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For Goodness’ Sake, Stop Widening the 405

Albert Einstein says that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I have bad news for transportation planners at OCTA and Caltrans. You’ve gone insane. And the disease is spreading.

http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm100.htm

It’s common knowledge that freeway widenings accomplish little besides encouraging sprawl and increasing driving, yet OCTA, Caltrans and Metro want to do it.

The Orange County Transportation Authority and Caltrans are banding together for another 1950’s style environmental disaster, widening the 405 between the 605 and the 73. The massive expansion project would add two lanes in each direction from Costa Mesa to Long Beach, an addition of over 80 miles of highway lanes. One of the lanes in each direction would be a toll lane.  The project’s total cost is only $1.7 billion.

And this isn’t just insanity, it is also schizophrenia. After all, Caltrans’ Strategic Management Plan calls for ending road widening projects even as the branch office wants to triple down on massive 405 expansions from Orange County through the Sepulveda Pass.

KPCC reports that the City of Long Beach, frustrated with the low amount of mitigation funds being offered for a massive freeway widening planned for the 405 that will dump thousands of new cars on local roads, is planning a lawsuit.

The bad news is the reason why:

Sanchez said Long Beach would like for Orange County to slow down the expansion project to give Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority time to come up with a similar expansion of the 405 on the L.A. side.

The MTA is reviewing a feasibility study that could add one or two lanes to a five-mile stretch of the 405 in Long Beach, between the I-605 interchange north to Cherry Avenue. But that project is in the early stages, MTA officials said.

Oh, for the love of… Read more…

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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.  Read more…

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Media Bashes 710 Alternatives…the Transit Ones Anyway

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 2.34.19 PM

This idea totally makes sense and would only cost $5.6 billion dollars!

Last week, Caltrans and Metro released the long-awaited draft environmental impact report for options to improve transportation near where the I-710 ends, 4.5 miles south of the I-210. As usual, the discussion around the document depends on whether or not one thinks it’s a good idea to dig a five-mile tunnel 150 feet underground to connect one freeway to another freeway.

Metro will receive public comment on the report starting on Thursday of this week and continue collecting until July 6. Details on how to comment are available at the end of the article. In addition, Streetsblog will submit this article, and any others published between now and July 6, as part of the public record.

Following the report last week that traffic has not improved at all following the massive and costly widening of the I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass, one would think the media might consider a $5.5 billion double-decker tunnel or $3.1 billion single-level tunnel a farcical proposal not worthy of further discussion. One would be wrong.

Most media played it straight, announcing the report’s findings, the public comment period, and other basic factual information. “Closing the 710 Freeway gap would take years and cost billions,” reported the Times. “Caltrans Releases EIR For Proposed 710 Freeway Extension,” snored Patch.

But much of the rest of the media applied a more critical eye and came down hard–against the option to provide better transit service instead of digging a gigantic tunnel. The $240 million cost of the bus rapid transit option, which is 7 percent of the single-level tunnel option and roughly 4 percent of the double-decker tunnel option, is the subject of the headline “Busway option to close 710 freeway gap would cost five times early estimate” at KPCC.

But it’s not just the cost of the busway option that is under intense media scrutiny. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Contra Costa Times and Daily Breeze all printed the story, “Environmental report on 710 freeway gap: Tunnel would ease traffic more than light rail.”

It’s always good to see the media jump on a story. Those six giant exhaust stacks planned for Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena? Eh, who cares? That the tunnel would increase the number of cars on the freeway and local streets, as we’ve just seen happen on the Westside? That’s just a theory. What about what happens if there’s a crash or other disaster in the tunnel? It’s “addressed in the report.”

The option of building light rail, at a fraction of the cost of digging the tunnels, is dismissed out-of-hand because of displacement and the bizarre reasoning that, “According to the EIR/EIS, impacts to land, air, noise, and aesthetics are minor compared to the impacts from building a 7.5-mile light-rail train from East Los Angeles through Alhambra and Pasadena.”

That’s right, a report with a Metro logo on it dismisses a light rail proposal because it would be too noisy, pollute too much, be too noisy and too ugly.  Way to have some ideological consistency.

So let’s look at the last transit option standing. Read more…

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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)

To see the full packet given to the Metro Board, click here.

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 “…i Read more…

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Cartoon Tuesday: Ding Dong, the Toll Road’s Dead

Image via Surf Rider

In the early days of Streetsblog, one of our favorite projects to cover was the the proposed Foothill South (SR 241) project in Orange County.  It remains one of those fun projects where both sides are colorful and entirely predictable. On one side are people that love the environment and clean air making the case for better communities. On the other are people who love highways making the case for highways.

The 16-mile project was rejected both by the California Coastal Commission, a state agency that reviews projects that could impact environmentally sensitive areas and the Federal Commerce Department back in 2008, when George W. Bush was still president.

