Former Metro Board Chair: How Much Will 710 Tunnel Cost?

Maybe Ara Najarian has been reading the news about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie canceling the ARC Rail Tunnel Project because of concerns about cost over runs.

Najarian, the Glendale Mayor and Member of the Metro Board, tells the Glendale News-Press that he will ask the Metro Board of Directors to order a cost analysis to build an underground tunnel connecting the 710 Freeway, which now ends in Alhambra, to the Pasadena Freeway.  Usually, a cost analysis is part of the environmental studies, but given the potentially huge cost of the project, and the wildly different estimates given for the project over the years (see chart below); Najarian is arguing that Metro should have some hard fiscal figures before committing to spending nearly $60 million on an environmental study.

While Najarian announced the motion to the press and hinted at it on the “No 710 Freeway Tunnel” Facebook Page, the motion does not appear on the Metro Board Schedule for this month.  Given that the schedule is so packed that they moved the start of the meeting to 9:00 A.M. from 9:30 A.M., it’s possible that a hearing for the motion will be delayed until next month.

Chart Provided by "No 710"
Chart Provided by "No 710 Freeway Tunnel"

Najarian’s motion and press statements echo a recent op/ed by Assemblyman Anthony J. Portantino which was subtly titled “710 Tunnel Could Devestate the Region.”  In it Portantino writes:

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.

Despite the momentum tunnel opponents are gaining, they face a tall task on Thursday.  In addition to the potential impact of Board Member Fatigue, there’s also the minor issue that the majority of the Board favor the project…or at least are pretending to because powerful unions are very upfront about the jobs a tunneling project would create.  Anyone that doubts the political power of unions has to look no further than last week’s press conference announcing the loan for the Crenshaw Line when two union bosses sat on stage and made speeches while Metro Board Members, City Comptroller Wendy Greuel, the Mayor of Inglewood and Denny Zane sat in the audience.

Najarian himself jokes of his proposal’s chances that in front of the Board, “They are going to want to kill it and kill me, probably, because it raises the question of the cost estimate,” but there is some hope for the “No 710 Freeway Tunnel” crowd on Thursday.  Metro Board Members always seem to have plenty of scheduling conflicts on the day of Board Meetings, and a vote late in the meeting could be missing so many board members that the motion could pass with only a handful of votes.

  • What’s a quorum for the Metro Board?

  • poncho

    what was unReasonable smoking with their cost number in 1993?

  • Why don’t they save the money and buy everyone a bicycle, rollerblades, and a skateboard? We’d still have a couple billion left over to re-pave every sidewalk in LA, plant hundreds of thousands of trees, build libraries with a reserve to staff and maintain them, and improve air quality.

    Or we could build yet … another … stupid … freeway.

  • Joseph E

    “Why don’t they save the money and buy everyone a bicycle, rollerblades, and a skateboard?”

    Or if want to spend $5 billion on tunnels, we could finish the subway to Santa Monica AND build a new train tunnel under the Sepulveda pass to connect the Valley with West LA (a project in the 30/10 plan, but without enough local funding), both of which would be much bigger transportation improvements.

  • Najarian appears to be framing this issue in terms of its overall costs. But cleary, the more potent option is to ask what are the opportunity costs (as Joseph noted above my post). $5 billion will accelerate the Purple line in addition to 30/10. Maybe even get the line to Santa Monica. It will probably pay for Pink line light rail from Hollywood to Crenshaw Corridor with lots of spare change. It will pay for the tunneling from Sherman Oaks to UCLA.

    The $1 billion we spend on adding 1 lane on the 405 was wasteful enough. $5 billion for the 710 tunnel is obscene.

  • Erik G.

    Connecting up 710 to 210 is very important. Otherwise Measure R will always be assailed as a transit-only project.

  • Erik G have you read the Expenditure Plan. Pull 710 projects and you still have a good chunk of money being spent on Highways. I count at least a dozen projects.

  • Joseph E

    “Otherwise Measure R will always be assailed as a transit-only project.”

    Measure R was already passed, and the sales tax lasts for 25 years. I believe that in 25 years only the transit projects will be remembered; the added carpool lanes and road widenings will be forgotten due to induced demand (and rising oil prices), but the better transit projects (westside subway, San Fernando Valley busways, Expo, Regional Connector, Sepulveda transit line) will for the core of a new complete transit system.

    Really, what is the downside of doubling down on transit investments? I think Metro should shift gears, and move as much money as possible from the road projects over to transit. Remember, it would only take an extra 1 billion in local funds to build the subway all the way to Santa Monica, with 50% match; that’s the cost of one new highway widening or carpool lane.

  • My bet is on the 14 Billion estimate!

  • I was inspired this evening by watching the e2 transport “Seoul: the stream of consciousness” (Season 3 of the series) on the removal of a double decker freeway covering a river in Korea.

  • Sam

    As a Pasadena resident, I always get a little miffed when I get on the 710 from the 5, 105, 91, or 405 and the sign reads “Pasadena,” because it should read “Pasadena (almost).”

    In my opinion, the only reasonable way to complete the 710 is to allow a private firm to finance design, construction, and operation, and allow the firm to charge a toll for those users that decide to use the freeway.

    This would allow measure R and other local agencies to focus on the transit projects, which I believe have an overall greater impact on the mobility of a larger portion of the County’s residents.

  • Marcotico

    I agree with Sam, but from a different perspective. I don’t think Pasadena should get the free advertising after blocking the 710 connection. It should read Alhambra, since their the ones putting up with all the cut through traffic.

    I’m of two minds on this one (has anyone figured out I’m a planner?) On the one hand I agree that this is a colossal amount of money which would be better spent elsewhere, on the other hand, I’ve always felt bad for those communities at the end of the 710 who have to put up with all that cut through traffic.

  • Huntington

    Pet peeve: “…underground tunnel connecting the 710 Freeway, which now ends in Alhambra, to the Pasadena Freeway.”

    Personally, I’m a fan of calling freeways by their names (the 710 is the Long Beach Freeway, dammit!), but a consistent editorial policy would be nice. Anyway, didn’t they change the name of the Pasadena to “Arroyo Seco Parkway”?

  • Curmudgeon

    Gee, do goods and services move by bicycles? You luddite troublemakers need to be crushed.

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