Local, state officials urge MTA to drop 710 Freeway tunnel proposal

A coalition of local and state officials gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday to urge regional transportation officials to ditch a controversial proposal to build an underground tunnel extending the Long Beach (710) Freeway to Pasadena.

Calling the tunnel option “flawed” and outdated, mayors and city council members from cities that would be impacted by the project blasted the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for continuing to study the 4.5-mile tunnel, which would connect the 710 with the Foothill (210) Freeway. They were flanked by dozens of tunnel opponents outside MTA headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said the tunnel would attract traffic from other parts of Southern California and become a congestion nightmare for the tri-city area.

“The tunnel option deserves no further consideration,” he said. “It is too expensive….It would not solve the problem of truck traffic. And it would divert funding from alternative projects which would be effective and helpful [and] have strong public support.”

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) called the tunnel an “Eisenhower-era” project that would do nothing to alleviate gridlock traffic on surface streets in South Pasadena, Alhambra and other cities that take the brunt of traffic coming off the terminus of the 710 Freeway.

“When this process started we were told it was going to achieve consensus,” Portantino said. “This is consensus that this is a bad project.”

The MTA has narrowed to five the number of options under study for closing the so-called “710 gap” between Alhambra and Pasadena to five.

Those include the tunnel as well as light rail, bus lines and traffic management improvement son surface streets, but only the tunnel would benefit truck traffic coming from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Local leaders fear an increase in truck traffic would generate noise, pollution and diminish the quality-of-life for residents of the region.

South Pasadena, Glendale, Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge all oppose the tunnel. Alhambra and San Marino, citing spillover traffic from the 710 Freeway terminus, have supported the extension.

Opponents gained a significant ally in August when the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to oppose the tunnel.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) also oppose the tunnel.

Ara Najarian, a Glendale City Councilman and member of the MTA board, said, “We all stand against this mistake of a project and I urge my colleagues on the MTA board to eliminate it from their consideration.”

Najarian and Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar are the only two lawmakers on the 13-member MTA board who have made their opposition to the tunnel public.

The plan to connect the 710 and the 210 freeways dates back decades, but has been sidetracked by political controversy, lawsuits and funding worries.

MTA officials have maintained that they do not favor one option over another to address the 710 gap, and hope to wrap up an environmental impact report on the 710 options in the winter of 2014.

jason.wells@latimes.com, mark.kellam@latimes.com

Follow Jason on Google+ and on Twitter: @JasonBretWells. Follow Mark on Twitter @LAMarkKellam.

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