Media Bashes 710 Alternatives…the Transit Ones Anyway

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This idea totally makes sense and would only cost $5.6 billion dollars!

Last week, Caltrans and Metro released the long-awaited draft environmental impact report for options to improve transportation near where the I-710 ends, 4.5 miles south of the I-210. As usual, the discussion around the document depends on whether or not one thinks it’s a good idea to dig a five-mile tunnel 150 feet underground to connect one freeway to another freeway.

Metro will receive public comment on the report starting on Thursday of this week and continue collecting until July 6. Details on how to comment are available at the end of the article. In addition, Streetsblog will submit this article, and any others published between now and July 6, as part of the public record.

Following the report last week that traffic has not improved at all following the massive and costly widening of the I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass, one would think the media might consider a $5.5 billion double-decker tunnel or $3.1 billion single-level tunnel a farcical proposal not worthy of further discussion. One would be wrong.

Most media played it straight, announcing the report’s findings, the public comment period, and other basic factual information. “Closing the 710 Freeway gap would take years and cost billions,” reported the Times. “Caltrans Releases EIR For Proposed 710 Freeway Extension,” snored Patch.

But much of the rest of the media applied a more critical eye and came down hard–against the option to provide better transit service instead of digging a gigantic tunnel. The $240 million cost of the bus rapid transit option, which is 7 percent of the single-level tunnel option and roughly 4 percent of the double-decker tunnel option, is the subject of the headline “Busway option to close 710 freeway gap would cost five times early estimate” at KPCC.

But it’s not just the cost of the busway option that is under intense media scrutiny. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Contra Costa Times and Daily Breeze all printed the story, “Environmental report on 710 freeway gap: Tunnel would ease traffic more than light rail.”

It’s always good to see the media jump on a story. Those six giant exhaust stacks planned for Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena? Eh, who cares? That the tunnel would increase the number of cars on the freeway and local streets, as we’ve just seen happen on the Westside? That’s just a theory. What about what happens if there’s a crash or other disaster in the tunnel? It’s “addressed in the report.”

The option of building light rail, at a fraction of the cost of digging the tunnels, is dismissed out-of-hand because of displacement and the bizarre reasoning that, “According to the EIR/EIS, impacts to land, air, noise, and aesthetics are minor compared to the impacts from building a 7.5-mile light-rail train from East Los Angeles through Alhambra and Pasadena.”

That’s right, a report with a Metro logo on it dismisses a light rail proposal because it would be too noisy, pollute too much, be too noisy and too ugly.  Way to have some ideological consistency.

So let’s look at the last transit option standing.One of five options, in addition to light rail, that was considered for “closing the gap” (a goal which pretty much guarantees that the best solution would be a gigantic tunneling project) is to build out the bus system by adding Bus Rapid Transit to the impacted area. An initial estimate of the project placed the capital price tag at just over $50 million. As KPCC notes, that number grew in the EIR to $240 million. When asked what caused the growth, a Metro spokesperson refused to comment to KPCC reporter Sharon McNary.

Laurie Barlow with NO 710 Action Group maps out the bus route as proposed in the EIR. One reason that ridership projections aren't all they could be? The route doesn't exactly make sense. Follow the conversation on Facebook.
Laurie Barlow with NO 710 Action Group maps out the bus route as proposed in the EIR. One reason that ridership projections aren’t all they could be? The route doesn’t exactly make sense. Follow the conversation on ##https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200399724551628&set=p.10200399724551628&type=1&theater##Facebook.##

While this growth is troubling, the $240 million price tag still falls well within the project budget. Measure R, the 2008 Transportation Sales Tax, put aside $780 million for the Big Dig or whatever project is chosen to improve transportation in the region.

The other argument in favor of the expensive freeway tunneling projects is that, according the EIR, they will do more to “reduce congestion” than the transit options. If one ignores all of the highway planning that has been done in Greater Los Angeles over the past decades, it is possible that someone could believe this to be true.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend every freeway expansion project that’s been completed in recent memory was a complete success. I can get in a car on the Westside and drive to my brother’s in the Valley in twelve minutes. It’s autotopia!

But even in this exciting world where highway expansion means less congestion, the project still does not actually make sense. The price tag of at least $3.1 billion–and let’s remember that Caltrans’ estimates for the 405 one-lane widening were low–is nearly fifteen times as much as the bus option.

As mentioned above, Measure R set aside nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars for the 710 project. Even if one believes Caltrans’ estimated cost, there is over $2.25 billion needed to even consider construction. Supporters of the tunnel point out that the project is in the regional long-term plan, but that means that funding it with state and federal funds would need to be the top priority of the lobbyists and politicians at Metro.

If the tunnel backers are this committed to the tunnel expansion, that’s their call. But for the region to compete for funding for this project it would need to become the region’s top transportation priority.

Is that really something that anyone wants to see?

Public Comment:

  • April 11, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., East Los Angeles College, Rosco Ingalls Auditorium, 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park.
  • April 14, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Pasadena Convention Center, Ballroom 300, East Green Street, Pasadena

An informal forum will be hosted by Cal State Los Angeles and the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs:

  • TONIGHT March 9, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p,m., Cal State Los Angeles.

Send written comments on the EIR/EIS: Garrett Damrath, Chief Environmental Planner, Division of Environmental Planning, California Department of Transportation, District 7, 100 S. Main St, MS-16A, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Send comments via email: http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/resources/envdocs/docs/710study/draft_eir-eis/comments.php

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