NO-710 Action Committee Warns Metro Against “Accelerating” 710 Big Dig
(As we speak, the Metro Board of Directors is deciding whether or not to seek the funds and support to “accelerate” the I-710 Big Dig. Earlier this year, the Board voted to seek acceleration for every highway project accept the Dig thanks to a motion by Glendale City Council Member and Metro Board Member Ara Najarian. The following is written testimony by Jan Soo-Hoo of the No-710 Action Committee. A copy of the testimony, with supporting letters from leaders in surrounding communities, can be found, here. – DN)
At the September 18th meeting of Metro’s Planning and Programming Committee, Sergio Gonzalez, City Manager of the City of South Pasadena asked why Metro is actively promoting and shopping the SR-710 North Project tunnel as a Public- Private Partnership (PPP) despite the fact that the EIR/EIS has not been completed and no locally-preferred alternative has been chosen. The Chair of Metro’s Board of Directors, Diane DuBois, asked Metro’s CEO, Arthur Leahy, “Are we shopping it as a tunnel alternative?” CEO Leahy’s obfuscated response to the Chair’s question (see attached transcript) only served to reinforce the conclusion repeatedly expressed by the public and multiple elected officials, that Metro has already reached a decision about the locally-preferred alternative and route and that Metro is spending $40 million going through the motions of the EIR/EIS process because it is obligated to do so by CEQA and NEPA regulations. Documentation of these concerns, which began long before the EIR/EIS was begun, is abundant and verifiable.
As early as October of 2007, in the context of comments on the Scope of Work for the State Route 710 Tunnel Support Studies, Assemblymember Anthony Portantino wrote to Caltrans District 7 Director, Doug Failing “…Anything short of that and any attempt to use the prior report as a foundation for this study will continue to bolster claims that this project is a runaway train in a quest to be Los Angeles’ version of Boston’s ‘Big Dig’ fiasco.”
Again, in 2008, Mr. Portantino urged the Metro Board not to include the 710 extension project in the baseline or recommended plan of its Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and states “…it certainly tampers with the credibility of the study in which Caltrans is currently engaged, by pre-supposing an outcome to the question of whether a tunnel option is, in fact, feasible and the right solution for this region.”
In April of 2010, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff addressed the Metro Board of Directors in a letter and stated, “Just as the tunnel (feasibility) study was conducted in a route neutral manner, so should this next-step analysis consider transportation alternatives in a project-neutral manner—neither presuming nor precluding any viable cost-effective solution.” He also stated, “I am concerned that arbitrarily choosing to do an environmental study primarily focusing on Zone 3 – for so long the preferred route of Metro and Caltrans – would color the outcome of the study and would lack credibility with the public.” The same month, Anthony Portantino addressed a letter to Members of the Board: “As I have been saying since the beginning of this process, given the historical context of the 710 North, particular attention must be paid to winning back the public’s trust for any potential solution. Any move toward narrowing the route for a potential project is certainly premature and only serves to confirm the fears of impacted communities: that the 710 Technical Study was structured merely to fulfill the terms of the restrictions placed on the study team by federal legislation and that Zone 3 was the only route that was being considered.”
Bill Bogaard, Ara Najarian, Richard Schneider and Donald Voss (Mayors of Pasadena, Glendale, South Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge respectively) expressed their concerns in a letter published in the South Pasadena Review on June 30, 2010: “Metro missed its opportunity by not committing to a process of evaluation and cost-benefit analysis of all viable transportation options for relieving traffic congestion. Instead, Metro offered only a vague plan to launch a new round of studies on how traffic could be improved in the area. Our concern is that this may simply be a thinly masked effort to continue focus on only one option, the northward tunnel extension of the 710 freeway.”
Congressman Adam Schiff wrote the Board on September 20, 2012 and stated “The environmental review process Metro is engaged in has been excessively focused on the tunnel option. I have expressed my concern over Metro’s apparent rush to judgment on a tunnel option many times, but without success. This has only confirmed what many in the community suspected, that Metro was once again starting with the conclusion it wished to reach and working backwards.”
