Metro’s 60 Freeway Ramps Expansion Project in Hacienda Heights Is on Hold

The 60 Freeway at 7th Avenue in Hacienda Heights. Photo via Google Street View
The 60 Freeway at 7th Avenue in Hacienda Heights. Photo via Google Street View

An on-/off-ramp project in Hacienda Heights meant to preface future widening of the 60 and 605 Freeways has been postponed by Metro since the early pandemic. Metro deemed the Hacienda Heights SR-60/7th Avenue project beneficial to drivers and not overly adversely impacting adjacent residents, but if and when the project and the freeway widening are set in motion again, construction could come very close to homes. So what’s holding it back?

Map of Metro SR-91/I-605/I-405 “Hot Spots” Program - via May 2022 Metro presentation
Map of Metro SR-91/I-605/I-405 “Hot Spots” Program – via May 2022 Metro presentation. Hacienda Heights SR-60/7th Avenue project is in upper right

The 60 Freeway/7th Avenue project is part of Metro’s 605 Freeway “hot spots” improvements that prepare for Metro’s $5+ billion 605 Corridor Improvement Project (605CIP). Metro is funding and executing dozens of “hot spot” widenings of freeways, freeway on-/off-ramps, surface streets leading to the 605, and freeways it connects to.

605 Freeway Corridor Improvement Project map - via Metro
605 Freeway Corridor Improvement Project map – via Metro

These “hot spot” widenings set the stage for the overall 605CIP, which is planned to widen about fifteen miles of the main stem of the 605, plus “improve” (mostly widen) nearby portions of the 5, 10, 60, and 105 Freeways. The 605CIP would touch on nine cities – Baldwin Park, Downey, City of Industry, El Monte, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, South El Monte, and Whittier, as well as several unincorporated county areas.

That 605 mega-project is essentially on hold. In 2020, Metro announced that the 605CIP would impact more than a thousand parcels, including demolishing more than 300 homes, mainly through Downey and Santa Fe Springs. This proved to be too much, even for pro-highway widening folks, so the Metro board directed staff to retool the 605CIP environmental documents to include less harmful alternatives.

Many smaller hot spot widenings are proceeding (that is: projects for tens of millions of dollars, not hundred-plus millions), including:

One hot spot project not moving forward is Metro’s planned revamp of the 60 Freeway on-/off-ramps at 7th Avenue in Hacienda Heights (unincorporated L.A. County).

In 2015, Metro and Caltrans completed early studies (see Project Study Report and appendices including maps) to determining how to widen the 605 and 60 Freeways through much of the San Gabriel Valley. The PSR includes four alternative configurations for the 605, but all the alternatives show essentially the same configuration for the 60 Freeway through Hacienda Heights.

xxx
Metro’s 2015 study (appendix) image showing plan for widening the 60 Freeway through Hacienda Heights. Note that where the 60 Freeway goes through Hacienda Heights, it is bordered closely by residential development (in this image) as well as some additional uses: commercial development, a school (east of this image), etc. The planned additional westbound lane is shown in yellow at the top of the 60 Freeway.
The xxx
Metro’s 2015 study (appendix) image showing cross sections for the 60 Freeway. The study shows the current twelve lanes would be widened to thirteen lanes, with one lane added in the westbound direction.

After completing the larger 605/60 study, Metro looked to identify small early projects to prepare for widening the 605. These projects (including Valley Boulevard and Whittier Boulevard projects listed above) could proceed ahead of the larger project if they provided an independent benefit (generally meaning that they would increase car capacity) and the costs (fiscally, and in terms of demolishing adjacent homes/businesses/etc.) were not too onerous. The 60/7th Avenue project fit those criteria.

A further 2017 Metro study of the 60/7th project reiterates that “improvements [to the 60/7th Avenue on- and off-ramps] are being made in order to accommodate SR-60 mainline widening required to improve the I-605 / SR-60 Interchange.” For this Hacienda Heights project, Metro is retooling the north side (westbound) ramps essentially to push them a little further north, in order to make space for later adding one more westbound lane to the 60.

