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.

  • Anonymous

    The tunnel is a ridiculous idea.

    For the cost of building the tunnel you could just pay off every resident of South Pasadena with $100,000 (on top of eminent domain payouts) and plow the damn freeway through at surface level.

    France built a freeway tunnel under the Palace of Versailles. Sorry South Pas, you’re not on Versailles level.

  • Anonymous

    I know this blog hates freeways, but people ought to oppose on principle the idea that a small group of wealthy NIMBYs can use their status to block a public project with overwhelming public support.

    It’s not just freeways and transit projects that get blocked under our ridiculous system. People in LA file CEQA lawsuits against bike lanes.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not in favor of the entire tunnel, but anyone living near the current terminus of the 710 can agree something needs to be done with the 710…it can’t always end at Valley.  Whether or not it’s the 10, 210, or Huntington is the biggest question…and I agree it definitely shouldn’t be the 210 on cost alone.

  • In this case, it’s almost impossible to argue that the project,whatever it is, isn’t going to have huge environmental impact on the area.  I would fight it to.

  • DPL

    @ds – I’m not so sure there’s “overwhelming public support” so much as “overwhelming obsession” on the part of CalTrans.  It’s almost like a matter of pride for them at this point.  They act like filling in this gap will be a magical panacea that will alleviate traffic throughout the county, but the truth is the lanes will just fill up in a few months and there will be yet another stretch of freeway that’s constantly congested.

  • Anonymous

    Any major project is going to have an environmental impact. Building a subway is going to have a huge environmental impact, because of changes to land use.

    That doesn’t mean every little town armed with lawyers should be able to block regional priorities.

  • Carol

    Reinforcing the message above that suggests some will profit from the tunnel project, I think we should be setting standards for full disclosure of business connections and potential profits for anyone touching the 710.  If someone is a paid lobbyist, this should always be publically and plainly disclosed.  If someone is likely to get a construction or consulting contract related to this work, this should always be publically and plainly disclosed so the reader can appropriately interpret their comments and position.  This type of disclosure has been fairly broadly implemented in the pharmaceutical/medical world and helps the audience better understand any potential or hidden bias better.  The BIG DIG in Boston apparently had a lot of corruption……let the buyer beware.

  • Carol

    The agency exists to build freeways so it is no surprise.  Their mission and accountability needs to change to get a different result.

  • Anonymous

    Closing the gap will shift congestion from over-utilized routes like the 5 and the 110 over to the under-utilized 710 and the western segment of the 210. It makes sense.

    The 710 wasn’t built to take people from the port to Valley Blvd in Alhambra. The 210 west of Pasadena wasn’t designed to take people from the San Fernando Valley to California Blvd in Pasadena. The freeways were supposed to be a regional bypass to the extremely congested downtown interchange.

  • Anonymous

    South Pasadena acts like Meridian Ave is the Champs Elysees. I certainly agree
    that freeways built on the cheap can destroy communities (see East LA), but the sort of freeway that was proposed for South Pas, even before before the tunnel plan was:

    a) Below grade in a deep trench, just like the 210 through La Canada
    b) Bridges with full car and pedestrian access crossing the freeway every other block so the freeway doesn’t impede access around the city
    c) A cut and cover tunnel under South Pasadena’s main commercial strip

    Now that Caltrans is talking about a vastly more expensive deep bore tunnel under South Pasadena they’re still opposed! They’ll never be satisfied, and as such shouldn’t have a veto over regional transportation projects.

