By Jason KUROSU
The proposal for a 4½ mile long tunnel connecting the 710 and 210 freeways continues to generate controversy, as those living near the proposed extension have expressed their opposition to the tunnel with various concerns about increased traffic, pollution and health issues. A forum was held at the Pasadena Convention Center Tuesday night, in which the public could hear from a panel of experts speaking on those very concerns.
Moderated by Pasadena City Councilman Steve Madison, the panel included speakers with expertise in various disciplines, examining the myriad effects of the proposed tunnel.
Stephen Klein, a geotechnical engineer and principal-in-charge for the SR710 study, discussed the proposals and alternatives currently being explored for the 710 freeway. These include the F-7 freeway tunnel, the BRT-6 or Bus Rapid Transit refinements, the LRT 4 Light Rail Transit refinements, the TSM/TDM (Transportation System Management/Transportation Demand Management) or the No Build Alternative.
Speaking on the tunnel alternative, Klein talked about the pressurized face-tunneling machines that would be utilized in building the tunnel. The machines, which are about 50 feet in diameter, are “very successful for tunnels in urban areas without causing surface disruption,” said Klein.
Klein used the tunnel on the A86 autoroute in Paris, a 10 km stretch of tunnel, as an example of the type of structure that would be constructed on the 710.
Dr. Ken Hudnut, a geophysicist and associate in geophysics, was the next panelist speaker, discussing the potential for earthquakes with underground tunnels. Hudnut first ran through some earthquake misconceptions and truths, noting that some people believe tunnels are safe from potential earthquake damage. Hudnut pointed out various cases of tunnel damage or even collapse.
“Damage has occurred even in newly built, strong tunnels in advanced nations,” said Hudnut.
Hudnut suggested, among other things, not building tunnels on or along fault lines, or at least to build on the less active sections of fault lines. He noted that most of the proposed tunnels do cross fault lines at more than one place.
Dr. John Seinfeld, an atmospheric researcher from Caltech, discussed air quality and the effects a structure such as a freeway can have on the surrounding air. Seinfeld said that the 710 Freeway has about 1,100 trucks traveling on it every hour and up to 2,600 during peak hours.
“Lots of us in the air quality trade have long considered the 710 the dirtiest freeway in the country,” said Seinfeld.
On whether he believes the proposed tunnel would contribute to decreased air quality, “It certainly seems that building a tunnel will increase traffic and increasing traffic will increase emissions.”
In the same vein, Dr. Rob McConnell of USC’s Keck School of Medicine spoke about the health effects of being near a major freeway like the 710, noting studies that indicated increased risks of asthma and bronchitis in children living close to freeways and increased risk of heart and respiratory disease in adults. The study also indicated that there was less risk in children who lived more than 300 meters from the freeway involved in the study, whereas there was a 50% increase in rates of asthma for children living within 75 meters of the freeway. Children who were already genetically susceptible to asthma experienced a 900% increase in asthma rates.
McConnell said these studies “increase health science justification for regulating exposures to 500 feet from a freeway.” McConnell also stated that California law does not allow construction of new schools within 500 feet of a freeway, although many schools would be within or near the 500-foot buffer of the proposed tunnel. Huntington Memorial Hospital would also lie within that buffer, which McConnell believes would increase their risk for respiratory illnesses.
Outside of health effects, Susan Mossman of Pasadena Heritage spoke about the negative effects of the tunnel construction on Pasadena’s historic buildings, calling it “the worst transportation proposal in terms of historical preservation because of the potential high impact on important structures.”
Former Glendale mayor and Metro boardmember Ara Najarian presented a different perspective on the tunnel, highlighting his experiences on the Metro board and the different attempts at building a tunnel throughout the years, with cost estimates ranging anywhere from $1 billion to $14 billion. The current estimate, Najarian told the audience, was $2.8 billion. Najarian said that figure would undoubtedly rise if construction were to begin and questioned whether the state could afford the ultimate cost for the tunnel.
Najarian also said the tunnel would be financed through a “public-private partnership” which he said would include foreign investors purchasing the tunnel.
“There will be tolls of up to $20 to use this tunnel,” said Najarian. “Tolls, you say? But it’s a freeway.”
Najarian said the tolls would be used to recoup costs, but “once you get to the $4 billion range, you can’t charge high enough for tolls to get an adequate return on that investment.”
Najarian suggested that light rail, among other alternatives, should be explored.
Assemblymember Anthony Portantino also spoke to the audience after the panel discussion.
“This doesn’t solve a transportation problem,” he said. “There are concrete reasons why this project stinks.”