No 710 Coalition: No on Measure J

The No on J Coalition at the start of their October press event. Photo: Sahra Sulaiman

(This is the third of four op/eds on Measure J that Streetsblog will publish this week. Monday, Gloria Ohland of Move L.A. made the case for Measure J and Wednesday Streetsblog Board Member Joel Epstein did the same. In between, the BRU made their case for a no vote. – DN)

Only in the car capital of the world could a proposal to build the next generation of mass transit include an enormous payout to the highway lobby. Measure J will provide $18 billion for highways. If “pro-transit” politicians, environmental, and livable communities advocates choose to ignore the fact that highways are not the future of Los Angeles, but rather our past, why should we have to pay for their misapprehension?

Today in Northeast LA and the San Gabriel Valley, $760 million, a quarter of a billion dollars from Measure R, the current 2009 ½ cent sales tax, is being dished up right now to a few contractors and developers merely to study the 4.5-mile 710 extension tunnels. It does not matter to the developers whether or not this disastrous polluting dangerous pair of tunnels is ever actually built, they are getting that money now. Measure J will extend that tax money until 2069.

This pair of 4.5 mile double-deck tunnels is being planed to run from El Sereno through Alhambra, South Pasadena, Pasadena to connect to the 210 freeway a few blocks from Huntington Hospital.

Depending on the day, and their audience, MTA has claimed these tunnels will or will not facilitate goods movement from the ports of LA and Long Beach. Goods movement means diesel trucks. MTA knows these tunnels will have to be built with Public (that’s you)/Private Partnerships. That means tolls, around $15 for each ride through the tunnels. The toll revenue will go to the Private part of the arrangement, not you. MTA claims this will reduce the terrible congestion we suffer on the 710 and through the neighborhoods at the end of the 710.

So, you will be willing to pay $15 to drive in a no-exit 4.5 mile tunnel filled with diesel trucks? No you won’t. So how will this reduce congestion? It won’t. The tunnels will bring devastation to El Sereno, Highland Park, South Pasadena, parts of Pasadena and Altadena.

Our communities will have to breathe cancer-causing exhaust venting out of the tunnels. Southeast L.A. and neighboring working class cities already suffer from truck-generated toxic pollution, and it will get worse with the planned expansion of the 710 in the south.

Furthermore when the private companies MTA is courting discover they cannot recover the $10 billion it will cost them to build these tunnels, they will cut their losses and leave Californians to pay. That would be you. Know anyone in Boston? Ask them about the Big Dig.

On days when there has been press about the trucks in the tunnels, MTA claims there will be no trucks in the tunnels. The trucks, they claim, turn east to get on the 5. They don’t. But then truth is not an MTA habit. So why are we spending this much on a tunnel again?

Oh wait, jobs, the refuge of all politics. Say jobs and everyone falls over. The jobs that the Measure J supporters keep talking about are already being handed out to the men in a few large construction, engineering, and real estate corporations: JMB, Century Plaza, Westfield, Parsons Brinkerhoff, AEG. These are campaign donors, and are funding support for Measure J. CH2M Hill is a multi-billion dollar construction and engineering firm existing on taxpayer money, public contracts, and enormous military contracts.

They gave generously to the Measure J campaign, and coincidentally are contracted by MTA for $37 million to perform the already flawed environmental study for the 710 Tunnel. Those are the jobs Measure J will bring to Los Angeles. This is massive corporate welfare funded by a sales tax.

We know from experience that MTA simply cannot be trusted with our tax dollars. Like so many other communities from South LA to East LA, we have confronted repeated disrespect and fiction from the MTA. The agency refuses to acknowledge the 710 tunnels are about contracts, huge trucking fleets, and shipping companies connected to the ports. There are better ways to move cargo from the ports quickly, easily, without diesel, and for a fraction of the cost of the tunnels.

Since 2009, when billions of dollars in Measure R sales taxes began to flow into MTA, bus service, the most practical, cost efficient, flexible way to move people, has been cut by one million hours annually. MTA has implemented an unnecessary 20% fare hike in the middle of the worst economic crisis in decades, driving down overall transit ridership despite a massive increase in demand for mass transit nationally.

As Streetsblog readers know, we cannot have more freeways in Los Angeles. As we have grown, any freeway built, or widened, or expanded in the past ten years has become instantly congested. Freeway expansion exacerbates traffic congestion. Why then should we give MTA $18 billion more for highway projects?

With pollution growing, cancer rates climbing, and the climate changing swiftly, it is time for us to change too. Measure J is a backward- looking investment in freeways. MTA: before we give you another huge pile of our money until 2069, show us how the tax revenue you already have can carry us all together into a Los Angeles future, with modern, clean-burning, swift, affordable, flexible transit everywhere, accessible to everyone.