La Cañada Flintridge Mayor Stephen Del Guercio, in a letter to Congressman Schiff dated September 19, 2012, stated “Our City has participated in the various committees created by Metro to purportedly seek input from the affected communities. From my personal experiences, I can tell you categorically that this process has been a sham and is nothing more than a post hoc attempt to justify the ill-conceived tunnel project (the so-called F-7 alternative). My view, however, is not unique. As we have seen in recent days, the opposition to the current study and its pre-ordained tunnel conclusion has reached epic proportions.” Mayor Del Guercio expressed the same opinion in a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa, the City Councils of Pasadena, South Pasadena, Glendale, Los Angeles, La Cañada Flintridge, State Senator Carol Liu and Assemblymembers Anthony Portantino and Mike Gatto.
On November 29, 2012, Assemblymember Anthony Portantino attempted to raise the attention of Acting Secretary of California’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, Brian P. Kelly. Portantino stated “Although there have been assurances made about the process, there continues to be serious legal, ethical and planning concerns about the current process shepherded by the MTA and the apparent predetermined outcome that most of us anticipate.”
The “assurances about the process” referred to by Mr. Portantino have taken the form of steadfast assertions by Metro staff that no decision has been made about the preferred alternative, and that all alternatives are being studied equally. This has become their mantra. They repeat it at every public meeting.
On August 17, 2012, Steve Hymon, editor of Metro’s newsletter, The Source, wrote “First, I want to be very clear about something and I’m going to put it in large, bold letters to emphasize my point: DESPITE WHAT YOU MAY HAVE HEARD FROM A FRIEND, NEIGHBOR, POLITICIAN, PERSON IN LINE AT THE COFFEE SHOP, ETC., NO DECISIONS HAVE BEEN MADE BY METRO OR ANY OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCY TO BUILD ANYTHING. INCLUDING A TUNNEL.”
On November 19, 2012, Metro’s Director of Highway Programs, Doug Failing, responded to a citizen who had expressed concern that the tunnel was a foregone conclusion. In his letter Mr. Failing listed the alternatives and stated “…At this time, we are just beginning the environmental process and no decision has been made on a preferred alternative.” SR-710 Project Manager Michelle Smith was quoted in the Pasadena Sun on May 26, 2012 as saying “No decision has been made. We can’t re-emphasize it enough.” In May of 2013, the Pasadena Star-News quotes Metro Spokeswoman Helen Ortiz- Gilstrap, attending an Alhambra press conference, as maintaining “…that all the options are being studied equally…”
The plethora of evidence demonstrating a bias toward building the tunnel and contradicting the above assertions by Metro substantiates the worst fears of elected officials and the public – that the tunnel is being promoted as a certainty. Metro’s own 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) includes a map (p. 37, Figure R) that shows a tunnel extending the 710 Freeway to the 210 Freeway, and lists the project as a tunnel with a cost of $5.6 billion in Figure S on page 38. As early as May of 2008, Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), Hasan Ikhrata, made a presentation at the Second Annual Leonard Transportation Center Forum in which he stated that financial markets and global developers had expressed interest in the project which was defined as two tunnels. He also stated at a November, 2012 meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), “I will say that if Metro or Caltrans or together they decide on a different alternative with the same benefits, we’ll talk, the plan can be updated, but I’m not expecting that to happen,” Mr. Ikhrata has repeated this statement at multiple public meetings and at a November, 2012 Alhambra City Council meeting. In a Pasadena Star-News article dated December 4, 2012, Ikhrata went even further: “…Southern California Association of Governments Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata has said the tunnel is the only viable approach and SCAG’s Regional Transportation Plan includes the freeway completion as a tunnel.” And then we have Metro CEO Arthur Leahy’s remarks at the Railvolution conference on October 15, 2012 (at 06:50): “We are just now beginning to evaluate two major highway projects which we think could be toll roads, to be, could be, great PPP (Public Private Partnerships) projects. One would be a tunnel under Pasadena to connect two of our freeways.” Note that none of these sources or remarks address any alternative included in the EIR/EIS, which is still underway, other than the tunnel.
