Update: Furor grows over Caltrans audit, 710 extension

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino on Wednesday demanded that the California Department of Transportation stop all work on a proposed extension of the Long Beach (710) Freeway, citing a recent state audit that has fueled mistrust in the agency.

The scathing audit released last week pointed to the mismanagement of nearly 500 homes Caltrans acquired decades ago along the expected right-of-way. Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) cited the findings in contending that planning for a tunnel extending the 710 from its Alhambra terminus to Pasadena has been “tainted and biased.”

“The recent state audit highlighted the complete lack of trust that I have for the folks shepherding the 710 corridor and this historically massive project,” Portantino said in a statement. “If these folks can't be trusted to fix a roof, how can we trust them to build a $15-billion tunnel.”

His statement came as a group of activists known as the “freeway fighters” called for a criminal probe of Caltrans' management of the homes.

“I'm calling for the [state] attorney general, Kamala Harris, to use this audit to bring criminal sanctions,” said Don Justin Jones, a member of the group.

Caltrans officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but after the audit was released last week, they pledged to take steps to improve oversight of the properties.

Meanwhile, other lawmakers are pushing Caltrans to sell the properties as soon as it can and use the money on transportation projects favored by local cities.

On Wednesday, state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) announced that they've amended a bill that would speed up the sale of Caltrans-owned homes not needed for a new connector. The amendment calls for 25% of home-sale proceeds to go to build sound walls along the 210 Freeway, where opposition to the 710 extension is strong.

The measure, Gatto said in a statement, “is a creative way to turn a negative, the 710 extension, into a positive: relief along the nearby 210 corridor.”

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article mistakenly suggested Assemblyman Mike Gatto and state Sen. Carol Liu favor an extension of the 710 to the Foothill (210) Freeway. They oppose an extension.

The proposed tunnel extending the 710 Freeway is one of several alternatives the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is studying to ease congestion in the so-called 710 gap. Officials for the agency have said that they do not yet know what the cost would be for the 4.5-mile tunnel.

The study is slated to wrap up in 2014, with a draft report expected in 2013.



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