In 1958, a Master Plan of Freeways was adopted by the State of California. The Long Beach Freeway was outlined in that plan. In 1964, a 23-mile portion of the freeway was constructed, now called Interstate 710 (I-710). It runs from Ocean Boulevard west of downtown Long Beach and northward to Valley Boulevard in El Sereno (City of Los Angeles), near the Alhambra border. The unfinished corridor now called the State Route 710 (SR-710), was not built at that time but it was planned for the near future.
1960 - 2000
In the 1960s, in preparation for eventual excavation of the new SR-710 section, 500 houses were purchased to clear a surface route. They were located in El Sereno (220), South Pasadena (112), Pasadena (143) and Alhambra (25). At the time, it was estimated that a total of 976 houses would be needed for the project. The 500 houses are still owned by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) today. Some have been rented back to residents on a month to month basis for decades. Some are vacant. Most are in disrepair.
Over the course of the next forty years, the SR-710 portion of the freeway was not completed, largely due to intense community opposition and judicial injunctions which are still in place. Many freeway “gaps” remain in the region’s original master plan as only 60% of the projects have ever been finished. One example is the SR-2 Freeway that terminates on the south at Glendale Boulevard near downtown Los Angeles, instead of connecting with the I-405 through Beverly Hills as planned.
First Decade of 2000s
Between 2003 and 2009, Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA or Metro) began to look at whether it was feasible to construct a bored tunnel rather than a surface route to extend the SR-710 Freeway and connect it to the I-210. Ultimately, five zones were examined through boring, seismic reflection, and surface wave testing in a geotechnical feasibility study. Upon completion of the study in the fall of 2009, Caltrans reported that it is “technically feasible” to construct a tunnel in any of the five zones which roughly spanned from the I-5 & SR-2 interchange to the I-210 & I-605 interchange. They added that no single route had been chosen. However, based on geologic and financial considerations and actions by the MTA Board and staff, many community members speculated that Zone 3, the original Meridian route through El Sereno, South Pasadena, and Pasadena would be chosen. The final geotechnical report presented in March 2010, indicated that no conditions exist that would stop, prohibit, or otherwise preclude tunneling through any of the five zones, even though seismic faults and contaminants exist throughout. With no accurate project definitions (need & purpose), no true feasibility studies, no examination of alternative transportation modes, or cost-benefit analyses conducted, the project was pushed forward through to the Scoping and environmental analysis stages.
The tunnel would be comprised of two 57-foot deep bored holes, approximately 150 feet underground and would require 200-foot wide concrete portals for entrances, exits, toll plazas and ramps. The bored tunnels themselves would measure 4.9 miles in length and would be the longest road tunnels ever built in the U.S. The portal ends would have about a half a mile of "cut & cover" excavation where the dirt is removed then filled back in. The total project is currently designed to be 6.3 miles in length. (4.9 bores + .7 cut & cover + .7 other) Ventilation towers and other structures may need to be built at surface level along the route to vent concentrated exhaust or it may just be blown out of the ends and/or vented further down the road.
The plan is to build the south portal in the City of El Sereno, north of Valley Boulevard and CSULA where hundreds of Caltrans-owned homes would be destroyed. The north portal will surface at Del Mar Blvd in Pasadena, right next to Huntington Memorial Hospital and schools. On the north end, the tunnel will only be accessible by the I-210 and SR-134 freeways and will not serve the community of Pasadena. On the south end, drivers must already be driving on the I-710 in order to access the tunnel. There will be no ramps at the portal ends or at any point along the 4.9 mile route.
Tunnel Cost Makes the Tolls Exorbitant
The cost of the project has been estimated by various sources to range from $1 billion and $14 billion and is expected be funded through a public-private partnership (PPP) and $780 million in Measure R funds. MTA is currently using the figure of $5.425 billion in their projections. It is predicted that the tunnel toll would be between $5 and $15 to use each way—a prohibitive expense for most commuters but not necessarily for trucking companies who could pass the cost on to consumers through increased prices. The resulting jobs created by the expansion, would be primarily for expert tunnel builders from outside the State or Country, less so for local citizens.
A Toll Tunnel Increases Congestion
Building a new tolled roadway will not relieve congestion problems in the region and could actually exacerbate current conditions. Commuters will, almost certainly, continue to use local surface roads to avoid paying tunnel tolls. An analysis by the City of La Cañada Flintridge of three separate highway studies indicates that traffic will increase by 25% and the tunnel will open with a Level of Service classification of “F”, meaning failure or gridlock. Metro’s own forecasts project an increase by over 40% of vehicles on local streets. Clearly, this massive development would present issues of enormous costs, health consequences due to poor air quality, traffic congestion, noise, and 10 years of disruption due to construction as well as introduce risk from earthquake, fire, flood, and terrorist attacks in the tunnel. Quality of life would change dramatically for all the communities surrounding this area, especially the small towns that would be in the crosshairs of “big city” developers who want to bring “progress” to the area.
Who is For and Who Opposes?
Completion of the SR-710 Extension is being moved forward by Caltrans, MTA, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG), the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), and the Cities of Alhambra, El Monte, Duarte and more. It is opposed by the Cities of South Pasadena, Sierra Madre, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge and by countless community groups in Pasadena, El Sereno, Hermon, Mt. Washington, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, La Crescenta, and Sunland-Tujunga. In addition, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution against portal construction in Zones 1 & 2, reflecting its opposition to building the tunnel within the boundary of the City of Los Angeles. Metro and Caltrans have disregarded this resolution in their current plan.
The SR-710 Extension, whether by surface route or tunnel, will primarily benefit freight-transport vehicles that cross through these communities. Per a report conducted by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), there are currently 34,000 vehicles that leave the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach every day; 70% are trucks carrying cargo to locations outside the City. By 2020, it is estimated that the number will climb to 92,000 or more. Forty percent of those trucks could choose to take the new tunnel but considerably more would if the Ports remained open 24 hours a day. By 2030, shipment by containers is expected to triple and miles driven by trucks will almost double from the year 2005 levels.
Traffic congestion is a problem in Los Angeles County but there are many other alternatives to building more freeways. One potential 21st century solution being successfully implemented throughout the United States is the development of intermodal-distribution logistic centers. These “inland ports” use rail lines to move goods from sea ports to outlying areas where the cargo is then loaded on trucks for distribution across the country. This would dramatically reduce the number of container trucks on our local streets and highways. And—for the same price as building large tunnels, the State can do 1,000 neighborhood upgrades at $5 million each, with much shorter timelines. Updating the existing transportation system through “multi-mode, low build” projects, will create jobs for local workers and reduce long-term disruption in our communities. It’s the smarter, more responsible way to go.
Please join us and say NO to the extension of the 710 Freeway. NO ONE’S back yard!
Compiled by Susan
Bolan, La Crescenta and Jan SooHoo, La Cañada Flintridge
Members of the No 710 Action Committee, firstname.lastname@example.org Updated 1-9-14