the concept of a tunnel instead of the equally contentious surface option in 2002, the tunnel’s possibility has ignited dissent in much of the affected areas, which include Alhambra, San Marino, La Crescenta and Pasadena.

“We need to not spend these billions of dollars on a tunnel,” La Cañada Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

While no parts of the tunnel would be within Glendale’s borders, Najarian has joined community activists and officials from affected cities like La Cañada Flintridge in arguing that traffic and pollution caused by the tunnel would negatively affect the quality of life for foothill residents.

Olhasso cited statistics that the tunnel would add an average of 30,000 vehicles to the 210 Freeway, according to a draft report recently released for a study commissioned by the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

But its supporters argue that it is a long-needed addition to Southern California’s freeway system.

“I think it is time for a 710 connector to be completed,” said Eugene Sun, mayor of San Marino, which for years opposed the now-defunct over-land option of the 710 completion. He urged the council to support the tunnel as a way to relieve freeway congestion for residents across the region.

Nat Read, a Glendale resident and chairman of the 710 Freeway Coalition, a regional group of business, labor and government representatives in favor of the tunnel’s completion, urged the council to wait for further traffic and environmental impact studies.

He cited a poll the coalition released earlier this month showing a sample of Glendale residents supported the tunnel by a 2-1 margin.

“We the voters of Glendale are smart people,” he said.

Of the 200 Glendale residents surveyed in late May, about 51% said they supported the tunnel, 21% said they opposed it, and 28% said they were undecided, according to the poll, which was conducted by Godbe Research, a California-based polling company.

Still, council members said other, more modern solutions are the answer for what is mainly a freight issue.

“I’m not even interested in discussing the 710,” Friedman said. “To me it’s a red herring.”

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