By Jason KUROSU
The discussion regarding the SR-710 debate has often been reduced to a dichotomy: whether or not to build a tunnel to complete the 710 Freeway. However, a group that includes local representatives and organizations called Connected Cities and Communities has introduced “Beyond the 710,” a plan the group hopes will negate tunneled solutions, promote alternate forms of transportation and reduce traffic.
The group, which includes community leaders from Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, Pasadena, Sierra Madre and South Pasadena as well as organizations like the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Natural Resources Defense Council, introduced their plan at a press conference May 28 at Metro headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles.
The group’s suggestions include altering the 710 Freeway stub near Cal State Los Angeles, transforming the gap into a boulevard connecting the 710 with Fremont Avenue in Alhambra. The tentatively named “Golden Eagle Boulevard,” so named after Cal State Los Angeles’ mascot, would be flanked by open space projects such as parks, soccer fields and a restored Arroyo Rosa de Castilla creek.
The group’s plans also involve providing opportunities for multiple modes of transportation in the area, such as a 2.5 mile bike path from Fremont Avenue to Cal State Los Angeles, new bus transit lines and upgraded Metrolink lines.
At the Thursday morning presentation in Los Angeles, members of the coalition spoke optimistically of their vision for the region.
Ara Najarian, Glendale mayor and chair of Connected Cities and Communities, said he felt Beyond the 710 was “a particularly appropriate name because we are proposing nothing less than moving beyond the tired debates about freeway extensions through our communities. And we’re looking for new ways to both avoid the terrible effects of building a freeway while at the same time dealing with the legitimate traffic concerns of the area and the region.”
Najarian framed the plan as a community effort, which would come up with solutions collectively.
“It’s not a conclusion. It’s an invitation to start a discussion, a grassroots discussion where all of the communities can come together and solve a problem that we all want to solve,” said Najarian. “Our plan will not only eliminate the negative effects of a tunnel. It will provide a path to a more sustainable future for everyone while increasing the mobility in our communities and freeing up billions of dollars for more pressing transportation projects.”
Congressman Adam Schiff said he was initially open to the idea of a tunnel, but balked at the plans when costs for the tunnel exceeded the original estimates.
“Whatever the technological feasibility, a single bore or dual bore tunnel is cost prohibitive and would cost anywhere from $3.15 billion to a whopping $5.65 billion. That is money we just don’t have,” said Schiff. “Metro should help reshape the transportation future of Los Angeles by thinking outside the box, to get people outside their vehicles by integrating parks and better urban planning, smart traffic lights and smarter mass transit, all of this and more and all of this for less than the cost of a tunnel.”
The group asserts that its proposal could immediately follow through on street improvements, bikeways, safe pedestrian crossings, and expanded bus service for $875 million. A potential $3 billion from sources such as proposed ballot initiative Measure R2 could fund other aspects of the plan, particularly an extension of the Foothill and Eastside Gold Line.
Marina Khubesrian, vice chair of Connected Cities and Communities and South Pasadena City Councilmember, also argued against a tunnel, which she said does not fix the traffic issues it is intended to resolve.
“Since over 85% that comes off the south stub has a local destination, it is not the kind of cut through traffic that the tunnel is intended to serve. We should focus on getting that 85% to where they want to go. Transit can help, as can a variety of local street improvements,” said Khubesrian. “We strongly believe in the concept of great streets which not only help traffic flow, but increase walkability and bikeability and actually promote stronger and healthier communities.”
Connected Cities and Communities will be submitting their suggestions to the Metro board as a public comment. The public comment period for the SR-710 draft EIR ends on July 6.