Metro’s North 710 Freeway Tunnel Study Meetings in High Gear, Pasadena Working Group Offers Brainy Alternatives

Last Saturday's SR-710 study meeting at East L.A. College. 710 Freeway meetings continue tonight in Pasadena. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Last weekend’s SR-710 North Study meeting at East L.A. College. 710 Freeway meetings continue tonight in Pasadena. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Smart people live in Pasadena. Some of them work for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and send probes to Mars. Others spend their days figuring out quantum mechanics at Caltech. And still others dabble in transportation. A study group formed by Pasadena’s Mayor Bill Bogaard and its City Manager has a smart idea in response to L.A. Metro’s study to link the stub end of the 210 with the end of the 710: instead of closing this “gap” in our freeways, rip out the 210’s stub along Pasadena Avenue.

That’s just one recommendation in a recently completed white paper written by the Pasadena SR-710 Alternative Working Group (PWG), in response to Metro’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on linking the 710 with the 210. Metro is holding a series of public meetings on its EIR. The next one is tonight at the Pasadena Convention Center.

The connection between the 710 and 210 would be 6.3 miles long and would include a 4.2-mile tunnel. It will cost between $5.7 billion and $3.2 billion, depending on options. Measure R, the 2008 ballot measure authorizing a sales tax to improve mobility, committed $780 million for the project.

During a 710 debate held at Cal State L.A., Barbara Messina, a Councilmember for the City of Alhambra, echoed Metro’s studies when she called the “gap” the “missing link that does not allow our
freeways to operate at maximum efficiency.” And if you believe that, I have a recently widened 405 to sell you. Messina said the tunnel will reduce pollution. “There’s no way adding fifty-thousand cars can improve air quality,” said Michael Cacciotti, a Councilmember for the City of South Pasadena and another panelist, adding that the tunnel is an Eisenhower-era solution. “Why waste billions on a short little tunnel when you can connect the region with Light Rail?”

Indeed, the Metro study does present transit “alternatives.” But they don’t seem credible.

Take the Bus Rapid Transit option. Outside rush hour, the “bus-only” lane reverts to a parking lane. It is dubious that such a watered-down BRT differs enough from the “no build” alternative
to qualify.

The Light Rail option in the study is more tangible: it would run from the Fillmore Gold Line station to the East LA Civic Center Station at a cost of $2.4 billion. The segment in Pasadena
would be underground, continuing on a viaduct for the trip through Alhambra. “Who wants to see an LRT three miles up in the air like the Disney Monorail!” said Messina at the Cal State L.A. debate. “LRT will devastate East L.A.”

Messina’s hyperbole aside, Metro’s rail alternative also raises questions. 

For example, if they’re going to spend the money on full grade-separation, why not use heavy rail, which is faster and carries more people? The argument for picking LRT is so trains can continue
onto the existing Gold Line, which it intersects at both ends. But they won’t connect. “There’s no interlining,” wrote a Metro official in an email. “The distance between the stations are about 400 feet at the south end and about 120 feet at the north end.” No surprise, with the awkward forced transfers and the subway price tag, the media is bashing the alternative.

Some speculate that Metro designed the transit options so the numbers favor the freeway tunnel.

Back to the PWG. It completed its white paper in March, which it presented to the Pasadena City Council last night.

One could title it “The anti-Messina.” It proposes filling the trench from the 210 freeway stub with dirt and using the land for bike lanes and other developments. It stipulates that any new trains must interline with the Gold Line. It also wants east-west transit between Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank along the 134 corridor: “These communities are in the center of a regional no-transit `V’ between the Red Line traveling northwest and the Gold Line traveling northeast.”

The PWG group even wants to extend the Arroyo Seco bike path south to the Los Angeles River and along the river through downtown Los Angeles, incorporating it into the bike master plan and connecting it all the way to Long Beach. Yes, they want a 710 connection from Pasadena to the ports—but for bikes. The PWG paper embraces the “mobility choices that serve people,” rather than cars.

