The 710 and Measure R2: Can Los Angeles Build Transit and Beat Its Addiction to Asphalt?

Mayor Eric Garcetti addresses attendees at the MoveLA Conference at Union Station. Photo: Roger Rudick.
Mayor Eric Garcetti addresses attendees at the MoveLA Conference at Union Station. Photo: Roger Rudick.

“We have to build an army of people who are willing to say ‘enough is enough,’” said Mayor Eric Garcetti at Wednesday’s MoveLA conference at Union Station, speaking of the region’s traffic and pollution problems.

He was there, along with hundreds of other county and city leaders, drumming up support for Measure R2, a proposed sales tax measure to raise more money for transit.

A recurring theme at the conference was the need to reduce the number of cars.

“We must address CO2 emissions,” said Dr. Manuel Pastor, a director at USC’s Center for Sustainable Cities. “One way to do that is to reduce vehicle miles driven.”

Which made me wonder how R2’s successful predecessor, Measure R, ended up funding projects that will do exactly the opposite, such as double-decking the 710.

In 2008, voters approved R’s half-cent Los Angeles County sales tax for a slew of transportation projects. It raises about $40 billion over 30 years. Denny Zane, former mayor of Santa Monica, founded MoveLA to push for this initiative. It grew out of a need to fund the Wilshire subway extension; Downtown Los Angeles, Koreatown, Century City, Beverly Hills, Westwood, Santa Monica — the “core” of Los Angeles stretches down the length of Wilshire Boulevard. Without a heavy rail “spine” connecting the region’s densest area, the entire transit network is handicapped.

Denny Zane speaks at the Move L.A. Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick
Denny Zane speaks at the Move L.A. Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick

But how do you convince someone in Encino or Alhambra to vote for a subway under Wilshire?

“They recognized [that], if it’s county-wide, it can’t just be for Wilshire,” explained Darrell Clarke, a long-time advocate. “It had to be tangible, specific and relevant to all stakeholders.”

And so Measure R incorporated several other transit projects and allocated 20 percent of its funds to highways. That’s why Metro and Caltrans have already spent millions on plans to double-deck the 710 and tunnel under Pasadena.

At the 710 debate at the Pat Brown Institute last month, even supporters of the tunnel echoed that “the time of Los Angeles building freeways is over.” Caltrans and Metro officials often concede that freeway widening will not reduce congestion, just before they talk about doing it anyway. It’s as if they’re drug fiends, struggling to beat an asphalt addiction—after just one more hit. The downside of Measure R is that it gave them a new stash.

In 2012, Measure J, the “Jumpstart Act,” attempted to extend the sunset on Measure R by 30 more years, from 2039 to 2069. Measure J didn’t pass, despite winning 66.11 percent of votes, thanks to the legacy of Prop. 13 and its two-thirds requirement. At the time, it was a big disappointment for transportation advocates.

But did we really want another $8 billion steered to freeways?

Fastracks, Denver’s 2004 version of Measure R, funds transit only. Denver’s Phillip Washington will become head of L.A. Metro in May—maybe he can help sculpt Measure R2 to be more like Fastracks. Denver isn’t saddled with a two-thirds voter threshold, of course. But the passage of 2014’s Measure BB in Alameda County shows it’s still possible to pass a transit tax in California, even without the record voter turnout of 2008.

The MoveLA Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick
The MoveLA Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick

Measure R was huge. But Los Angeles can do better in 2016. R2 still must appeal to a large region full of sometimes divergent needs. It promises to help fund the Great Streets Initiative and bike improvements, as well as providing capital to get transit built where it isn’t fully funded under R, such as the Sepulveda Pass.

But Amanda Eaken of the National Resources Defense Council, another speaker at MoveLA’s conference, put it best when she challenged the audience to reject any project in R2 that will increase automobile use and pollution: “Anything that increases driving is out.”

With that commitment, Measure R2 would be a game changer.

“This is the first truly modern city in the world,” said Mayor Garcetti. “We can push things to happen faster than we ever imagined.”

  • calwatch

    Alameda County’s Measure BB included highway improvements and a wasteful BART extension to Livermore, though – which makes the Gold Line extension look like the best project in the world. While the John and Ken fans may not have gotten Jay Beeber into office, they do have an outsized influence in the subruban areas which vote at a greater percentage than the urban areas.

    Mike Eng’s statement at the conference that “marijuana, marriage [equality] and Metro” will get younger people into the voting booth will be sorely tested, as will voters’ attention span at the bottom of what will likely be at least a dozen, if not 20, ballot initiatives on everything from plastic bags, pot, tax increases, pension reform, and other topics (since local measures are always on the last page of the ballot).

