Did you hear about this? On the same day the state's budget deadline came and went without resolution because lawmakers couldn't agree how to clean up a deficit of more than $26 billion, MTA officials were before the California Transportation Commission pushing for permission to move forward on a costly design and environmental impact report phase for the proposed 710 tunnel.
We learned about it from Assemblyman Anthony Portantino's office, who sent out a news release Thursday after he attended the commission meeting in an attempt to "put the brakes on" the project.
Besides the fact that the state should not be spending money it doesn't have, there are a few things about their request that are disturbing:
Traffic through La Canada is about as heavy as we can bear right now. The "Missing Link Truck Study" done for the Arroyo Verdugo sub-region of the Southern California Council of Governments showed that if the 710 gap were to be completed, our city's traffic would become so heavy, the service levels would get an "F" grade for service. An analysis of that report by our city's traffic engineer, Erik Zandvliet, demonstrated that if the tunnel is completed we'd see, by 2030: about 850 more trucks per hour on the 210 than pass through here today; more truck traffic on Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada and gridlock on the freeway where it passes through our city, leading to Foothill operating over capacity at Angeles Crest Highway.
The feds gave MTA/Caltrans $3 million to spend on a thorough, "route-neutral" study. They also had $5 million in MTA funds and $5 million given to them by the California Transportation Commission, but have so far spent only about $7 million. Where's the balance?
Although the report created by Parsons Brinkerhoff sets out to learn whether the tunnel project would be financially, geotechnically or environmentally feasible, none of those fundamental questions are really answered. Portantino and members of our City Council cried foul on the shortcomings as soon as the report was issued, but still the bureaucrats pushed forward.
According to Portantino, Doug Failing, now with the MTA but notorious here for his decision as chief of Caltrans District 7 not to take any action to mitigate runaway trucks on Angeles Crest Highway until the April 2009 fatal accident in the middle of our town, told the commission last week that a tunnel would cost in the neighborhood of $3 billion. Portantino says that the tunnel to close the 710 Freeway gap is far more likely to run $10 billion to $20 billion, based on comparable projects, including a 3 1/2 mile tunnel from New Jersey to New York that cost $10 billion.
As our Assemblyman pointed out to me the other day, this is the 21st century, and the freeway system of the 1950s and 1960s that transportation officials "fell in love with" are no longer the only options. If the state actually has any money to spend on fixing traffic woes, it should be actively pushing for alternative means to deliver goods, including light-rail projects.
Portantino says his basic question before the commission last week was "How can you move forward if you don't know the costs and benefits of the tunnel?" And, a tunnel wouldn't solve the regional transportation issue, he said.
"It's like killing a fly with a nuclear bomb," he added, and the whole project is being "driven by folks who just want to spend billions and billions of public dollars. It's not being driven by commuters."
I'm glad Portantino is continuing the fight, as is our City Council. It's the wrong solution to transit issues; it will cost far more than anyone involved is willing to admit; and, although I may be sounding selfish here, it won't do the quality of life in our town — or the lives of our neighbors in Altadena and La Crescenta — any good. Let's do whatever it takes to stop it now.