CITY HALL — Los Angeles County transportation officials this week announced a new round of public outreach meetings on the controversial proposal to connect the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways — inviting a fresh round of criticism from foes who say the process has become too bureaucratic and expensive.
They criticized the 18 public meetings as a waste of money and a charade, insisting that transportation officials have already decided to push for an underground tunnel, which La Cañada Flintridge, Pasadena, Glendale and other communities have adamantly opposed.
State and county transportation officials made the rounds among affected communities last year during various stages of a $6-million tunnel technical feasibility study. Officials have earmarked $780 million from the voter-approved Measure R to the connector.
“These are the expenditures that are chewing up the millions of dollars,” said Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, who has been a vocal opponent of the project during his time on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors.
But county transit officials said the public meetings were an essential part of the required environmental review process, and insisted that they were keeping their options open.
“It’s not just a tunnel meeting. It’s not just a tunnel project,” said Doug Failing, executive director of highway programs at Metro. “Everything’s on the table.”
The series of 18 meetings are aimed at gathering community input for a “scoping process” as part of the in-depth environmental studies approved last spring by the MTA.
The meetings will first focus on the history of the issue, then address the environmental process before soliciting the public for input.
“It’s important in the environmental document process that we formally go out and initiate contact … with the public,” Failing said.
Najarian argued that “there is a solid movement in the MTA to basically ignore any alternative and to push forward full speed with the tunnel.”
His efforts to force the MTA to do an updated cost analysis of the tunnel project, which could be used to determine its financial feasibility, have so far been put off, further frustrating opponents.
“We are really hoping that all the questions that we’ve had up until now will finally be answered,” said north Glendale resident Susan Bolan, a member of citizen group the No 710 Action Committee. “Because we keep asking questions that no one has the answers to, primarily, what is the cost for this project?”
Meanwhile, the majority of San Gabriel Valley cities continue to push for the extension as a way to improve traffic and pollution associated with the 710 Freeway dead-end in Alhambra, which pushes thousands of cars onto city streets and other area freeways.
County officials say the latest round of community meetings will help educate the public on the issue and begin to answer questions on traffic, pollution and other concerns.
“This time we will be able to start engaging in many of the broader questions that came up in those early study meetings, but weren’t appropriate for what was being studied at the time,” Failing said.
First series of six meetings
Tuesday, Feb.15, 6 to 8 p.m., Jefferson Middle School, 1372 E. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel
Wednesday, Feb. 23, 6 to 8 p.m., South Pasadena High School, 1401 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena
Wednesday, Feb. 16, 6 to 8 p.m., Alhambra Civic Center Library, 101 S. First St., Alhambra
Thursday, Feb. 24, 6 to 8 p.m., Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church, 2241 N. Eastern Ave., Los Angeles
Saturday, Feb. 19. 2 to 4 p.m., Lake Avenue Church, 393 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena
Saturday, Feb. 26, 2 to 4 p.m., Glendale Community College, 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale