710 tunnel could devastate the region

Today, the city of La Cañada Flintridge is under the direct threat of increased traffic congestion and air pollution from the proposed completion of the 710 Freeway. Caltrans and MTA are proposing to move forward with the scoping and environmental study of a tunnel as an alternative to a surface-routed 710.

Despite ardent calls from the La Cañada Flintridge City Council and my office to slow this process, freeway proponents plan to charge ahead, potentially before even January. It is imperative that we continue to advocate for a valid cost-benefit analysis before hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted on a tunnel project that will be a financial disaster and devastate Northeast Los Angeles, South Pasadena, Pasadena, La Crescenta, Glendale and La Cañada Flintridge. Residents interested in helping to stop the 710 can sign up on Facebook (NO 710 Freeway Tunnel), or contact Jan Soohoo at jan@soohoos.org or (818) 952-4103. Additional information can be garnered from Julianne from my office and Ann Wilson at LCF City Hall. Get involved now before it's too late to stop this train wreck.

How did we get here, and what has La Cañada Flintridge been doing about it?

During the 1998 special election for a seat on our city council, former Los Angeles Fire Chief Don Manning was the first to highlight the 710 as a serious issue to be addressed. Upon being elected to the city council a year later, I requested we take a formal position to support an alternative to extending the 710 freeway. Today, the La Cañada Flintridge City Council continues to be a strong opponent of both the surface route and the tunnel extensions.

The 710 Freeway is a 50-year old transportation policy that fails to consider how the economy, workforce habits and transportation needs have all dramatically changed. In 2005, the Federal Highway Administration decertified the environmental impact report for the surface route and rescinded the record of decision, essentially deleting the freeway from the federal highway program. South Pasadena, Pasadena and La Cañada were all approached by the MTA, Caltrans and the Southern California Association of Governments and asked to entertain a tunnel option. South Pasadena and Pasadena took no formal position on the tunnel and voted not to oppose sound research of a tunnel option.

Some of the information that was shared with La Cañada contradicted the information shared with South Pasadena and Pasadena. Our city council was additionally asked to comment on documents that we were forbidden to read. The conclusion I drew from this request was that proponents wanted to publicly say that we were consulted, without actually sharing any information with us or garnering any meaningful input.

It became clear that project proponents were embarking on a severely flawed process of evaluating the feasibility of a tunnel as an option to a surface freeway. I have personally been misled on numerous occasions by proponents of the tunnel. The long-promised comprehensive feasibility study has never been completed and each faulty study has been followed by promises that the community's questions will be answered in the next study. To date, no one can tell you how much the project will cost and how many cars and trucks will use it. An average citizen would not choose to build an addition to his home without first knowing how many square feet he was building and how much it would cost. Yet, MTA and Caltrans are determined to march toward the tunnel without the answer to these two basic questions.

I have lost any trust that the pro-tunnel machine will be objective, or willing to provide appropriate answers to appropriate questions in the tunnel debate. There have been several efforts to utilize Sacramento in order to usurp the local process, most recently through a senate bill that sought to declare the tunnel as the preferred alternative to the gap closure. I strongly opposed this bill and worked to get the governor's office to veto it. I have joined with the city of La Cañada Flintridge as a vocal critic of the latest geotechnical study — not for its understanding of soils and subsurface conditions, but because it contains no comparative analysis or financial feasibility. Yet again, the proponents are preparing to move forward to the next study.

Recently, I brought my questions to the state transportation commission and, for the first time, felt that my concerns were considered. Our current city council has been doing an excellent job of collaborating with other freeway opponents and our mayors have attended many regional meetings, asking tough questions that search for answers. Many of those questions remain unanswered by tunnel proponents. There is also a renewed sense of urgency by our residents who have joined activists from surrounding communities in strong opposition to the 710. These efforts do make a difference. Writing to Chair James Earp of the California Transportation Commission, Chair Don Knabe of the MTA or Director Cindy McKim of Caltrans to share your views would be very helpful in our efforts to stop the 710.

There are some who believe that we should embrace the tunnel and trade a formal deletion of the surface route in exchange. The thinking seems to be that the tunnel will sink under its own financial weight and never get built. I disagree with this theory. I believe the tunnel proponents are serious in their desire to complete the tunnel, and that anything that we do to help it along will make increased traffic on the 210 much more likely. A freeway tunnel in today's Los Angeles County is outdated and unnecessary. Modern transportation planners are reintroducing mass transit and alternative methods of moving goods. The cost of a tunnel option will be astronomical and since no traffic analysis has been undertaken in consideration of today's traffic patterns, there is no guarantee that a tunnel will provide the congestion and air-quality relief that would justify such an amount of money. Meanwhile, there are a number of other contemporary transportation projects that can be completed for a fraction of the tunnel's cost.

Residents in the corridor must work together and resist efforts to be split off, or splintered, by the pitting of one proposed route against others. This project will be devastating for our entire region. It is not an upstream or downstream, east or west issue. This is an outmoded, shortsighted plan on its way to becoming a train wreck. Decades of construction and billions of dollars must not be wasted on a project that does not solve a transportation problem and is unnecessary in our region. I am honored to stand with those who continue to issue a clarion call for modern 21st-century solutions that address our congestion and air-quality issues, developed in a transparent and open process, that truly considers the input and well-being of all stakeholders throughout our communities.

ANTHONY J. PORTANTINO (D-La Cañada Flintridge) represents the 44th District in the California State Assembly. His office phone number is (626) 577-9944.

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