Vote No on Measure J.

  • Helen

    LET’S BUILD THE 710 FREEWAY RIGHT THRU AVE 64 AND THAT’LL SHOW ‘EM WHO’S BOSS. 

  • Highly-paid AECOM Executive

    The Big Dig? What kind of argument is that? ReaLLy? Good thinking with that one. You know its funny, the same people who opposed that are just like you guys. Must be a strain of bad genes. 

  • Stopedog

    760 Million is not a quarter of a billion, it is 3/4 of a billion

  • As an opponent of the 710 tunnel, I respectfully disagree abut measure J. Our status quo is an unacceptable car-dominated transportation system. 65% of measure J goes to transit, 20% to highways, 15% to local returns to cities. Bad highway projects like the 710 N tunnel, 710 expansion, and high desert connector can be battled on a project by project basis. If they choose bad alternatives, political pressure can hopefully get the metro board to switch funding within districts from highways to transit.

  • Anonymous

    So you’re against the tunnels, huh? 

  • Cyg

    ‘Devastation’? Really? It’s a tunnel dude. Calm down.

  • Numan Parada

    I don’t see how voting for or against Measure J would affect the 710 Tunnel project in any way. Measure R, enacted by voters in 2008, provides the $780 million for its construction. Measure R would not have passed if it did not have any highway projects included. The 710 Tunnel project is NOT an accelerated project under Measure J.

    That said, I support the completion of the 710 Tunnel. Engineers can use tunneling technologies and techniques unheard of in the past. Thus, in delaying this needed highway for so long, opponents have ironically enabled Metro and Caltrans to design a more workable alternative where communities stand to sacrifice significantly less, apart from any required mitigation.

    As a result, a tunnel would deprive said communities of their one real bargaining chip against the project, so, as the above commentary confirms, they will now resort to tired claims of unknown costs, tunnel dangers and political connections, arguments which are used against the very transit projects we need and many here in LAStreetsblog support.

    I should also mention that the Boston Big Dig is an entirely different animal compared to the proposed 710 Tunnel. The Big Dig actually placed two freeways and part of their interchange underground, a new roadway to Logan Airport that goes underwater, and a new bridge north of Downtown Boston, as well as the Silver Line busway connecting downtown and the airport. A more accurate comparison would be the Alaskan Way Tunnel in Seattle now under construction, since it features a single tunnel carrying both directions of traffic, with no ramps inbetween.

    One other thing: How can you call “already flawed” an environmental document that doesn’t even exist yet?

  • Dennis Hindman

    Adding lanes to roads or freeways increases vehicle capacity along that corridor. It may not necessarily reduce congestion if traffic increases enough to offset that, but it would increase the overall capacity.

    Removing the freeways would make it enormously difficult to replicate the movement of goods and people that they provide throughout the county. Freeways are needed now and in the foreseeable future to provide this service.

    You will always need highways to enable truck deliveries to businesses and homes. Trains do not provide this door-to-door service and it would be very expensive to have freight tracks extensively throughout a city to enable trucks to load from them and deliver in a timely manner. Freight train companies are privately funded and to have an extensive network of track throughout a city that hauls freight at a much lower volume per track mile would be unprofitable for them. They would need some public financing to make it financially viable for them.

    The reason that highway construction was put on Measure R in addition to transit was to create a wider appeal to voters. Fifteen percent is also set-aside for each of the eighty-eight cities in the county to use on local transportation improvements such as paving roads, repairing sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure. A more narrowly focused ballot measure to raise taxes for transportation would have less chance of getting the necessary 2/3 votes to get it approved.

    Whether Measure J passes or not does not determine whether the 710 project is built. Its already listed as a project on Measure R. The difference is that the additional funds could enable this project to be built faster. I would not vote no on Measure J simply because of the 710 project. The economic stimulus and overall transportation improvements that Measure J will bring to the county far outway the objections to one project. The 710 project can be stopped with or without the approval of Measure J and voting against it will not improve transportation in the county, nor help speed up the economic recovery.

  • WESTFIELD DEVELOPER

    Thanks Dennis for some smart insight. 

  • Sebastian_mele

    They are right this tax money should go 100% towards building trains only.

  • Chance

    The 15% set aside for cities doesn’t necessarily mean anything when you live in a large and diverse city, like Los Angeles.  Did South or North LA receive improvements representative of their population or did most of it go Downtown and West?

