Missing Links: Let’s Get Rid of the I-710

Screen_shot_2010_08_27_at_10.46.43_AM.pngThe 710 can provide alternate routes. Photo: Atwater Village Newbie/Flickr

While clean port advocates are celebrating a federal court ruling allowing the Port of Los Angeles to go forward with its Clean Trucks program, the push to widen freeways partially to help these trucks move through our region remains strong.  While there’s little doubt that "clean trucks" are better for the region than "dirty" ones, it’s also evident that the best thing for air quality would be "less trucks."

One of the highways that generates the most debate about how many more cars and trucks it should hold is the I-710.  While the "connector" project near South Pasadena holds is most fascinating to the media and public, a widening project in Long Beach is also scheduled.  These projects will take a huge toll on the region in the form of billions of dollars in fiscal cost, an un-discussed amount of traffic created by induced demand, congestion created during the construction phases and the continued deterioration of air quality for the people living near these freeways.  That’s a heavy cost to create space for more "clean" trucks to use our roads.

While many reformers push freight rail as an alternative to trucks, clean or dirty; an op/ed in the Los Angeles Business Journal has a third suggestion:

 

Previously suggested improvements in the freeway’s more than
two-decade history include digging a massive tunnel, and steamrolling
thousands of businesses and many thousands of homes in some of the few
livable neighborhoods left in that part of Los Angeles.

If we really want to improve traffic flow between Long Beach and the
San Gabriel Valley, we should tear down the entire 710, because it is
inherently inadequate to the task.

The op/ed’s author, Richard Risemberg of Bicycle Fixation fame, goes on to list other American cities that have taken down express ways and have actually seen improved traffic flow.  One famous example:

In 1989, San Francisco took the lemon presented by a massive earthquake
that knocked down the Embarcadero Freeway, and instead of rebuilding it,
made very sweet lemonade, indeed, carting away the rubble and
demolishing what was left standing by the shaker. The revived
Embarcadero is a centerpiece of San Francisco’s civic life and economy.

There are some pretty steep costs involved with tearing down a freeway, but of course the benefits can be substantial also.  Activists concerned with reducing truck traffic along the 710 Corridor might want to consider pushing this alternative.  After all, the agencies would have to comply.  We already know that any idea for the I-710, no matter how ridiculous or destructive it is, shouldn’t be criticized before its been thoroughly studied.

  • Well, nobody can accuse you of a lack of ambition :)

  • Erik G.

    Or how about creating a truck-only, no exit tollway that leads to a tunnel under the Grapevine? Perhaps this could be converted to a railway (that would be also used by HSR?).

    There is the issue of getting goods from the Ports to the San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

    Of course, coastal freighters could do this too, if we actually could operate truck-competitive coastal freighters in the USA.

  • MartyinLA

    The Embarcadero was only about 2 miles long and did not handle critical traffic such as cargo from a port. It was located on the scenic area by the bay. There is NO comparison to the very much needed 710. This article is crazy talk.

  • I’d rather have a rail corridor rather than a freeway. Perhaps a fast passenger rail line could whisk people between the ports and points further inland without the bother of all the space and air quality being taken up and destroyed by automobiles.

    It’d probably be a lot cheaper as well – re-surfacing the 710 runs in the billions of dollars every couple of years.

  • mark

    “Less trucks”? I believe you mean fewer trucks.

  • No, if we really want to ruin the cities of Cudahy, Maywood, Bell, Lynwood, and South Gate, you would shut down the 710, because all that traffic will go on Atlantic Boulevard and turn it into a truck sewer. Remember that there is no real penalty for being stuck in traffic, other than time. So you’ll have dozens of trucks through residential Maywood at all hours of the day and night, and Maywood actually has a relatively thriving commercial district. The other thing is that an Alameda Corridor trench along that corridor is stupid because of the high water table near the LA River – well it’s near a river, duh. All those pump stations necessary to clear the water out will cost money to run. A “bicycle freeway” already exists as the LA River bike trail… so another bike trail would be duplicative. Once again, someone comes up with random ideas that worked in other cities, for much shorter distances, and applies it to a situation without thinking it fully through.