    And in reality, while a lot of people are saying “enough is enough”, the average commute time in Los Angeles is not increasing significantly. There are a lot of people who are content with their existing commute, particularly if it is within a few miles and they are out in the suburbs. The new Measure R tries to be everything to everyone, and another recession could torpedo future revenues. Plus, it could be argued that we have other infrastructure needs like water and schools that need to be addressed. With Angelenos already paying 1.75% in sales taxes on transportation this will be a tough row to hoe.

  • Guest

    I will vote against Measure R2 if it includes funding to construct the 710. That freeway project in particular deserves to die and it is sad that Caltrans has been trying to get it built for over 40 years. I want rail, but I really don’t want freeways, and that freeway in particular.

  • This is the same mayor who tweeted that economic growth must result in more cars just 24 hours prior, correct?

    Growing economy & LAs enduring appeal means more people&cars. Partnering w/ @waze gets us the #data to improve #traffic flow in LA #techLA— LA Mayor's Office (@LAMayorsOffice) April 21, 2015

  • Nate

    I don’t think he’s saying “must result”. It’s a logical outcome the given current policy climate.

  • Joe Linton

    I don’t love that tweet. It looks to me like the mayor has to throw a bone to the dinosaurs now and then – but overall, at least in my opinion, Garcetti has been pretty good on supporting worthwhile (not wholly-car-centric) transportation initiatives for L.A.

  • Tom Williams

    Measure R-2 will miss the current target 66.6%+1 and maybe even the new target of 55%+1 if the legislature gets it done in time…. I-710+SR-710+GHigh Desert Corridor highway projects are still in all the drafts MR-2 I have seen (6) and represents MTA (Not SCAG) desire to keep logistics in LACo and esp. in LACo District 5….OBTW have you notice the early works between I-5 and I-10 on the I-710 so that MTA is trying to package the projects to avoid piece-mealing/segmentation issues… But MoveLA and Sierra Club have basic problems with these 3 or 4 projects = adding more pavements: I-710South= 80 + I-710 Central= 4+ + SR-710=40+ + HDC=60×3-4 = say 200lane miles == Ttl say 350 lane miles of new pavements….for one purpose to get freight and 18wheelers from Ports and South Bay to MA’s Hi.DesertCorridor (An “Infrastructure Redevelopment Authority Project” of the LACo/SanBan Jct.Powers Authority….sweet deal – Where will MA go after terming out??? maybe CEO of JPA??? If these three+ pavement projects are included in MR-2 I will oppose and shame MoveLA and Sierra Club for adding 350 miles of new pavement…..

  • Ennnne

    The more I hear about R2, the more silly it sounds. Are these really the best arguments for it?

    I don’t trust the MTA Board and I don’t approve of their values. Still, I am open to hearing good arguments, because I hate that the power structure in LA has succeeded in turning me into a “no” person, since almost all new ideas here are bad ones. I sort of hope they come up with some better reasons than this. The whole thing was about Wilshire???? Now I understand why the system doesn’t work very well. Clouded thinking.

  • Joe Linton

    I don’t think it is quite “the whole thing was about Wilshire” – the Wilshire subway is going to get something in the neighborhood of $3-5B local dollars (with a similar match from the Federal Govt.) for a ~$7B project. Measure R is $40B. The Wilshire subway is a huge, expensive project, but so is the $10B+ widening of the 5 Freeway (underway with Measure R and other monies), the possible $6B+ 710 North tunnels, etc.

  • bikecar101.com

    “But how do you convince someone in Encino or Alhambra to vote for a subway under Wilshire?”

    One way to start to motivate Southern California residents that projects like the Wilshire extension is needed is to have a dedicated ‘bikecar’ on each train. With a bikecar on each train, another alternative way to get around (bike + train) would be possible either leisurely (bike tourism) or for business (bike commuting). The Metrolink is an untapped wealth of potential ridership. “Awareness” of the power of using public transportation is a major problem in Southern California. Having a ‘bikecar’ on every train is not going to solve the issue completely. Although, this addition will certainly raise (we believe) through informal conversation, the power of blended commuting or touring (bike + train).

  • Plan for cars and you get more cars. Too bad, I thought Garcetti was a smart man. Guess he ignored the whole “The Planet is dying” memo from Professor Pastor?

  • antiqueshopper

    Zane kept asking how do we get to “yes” and find those 15,000 votes that killed Measure J to get passage of Measure R2 in 2016? There is a very simple answer, you have to say “no” to the $11.8 BILLION, according to SCAG, SR 710 toll tunnel boondoggle!