  • CADaughter

    I find it amazing that today South Pasadena points to the Gold Line as a success, considering how long and hard they fought against it. Just an observation, but time passing does seem to change history…

  • Jan

    So many misconceptions!  So Pas is not the only community opposing this project.  LA communities of Mt. Washington, El Sereno, Echo Park, the cities of Glendale and La Canada are just a few of the others who are vigorously opposing any connection of the 710 to the 210.  Why?  Because it will not achieve the stated goal of congestion relief.  The idea that there is overwhelming support is pure myth.  The paid lobbyist who likes to publish pro-tunnel letters as though it is a done deal keeps claiming this, but has not ever made public sound data so support this contention.  Anyone who attended multiple of the public meetings held by Caltrans and Metro through this process will affirm that the public acknowledges the REGIONAL issues of congestion but will also tell you that the public pleaded with these agencies for better solutions — more and better-planned public transit, hand-in-hand housing, business and transportation development, multi-mode options that include better use of the facilities we currently have and modern, clean, efficient approaches to cargo movement from the ports.  This message was heard over and over again — EVEN IN ALHAMBRA!!!!

    Some cite the passage of Measure R as an indication that there is a mandate for this tunnel.  How absurd!! Most people voiced their surprise that the this project was even included in Measure R.  Most thought they were getting behind transit when they voted for the measure. 

    The general public needs to dig deeper and find out what will happen if the tunnel fails financially.  What will happen when commuters are faced with the stiff tolls twice a day?  What will happen when truckers, already operating at very slim profit margins, exit the 710 and start using surface streets to avoid the projected tolls?  No, they won’t just take the 5 through downtown as they do now, because Caltrans is planning to ban them from the 5 through downtown if there is a project.  What will happen when the private partner in the public private partnership fails to reap the profits they counted on when they bid to build and operate the tunnel?  Who will be responsible for the operation of a failed project?  Guess who will be responsible then???

    I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I sure do have these and a lot more questions that remain unanswered even after many, many hours of public meetings and a scoping process.  It’s about time we hold Metro and Caltrans accountable to the public they serve!

  • CV Gal

    DS??
    The 210 underutilized?  Are you kidding?  Have you ever been on the 210 before 10 AM or after 2 PM?  It’s a mess.  An analysis of the 710 North Extension, projects that so much traffic will be thrown onto the 210 when it is finished, whether tunnel or surface, that it will open with a level of service of “F”, meaning gridlock.  How will that help anyone move more effectively in any of the regions? South Pasadena already has 1 freeway bisecting their town.  Pasadena has 3 freeways, Glendale has 4, La Canada has 2, Eagle Rock has 2, and El Sereno has 3.  To suggest that the northeast is not taking our fair share of traffic is ridiculous.  This project is not being fought by rich, selfish people.  It’s being opposed by people who are educated on modern transportation systems and being refused because it is too expensive, invasive, and outdated.  There are far better solutions to congestion than building more freeways.  Let’s start with fixing the freeways we have with better connectors and transitions.  Let’s look at multi-mode projects that put local contractors back to work.  Let’s consider better distribution of Port containers and move more goods by rail instead of trucks.  And one last thing, if you think that France’s system of transport is superior, why don’t you google the Mont Blanc tunnel and see what a simple fire can do.  39 dead and a fireball so intense it melted the vehicles, concrete, and road materials together.

  • Jan

    DS, You and others need to get up-to-date on what has been going on with this issue!  The concept that So Pas is the only community opposed is antiquated at best.  Multiple communities in Los Angeles as well as independent cities such as Glendale and La Canada have also formally opposed any connection of the 710 to the 210.  It’s time to stop claiming that So Pas is a “small group of wealthy NIMBYs” and the only ones who oppose this project.

    Did you attend any of the public participation meetings held by Caltrans and Metro?  If you did, and you still claim that there is overwhelming public support, then you weren’t paying attention.  If you didn’t attend, then you are relying on the word of Nat Read, a paid lobbyist, that there is “overwhelming public support” and that the cities of Pasadena and La Canada are evenly split on the issue.  I have yet to see any hard data to support this contention. 

    Most of those who oppose this project oppose it because it is a bad project for the ENTIRE region.  There is nothing to support the claim that it will alleviate congestion, but there is much published data and many studies to show that it won’t.  Further, if moving cargo is the real motivation (and I believe it is), there are multiple better ways to accomplish this goal through more efficient, less expensive technologies.  Technologies that won’t destroy the communities of the region and that won’t destroy the health and well being of the region’s inhabitants.