  • calwatch, getting rid of the 710 would mean it wouldn’t be practical to use a truck through these areas. Other routes would have to be used.

    Additionally, the right of way for the 710 could be turned over to another use (rail?).

  • cybieify

    Wonder how one comes about to think that tearing down I-710 would help traffic between san gabriel and long beach?!? Do they really think traffic on the freeway will disappear because the freeway is out of the picture? Apparently they forgot the migration concept.

  • Jerard Wright

    But the other trade off is that all these trucks that will still exist will now be on more of the surface streets causing more congestion which leaves us with a net negative environmental benefit

    Personally -if we get into Fantasy land thinking- the 710 will no longer be for cars but just trucks and trucks only which would only need 4 lanes out of 8-10 and the remaining right-of-way can be used for rail/bike trails, even additional green industrial development.

    Like it or not the local economy of Southern California needs the Ports (Truck and Rail traffic) Just doing rail and only rail to handle the demand is wholly inefficent in one regional area and time consuming as it requires more intermodal facilities/stations along the way. Freight rail to be effective neds to travel at least 200-300 miles between stop points. If the trains have to load and unload at every Intermodal facility about 40-50 miles away goods and services would never arrive at the needed points.

    The Logistics industry in how its invested highly in the Inland Empire as of late as it is, we still need to have the trucks carry some of the demand. I’d rather have a dedicated facility or lanes to handle this truck demand and have the trucks pay for this added efficency then to get rid of these pieces of infrastructure altogether. That way there’s more investment in this.

  • cybiefy – if you get rid of car-only roads, you make driving less attractive and people drive less.

    I’m not so sure why it’s so important to keep the Inland Empire landlords and logistics companies happy. There is a lot of vacant commercial all over Southern California. These guys have a system that is almost completely reliant on very cheap diesel. Why do we all have to keep bailing water out of our boat on their behalf?

    There are other, perhaps more profitable, less polluting, ways to move massive amounts of goods across the landscape. When you calculate into the “low cost” of goods and logistics the cost of these highways and air pollution, things don’t look so “cheap” to the rest of us not directly involved in those industries.

  • Except you’re forgetting the global viewpoint. By making Los Angeles incrementally harder to do business in, you’re sending goods to the ports of Ensenada and Lazaro Cardenas. Lazaro Cardenas, in particular, has much better access to the 85% of America that lives east of the Rockies, through the Kansas City Southern Railway, NAFTA trucks, and the future Trans Texas Corridor. Mexico, of course, has lax environmental laws, when they are even enforced in the first place. More regulation and you are exported the pollution, carbon dioxide, and all of that to Mexico, and hurting those residents there, and us indirectly through increased greenhouse gas emissions and fuel usage.

  • It is not clear that it will be “harder” or more expensive to do business in an LA that has a less-polluting, less diesel fuel-reliant, goods movement system. It is not true that it will be harder or more expensive to move goods in LA without the 710.

    There are alternatives to the 710 freeway and the interstate trucking system that can work.

  • Spokker

    Small steps, Ellie. Small steps.

  • David Galvan

    Tearing down the 710 is a terrible idea.

    First, the op-ed piece: keep in mind that the author was facetiously suggesting tearing down the 710 as a reaction to the idea of expanding the freeway down in long beach. Perhaps expanding the freeway is not the best idea, but that does not mean that tearing out the freeway entirely would be either.

    Second, comparing the 710 to the Embarcadero is pretty silly. What, do we expect that if we removed the 710 corridor between downtown L.A. and Long Beach, through South L.A., that a vibrant public marketplace would spring up in its place? Ridiculous. Also, there is a difference between not rebuilding a freeway because it was destroyed in an earthquake and would be too expensive to rebuild from scratch (Embarcadero), and taking an existing functional freeway and tearing it down just because some op-ed author was exagerating to make a point.

    The 710 is a functional, critical thoroughfare used by commercial businesses AND commuters, and is one of the ways we can get our overseas goods shipped to us cheaply and quickly.

