710 Freeway saga continues

GLENDALE — State transportation officials Wednesday said they would continue to focus on a proposed underground tunnel extension for the Long Beach (710) Freeway, just days after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a law that would have made it the only available option.

On Sunday, Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill written by state Sen. Gil Cedillo that would have required any extension of the 710 Freeway to be underground, calling the legislation “unnecessary.”

“There is absolutely no need to enact statutory restrictions that would mandate certain project design options or remove others from potential consideration,” Schwarzenegger said in the bill’s veto message.

While the veto essentially maintains the status quo for California Department of Transportation officials studying the possible extension, but opponents of the project, which would like the 710 and 210 freeways, decried the governor’s move as major setback for settling at least one side of the long-running dispute.

“We’re obviously dismayed to have missed a historic opportunity and put the surface-route issue to rest,” said Christy Wolfe, director of communications for Cedillo. “Our process has been about the preservation of homes, minimizing the environmental impact and addressing the region’s traffic congestion.”

Caltrans is finishing an estimated $6-million tunnel technical study, which was commissioned to review such factors as fault lines, soil composition and groundwater, said Deborah Harris, a spokeswoman for the department. “Our main focus right now is to continue the study,” Harris said. “The study will tell us what the soil conditions are, whether it would support the tunnel. Based upon that, some decision will be made about whether to enter into the environmental study.”

If commissioned, the environmental impact report — which would examine effects on traffic and air pollution and other quality of life issues — would cost about $35 million, Harris said.

Nat Read, chairman of the 710 Freeway Coalition, a regional group of business, labor and government representatives in favor of the tunnel’s completion, said he hopes Caltrans will commission an environmental study as soon as possible.

“The sooner we get those answers, the sooner we can have a more rational, less emotional discussion of the 710,” he said.

Read, as well as other tunnel stakeholders and supporters, argue the tunnel is a necessary connector within the Southern California transportation system.

The governor’s veto was a blow for South Pasadena officials, who lobbied heavily in favor of the bill, which would have put an end to decades of controversy surrounding the proposed surface option.

“South Pasadena is acutely aware of the devastating result of building a surface freeway,” South Pasadena Mayor David Sifuentes said in a statement urging the governor’s signature.

Still, Glendale and La Cañada Flintridge officials said they opposed the extension regardless of its form.

“Whether it’s a surface route or a tunnel route, the impact to Glendale and La Crescenta and La Cañada is still going to be the same,” said Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, who also serves as chairman of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In July, the Glendale City Council voted 4 to 1 to formally oppose the tunnel. While no parts of the tunnel would be within Glendale’s borders, city officials joined community activists and officials from affected cities in arguing that traffic and pollution caused by the tunnel would negatively affect the quality of life for foothill residents.

Since Caltrans first proposed the concept in 2002 as an alternative to the above-ground route, the tunnel has faced both residential and political opposition in much of the surrounding areas.

After the veto, officials pledged to continue their fight against the extension in favor of alternatives, such as moving freight traffic to rail and improving mass-transit options.

“For us in La Cañada Flintridge, it makes no difference whether the traffic comes from above the ground or in a tunnel,” said Mayor Laura Olhasso. “The City Council will continue to fight the 710 completion as hard as we possibly can.”

— Charles Cooper contributed to this report.

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