710 tunnel cost estimate delayed

A proposal to put a price tag on the controversial Long Beach (710) underground tunnel extension to the Foothill (210) Freeway again got caught in a bureaucratic traffic jam Thursday, with officials putting it off until February.

The proposal from Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian has been floundering at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where he also serves on the board of directors, since he brought it up in October as a way to get a cost estimate on the table before committing millions in Measure R tax money to the tunnel project.

Foes of the proposed tunnel from Alhambra to the 210 Freeway say the project may be far more expensive than is viable. Estimates for the roadway range from $1 billion to $14 billion, Najarian said.

The cities of Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, Pasadena and South Pasadena oppose the project, citing construction disruptions, environmental and cost concerns.

Supporters say the extension is a necessary part of the region's freeway network and will make it easier to transport goods from Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles.

More than a dozen people on Thursday spoke in favor of Najarian's motion, including a representative for Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and La Cañada Mayor Don Voss, who said it would be "premature, inappropriate and fiscally irresponsible" to continue environmental studies on the roadway without identifying the overall cost.

MTA Chairman Don Knabe, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, opposed Najarian's measure, calling it a "delaying tactic" because the cost estimate will come out of ongoing environmental studies.

Consideration of Najarian's request was put off to February after another MTA board member, Duarte City Councilman John Fasana, said it should be expanded to cover all projects paid for by Measure R, a countywide tax approved by voters in 2008.

MTA officials said providing those cost estimates would slow design and construction work. They were given until February to draw up a list of projects that would be unaffected by the proposal should it be approved.

After the meeting, Najarian said he believed that his motion had a good chance of passing, and that it was wrong to spend $90 million on environmental studies before knowing the final cost of the tunnel plan.

"On the other hand, putting it off until the February meeting will give us a new opportunity to reenergize and reinvigorate communities concerned about the 710 [Freeway] and its lack of a solid cost estimate," he said.

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