By Jason KUROSU
The proposed tunnel project to connect the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways remains one of five proposals for the freeway extension, though many community members including local politicians believe the construction of a 6.3-mile long tunnel to be a foregone conclusion and the long intended result of decades of debate.
“There is a singular focused push for the tunnel,” said Glendale City Councilmember and MTA board member Ara Najarian at the latest forum on the freeway extension at Rosemont Middle School.
“When I ask a question about any other alternative that doesn’t involve a 6.3-mile tunnel, I am ridiculed. I am vilified.”
Najarian’s opposition to the tunnel project has been well publicized and, it his belief, will lead to his removal from the MTA board. According to Najarian, officials from various San Gabriel Valley cities including Duarte and Alhambra have called mayors in other cities, requesting that Najarian be taken off the MTA board. Representatives from 10 cities voted against an extension of Najarian’s MTA tenure in December and Najarian has repeatedly identified MTA chairman and L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich as leading the charge against his future in the MTA.
“[Antonovich] wants the tunnel to come through,” said Najarian at the forum. “He wants me off the board.”
Najarian said that he has asked how much the tunnel project will cost and has received answers “ranging from $2 billion to as much as $15 billion.”
At the forum, Najarian urged exploration into the alternative projects, including light-rail, increased bus rapid transit, transportation system management/transportation demand concepts and no build concepts.
“Let’s talk about all the money we can save on this tunnel and distribute some of that money to other good projects,” said Najarian.
Michelle Smith, a project manager from the MTA, presented the five proposals for the extension, as well as indicating the MTA’s progress in the Environmental Study Process. Currently, the MTA is in the process of drafting the Environmental Impact Report, slated to be released in spring of 2014.
Addressing the need for a project connecting the freeways, Smith said, “We really believe that the lack of a continuous north/south transportation facility has completely degraded the overall efficiency of the regional transportation system. This lack has caused congestion on the freeways within this area.”
During the Q&A segment, which immediately followed the forum’s six speakers, many of the audience’s questions were directed towards Smith regarding the tunnel project.
“We have not determined the tunnel to be the project,” Smith responded. “We’re in the middle of an environmental study which says that we have to look at a reasonable range of alternatives.”
Smith said that with the draft EIR yet uncompleted and no one alternative officially designated as the ultimate result of the environmental study, many of the public’s questions will be answered in the completed EIR, after which she said numerous studies will have been completed regarding the project’s economic and environmental impacts.
Residents packed Rosemont’s auditorium for the forum Wednesday night, which was hosted by city councils from La Crescenta, La Cañada and Glendale as well as the No 710 Action Committee. As would be expected, most of the speakers addressed the detriments of the 710 tunnel project.
Donald Voss of the La Cañada City Council said that the traffic increase the tunnel project would bring on was so immense that it would necessitate adding a fifth lane to the freeway.
“This freeway tunnel is not about improving mobility in the Alhambra area,” said Voss. “This tunnel is about building a legacy project that will ram an extra 140,000 vehicles a day, including heavy trucks, which currently use other routes, onto roads and freeways in Pasadena, La Cañada-Flintridge, Glendale and Los Angeles.”
Bill Weisman of the Glendale Transportation Commission also said he felt the project would exacerbate rather than fix current traffic issues.
“Any increase in heavy duty truck traffic will inevitably cause even greater impacts in terms of congestion, noise and pollution for the quality of life in Crescenta Valley,” said Weisman, who is also a La Crescenta resident.
Rob McConnell of USC’s Keck Medical Center spoke about studies measuring the effects of roadway air pollution. According to McConnell, the studies show that living in close proximity with a freeway increases the likelihood of respiratory diseases. McConnell also noted a number of schools within a close distance of the proposed tunnel project.
“There is clear health science justification at this point for regulating exposures within at least 500 feet of roadways with heavy traffic,” said McConnell.
Former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino was asked who would have the final decision on what the ultimate alternative would be.
Portantino suggested it would be Metro, but also said, “Sadly, I think the decision has already been made.”
For more information on the SR-710 study, consult www.metro.net/sr710study.