    What are people thinking here? Take away the 710, and make those people commuting between Long Beach and L.A. take a 1-hour train instead of a 30-minute drive on the freeway? Make the companies that transport goods either find alternate, much slower routes that would cause more trucks to idle at stop lights, creating even more pollution than if they were on a freeway?

    Ridiculous.

  • The author was not facetious, but dead serious. I know, because I am the author. It’s evident that few people actually read the article. In it, i cite numerous cities that tore down freeways, not just SF, and not just along scenic waterways. I also propose an alternative, a second Alameda Corridor trench with an electrified rail shuttle in it to transfer goods far more efficiently than trucks can to the great rail terminal in Colton, and in addition a light-rail passenger line running directly over it, with a two-lane road for local driving alongside, plus a bicycle highway. Estimated right-of-way: around 125 feet, as opposed to the bloated 300 feet (and slated to grow) ROW of the present 710.

    This would eliminate the present diesel pollution (two university studies show that the folks along the 710–predominantly people of color–live up to ten years less than the average in LA county, and suffer more pollution related illness while they’re alive)–and it would improve the ports’ efficiency in moving goods. It would liberate a strip of land 175 feet wide and 25 miles long where you could put parks, schools, libraries, civic facilities, homes, and businesses.

    Now, try actually reading the article.

    It ain’t just “Shut it down”; it goes much further than that.

  • cybieify

    @Richard Risemberg – your ideal only goes as far as industrial usages, what about commuters along I-710? Rail or waterway is good for add-ons, but not enough to replace I-710, unless if you scratch all freeways, and build a good rail system for everyone across LA county.

  • Sigh. Regarding commuters:

    “The solution is simple: heavy rail for freight to complement light rail for people. Build another Alameda Corridor trench along the 710’s route, run light rail on spans above the trench for passengers, add a bicycle freeway alongside and throw in a two-lane road for local travel.

  • David Galvan

    Oh gosh . . . you’re really serious? Ok.

    I read the article, and I’m still not buyin’ it. It’s all well and good to think “wouldn’t it be great if. . .”, but if you’re saying that you are actually proposing this as a real course of action, let’s get into the reality of it.

    Cost:

    Are you telling us that it is going to cost less to:

    1.) Demolish the 710 freeway.
    2.) dig an “Alameda Corridor trench along the 710’s route” (I imagine you need to get at least from the ports up to I-10, so that’s about 23 miles)
    3.) Install a heavy rail line in that trench (and build a train car servicing station somewhere along the route to support the trains)
    4.) Build a span-supported light rail above the trench for passengers
    5.) Build a “bicycle freeway”along side the route.
    6.) Build an additional two-lane road for local travel, with all the signage and stop signals associated with it.
    7.) Maintain all these systems.
    8.) Have the shipping companies spend capital to change the way they get their goods from the ports to their distribution centers (this cost would be incurred by the companies shipping the goods, and probably passed on to consumers, acting somewhat like a new sales tax. Either that or the companies just decide to ship via ports other than L.A. / Long Beach, as Calwatch said earlier, in which case the “cost” becomes a loss of revenue for the L.A. Port industries.)

    than to

    1.) Use the already-built 710 freeway.
    2.) Maintain that freeway.

    ?

    Time:

    People have their lives and businesses set up depending on the short amount of time it takes to drive between Long Beach and L.A. on the 710. The freight and light rail you are talking about would increase those travel times. That makes this a political non-starter. “Hey everyone, will you vote for my idea to spend many billions of tax-payer dollars so that we can increase travel times between these two cities?” Good luck.

    I’ll admit I speak with a bias as a passenger on the time issue: I commute from Pasadena to Long Beach once a week. Without traffic, the drive takes 40 minutes. With traffic, about 1 hr 30 minutes. Taking light rail: about 2 hours, every time.

    Look, if you’re proposing a dream system, then fine. If we were starting from scratch, I might support this idea. But given we have the freeway and it works fine now, I don’t see it as being cost effective to tear down and start over.