  • David Sokolove

    I’m sorry, but voting against Measure R2 because you don’t like the rather small proportion of the funding that would go to road-related projects is like voting for Rand Paul for President because you don’t think Hillary Clinton is “progressive” enough.
    More population growth and denser development without additional investment in public transit? Yes, let’s keep digging this hole deeper…

  • Guest

    It has been made quite obvious that NELA and much of the affected area simply does not want the 710 extended in any freeway form and yet Metro and Caltrans insist on shoving it through. It breaks my heart, because I do want to vote yes. I don’t care if they include freeway projects in far-flung suburbs at the fringes of the county, but this is a central area that would be much better served by an investment in walking/biking/transit. You might say the freeway is “regional” but if we have survived this long without it, and it certainly can’t be viewed as a regional need.

    I voted yes on Measure J despite the 710 but have since changed my position because I feel I cannot in good conscious say I voted yes for tunneling under that part of SGV.

    Please, by all means vote yes on Measure R2 if you’d like, but I don’t think I will.

  • Guest

    Sorry, meant “conscience”… auto-correct.

  • calwatch

    Then we need to tell the 710 tunnel supporters to not use the two thirds support of Measure R as an endorsement of the tunnel.

  • David Sokolove

    I would respectfully submit that a more productive way to try to advance transportation progress in the region without supporting the 710 tunnel would be to try to pressure your electeds to earmark the road money in Measure R2 for something other than the tunnel, like for example repaving/resurfacing of surface streets, the comprehensive re-building of major arterials into multi-modal corridors like MyFiguroa in DTLA, etc., rather than just voting no.

  • David Sokolove

    To the extent that this is even a credible argument for the pro-tunnel side, yes, I agree. But a 10-second Google search and 5-seconds with a calculator will tell you that only about 1.75% of the money raised by Measure R is designated for the 710 project – about $700 million out of roughly $40 billion in total.
    For those of you keeping track at home, that’s less than two pennies for the 710 from every dollar of Measure R sales tax collected, and more than 98 cents dedicated to other things.

  • Guest

    Well my hope is that since Garcetti is on the record as opposing the 710, and as chair of Metro Board, that the 710 will not make it into Measure R2. I am confident the measure could win more votes by excluding it than including it. Far more people are passionately opposed to it than in favor of it. That is to say, 710 supporters might still support Measure R2 without it but Anti-710 folks will vote against anything that advances the 710, period.

  • David Sokolove

    Water infrastructure has its own dedicated revenue stream – namely utility bills – that does not require voter approval to be increased. The City Council has the authority to increase water rates on their own. We also passed a $7.12 billion statewide bond for water infrastructure less than six months ago. As for schools, LA Unified has not issued a single dollar of the $7 billion bond that voters approved for them in November 2008 – nearly seven years ago. They are still working on appropriating all the money from the smaller school bonds approved by voters in 2002, 2004 & 2005. The LA Community College District similarly still has facilities money available from a $3.5 billion bond approved by voters, coincidentally also in November 2008.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say anything like “enough is enough” when it comes to suggesting additional money for transportation system improvements in LA. In fact, I can’t think of a single person off the top of my head who thinks that our regional transportation system is adequate, sufficient or in good condition. No surprises there – it isn’t.
    Think of it this way. LA is the only wealthy nation alpha world city without a comprehensive rapid transit system. Do you think we need one? If so, it is going to cost a LOT of money, as in a LOT more than local/county government has now. And with the GOP controlling the relevant congressional committee purse strings from now until probably at least the next congressional redistricting in 2022, if LA voters/residents want to see this problem solved, we’re going to have to take the lead in paying to fix it ourselves.

  • ellenbiasin

    Bad analogy. I support transit but will vote against R2 unless SR-710 is not part of it. Yes some road work is needed but not this one. Can you give me one reason why it should be included on this list?

  • ellenbiasin

    The point is not the $700 million, it’s that it won’t solve congestion; in fact it will make it worse. It’s a bad idea and throwing money at it even two pennies is just enabling a bad idea that can’t be undone. Kill it dead and work on better ways to move freight than our freeways which are a finite resource.

  • David Sokolove

    I actually don’t think SR-710 funding should be part of the Measure R2 package; I can think of at least a dozen better uses for $5.6 billion in dedicated transportation capital funding.
    My point, rather, was that it makes sense to pick from the options available to you, not from the options you don’t. Even if complete funding for the double-bore SR-710 tunnel is included in R2, it would represent only slighter more than 6% of the total funding package – $4.9 billion (the balance needed for the tunnels in addition to the $700 million already authorized in 2008 by R) out of a total package of about $80 billion.

    I too think it makes more sense to fund other projects with R2 rather than the tunnels; but even if complete funding for twin tunnels, 94 cents of every R2 sales tax dollar collected would go to needs other than SR-710.
    What I’m suggesting is, look at the complete package. If the expenditure plan for R2 turns out to be 94% stuff I support and 6% stuff I don’t, I’m voting yes.