    The issue of freeways is silly because we don’t have flying cars.  I don’t blame the citizens for trying to protect their neighborhoods from industry.  From a macro point of view, the 710 should have been finished decades ago.  From a humanistic view, it is impressive how long they have managed to stave off development.  Defeating Measure J would be an important step in keeping the trucks on the outskirts for a little while longer.

    What is more widely important is that this is a county tax that is not spent fairly throughout the county.  The transportation agency is picking winners and loser and forcing 10 million people to support the neighborhoods Metro wants made into convenient hotspots.  The rest of us may get a bike lane and new off ramp, if we’re lucky.

    Sprawl may have been a bad thing and is increasingly unattractive to the new generation.  But there are still millions of people who live in that sprawl and we should get our due, especially when it’s a regressive tax that we all pay.

  • Exiting the 710 is the worst.  I’d rather be stuck on the 405 than get off the 710. 

  • Kymberleigh Richards

    What we have here, friends, is a whole bunch of Chicken Littles who believe the sky is falling … simply because they say so.

    Measure R, passed by the voters four years ago (whether the coalition likes it or not) had the 710 extension on its project list (whether the coalition likes it or not) and therefore Metro, to keep faith with the voters, has to continue the environmental review (whether the coalition likes it or not).

    They panic as if the tunnel was a done deal.  It isn’t.

    They want everything else Measure R promised the voters to take longer to build, because of their opposition TO ONE PROJECT AMONG MANY.

    Here is a possible scenario that they conveniently ignore:  Every project proposed, whether highways or transit, has what is called a “no build option”.  Federal regulations require that be considered.  If none of the other options are feasible — and it is beginning to appear to be the case here — then “no build” can be the decision, and then the new option — PROVIDED BY THE PASSAGE OF MEASURE J — will allow the funds to be reallocated to transit projects in the same subregion.

    The “No 710 Coalition” wants their way, right now, without regard for the legally required process.  Is that the kind of people you want advising you on how to cast your vote?

     

  •  Chance – South LA is getting the Crenshaw line as we speak.  North LA has already gotten the Orange Line extension.  The Green Line extension will also come to South LA, and the East San Fernando Valley project will also come to North LA.  And of course, the Downtown Connector benefits people in all regions, as does every project that people from any region will connect to.

  • Dennis Hindman

    The I-710 extension is not a long range project that will be extended or accelerated under Measure J. If opponents of the I-710 project are trying to delay or stop it by opposing Measure J, then they are barking up the wrong tree. It will not make any difference for the I-710 project whether or not Measure J is approved.

    The statement: “Today in Northeast LA and the San Gabriel Valley, $760 million, a quarter of a billion dollars from Measure R, the current 2009 ½ cent sales tax, is being dished up right now to a few contractors and developers merely to study the 4.5-mile 710 extension tunnels.” is false. $780 million of Measure R funds is allocated for the entire project, not just to study it.

    The statement: “Measure J will extend that tax money until 2069.” is also false. These Measure R funds for the I-710 are to be used only until 2040, and the I-710 is not a project listed for funding under Measure J.

    Some of the objectives of the I-710 gap closure are to:

    Minimize travel timesImprove connectivity and mobilityReduce congestion on the freeway systemReduce congestion on the local street systemThe I-710 gap closure would improve all of these. 

  • I dont believe in endless highway expansion, but I really hate loose ends and that’s exactly what the 710 is at the moment.

  • Alternately, it’s a quarter of three billion dollars.

  • Erik Griswold

    Hey BRU!

    I took the (express luxury, expensive ($2.50 OW) but cheaper than Rapid 720 plus Purple Line) LADOT Commuter Express Bus yesterday from Westwood to Union Station.  Scheduled for 55 minutes, the trip took 95 minutes.  A subway will take 25 minutes.  

    But building that is “racist”?

  • Yolo Watefah

    Has anyone here read Confessions of an Economic Hitman? The 710 tunnel and the 710 corridor expansion read like an epilogue to that book. Some large global construction companies bribe their way into the infrastructure planning process, rip money the local people don’t have out of the economy to build infrastructure that only favors the interests of those pushing fiscal austerity in social programs on us.

    Enrique Penalosa spells this type of idiotic expenditure on highways in the talks he gives. The option to spend billions we don’t have on highways that will measurably makes Los Angeles County poorer in both the long and short terms is one that only benefits the contractors building these golden bull projects and the politicians on their payroll.
    The economic analysis in both 710 projects openly admits that “growth” as result of these projects will occur outside the boundaries of LA County, that these projects will hurt local mobility, and that they will have a negative, or no, effect on local property values. These economic analysis are also based on a growth in vehicle traffic and port traffic that are drastically overstated. Vehicle miles travelled in private cars has peaked and is in decline – yet the analysis from these reports shows that things will continue growing like it is 2005. Since the projections for traffic growth and port activity are so overstated – can you imagine what the impact will be on Los Angeles County? Not good is the answer: more pollution, lowered property values, more public health costs. Maintenance costs on these projects are completely out of reach based on the revenue generating capability the projects pretend to generate.

