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Guest Op/Ed: Gaps in 710 Tunnel Arguments

(I've noticed that ever since South Pasadena passed a resolution cooling some of their resistance to the 710 Big Dig that the War of Words over the project has picked back up.  While researching an article on that issue, I came across "Under the Paperweight: Gaps in 710 Tunnel Arguments" at The Sunroom Desk, a great local blog in Glendale.  Elise Kalfayan generously allowed us to republish her article. - DN)

A weak attack launched in an LA Times Op-Ed by James Moore calling for completion of the tunnel was no match for the conviction of Michael Dieden, whose“Blowback: I-710 Tunnel such a 1950s idea” a week later cited the Gold Line and its advantages for the revitalized neighborhoods that have steadfastly opposed the 710:

If it were not for ordinary citizens, led by South Pasadena residents, the historic neighborhoods in Pasadena, South Pasadena and Alhambra would be wiped out today. Instead, these cities are now served by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Gold Line light rail. Their neighborhoods are not only intact, but have matured into some of the most desirable in Southern California. In addition, around the Gold Line’s stations, new transit-oriented neighborhoods have sprouted. Such developments offer housing opportunities in walkable neighborhoods to families that can forgo an automobile and save $10,000 annually for the cost of owning a car, allowing for a more productive use of hard-earned income for college accounts, family vacations and emergency family needs.

The example was a clear rebuke both to Moore’s arguments and to his longstanding opposition to light rail transportation alternatives.

Moore’s “points for moving ahead” are all desperate measures: Keep the federal government out of the project. (And shift the entire $10+ billion burden to California taxpayers, already facing a worsening budget crisis?)Accelerate environmental review (A six-mile freeway tunnel under urban Los Angeles with rushed environmental review???) Include a limited list of cities in a joint powers authority but exclude everyone not immediately adjacent (Isn’t this a major regional transportation initiative?) Invite a public private partnership to create a toll scheme (Nobody knows if this could be profitable or not, and many completed projects haven’t shown a good return. Moore starts by retreating here: “Costs cannot be carefully estimated until the tunnel is designed, but even rough calculations show that tolls would give private-sector partners a competitive return on investment.”) With these as starting points, the better part of valor would be to surrender and stop trying to build the freeway.

Building the I-710 tunnel under South Pasadena, Letters to the LA Times, August 2, 2011, also responded to Moore’s editorial. Excerpts:

California’s transportation planners need to start looking forward and design rail to transport trucks and goods and to develop a variety of public transit opportunities for commuters. Only then will we find relief.

Looking ahead, what does a healthy Los Angeles in 20 years look like? More freeways, congestion, pollution and disruption? Or more social interaction, recreation, working at home, parks and a richer quality of life?

Moore also published With the Carmageddon Fresh in Our Minds, Why We Must Finish Another Vital L.A. Artery, Engineering News-Record, July 25, 2011. Excerpts:

A small but highly organized, vocal group delayed the project by learning exactly where to insert monkey wrenches into the gears of public process. They made the project appear controversial; but the freeway system cannot function as it should with this gap, hence the final link is going forward.

…since the federal government can no longer pay for new highways or fix the old highways, we must shift our focus from government funding to private capital. Private companies will build new roads in exchange for the trip tolls that will provide investors a profit.

The final link isn’t going forward. Advance is blocked by a Federal Injunction against the project. Complaining about a “highly organized, vocal group” sounds like battle fatigue and growing frustration with the rules of engagement. Further, where is there any justification for the belief that private industry will tailor a public project to serve long-term public interests? Our financial and market system doesn’t reward that kind of altruism.

Earlier rounds in this summer battle series seized on Carmageddon as a justification for completing the 710. These were also soundly defeated.

Freeways are not the answer, Letter to the Glendale News-Press, July 25, 2011, answered an earlier letter by 710 Freeway Coalition Chair Nat Read claiming that Carmageddon-like conditions exist every day on the 5, 2 and 134 freeways because of the 710 gap.

Opinion: the 405 closure as a case for multi-modal transportation in L.A., Metro: The Source, June 17, 2011, argues that:

In our multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-faceted city we’ve left the “multi” prefix off of one very important element: our transportation system.

We trapped ourselves in single mode city and suffer the consequences each and every day, whether it be from our daily car-tastrophes (traffic, accidents, road rage) to our occasional carmageddons.

…Hopefully any pain caused by July’s 405 closure will only serve as an incentive to continue to support the non-highway projects that will finally turn L.A. into a multi-modal city.

Print fronts in this series of summer battles include a Business Life Magazine editorial by Nat Read, which called the project “the last remaining gap in the basic core of Los Angeles County,” and a Pasadena Review rebuttal by Janet Dodson on behalf of the No 710 Action Committee, siting other freeway concepts abandoned since the 1958 Master Plan of Freeways. Dodson goes on:

Communities across the region from Glendale to Los Angeles to Commerce have declared their opposition to this tunnel. They all understand the economic and environmental dangers in the proposal. No one has been able to figure out what the advantage to the toll tunnels could possibly be, except to the individuals who see potential massive profit for themselves as the expense of the population and the tax base. The tunnels will increase pollution, they will be dangerous, and will also cost untold billions…

In this 21st Century, we have the special opportunity to offer greener, more forward-thinking concepts to modernize our crucial ports and transportation systems. Here in the land where freeways first flowered, we should advance to the next step, leaving the century-old concepts behind in the dust.

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