Officials mull another layer to 710 tunnel talk

LOS ANGELES — County transportation officials today will consider creating a community advisory committee for the proposed 710 Freeway tunnel extension while beefing up the environmental study process.

Opponents of the proposed tunnel extension were dealt a major blow last month when the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved $59 million for the environmental studies needed to move the proposal forward.

Meanwhile, many San Gabriel Valley cities heralded the decision as helping to improve the traffic and pollution associated with the Long Beach Freeway's dead end in Alhambra, which forces thousands of cars onto city streets and other area freeways.

Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, who serves a chairman of the MTA, had tried to push an amendment that would have required officials to first study all available solutions to the traffic congestion — including a tunnel, light rail and freight corridor improvements — and compare the cost benefits, but that effort failed.

Today, the MTA will consider analyzing route alternatives and their costs while drafting the Environmental Impact Report.

Najarian, a staunch opponent of the proposed tunnel, said on Wednesday that he was concerned doing everything at the same time would dilute the impact of the route and cost studies.

"I think that the conclusions that are based on those different studies could too easily be dismissed," Najarian said.

Transportation officials have said they would vet a range of possible solutions to the traffic and pollution associated with the gap between the 710 and Pasadena (210) freeways.

But skeptics say the tunnel will be the assumed solution after a $6-million study released last year found tunneling to be technically feasible.

"What we are looking for is a full and broad robust scoping of alternative transportation solutions," La Cañada Mayor Don Voss said last month. "Then and only then should the EIR study be performed."

Also today, the MTA board will consider a motion from Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar that would remove the long-debated surface highway option from the mix of studied alternatives.

The board will also consider the creation of a community advisory committee, as proposed by county Supervisor Mike Antonovich. His motion also calls for regular updates from Chief Executive Art Leahy to the Measure R committee.

"The more the process is transparent, open and inclusive … the best chance it has of actually producing the project that will benefit the region," said Michael Cano, transportation deputy for Antonovich.

The Glendale City Council last year voted to officially oppose the tunnel, while La Cañada Flintridge and South Pasadena have already committed significant resources to the fight, filing an unsuccessful legal challenge against the use of $780 million in Measure R funds for tunnel studies or construction.

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