And that’s not rocket science.

Want to get your comments into the EIR? Tonight, Tuesday, April 14, 2015, at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 E. Green Street, there will be a Metro Meeting on the 710 where they will take public comment. That’s a ten-minute walk from the Del Mar or Memorial Park stations on the Gold Line. The Map Viewing is from 5-6 p.m. and the hearing runs from 6-9 p.m. You can also leave comments via email.

12 thoughts on Metro’s North 710 Freeway Tunnel Study Meetings in High Gear, Pasadena Working Group Offers Brainy Alternatives

  1. To clarify, MTA’s responses to MTA Board staff on the LRT:

    “Staff confirmed there is a grade separated maintenance yard at Valley Boulevard that is situated within the existing Caltrans Right of way for the proposed LRT line. It should be noted maintenance yards are typically located close to the rail facility to allow direct access (e.g. an elevated connection in this case). Therefore, utilizing excess capacity reported at the Monrovia maintenance yard would not be practical.

    a. Regarding the inquiry about a direct connection between the proposed LRT line and the existing Metro Gold and East Side rail lines- Metro’s policy prohibits at-grade connections and therefore, a direct connection is not provided at either end of the LRT corridor.

    b. Correction: There is approximately 200 feet between the proposed LRT Mednik station and the existing 1st Street East Side Gold Line station. Also, there is approximately 200 feet between the proposed LRT Fillmore underground station and the existing Fillmore Gold line station. (Staff incorrectly reported greater distances for both locations.

    https://www.scribd.com/doc/261044931/Response-to-questions-from-MTA-Board-Staff-on-710-Project

    The LRT is most definitely a straw man, although I would disagree with Roger that heavy rail is the best solution – rather some sort of automated rapid transit like SkyTrain would be best since this route would be fully grade separated.

  2. Anyone who thinks anything other than a new freeway is going to come of all this is kidding themselves. The writing is on the wall, and these meetings are just window dressing for the foregone conclusion. I’m as upset as anyone that Metro and CalTrans seem so stuck on the boondoggle of building a new freeway that wouldn’t even serve the trucking traffic that was apparently the whole impetus for this in the first place. At this point, it’s a joke that we’re even still having to debate what shouldn’t even be a consideration, as our region continues to be choked with car air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and health issues stemming for overuse of cars.

  3. Yes, LRT is a straw man. If Metro was actually serious about light rail in this corridor, they’d have something that either interlined (hello, you CAN change the grade on an existing line – it’s called… BUILD IT – see Regional Connector construction and Gold Line at Little Tokyo for a case in point) and/or a train that is mostly above- or below-grade to provide the fastest connection. Yeah, that’d be more expensive, but right now they’re talking about $3.5-5.5B for a subterranean freeway that will have no entrances/exits (except for at its north and south end) and be inaccessible to trucks.

    Just think of what rail COULD be built for the amount of money that Metro appears ready to find and spend on yet another freeway in a region already covered in them. The $1B on that four-mile-long HOV lane on the 405 was more than Metro is spending on 11 miles of new light rail with the Gold Line from Pasadena to Azusa. The entire Purple Line Extension (all the way from Western to UCLA) is projected to cost about $6B, and that’s a 9-mile route with multiple stations along the way.

    It’s too bad, really, because Metro and CalTrans appear utterly fixated on doing something that really, if it actually ends up getting built, could likely be looked back upon as the last – misguided – highway-building endeavor in our region (well, that, and a whole grade-separated truck highway on the 710 south of the 10). You’d think we would have already learned our lessons on the failed experiment of building more and more roads, only to have them clog up just as quickly as they open.

  4. Tearing out the 210 stub is a great idea. Just selling off that land could fund real transportation improvements for the whole area.