    Once all our money, and all our future money, is dedicated to paying off bonds borrowed with this money – what do you think will happen? These companies will allow us to default? Hah! Take a look at Greece, Jamaica, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Panama – the global capitalists will tells us that we must turn to austerity measures to make the interest payments on the debt all these albatross projects have foisted on us. We are already doing this in our local cities. These projects turbo charge the process.

    We need to stop borrowing from our future to build fiscally unsustainable mega-projects. No on J and no on the 710. That freeway would produce more property and sales tax revenue if it were converted into parkland when the time came for its next major resurfacing project – and that is a fact.

  • Ronald McDonald

    YOLO, you only live once, might as well pass Measure J, WHICH DONT EVEN COVER THIS PROEJCT. 

  • Joanne Nuckols

    Sorry, Numan, you are incorrect about $780 million for construction of 710 tunnels.  Check the Measure R wording…$780 million for SR 710 North Gap Closure (tunnels).  Tunnels in parenthesis means “project determined through environmental process” which is in the early stages now.  Toll tunnels are one possible method of gap closure as are BRT, LRT, TSM/TDM and No Build.  Metro’s own attorneys say Metro/Caltrans are not obligated to build the tunnels.

    Cities of Glendale, Los Angeles, South Pasadena, La Canada Flintridge plus La Crescenta and Western Pasadena neighborhoods have come out strongly against the tunnels, because of the tremendous environmental consequences of this mega project from the construction of 9-11 yrs alone at the portals in Los Angeles next to Cal State LA and Pasadena next to Huntington Hospital, Old Pasadena and many schools.  

    Additionally there is the continued operation and failure to relieve any traffic congestion whatsoever, but instead, contributing to more congestion.  Then there is the cost of this TOLL facility ranging from $1-14 BILLION.  Caltrans and Metro have stated that the only way these tunnels will get built is as a toll facility.  Estimates of the tolls range from $5-20 each way for a 4.5 mile ride.  

    Anyone who thinks these tunnels would be “out of sight, out of mind” has not done their homework!

  • Anonymous

    What an awful screed.  

  • Numan Parada

    Joanne,

    I will concede that you are right about the Measure R money allotted to this corridor. It could go either to the freeway project or one of the transit choices, whatever is chosen for further study through the environmental review process. (Personally, I would prefer both the freeway and the transit project built, the former to solve a regional transportation issue, the latter to solve a local transportation issue. A better regional transit solution to supplant the 710 Freeway is to either massively upgrade the Metrolink system for through travel or at least bring the proposed transit solution to Montebello or Commerce and connect with Metrolink trains there.)

    It’s also true that building more freeways do not solve traffic congestion, but guess what? Neither do transit projects. Yet we are not building any of these JUST to bring traffic congestion, correct? Instead, we do so, among other reasons, to bring more travel options and redundancy to our transportation system.

    Currently, any auto traveler who goes north-south through Los Angeles has only two options: The 101 Freeway and the 5 Freeway. The 710 Freeway would open a relief valve so that those passing through Los Angeles can take a faster bypass up through the 210 west of Pasadena, a freeway built with the capacity and the “tremendous environmental consequences” you had in mind taken care of. As it is, much of the traffic on the 5 and 101 Freeways shouldn’t be there in the first place.

    Similar tunnels exist and are built under urban areas with little consequence, including right here in LA, where Eastside Gold Line builders employed new tunnel-boring technologies that resulted in no surface disruption. Said technologies will surely be used for the Westside Subway and possibly the HSR line near Union Station. Scrubbers at the end of tunnels can help clean out particulates emerging from the tunnels.

    I am not particularly happy about the prospect of the 710 Freeway tunnel being tolled, so I guess there is that one point against it. Nevertheless, those that came before us sacrificed plenty more than the communities you stated are in opposition to the project will sacrifice this time. Because of such forward thinking, we have a freeway system (and not just a patchwork of individual freeways) that I and most of us here on this website use and benefit from… as I’m sure you Joanne and the author of the article also do.

  • Matt

    Chance,

    The 15% goes to street repaving, bike lanes, etc.. which are all across the city.  Without Measure R you would not see much in the way of bike infrastructure built in the City.

  • Helen’s special Ed teacher.

    Helen type good. Good job Helen. You is smart.

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