  • cybieify

    @ubrayj02 – whatever you quoted it’s just to replace I-710, how can a commuter bike from Long Beach to Westwood? Bike along pacific coast hwy?

  • Chris

    Transit note: when the Regional Connector is built it will take about 1.5 hours on transit from downtown Long Beach to downtown Pasadena, which is what the person said it takes to drive when there is lots of traffic.

    I am all for tearing down freeways, but we are still going to need some. I-710 is an essential truck link from the ports – if you remove it the trucks will have to go down I-405; won’t that be fun. I find it hard to envision new housing developments along the 710 corridor, as the vast majority of the corridor is along industrial land. If you want to tear down a freeway, then consider the 110 : an elevated blight causing freeway; if it were gone South Central may have a chance to improve.

  • David Galvan

    @Chris: Re: regional connector: Agreed. I look forward to that project being built.

    re 110: I assume you’re not talking about the section between downtown L.A. and USC. . . that is a heavily used thoroughfare.

  • There’s also another problem with this author’s idea: If I remember right, most if not all of those freeways he lists are overpasses and causeways, much like the I-10 between Routes 110 and 5. These are much easier to eliminate because you can physically, literally tear these structures down. What would be the cost of getting rid of ground pavement and refilling trenches with dirt? The economic cost of losing a freeway and ELIMINATING travel choices is bad enough, when we should advocate for more choices, including public transport.

    However, I too am guilty of thinking big. If anything, I’d like to see the 110 through Downtown L.A. go away. It’s a hopeless traffic trap that is beyond fixing and serves as a bigger divisor between communities than the other freeways in the immediate vicinity. Oh well.

  • ubrayj02

    Some of you guys are willfully misinterpreting what the author wrote, so you can take down a straw man argument that you have created.

  • ALWSJFN

    How about we make the blue line more convenient than driving, by having more frequent service, better service, make it easier to access… Sure it’s there, but as it is, other commentors have pointed out that why would you take the blue line when driving is much easier and faster. Right now, the blue line isn’t a competative choice. Make it competative. Bicycling and public transit should be the government’s priority as they are economically beneficial and cheaper than everyone driving their own car. Tear 710 down!

  • John

    “Take away the 710, and make those people commuting between Long Beach and L.A. take a 1-hour train instead of a 30-minute drive on the freeway?”

    I must be dreaming. When did that drive take 30 minutes in rush hour instead of the 1.5 and more hours it normally takes?

  • David Galvan

    @John:

    I drive the 710 from the I-5 junction to Long Beach every tuesday at noon (not rush hour). That portion of my commute takes about 20 minutes. I’ve driven the other direction (Long Beach to the I-5 junction) several times at 5 pm, and as I recall that portion of the drive tended to take 45 minutes. Can’t vouch for other times.

    Door-to-door travel times are what matters anyway. When you factor in the amount of time it takes people to get from work/home to the blue line station, compared with the amount of time it takes to drive directly to your home or place of business, the simple fact is that driving (almost) always takes less time. At least in my experience traveling either between Sherman Oaks and Long Beach or Pasadena and Long Beach, the public transit option (which includes the blue line) ALWAYS takes more time than the driving option. Yes, even during rush hour traffic.

    (Not saying that’s the case for all routes. . . I know that the red line can get between NoHo and Union Station faster than a car on the 101 can. But we’re talking about Long Beach to L.A. here.)

    Now, there are plenty of good reasons to take public transit other than pure door-to-door travel times (stress, working on train, etc.), but I expect most people needing to traverse the city will choose the fastest option they can afford. That usually means driving.

    Just to clarify: I’m all about adding rail! Add as much as you can! I’m just not in favor of tearing down the 710.

  • That’s a wonderful example of the “I don’t seem to have that problem” response so common online.

    How much does it cost us to keep the 710 open? Hundreds of millions just to re-pave the damn thing, plus the healthcare costs. It degrades our souls, and though you can’t put a dollar figure on that, it has to come into the equation somewhere.