  5. Thanks LAifer. I didn’t bother mentioning Metro’s explanation for why they can’t interline (no connections at grade) for the reasons you articulate and because you absolutely CAN interline at grade–the Blue Line/Expo, the Long Beach loop, about a zillion places in other cities such as San Diego, SF, Portland, Toronto, etc. It’s just not a real reason.

  6. This particular LRT option doesn’t sound terribly useful, but it could work well if it connects to a further southern extension. I’m not sure how it would get through Commerce and Industry (though perhaps it could reach the Metrolink station there), but if it could make it to Lakewood Blvd and then run down the median all the way to Long Beach Airport, and possibly even CSULB, we could get another useful north-south line offering new connections between the Foothill Blue Line, the East LA Gold Line, Metrolink, the Green Line, and the future Orange County line.

  7. Seems a better us is for the 10 billion to be used to enhance the freight rail connection from the port so that LESS trucks need to be used.

  8. Hmm. In reading this white paper, many of these ideas sound workable and probably should be incorporated in the TDS option for the project. However, I do have two issues with it:

    (1) While I am a supporter of complete streets concepts (and it looks like South Pasadena is on the way to implementing something to that effect), I don’t like the fact that they are using this as a buzzword to sell their argument. We should make sure that complete streets should be exactly that: A way to design the street so that all users, not just vehicles, can use it safely.

    (2) At least it makes a recommendation to create a bike network, but it’s baffling that they don’t recommend creating a new bike trail right on the properties Caltrans owns for what was intended to be a surface freeway. If a tunnel is built, then Caltrans will have no use for them. Nevertheless, they can be used for other transportation concepts, including a segregated bike path.

    (3) I just shake my head when I hear things like filling the stubs and making them disappear as though their absence will solve the problem. You may make both stubs disappear, cancel this project or even delete the route from state law. The problem will not go away. Drivers will still be forced to slog through Downtown LA just to get anywhere, and those savvy enough will still use Fremont Avenue and the 210 west freeway just to get around it. The report at most tries to take a “sub-regional” view of the problem, but the scope is much greater and problematic.

  9. I know people here are poo-pooing the tollway tunnel due to the issues in Seattle, but no one here would stop subway construction even though, IN LOS ANGELES, subway tunnels have collapsed and methane gas has exploded. The Central Subway in San Francisco is millions of dollars over budget. The Second Avenue Subway in New York has an atrociously high cost of $2.3 BILLION per mile.

    A congestion priced “express tunnel” will allow South Pasadena, San Marino, and Pasadena to traffic calm streets like Fair Oaks, Los Robles, and Oak Knoll/Lake to be more resident friendly. We need a toll tunnel, done right, to meet regional needs.

  10. Well, its more than just Seattle tunnel issue in terms of construction failures and cost overruns its just more recent. The SR-710 tunnel which is longer and far more costly even if its built to the projected cost. Also it appears that they aren’t factoring the cost of the TBM machines because their cost estimate is the same still the same even though they are proposing to use 4 TBM machines.

    I don’t believe the costs are reliable and they will undoubtedly escalate as do almost all mega-projects. I’m not fan of the LRT option either to be fair, especially the way its been designed. Also you’re referring to when they did the purple/red line when talking about methane gas and subway building did stop for some time, Waxman saw to that. It wasn’t until there was more subway built else where and better technology at hand that it finally moved forward. Seattle’s failure seems more recent than that.

    Also Fair Oaks, Oak Knoll and Los Robles have all received traffic calming.
    We don’t need a toll tunnel we need better planning; better linking between land use and transportation, building highways doesn’t relieve congestion in the long-run.

  11. Don’t live anywhere near here but looking at a map, if something must be built why not reconfigure 110 near Arroyo Seco Golf Course and Lower Arroyo Park to tunnel from there to the I-210 spur? That would be ~8000-ish feet. You could then turn the remainder of 110 north into a boulevard into Pasadena. 110 even connects all the way down to Long Beach but I don’t know if it allows trucks on the northern stretches.

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