Mr. Leahy’s remarks at Railvolution substantiate Metro’s plan to use a Public-Private Partnership to build the tunnel. In fact, Frank Quon, Executive Officer of Highway Programs, stated at the July, 2012 meeting of the Stakeholder Outreach Advisory Committee (SOAC) that the only way the tunnel could be built is via a PPP. When asked by a member of the committee what would happen in the event that no private partner is found, Mr. Quon responded that the project would be shelved until funds could be found from another source. This acknowledgement of the project’s dependence on the procurement of a PPP agreement explains its inclusion in Metro’s campaign to promote PPPs.
Metro representatives have made multiple presentations promoting their PPPs in the past eighteen months. Each has included the SR-710 Tunnel – and only a tunnel – without any mention of the LRT alternative or any other alternative.
Doug Failing, Executive Director of the Highway Program made a presentation to the CTF Transportation Forum in January of 2012 (see slides 2, 5, 6). He also gave a talk to the International Chinese Transportation Professional Association in October, 2012 and the tunnel is included on slides 6, 9 and 10 of the presentation to ICTPA.
Michael Schneider, Managing Director of Metro subcontractor, InfraConsult, addressed the 15th Annual Transportation and Infrastructure Summit in Irving, Texas in August of 2012. The SR-710 tunnel can be found on slides 19, 24, and 25 of his presentation. One month later, Mr. Schneider made a similar presentation to the Construction Management Association of America and the tunnel is addressed on slides 22 and 25 of his materials.
An online presentation titled “Los Angeles Metro and Public-Private Partnerships” has been posted since June of this year and is available for prospective private partners to review. Slides 35 and 38 specifically address the SR-710 tunnel.
Observe that not a single presentation discusses any of the other alternatives included in the EIR/EIS, even though at the September 25, 2013 meeting of the Transit Coalition, Metro’s Director of Highway Programs Doug Failing told the audience that the Light Rail Transit (LRT) alternative, with a cost estimate of $2.4 Billion, cannot be built without a PPP either. None of the presentations discussed above include the SR-710 LRT alternative as a candidate for a PPP. Mr. Leahy stated at the September 18, 2013 Planning and Programming Committee meeting, “All we are doing is exploring options to array the facts as best we can.” If Metro is truly interested in exploring PPP options for potential projects, why do none of these presentations include the LRT alternative? It is also significant that none of the presentations even make mention of the possibility that the tunnel may not emerge as the preferred alternative. Each and every one of these presentations treats the SR-710 tunnel as a certainty, demonstrating that Metro already regards the SR-710 tunnel the preferred alternative.
Finally, under contract PS4370-2316, InfraConsult LLC, in its report “Public-Private Partnership Delivery Options: Initial Six Measure R Projects” (Task 3C Interim Report July 8, 2010;) outlines detailed cost analysis and business plan development for the SR-710 project exclusively as a tunnel. In addition, evidence that the tunnel is the favored alternative is further substantiated by the discussion of bringing the concessionaire (Private Partner) into the project early on through a Pre-Development Agreement (PDA) while the environmental analysis is underway – prior to the selection of a locally-preferred alternative – so that the design period between the Record of Decision and the start of construction can be abbreviated.
Metro’s actions have betrayed the trust of the public and many elected officials. The long history of flawed feasibility studies, poor public participation component, and lack of transparency has destroyed the taxpayers’ confidence in the outcome of the environmental study even before that study is completed. The controversy associated with this project will continue, and Metro can expect that a final decision to build a tunnel would trigger lawsuits causing significant delays, just as the original project did during the last century.