  • rs

    Dear CAD (aughter)

    S.Pasadena supported the Gold Line from its conception as the Blue Line. It was and is part of the multi-mode alternative to the freeway. 

    Where in the world did you get the idea SP opposed it?

  • Bob Davis

    There was a group of South Pasadena residents that argued for “no horns, no bells, Gold Line running at 20 mph” and posted signs stating their position.  Even one railfan supported these restrictions.  Fortunately, these arguments were ignored.

  • Freeways are not the answers, but a toll tunnel is. You could save money by restricting clearance to 12 foot high to prohibit trucks from ever using the tunnel, while still accomodating buses. Congestion price the roadway to maximize revenue, not throughput, which can be done through letting a private company build, operate, and maintain the project. This is what was done on the 91 Express Lanes before public pressure forced OCTA to buy out the private operator, and now the toll lanes are priced for throughput.  The private company would pay a concession fee that goes up based on the amount of money collected, and and that money could be used to fund many alternative transportation projects and mitigation. 

    People would pay $20 one way just to beat the traffic on I-5. No one is going to take the 210 east of Pasadena during rush hour because the 210 is generally worse than the 10 during the peak.  But the 210 north of Pasadena is severely underutilized and I suspect La Canada Flintridge and Glendale’s opposition is so they can keep speeding along at 80 mph at 5 pm on that wide speedway. In addition, we need alternate routes out of the LA basin, and a 710 connected to a 210 and a Palmdale-Montrose tunnel would provide an option to getting around that doesn’t involve the Newhall Pass or twisty mountain roads.

  • CV Gal

    Good grief calwatch.  Do you really think ANYONE is going to pay $40 a day to use 5 miles of road?  I don’t think so.  The cars and yes, trucks, will spill off the road as they do now at Valley Blvd and take surface streets.  Of course there is congestion in this area.  That is why the best solution is to fix these roads with improvements, not dump an additional 850 trucks an hour there via a new freeway.  Duh!  The residents in the northeast are thinking regionally and fully support the folks in El Sereno, South Pas, and Pasadena.  It’s not right.  Of course we like our freeways nice and moving which is getting rare, but we also have one major feature that very few cities have, that is a bowl shaped valley that reverberates noise and holds particulate matter and concentrates it.  Our schools, parks, and hospitals are right next to the freeways where air quality has already changed significantly in the last 5 years.  Wilmington schools near the 710 and the Ports have already installed air filters to protect their kids against air pollution.  We don’t want to have to do that here and we will work for a day when the Wilmington kids can run and play without risk of asthma.  They deserve it.

  • Jan

    Calwatch, you are right.  Technically speaking, it would be possible to ban trucks by controlling the height of the tunnel.  However, this would never happen because the biggest motivation behind this monster is to move cargo from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach northward, enabling Metro and Caltrans to ban trucks from the 5 north through downtown Los Angeles.

  • Yuri

    If Caltrans is worried about finishing gaps in the freeway master plan, it should work on finishing the Laurel Canyon/La Cienega freeway.  Wouldn’t that have come in handy during Carmageddon?  It also should finish the gap between the Santa Monica and Marina/Slauson freeways and implement the Venice Freeway too, thereby obliterating much of Venice.  Just kidding.

  • Anonymous

    I happen to live in South Pasadena in a Caltrans owned home.  Caltrans “took” my home by immanent domain and made me a tenant in my own home.  Let me say that again.  I worked a job, saved money, paid my taxes, bought a home, and then someone comes in and says “Sorry, we’re taking your home and you can now pay us rent.”  OVER MY DEAD BODY.

  • Joanne Nuckols

    Sorry to be late to the game on this response, but just found the story.  ds, you are wrong.  The French tunnel does not go under the Palace of Versailles, it goes under the outskirts of the City of Versailles which is basically countryside.  I’ve been there and checked it out.  I’ve tried to correct the engineers, promoting the project, but they still insist on stating this non-fact.  

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