(NO-710 advocate Joe Cano recorded the meeting. His video can be found here.)
Last week’s Metro board meeting agenda included numerous items, from bus service to Union Station run-through tracks, but the audience was packed with people mobilized to testify against Metro’s freeway expansion projects.
Namely, the 710 Freeway.
There are two halves to the 710 story: north and south. Both critical battles pitting communities against numerous deadly impacts of outdated 20th Century transportation thinking.
710 Freeway South
The metro board approved two items related to the southern portion of the 710 Freeway. The project is called the “I-710 Corridor Project.” It is located in Southeast L.A. County, extending from East L.A. to Long Beach. Metro studied widening the 710 South a few years ago, then concluded its environmental studies were inadequate, and need to be re-done, at a cost of over eight million dollars.
Environmental justice organizations, including East Yards Communities for Environmental Justice, Communities for a Better Environment, and many others, have been pressing for a 710 South project alternative that only adds lanes specifically for port truck traffic, and instead of additional freeway widening, invests in walkability, bikeability, and transit.
L.A. County Supervisor and Metro Boardmember Hilda Solis proposed a motion to expand the scope of the 710 South environmental studies to include zero-emission trucks, increased bus and rail service, complete streets, bike paths, and additional livability improvements.
More than twenty speakers, many speaking in Spanish, addressed the board in support of approving the Solis motion. Residents of Long Beach, Cudahy, South Gate elaborated on the health impacts of 710 Freeway traffic. One speaker turned to the audience and asked attendees supporting the Solis motion to stand up; more than 50 people stood.
County Supervisor Don Knabe proposed an amendment somewhat watering down Solis’ motion. Knabe’s amendment directs Metro to only study zero-emission trucks “should technology be available” and removes three bike paths from the EIR, directing Metro to study them separately.
The board unanimously approved the Solis motion as amended by Knabe. Solis’ supervisorial district includes the 710 from East Los Angeles to South Gate. Knabe represents communities along the lower 710, including Long Beach.
710 Freeway North
The 710 North is formally called the “SR-710 North Study” and informally called “the 6 billion dollar freeway tunnel under South Pasadena.” The SR-710 North was not specifically on the meeting agenda, but 710 opponents testified during the an item where the board received and filed the framework for a possible 2016 transportation sales tax ballot measure, informally called Measure R2.1.
More than a dozen residents of impacted communities – including South Pasadena, El Sereno, and Pasadena – spoke against the 710 North. One called it “a relic from the 1950s [that would] take away billions from worthy projects.” Speakers rallied against the freeway’s air, environmental, and health impacts and urged investment in “mass transit” and “multi-modal solutions”
Numerous opponents cautioned Metro against including any funding for the 710 North in a future ballot measure. Speakers vowed to actively oppose any tax that would advance the 710 North project.
Though there are still lots of negotiations before a final ballot measure project list is finalized, the 710 North project does not appear on the San Gabriel Valley Council of Government’s preliminary wish list. Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Boardmember Eric Garcetti asserted that he would not favor including the 710 North in a 2016 ballot measure.
As most Streetsblog readers probably know, Metro included billions of dollars of freeway funding in Measure R to get it passed, under the assumption that L.A. County voters who drive would not otherwise support transit. Opposition to continued funding of the 710 North project played a role in the defeat of the 2012 Measure J.
Should Metro tether a 2016 ballot measure to numerous outdated freeway-widening projects? Or could a Measure R 2.1 avoid these controversial freeway excesses of Measure R, and truly embrace a healthier more livable Los Angeles? If the Board is making its decision based on what is the best measure that they believe will get the most votes, the answer may not be as clear-cut as they believe.