In Pasadena, reaction to 710 Freeway extension proposal is more mixed

A traveling road show hosted by Los Angeles County transportation officials on the proposed Long Beach (710) Freeway extension recently logged another round of feedback, this time in Pasadena, where opinions appeared to be more mixed.

At previous outreach meetings in South Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge, opposition to connecting the 710 and Foothill (210) freeways has been unyielding, with residents there fearing a deluge of additional vehicle traffic, noise and pollution.

The options presented by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority include building a surface or tunnel extension of the Long Beach (710) Freeway from Alhambra to Pasadena, adding light rail and improving road conditions in the region.

While opposition to the connector was clear at the Pasadena meeting last week, the proposal also had its supporters.

Joshua Torres, a Pasadena resident who braves a “pretty horrible” daily commute to Rosemead, said he is looking for improvements in north-south transportation.

“I know a lot of people who are speaking out are very against the project. People in the middle … they don’t care. So I want to make sure my voice gets heard in support of the project,” Torres said.

Charles McKenney, who runs the Arlington Garden — a public garden on space that the state leases to the city of Pasadena — said he would be against any surface route or highway widening, but remained open to other options.

“I think we all want to get the issue resolved, and the question really is what kind of environmental impact any given route will have,” he said.

Nat Read, chairman of the 710 Freeway Coalition, which supports the extension, said the mix of opinion was more reflective of the reality.

“There is no city and no political district where the majority of people are against the freeway, including South Pasadena and La Cañada,” he said.

Despite the greater show of support, opponents to the project remain unconvinced, even after grilling engineers at the meeting. Some decorated a comment board with provocations including, “If Caltrans can’t even complete the 110 Fwy ‘beautification,’ then how can we trust them with a tunnel?”

Pasadena resident Sarah Gavit said officials had failed to convince her how connecting the two freeways wouldn’t increase truck traffic through her neighborhood.

“I don’t need a model to tell me what’s going to happen,” she said.”[This] is confirming what I already know in my heart, which is if you build a freeway, cars will come and fill it, so traffic congested in other areas will move to fill up that freeway and it will be a very congested traffic nightmare in Pasadena.”

While she acknowledged that the MTA and California Department of Transportation must keep the interests of 20 million regional residents in mind, “that does not mean it’s the best option for the people in this area, nor for preserving our history and our culture.”

A note on the comment wall silently countered, “South Pasadena will never agree to F-6,” short for the surface extension of the freeway.

While planners say they must study the surface extension as one of the alternatives, state legislation passed last year restored South Pasadena’s right to stop a surface highway and members of the MTA board members have said they do not want to pursue it. Many observers believe the tunnel is now the likeliest option.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said the proposal to extend Measure R — the sales tax passed by county voters in 2008 to fund transportation projects — should give residents more reason to pay attention to the project.

“Now funding seems to be coming into focus and I’m hoping the people of Pasadena will dig into this issue and acquaint themselves, so when it comes time for this community to make a decision in evaluating the tunnel proposal, there will be lots … of highly informed members,” he said.

The environmental study on the 710 Freeway extension is expected to wrap up in 2014, with planners choosing the preferred alternative at that time.

-- Beige Luciano-Adams, for Times Community News

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