In October of 2011 the TCA, the state agency in charge of building highways nobody wants, decided they would segment the project and try to permit it piecemeal. This is not only wildly illegal, but also doomed to fail as they didn’t even try to hide what they were doing.

The good news is the TCA’s budget is so awash in red ink even their Board of Directors is saying the project is dead. But, of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard that.

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The Los Angeles Times Wonders What Can Be Done About Freeway Pollution

This Freeway in San Diego is part of the problem. Is part of the solution building more freeways in San Diego? Image: San Diego Personal Injury Lawyers

The Los Angeles Times published a remarkable editorial today questioning why so little is done about the public health crisis caused by Southern California’s reliance on freeway travel. However, either because of confusion or lack of will, the editorial stops short of proposing any real solutions to the crisis. It merely note it exists.

The first step, is admitting you have a problem.

The Times reports:

University research over the years has found substantially worse air pollution adjacent to freeways, and worse health among nearby residents as well. A 2005 USC study concluded that children who lived within a quarter of a mile of a freeway were 89% more likely to have asthma than those living a mile away. The closer they lived to freeways, the higher the asthma rates. But these university studies, though they added to our collective knowledge, did not affect government regulations.

While the Times earns kudos for talking about the danger posed to those living near freeways, there are two points left out of the editorial that are crucial to understanding why freeway pollution is ignored in policy settings and informs just how difficult a battle to reign in said pollution will be.

The first is that there are powerful interests that want to see the current transportation system, a system that literally cripples and enfeebles the people that live near it, continued. Oil companies, car manufacturers, construction unions, are just some of the giants that will fight meaningful change in transportation policy unless the new policy involves clean car programs.

For examples, Xcel Energy is looking to pervert the democratic process in Boulder, Colorado because the city wants to convert to clean power. Locally, AAA and car dealerships have eschewed the public process to pull the levers of power behind the scene to attempt to block a road diet and protected bike lanes plan on South Figueroa Street.

The second problem missed by the Times is that the people whose lives are devastated by the pollution creating freeways are not the people creating the pollution. Traditionally, the communities dissected by asphalt scalpels are the poorest and least likely to wield power behind-the-scenes. Not coincidentally, they are also least likely to own cars and travel on a freeway for work/recreation/whatever. Read more…

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Heavy Rail, or a Light Rail/BRT Mix? Garcetti and Greuel Discuss Options for Sepulveda Pass

Flanked by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Bill Rosendahl and Sherman Oaks Home Owner's Association President Richard Close, Wendy Greuel argues the city needs to do more for commuters, especially those using the 405. Photo courtesy Wendy Greuel for Mayor

“Behind me, you can see one of the most notorious symbols of LA traffic: Valley commuters stuck in the 405 South daily traffic jam,” began Wendy Greuel at her transportation themed press conference at the Sherman Oaks Galeria. “The 405-101 interchange is the most congested interchange in the United States.”

Greuel, the City Controller who is battling City Councilman Eric Garcetti to be the next mayor of Los Angeles, took a moment to yesterday to highlight what many Angelenos already know. There is not enough freeway space for the number of people that want to, or feel forced to, drive to get where they need to go.

That statement is doubly true for the 405.

Maybe the next mayor should do something about it.

One issue that both Garcetti and Greuel agree on is that further widening of the I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass, one of the few transportation links between the populous exhurbs of the Westside and San Fernando Valley, is a fool’s game. Both advocate for a strong and real transit alternative to driving on the 405.

And advocates agree. David Murphy is the head of Angelenos Against Gridlock (AAG).  In the past weeks, AAG earned a lot of media attention by attacking the widening and revealing the celebrity support of Elon Musk for highlighting how far behind, and over budget, the 405 widening project is.

But Murphy’s group isn’t arguing for further widening, but for rail expansion.

“What does all the attention to the 405 traffic, including even on Good Morning America today, say about the need for rail?” Murphy asked rhetorically in an email.

While both candidates agree that transit is the best way to move people through the pass, they each offer different solutions.

I am also committed to developing a relief project for the 405,” Greuel continued yesterday. “I began exploring this as a councilmember and, as mayor, I am ready to put those plans into action and provide relief to the 405 congestion. My plan supports investing in Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Light Rail, dedicated lanes and prioritizing the city’s bike plan.”

But Garcetti doesn’t think light rail, even supplemented with other transportation options, is the answer. At a recent candidate forum broadcast by CBS 2/KCAL 9 and hosted by the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles and Bend the Arc, Garcetti made the case of a major investment in heavy rail, or even a subway through the mountains.

