710 extension plan continues to raise eyebrows

The word "tunnel" was not on the agenda, but speakers at a public meeting Tuesday nevertheless addressed a controversial tunneling solution to bridging the 4.5-mile gap between the Long Beach (710) and the Foothill (210) freeways.

About 35 people turned out at Glendale Community College for a Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency meeting to discuss the 710 North Gap Closure project. One of the alternatives being studied would be to build a tunnel beneath Alhambra and Pasadena to connect the two highways, tapping some funds from Measure R, the transportation tax approved by county voters in 2008.

Officials from La Cañada Flintridge, Glendale, Pasadena and other nearby communities oppose the long-planned freeway connection, citing the staggering cost and quality-of-life concerns.

“Measure R was not a mandate to build the longest road tunnel in the United States,” Susan Bolan, a member of the No 710 Action Committee, told state transportation officials.

Others warned that the freeway connection would likely bring more traffic, especially in the form of cargo-hauling big rigs.

“I think most people oppose this project because of massively increased truck traffic through our communities,” Rhoads Stephenson of La Cañada Flintridge said.

If the highway extension is built, he advocated for a ban on trucks north of Interstate 10, similar to the truck prohibition on the 110 Freeway through Pasadena.

Glendale resident Nat Read, leader of a business and labor coalition that favors the freeway extension, was one of only two speakers to support the project.

“Completion of the 710 would benefit my city by reducing traffic on the 5, the 2 and the 134 [freeways],” Read said.

The meeting was the fourth in a series of scoping sessions in which transportation officials gather public comment for ongoing environmental studies.

Garrett Damrath, a senior environmental engineer for the California Department of Transportation, said the studies will explore all alternatives to reducing congestion caused by the gap, including a freeway connection and improved rail and passenger rail service.

The area where the gap negatively impacts traffic is vast, he said, pointing to a map that showed the impact zone stretching from Azusa to La Crescenta, and Griffith Park to Baldwin Park.

Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, an MTA board member who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, said the even-handed approach is a “charade” and that the clear plan is to build a tunnel to the 210 Freeway.

Najarian has long pushed for officials to attach a price tag to the project, and said he hopes the MTA will reveal a reliable figure at a meeting in May.

Caltrans officials declined to put a timetable on when the agency would reveal its preferred solutions. Draft environmental studies for a project this size can take as long as five years, Caltrans spokeswoman Susan Gilmore said.

Another public meeting is slated for 6 p.m. on April 5 at La Cañada High School. Residents also can weigh in through April 14 via a “virtual meeting” at www.metro.net/sr710conversations.

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