In 2018, the Metro board approved a two-year $2 million contract (staff report) with Advantec Consulting Engineers to design/engineer the project.

In August 2020, Caltrans approved the 60/7th Avenue project’s environmental documentation, stating that it was “categorically exempt” from the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) despite increasing car capacity somewhat by “increasing storage on WB [westbound] SR-60 on-ramp by lengthening and widening the ramp.” Widening a short stretch of roadway – apparently less than around a mile – will induce more driving, but falls below the agreed-upon threshold for impacting the environment. (The Metro Highway Program has several early phase freeway projects that are just under a mile long – including Metro’s 91 Freeway widening from Atlantic to Cherry in Long Beach – which appear to have been parsed into these small chunks to minimize environmental review processes.)

Through Hacienda Heights, the 60 Freeway runs in close proximity to homes, apartments, schools, a church, and a few commercial developments. Its sound walls run along hundreds of backyards.

Despite this close proximity, Metro plans to add one more lane to the 60 without taking out any homes. (Note: that just means no home demolitions in Hacienda Heights. Metro’s 2015 PSR appendix shows seven to nine home demolitions on El Monte’s Linnard Street as part of the planned future 60 Freeway widening. Outside of Hacienda Heights, along the 60 there are also a number of commercial/industrial parcels slated for partial or full demolition. But those future demolitions are not part of this early 60/7th Avenue project.)

Metro's planned temporary construction easements (TCEs)
Metro’s planned temporary construction easements (TCEs – shown in yellow) for its 60/7th Avenue project – from Metro’s Initial Site Assessment

According to Metro and Caltrans, “No permanent right of way acquisitions of public or private property would occur” for the 60/7th Avenue project, though it does require some temporary construction easements (TCEs – shown in image above) from eleven homeowners and the county-maintained Clark Channel creek. Metro’s 2020 Initial Site Assessment shows construction easements running right up to the back doors of a few homes on Hedgepath and Finegrove Avenues.

xxx
The 7th Avenue offramp on the 60 Freeway in Hacienda Heights. The project would widen the offramp (and move it northward) largely by eliminating much of the existing landscaped buffer. Base image via Google Maps.

The westbound 7th Avenue exit has a roughly twenty-foot-wide landscaped buffer between homes and the existing offramp’s sound wall. The ramp expansion would be within the footprint of the existing buffer.

Metro presentation slide noting that 60/7th Avenue project
Metro slide noting that 60/7th Avenue project “Design and Construction on hold” – via April 2022 Metro presentation

In April 2022, Metro staff reported that “Design and Construction [for the 60/7th Avenue project are] on hold” (see page 20 of Metro presentation). At that time Metro had only spent $1.07 million (page 27), about half of the contract costs approved by the board in 2018.

Streetsblog asked Metro why the project had been placed on hold. Metro spokesperson Patrick Chandler responded that it happened in 2020, early on during the pandemic, when Metro’s fiscal outlook was uncertain. The project remains on hold today, even as the agency returned to better than anticipated revenues and increased highway program budgets. Chandler wrote: “As a result of declining tax revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, measures were taken to evaluate and prioritize Metro’s Capital Program schedule in the near-term. After assessing Metro’s overall funding capacity, priority was given to projects under construction. Consequently, Metro decided to stop or slow down work on several projects in pre-construction stages, including the SR60/7th Avenue Interchange Improvements Project, to meet current funding constraints.” Chandler confirmed that the hold was not because of any project scope/design changes nor other unforeseen costs driving design costs above the $2 million that the board had already approved.

When Streetsblog inquired as to the overall project cost, Chandler responded that the estimated total cost is $24.1 million, based on a Caltrans Project Report approved June 2022.

Per Chandler, Metro is not currently seeking any specific outside funding to complete design work nor to implement the project, though “should funding become available, Metro will resume work on the design.” He also noted that the project’s future will be determined in collaboration with local municipalities. “Metro confers with the SGVCOG [San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments] to determine project priorities for the subregion as well as funding sources to be pursued,” he wrote.

Streetsblog SGV reporter Chris Greenspon contributed to this story.

Streetsblog’s San Gabriel Valley coverage is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays!

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG