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Tunnel drives 710 Freeway debate

710 Freeway
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials jettisoned seven of 12 routes to connect the 710 Freeway with other highways.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

The freeway is dead, the tunnel is not and leaders in South Pasadena and nearby cities hope to convince transportation planners to look to a mixture of rail, transit and street upgrades to solve traffic problems in the region.

Last week saw a flurry of activity in the decades-long controversy over how to improve traffic in the so-called 710 gap between Alhambra, where the Long Beach (710) Freeway ends, and Pasadena.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials jettisoned seven of 12 alternatives that were under study. They knocked out a long-contested surface highway connecting the 710 in Alhambra to the Foothill (210) Freeway in Pasadena, routes along Avenue 64 and Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena, and transit alternatives that planners said were costly and environmentally unsound.

The five remaining alternatives include a 4.5-mile tunnel to connect the 710 to the 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 the other.


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

South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez welcomed Thursday’s decision to kill the surface highway. He said he hopes MTA’s next decision will be to study multi-modal alternatives, including rail for cargo and transit for commuters.

“We firmly believe that’s the best way to deal with traffic issues in the region,” Gonzalez said. “Expanding the light rail system to move people, moving goods through heavy rail, and expanding bike facilities throughout the region will all help us become less dependent on the auto and move goods more efficiently.”

Bill Sherman, a South Pasadena resident and an opponent of the freeway extension, said the tunnel should be the next to go because it would do nothing to ease local traffic.


“The tunnel is a lose-lose situation for the public and a win-win solution for the ports, the truckers and the shipping interests,” Sherman said. “The multimode is the only solution that preserves our way of life without killing us or costing us too much money.”

Pasadena City Councilman Steve Madison was pleased with the decision to knock out the Avenue 64 routes, which would have gone through the heart of his district. He credited a strong turnout of citizens at an Aug. 13 Pasadena City Council meeting, where the city formally opposed three of the MTA highway proposals, as helping to turn the tide.

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 agreed with MTA critics that the abandoned 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.”

San Marino City Manager John Schaefer said his city wants the 710 extension built, as streets including Los Robles Avenue and Sierra Madre Boulevard are clogged by drivers who get off the 710 in Alhambra.

“We’re advocating for punching it through,” Schaefer said. “In our community we have all of this vehicle and truck traffic that gets dumped out of the 710 freeway.”

But La Cañada City Councilman Donald Voss, who sits on two MTA committees advising on the project, said planners should realize that many local cities will remain implacably opposed to a 710 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.”