Divide and Conquer on the 710 Big Dig

A packed house at a June public meeting on I-710 alternatives in Pasadena. Photo:##http://thesource.metro.net/2012/06/06/sr-710-study-wraps-up-latest-round-of-community-meetings-to-review-alternatives-under-consideration/img_9699/##Dan McGuire/Metro##

Last week, Metro finished its most recent public meetings outlining twelve proposals to fill the so-called 4.5 mile “gap” on the I-710 between Alhambra and Pasadena at the I-210. The public response to the twelve alternatives presented was near-uniformly negative. Anger was particularly high at new proposals to connect the I-710 to the I-210 including, a tunnel connecting the 10 Freeway to the 134 Freeway, a surface route that would widen Avenue 64 and a highway route along Huntington Drive, Fair Oaks Avenue and Pasadena Avenue.

The newer proposals were viewed by many communities, including Alhambra, East Los Angeles, La Canada Flintridge and Pasadena as so ludicrous that it pushed the proposal to build a tunnel underneath several San Gabriel Valley Communities off the front pages.

Maybe that was the point. No media coverage of the Big Dig option. No media coverage of the flood of trucks that would dominate San Gabriel Valley Streets. Little mention of that any expansion of the I-710 or surrounding freeways is a giant subsidy to the port and shipping industries.

On August 29, a Metro Technical Advisory Committee will meet to pair down the list of twelve alternatives to just a “handful.” The smaller list could be presented to the full Metro Board of Directors next month or the month after. Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-Pasadena) firmly believes that the fix is already in for a certain route, despite protests from Metro that it’s totally not. He tells the Daily News, “I think the folks in downtown L.A. are going to try to put on a show to justify a predetermined conclusion…Fundamentally, this is a flawed process.”

If the agency wishes people to believe that the short list of projects that will be studied in a full environmental impact report hasn’t been pre-determined, it would do well to not present the alternatives next month.

Meanwhile, the reaction to several proposals on the list was so hot that Metro and Caltrans are either completely tone deaf or intended the reaction to make the tunnel proposal look closer to sane. Last week, a special meeting of the Pasadena City Council attracted 500 people. Many were from Pasadena, but the Star-News reports that many attendees were from the aforementioned surrounding communities that would also be impacted and/or divided by the proposals.

The previous week, 250 people attended a meeting in Eagle Rock, worried about how expanding Avenue 64 would divide their community and how the rush of trucks that it promises could destroy their existing transportation infrastructure.

Pasadena’s opposition made news because the government is barred from fighting the I-710 extension projects by a 2001 ballot measure. After the City Attorney opined that alternatives that created more traffic off the I-710 could be opposed, the Council quickly opposed every alternative they could. At least one Council Member believes the city can add more alternatives to their “don’t build” list because the tunneling options were not on the table when the voter initiative was passed. A second Council Member wants a repeal of the 2001 proposition put on the March 2013 ballot.

Throwing cold water on the idea of Pasadena joining the fight against other 710 expansion alternatives, “freeway advocate” Nat Read opines that if the options that Pasadena formally opposed are taken off the table that furor in the City of Roses will calm down.

By the end of the outreach, even the project manager admitted they needed to “retool” their efforts. Meanwhile, more bad public relations for the project reared its head. Last week, the state auditor slammed Caltrans for its incompetent handling of I-710 real estate.

In 2011, Portantino requested that the state auditor review rental and repair records for the 500 homes seized by the state over a decade ago when a surface route through South Pasadena seemed likely for the extension. The audit shows that the incompetent management of the properties, i.e. not charging enough rent, and over paying for repairs, cost tax payers $22 million between 2007 and 2011.

There is at least a small amount of good news. Thanks to a recently passed motion, the Metro Board of Directors can move Measure R (or Measure J) funds from the I-710 to fund an extension of the Gold Line and other transit projects in the San Gabriel Valley. $780 million could allow light rail construction all the way to the L.A. County border with plenty of cash to spare.


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