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RFP Goes Out for Terminal Island Freeway Removal Project; Marks SoCal’s First Freeway Removal Project

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Will the Terminal Island Freeway be Southern California's first freeway removal?
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It's been named one of the top “Freeways Without Futures” in the nation and described as a "perfect example of obsolete infrastructure." Its removal has been fought for by City Fabrick founder Brian Ulaszewski since 2010, long before the existence of Fabrick itself. It has been a blight on a neighborhood that sees some of the least amount of park space in the entire city.

Now, nearly half a decade later, the project to remove a large portion of the Terminal Island (TI) Freeway in West Long Beach has officially gone out to bid in an RFP with an estimated bid value of $225K. It marks a major event in Southern California's urban design history, being the first freeway removal project that mirrors existing projects such as the removal of both of San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway and Central Freeway.

The project is simple: the existing northern length of the freeway, following the development of the 20-mile long Alameda Corridor and the still-underway modernization of the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) by Union Pacific Railroad, is redundant. Not only do shipping companies use it less and less, the traffic itself matches those of 4th Street along Retro Row (some 13,700 AADT). And if plans for ICTF follow through, you can drop that down to 8,700 AADT–less than the traffic 3rd Street receives in the quiet neighborhood of Alamitos Beach.

According to the bid, the “TI Freeway Transition Plan will define the community’s vision for replacing an underutilized freeway to mitigate pollution impacts to address long-standing community health concern” while giving “qualified candidates the opportunity to produce a plan for one of the most heavily impacted communities in Southern California.”

They are not exaggerating when calling West Long Beach "heavily impacted": west side residents have a paltry acre per 1,000 residents or what amounts to about a soccer field. This is far below the National Recreation and Parks Association’s standards for a Healthy City, set at a minimum of 10 acres of parks for every 1,000 of its residents. In fact, it’s legally deemed “park poor,” particularly compared to the East Side, a portion of Long Beach that averages a staggering 16.7 acres/1,000 residents thanks to the massive 650 acre El Dorado Park.

With overwhelming evidence that suggests accessibility to green space not just encourages physical activity but actually contributes to the overall health of a community (lower rates of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, on and on), this project is both reasonable and ethical in its development given that it will increase park space on the West Side by some 50% with the addition of 20 to 30 acres of park space. This is not to mention the elimination of many trucks passing by west side schools, specifically Cabrillo High, Reid High, and particularly Hudson Elementary, which sits toe-to-toe with TI’s edge. 

The success of the aforementioned projects—more of which can be found in Portland (Harbor Drive Freeway), Boston (Central Artery), Seoul (Cheonggye Expressway), and other cities—mirror the benefits in regard to of freeway removals. Dissenters against such projects claim but are ultimately proved wrong in the following areas:

    • The traffic congestion feared by having a lesser roadway capacity can be absorbed by alternate routes (the aforementioned Hayes Valley in San Francisco, where part of the Central Freeway was removed, is a prime example of this);
    • Fewer people use their cars when roadway capacity is lessened
    • The removal of certain spans of roads does not mandate nor necessarily guarantee a needed shift in the entirety of transit paths;
    • And the excessive right-of-way paths can be altered into public, open space that generate activity on multiple levels–communal, civic, commercial–rather than simply diminish transit

The bid is expected be completed by October of this year. The consultant team will be selected based on their "community engagement experience and ability to build consensus among competing interests; goods movement, open space, transportation planning experience; and ability to graphically express ideas and concepts in ways that engage community stakeholders."

The project is being funded by a grant from the California Department of Transportation through the Environmental Justice (EJ) Grant Program.

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