  • David Galvan

    @Ubrayj: Uh huh. I am actually curious how “it degrades our souls” would fit into a cost-benefit analysis. How do you measure soul degradation, exactly? *eyeroll*

    Look, saying that the freeway degrades your soul is basically just saying you don’t like freeways and traffic. Fine. My response (did you mean me?) is an “I don’t have that problem” one? How about yours? You don’t use the freeways, so it’s ok with you if they are torn down. That sounds like the definition of the “I don’t have that problem” response, to me.

    Add rail options, sure. Make the freeway better (commandere some existing lanes for toll lanes or carpool lanes, for example) , sure. Tear the entire thing down because it is imperfect and build something completely different? No. That is a huge waste of money and a loss of functionality. That would be like tearing down the blue, gold, and orange lines because they are not grade-separated heavy rail, and building grade-separated heavy rail in their place. Would the grade-separated heavy rail be better? Yes. Is it worth the huge cost to do that replacement? Probably not. We have other new transit projects that could take our money much farther than us spending huge amounts fixing a setup that isn’t broken. Is it a realistic proposition? Definitely not.

    Also, guessing at a vague “hundreds of millions” estimate for maintaining the 710 freeway is meaningless unless we have specifics. how often is it repaved? what would be the comparable costs of maintaining the freight and passenger rail cars? the rail rights-of-way themselves? My cost comparison questions above about remain. I’m highly skeptical that it would be cheaper to tear down 23 miles of freeway, dig 23 miles of trench, build and operate two rail lines and a new street and bike path than to continue to re-pave the 710 every few years. But, hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe doing those things is dirt cheap compared to pouring asphalt on an already-built structure. If that’s the case, produce some evidence of it and I will be convinced.

    And Ubrayj, with all due respect, I expect you would support tearing down just about ANY freeway, since they degrade your soul so much. So forgive me if I am skeptical about whether you’re looking at this issue objectively.

  • James Fujita

    Guys, the Alameda Corridor is ridiculously underused. We shouldn’t be talking about building a second one until we can find ways to convince shippers to use the one we already have.

  • Where do you guys come from with these opinions?

    The cost to re-pave nine miles of the 710 is $164 million:
    http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/travel/projects/710/

    This routine maintenance needs to happen ever couple of years to the entire stretch of freeway, none of which comes from direct user fees – and that money collected from “users” (via gas taxes, vehicle fees, etc.) doesn’t come close to covering half the cost of this routine maintenance. This is our “cheapest” option? One that pollutes, one that degrades local commerce to the benefit of macro-regional, out of state, interests?

    Regarding the Alameda Corridor, designed and built under budget and completed before it’s deadline, a model of the best in public infrastructure that solves a host of ills caused by blind government subsidy of highway trucking – this is “underused”? I’ve been to hearings and heard the chief executive of ACTA proclaim that they are in need of more room to expand the corridor, or build another, to deal with the flow of goods via rail.

    You guys are either being facetious, or you’re scared of thinking about a freeway going away. In either case, it’d do some good to calm down and try imagine that the other side of this debate might have a point worth taking seriously.

  • James Fujita

    The Alameda Corridor is an amazing project. This is true. It was also under budget and under deadline.

    However, none of that has anything to do with the fact that the Alameda Corridor is not running at full capacity.

    ACTA’s website says the Alameda Corridor has 38.2 daily train counts (as of June). Wikipedia says the corridor reached a peak of 60 train movements in 2006. Neither of these numbers represents the Alameda Corridor’s full capacity, which is much higher – originally projected at somewhere around 100 trains (wow!).

    Partially, this is the fault of the recession, but partially this is because shippers find it cheaper (for whatever reason) to use trucks.

    There are construction plans in ACTA’s future, but these have nothing to do with the trench in the middle which is the Alameda Corridor’s trademark feature. Instead, the Alameda Corridor needs better connections at the ports and at the north end of the corridor, where trains still have to leave the corridor to get to the various rail yards.

    Any “expansion” plans for the Alameda Corridor would involve extending the corridor into the San Gabriel Valley, and not adding to the existing tracks.

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