Bad News from Governor, Courts on 710 Expansion Near Pasadena

12_17_08_710.jpgYou know what this highway needs? More travel lanes. Photo: Big Mike Lakers/Flickr

Opponents of expanding the I-710 near Pasadena to connect the road to the I-210 received a double dose of bad news in recent weeks from both the courts and our environmental governor.  First, Governor Scwarzenegger, between lecturing his wife about safe driving, found time to veto Senator Gil Cedillo’s legislation that would have required any highway expansion in this area to take the form of a tunnel.  Second, a state court ruled against the lawsuits brought by South Pasadena and La Canada Flintridge against the inclusion of funding for the I-710 expansion in Measure R.

First, let’s check in with our Greenhouse Gas fighting Governor.  Senator Gil Cedillo’s legislation, SB 545, would have required that any expansion of the 710 for the purpose of connecting to the I-210 would have to be below ground.  In addition to saving homes, there was a strong political reason for the legislation; it would have ended a fifty year old dispute between South Pasadena and Alhambra.  Alhambra has been one of the leading communities fighting for the expansion, hoping that the increased freeway would reduce traffic on its surface streets.  South Pasadena is one of the cities strongly opposing the project.

Despite the overwhelming local support for the legislation, the Governor vetoed the legislation saying:

This bill is unnecessary. The project development process currently being undertaken by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is the appropriate vehicle to determine the scope and feasibility of a project to address the transportation needs in the I-710 corridor. This process provides ample opportunity for public involvement and input. There is absolutely no need to enact statutory restrictions that would mandate certain project design options or remove others from potential consideration.

While I’m sure Metro appreciates the vote of confidence, it should be noted that the transit agency supported SB 545 and sent representatives to Cedillo’s press event celebrating the bill’s passage.  Opponents and proponents of the project both viewed Schwarzenegger’s veto as a bad thing.  Supporters wanted to quell the opposition of South Pasadena and opponents wanted one less thing to worry about.

One last note, neither Schwarzenegger or Cedillo cited the environmental benefits of the massive expansion in their statements.  Perhaps the 2004 report by Environmental Defense that labeled the expansion "one of the dumbest highway projects in the country" is getting through.

Meanwhile, a judge in Santa Barbara dismissed a lawsuit from the cities of South Pasadena and La Canada Flintridge that the inclusion of the 710 expansion in Measure R was illegal because the project did not have a selected route or needed environmental clearances.  The judge ruled that the $780 million set aside for the project did not require Metro to build the project, especially if it never receives the needed clearances.  If the project doesn’t move forward, the $780 million would most likely move to another highway project so it didn’t change the allocation by mode that was part of the compromise that created Measure R.

The rejection of the lawsuit caught officials with the plaintiff cities off guard.  Representatives from South Pasadena testified at last week’s Metro Board meeting, a day before the lawsuit was rejected, that they expected the 710 project to be removed from Measure R’s expenditure plan.

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