Digging for answers
The more folks know about the 710 tunnels, the more they oppose the proposal
Would you allow a contractor to construct an addition to your house without knowing how many square feet he or she intended to build, how much it would cost to build and how many family members were going to use the addition? Of course you wouldn’t.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the Long beach (710) Freeway extension tunnels, one of the most controversial public works projects in the state, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) are spending millions of dollars on the 710 tunnels without first having acquired the same basic information. After 60 years, we do not have an accurate picture of cost vs. benefit vs. use. Policymakers are left with generalizations and promises of cleaner air and better commutes without any substantiating data made available to the public to justify those claims. The only environmental impact report completed was found deficient in 1999, and a 1973 federal injunction was renewed and is still in place, resulting in decertification by the federal government in 2003. That year, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) went so far as to suggest the need for the tunnels to be re-evaluated after the completion of the Gold Line, completion of a financial plan and implementation of local surface street improvements. Was that advice followed? Of course it wasn’t.
Since the FHWA issued its letter in 2003, at presentation after presentation stakeholders have been told that pertinent information will be forthcoming, but it never arrives. Available information does confirm that the 710 tunnels will be instantly gridlocked on the day they open. It also confirms that most of the arterial circulation in the San Gabriel Valley will not be improved by building the tunnels. MTA recently canceled two public outreach meetings because the temperature at these meetings was getting too hot for them to handle. So much for wanting balanced public input.
So why would a region want something that doesn’t help traffic on its local streets, doesn’t help commuters and has no demonstrated benefit to air quality? The answer is simple — it wouldn’t. The more folks are exposed to the facts surrounding the 710 tunnels, the greater the opposition to the project. I have been joined by Congressman Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, and a unanimous vote of the Los Angeles City Council in opposing the 710 tunnels. South Pasadena is no longer the lone voice in opposition, as Sierra Madre, La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge, Glendale and the mayor and neighborhood associations in West Pasadena have all taken strong positions against the tunnels. Thousands of residents throughout the San Gabriel Valley are lining up in strong opposition to this project. At the beginning of the environmental study, local officials were told the tunnels would only move forward if there was consensus; today, opposition continues to grow, and there is anything but consensus.
There are communities that need help with local traffic. There are goods that need to be moved. The answer lies with something other than the 710 tunnels. We should be using the Measure R money to solve these problems and not on a solution that makes them worse. If there were facts available that supported the need for the tunnel, they would be front and center in the debate. They are not. If the project was affordable, there would be a comprehensive financial plan available for review. There is not, even though the federal government requires such a plan be provided. Every effort to acquire accurate information before the project moves forward has been thwarted. Every effort to review air quality data has been denied. Cost estimates have been so widely variable ($1 billion to $14 billion) as to be invalid. Certainly given the enormous price tag of this project, fiscal questions should be welcomed. Ask MTA Board member Ara Najarian about what recently happened to him for pushing for a cost-benefit analysis — pro-tunnel advocates attempted to silence him by having him removed from the MTA board of directors.
As for costs: A 1.7-mile, single-bore tunnel project in another state has a budget of $3 billion. How could the twin-bore, 4.5 mile-long (9 miles total) 710 tunnels cost the same? Of course, the answer is they can’t. So why is this even an issue? MTA has $780 million from a local sales tax earmarked for this project. Even though it’s not enough to build the tunnels, it is enough to keep an army of consultants, lawyers and planners working for the next decade. Wouldn’t this money be better spent on projects that solve problems, are wanted by the public and can actually be financed? Of course it would.
It’s time to stop the march toward the tunnels and embrace the light of non-highway alternatives, of fiscal responsibility and honest planning. When a project relies on misinformation, missing information, the silencing of critics and generalizations in order to move forward, reasonable people need to say, “Enough!” and continue to put pressure on MTA and Caltrans to consider alternatives that actually solve problems and create jobs.
Anthony Portantino represented the San Gabriel Valley in the state Assembly until December. He is widely known for his efforts to bring more transparency and accountability to the Legislature. He is the former Mayor of La Cañada Flintridge, where he learned to appreciate local government. He has long been considered a friend to the foothill cities through his work on the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, League of California Cities and support for the Gold Line and redevelopment. A native of New Jersey, he is the proud father of two daughters and husband to Ellen Portantino. He is active in the PTA and AYSO.