Freeway issue still stews

La Cañada Flintridge residents and leaders said that they were disappointed but not surprised by regional transportation planners' decision Thursday to keep alive the prospect of a tunnel from the Long Beach (710) Freeway to the Foothill (210) Freeway in Pasadena, even as they eliminated several other alternatives.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency “knows what they want to do, they're hell-bent on doing it,” said Jan SooHoo, a La Cañada resident and member of the No 710 Action Committee.

On Thursday MTA staffers jettisoned seven of 12 alternatives for improving traffic in the so-called 710 gap.

They knocked out a long-contested surface highway connecting the 710 in Alhambra to the 210 in Pasadena, as well as other highway proposals through Pasadena and a variety of transit alternatives they said were costly and environmentally unsound.

The five remaining alternatives include a 4.5-mile tunnel under South Pasadena and Pasadena to connect the 710 and 210, transit upgrades, improvements to local streets and the “no-build” alternative planners must consider in their environmental study.

The study is slated to wrap up in 2014. MTA officials have said repeatedly they don't favor one option over another.

But foes believe the tunnel is the likeliest plan, since it would provide a new route over which trucks from the Port of Los Angeles could move cargo inland.

La Cañada City Councilman Donald Voss, who sits on two MTA committees advising on the project, said planners should realize local cities will remain implacably opposed to MTA's plans for a 710 extension.

La Cañada, Glendale and South Pasadena oppose an extension, citing concerns about noise, pollution and truck traffic.

“No one wants the negative effect of a northern extension of the 710 as a highway or freeway or roadway in their neighborhood,” Voss said.

“At some point Metro and Caltrans have to realize that the affected communities don't want this.”

Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake), said he opposes an extension of the 710, above ground or below. While the surface route appears to be dead, he added, his constituents have heard that before.

“Like a bad-horror-movie vampire, these alternatives keep popping up and I think it's time for all of us who care about these neighborhoods to finally find the silver bullet and put the proposal to bed,” he said.

MTA's decision came a week after Caltrans, which owns 499 homes along the 710 extension right-of-way in Pasadena, South Pasadena and Los Angeles, was skewered in a state audit for its mismanagement of the properties.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) asked for the California State Auditor to do the review.

The audit showed Caltrans has undercharged for rents and overpaid for repairs, prompting lawmakers to call on Caltrans to sell the homes.

On Wednesday Gatto joined state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) in offering legislation that would require Caltrans to spend 25% of any home-sale proceeds on sound walls along the 210.

La Cañada has begun building sound walls, but is counting on state funding and expects the project to take a decade or more. Gatto said the money would provide a measure of “transportation justice.”

While proponents of the extension and its foes don't agree on much, a spokesman for a coalition of cities and businesses favoring a 710 extension said he also felt the jettisoned alternatives were only window dressing.

Nat Read of the 710 Coalition, which includes Alhambra and San Marino, said the tunnel remains the best option.

“Metro is forced by environmental laws to suggest and study alternatives,” Read said.

“It did that faithfully, but those are just utterly unacceptable alternatives, and were from the beginning.”

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