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Metro/Caltrans 605/5 Freeway Expansion Approval is a Year Off

This week a few new 605 Freeway Corridor Improvement Project details have been announced

In two meetings this week, a few new details emerged regarding Metro and Caltrans plans for their 605 Freeway Corridor Improvement Project (605CIP). That project had planned to spend over five billion dollars to widen about 15 miles of the 605, plus other intersecting freeways including three miles of the 5 Freeway where hundreds of homes would be demolished.

At yesterday's meeting of the I-5 Consortium Cities Joint Powers Authority (I5JPA) Policy Board, it was announced that Metro and Caltrans' revised 605CIP plans would not be released for comment until around a year from now. Some additional 605CIP information was included in a Metro presentation at today's meeting of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments (GCCOG) SR 91/605/405 Technical Advisory Committee (605TAC).

In August 2020, when Metro and Caltrans first announced the extensive demolitions in Downey and Santa Fe Springs, Metro announced a project timeline that the 605CIP environmental studies (EIR/EIS - Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Study) would be released for public comment starting September 18, 2020 and that overall Metro board project approval was then anticipated to take place in fall 2021. Due to resistance from community activists, cities, and others, the anticipated timeline did not come to pass. In October 2020, the Metro board approved a motion that essentially paused the 605CIP, mandating additional items: alternatives that minimize demolitions, analysis of equity and race impacts, and further community engagement.

The I5JPA exists to advocate for "enhancing freeway capacity." It is a group of cities - currently Commerce, Downey, La Mirada, Norwalk, and Santa Fe Springs - that have come together to push for widening the 5 Freeway. They succeeded in supporting Caltrans and Metro's currently under construction widening of the 5 Freeway from Orange County to nearly the 605; that $2 billion seven-mile long project demolished 423 parcels, most of which were homes.

Yesterday, I5JPA staff and members recapped a closed door 605CIP meeting last Friday, where I5JPA Executive Director Yvette Kirrin, I5JPA Chair Commerce Councilmember John Soria, I5JPA Vice Chair Downey City Councilmember Claudia Frometa, L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, and Metro staff were in attendance.

According to Kirrin and Frometa, Metro is planning both a "robust community outreach campaign" and a "reduced standard alternative" to be incorporated into a new EIR/EIS document.

Frometa noted that Hahn expressed her support for prioritizing community outreach, which needed to go beyond just Metro meeting with other governmental staff. Kirrin stated that "we're not going to see a [draft EIR/EIS] document all of a sudden appear from Metro that nobody has seen some of these lines on paper... the community will be engaged."

The "reduced standard alternative" means a 605CIP design that could be built with fewer property demolitions than Metro and Caltrans' 2020 plans, which Kirrin described as a "giant maximum standard freeway or bust" alternative. In the past, Kirrin described Metro and Caltrans 2020 605CIP plan as "changed drastically" compared to the 2014 605CIP study that showed three alternatives, with 15, 25, or 102 homes demolished.

Kirrin stated that Metro and Caltrans' current studies haven't yet included significant analysis of an "alternative that is purely safety and operationally based... [without] capacity enhancements but [with] getting the HOV lane through, improving the safety of the ramps the operations - doing that with much less right-of-way impacts" similar to the 2014 study.

Per Soria, the Metro representative reported that to develop and analyze a new alternative, it will be "pretty much a year delay" from now until a new 605CIP draft EIR/EIS would be released for public comment.

Kirrin stated that "Freeway expansion is pretty much dead right now... I don't there's much of an appetite for it at any level from statewide down to locally" though she noted that she did want freeway expansion as an EIR/EIS document alternative. "We still need to look at what are the benefits and the impacts of adding capacity."

(Kirrin's statement is hyperbole. While two excessive local freeway projects - the 605CIP and lower 710 expansion - have recently been paused, L.A. County freeway expansion is anything but dead. Metro has proposed increasing its freeway expansion budget by 30 percent in fiscal year 2022-23 - with billions of dollars worth of Metro/Caltrans freeway widening projects currently under construction in Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs/Downey, Burbank, Santa Clarita, Pomona, and Diamond Bar, as well as many many more in the planning stages in Long Beach, two in High Desert, South L.A., etc.)

At today's GCCOG 605TAC, Metro Project Manager Isidro Pánuco delivered a 605CIP presentation with pretty much no specifics about the freeway widening project itself - and hardly any indication of the project's future timeline. Pánuco's project history slide was wrong; it incorrectly states that the [October 22, 2020] board motion paused the [September 18, 2020] draft EIR/EIS release.

Screen capture from Metro GCCOG 605TAC presentation today

Pánuco touted the 605CIP feedback that Metro had received in closed door agency meetings since late 2020.

Slide from Metro presentation today

Pánuco announced that Metro staff are preparing a 605CIP receive-and-file report scheduled to go to the Metro board this June.

Screen capture from Metro GCCOG 605TAC presentation today

Pánuco did not mention the roughly one year from now EIR/EIS release date that Metro staff shared with the I5JPA.

Metro staff will be presenting some 605CIP again tomorrow at the 6 p.m. meeting of the GCCOG SR-91/I-605/I-405 Corridor Cities Committee. The Zoom meeting is open to the public and includes public comment; see meeting agenda for details.

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