“If you look at the number of passengers we have to alleviate, light-rail probably wouldn’t do enough,” Garcetti is quoted as saying in Neon Tommy. “[The rail would] go from the north San Fernando Valley basically to LAX, including a transit tunnel through the 405 pass that would allow you to be able to go essentially from Sherman Oaks to UCLA in five or 10 minutes.”

While a tunnel may sound cost prohibitive, Greuel hasn’t ruled out the tunnel option. She noted that it might actually be easier to tunnel than build on or near the 405 given recent experiences.

...sure you are...

Read more…

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Open Thread: Big Dig Alternative Analysis Released

How did your favorite alternative score? Click on the image to see a legible version.

You have to hand it to the public outreach folks for the I-710 Big Dig Project. Nothing says “community involvement” quite like dropping an Alternatives Analysis that was completed in December of last year to the public at Friday, at 3:50 p.m. before a holiday weekend.

Still an abject refusal on Caltrans part to accept that connecting two highways might somehow result in increased air pollution.

The analysis narrows down the alternatives that will be studied in the Environmental Impact Report to five potential projects. Yes, one of them includes digging a really big tunnel. However, the document recommends “refining” each of the alternatives to better fulfill the projects overall goals. For example, the tunnel option also should include a look at Bus Rapid Transit. The Bus Rapid Transit option should include other Transportation Demand Management evaluation and so forth.

We wanted to create a place for interested parties to discuss the Alternatives Analysis over the weekend, especially since Monday is a holiday. After the jump is the five project descriptions that live to be studied another day, a description and the recommended refinements. All information is directly from the executive summary.

Read more…

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The High Desert Corridor Is Back, and This Time It Includes Bikeways?

Yes. Let's.

Returning from paternity leave, I made a joke promise that if Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s office would get behind a transit line for the High Desert Corridor, a proposed new freeway connecting Highway 14 in Los Angeles County to Highway 18 in San Bernardino County, Streetsblog would give a week of exclusive coverage to the area he represents and praise him effusively.

Support Streetsblog by joining us for the ARTCRANK poster and art show at Orange 20 on December 4.

About an hour later I got an email from an acquantince familar with the project warning me, “be careful what you wish for.”

Now I know why. While Metro has promoted the project as a “$6 billion dollar,” “50 mile 6 lane highway” that will “accomodate an expected three to six fold increase in truck traffic,” a series of new meetings for the project are promising two give the project a second look, and perhaps a complete makeover. A list of the meeting times and locations is available at the end of the article.

The High Desert Corridor project team is now considering  a bike path, a green energy production/transmission corridor, and a high-speed rail feeder service connector for the area either as a replacement the project or addition to a smaller highway project. Politicians in San Bernadino have already heard presentations on the changes being studied and Supervisor Antonovich’s office confirmed that the environmental impact report will include all of these options both in companion to the freeway and as alternatives.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report is expected to be available for public review late 2013.

 Streetsblog was unable to get the Supervisor or Metro to comment on the record about the project until after the public meetings. In the meantime, if anyone has good ideas for stories in the Antelope Valley for Streetsblog to cover, leave them in the comments section.

Read more…

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BNSF Falsely Claims Marginalized Communities “Better Off” with Proposed Railyard; Public Hearing Tonight


The proposed site for BNSF's SCIG railyard.

In a sadly misunderstood and ill-grounded editorial, the Press-Telegram endorsed Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s (BNSF) proposed 153-acre railyard project west of the 710 freeway, the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG). The endorsement comes right before a public hearing featuring demonstrations from some 20 community organizations who will offer evidence denouncing the benefits of the project as well as proposals for a new site.

The initial draft environmental impact report (DEIR) released September of last year was re-visited due to overwhelming complaints from community members and groups, particularly the South Coast Air Quality Management district. BNSF then re-circulated the EIR (RDEIR) in a study that was, in some sense, relatively the same as the first which, by the way, stated clear and significant health hazards.

When asking BNSF to comment in regards to the fact that the RDEIR is heavily contested, BNSF correspondent Lena Kent replied, “The updated DEIR completed by the [Port of Los Angeles] affirms that building SCIG is better than the no project alternative or continuing with the current use at the site. The report shows that residents, students, teachers, and workers nearby would be better off with the project than without the project, in terms of air quality and health risk improvements, as well as all of those living, working, and going to school along the I-710 freeway. We think if folks review the report, the benefits will be clear.”

Sounding oddly reflective of BNSF’s (obvious) support of the project, the P-T continued along the same lines with their stance:

“[BNSF] says its proposed [SCIG] railyard would eliminate about 2 million [sic] annual truck trips, with most of the relief targeted for the Long Beach (710) Freeway. […] The revised report essentially says the same as the study released last year: that local residents and schools are better off with BNSF’s proposed railyard[.]”

Firstly, it seems no one has actually read the report. Read more…