  • rickrise

    Thorough dissection of 710 Freeway issues on Sustainable City News:

    http://www.sustainablecitynews.com/beyond-freeways/

    With video, if you don’t have time for a four-part long-form piece by environmental journalist Justin Gerdes. (But make the time; it’s an excellent piece.)

  • unclechumley

    Throwing in the towel already? My city has already come out against the tunnel and supports the work of two citizen led groups who are working on non-tunnel alternatives. Other cities are following suit. For those not in the Tunnel study area and who support transit urge MOVE and Metro to drop the SR710 boondoggle. Don’t just throw the no Tunnel folks under the bus! With unity we can all have what we want.

  • neroden

    The damage from the 710 tunnel might be larger than the benefit from the whole rest of the package, however. Road widenings hurt transit a lot.

  • CV Gal

    I agree with the other no-710 folks; take it out of R2 and you will have a better chance of it passing. We need to kill those horrendous death tubes once and for all. Did you see the overturned truck on the I-710 today? Imagine that fireball, 280 feet down inside the half-way point of the five mile tunnel. Not only will no one get out alive but the intensity of the heat will cause major structural damage as it did to that short tunnel at the I-5 and SR-2. Tell transportation officials to take it out of the DEIR and R2 and focus on transit infrastructure!

  • David Sokolove

    Seems unlikely to me that $5.6 billion for one 5-mile freeway segment would offset the benefits to transit from about $74.4 billion worth of new subway, light rail, BRT, Metrolink improvements, complete streets upgrades etc. in every region of the county. But then I’m not a transportation engineer.

  • calwatch

    The San Gabriel Valley COG Technical Advisory Committee recently recommended that, based on their needs, that 30% of new sales tax money, and 60% of sales tax renewal money should go to “system efficiency” which could include the 710 tunnel. 55% of the new money and 5% of the renewal money would go to transit (primarily Gold Line extensions to Montclair and South El Monte or Whittier), and the remaining to other areas (3% of new sales tax money to ped/bike and 5% to TDM).

    Now, the politicians still have to ratify it, which they may at 4 PM Thursday in Monrovia – or they could come up with a different recommendation based on public input. So San Gabriel Valley residents should lobby their city council member who sits on the COG if they have concerns or support this distribution. http://media.wix.com/ugd/f815d4_45cc2e29a7be44aaaa5c62bc201fe7de.pdf

  • Roger Winter

    This is a myopic statement. You’re only looking at freeway capacity. The 710 tunnel will draw traffic off of arterials and local streets where the traffic goes now as a result of the missing link. That’s the traffic that undercuts local businesses, local air quality due to idling cars, and local economic development. The 710 from many angles is a very good project. And if the demand to use it is so high, then that’s a great thing if we look at tolls to help pay down the cost, right?

  • Roger Winter

    Your “non-tunnel” alternatives don’t address the regional traffic problems created by the freeway gap. The funny thing is how much attention these “citizen groups” pay to building light rail instead of a freeway…that would still be in a tunnel and cost as much as the freeway, which at least can be tolled to recover costs. When’s the last time you took transit to go to the market? Or take your family to Disneyland? Or go shopping? There’s a reason why highways are important and is part of the regional solution for transportation along with tranist and bike/ped projects.

  • Bob

    I think you are the one that is ignoring the facts, he’s just being a realist. Electric cars are less than 1% of new cars sold and the limited metro doesn’t get much ridership. As LA population gets bigger number of cars WILL increase. Nothing anyone can say that will change that reality.

    Now this doesn’t have to be the case forever, but certainly in the near term. Change never happens quickly, it always take time but you can’t ignore the present. And as mayor it is prudent of him to proactively work on handling more of those cars on the same roads. If he just sits on his ass and wishes those cars away in the name of saving the planet, he will get blamed for not doing anything when traffic looks like China or Brazil.

  • antiqueshopper

    David, why do you insist on repeating the totally underestimated 710 tunnels cost of $5.4 billion? It is at least double. If Metro continues to delay long overdue Cost Benefit Analysis so there can be some scrutiny, we’ll know for sure that they are really having trouble justifying the underestimate. SCAG estimated $11.8 billion in 2007.

  • antiqueshopper

    Many elected officials are trying to reason with the transportation bullies that control the SGVCOG and tell them to use the 710 tunnel funds for extension of the Foothill Goldline, Eastside Goldline Extension and ACE underfunded projects to no avail. Bully mentality is hard to reason with so extreme tactics are necessary at times. The slim lost of Measure J can be directly traced to the SR 710 tunnels bad publicity just before the vote.

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