Digging for answers

Digging for answers

The more folks know about the 710 tunnels, the more they oppose the proposal


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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.

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Thank you Anthony Portantino for your clear and concise explanation of the 710 tunnel issues. Metro representatives repeatedly state that "no decision has been made" regarding the final alternatives for the 710 extension. But SCAG, Mayor Messina of Alhambra and Councilman Fasana of Duarte are pushing for the 710 tunnel to be built, and are willing to throw Ara Najarian off the MTA board to get it done because he is asking how in the world will we pay for this enormous boondoggle. I also hear from Council representatives in the San Gabriel Valley that the "public" supports the 710 tunnel. As Anthony Portantino has just explained, how can the public support something that has no defining terms? The public has not been told definitively that a toll of up to $15 will be charged. How will that help relieve traffic congestion? Studies show that most commuters avoid freeways with toll roads. The tunnel has no exits so how will it help local traffic? There are many unanswered questions and Metro is not answering any of them. I applaud Anthony Portantino, Ara Najarian and others for asking these questions and supporting the No710 position.

posted by JaneD on 1/03/13 @ 11:38 a.m.

A "look busy" $780 million paycheck 4 lawyers-planners-consultants?

posted by Patrizzi on 1/03/13 @ 12:17 p.m.

As a life-long resident of Pasadena, I agree wholeheartedly with Anthony Portantino's view. I am frustrated with Metro's "meetings," where one is told we are to "listen" to information and there is to be no questioning. Once questioning begins despite their "rules," Metro reps can tell one nothing. Millions of taxpayers dollars are being spent on Metro's dog-and-pony information meetings that lead nowhere, not to mention the billions of dollars that would be spent on this double-bore tunnel. All information gathered regarding Metro's "work" is difficult to find, buried layers and layers in their website, but have been found, contradiction after contradiction, and are posted at no710.com. Transparency is Metro's enemy, as it would expose their true intent. Be wary of Metro's information and do your own research. You will be shocked by what you will find. Thank you, Anthony, for continuing to expose this boondoggle for what it really is.

posted by vlkea01 on 1/03/13 @ 01:16 p.m.

"The more folks know about the 710 tunnels, the more they oppose the proposal." Truer words were never spoken about the 710 proposals.

Thank you Mr. Portantino for zeroing in on the key points of this issue.

Anyone who thinks that the 710 tunnel will relieve congestion, should READ THIS ARTICLE!

posted by locality on 1/03/13 @ 03:50 p.m.

I wish a story of how unaccountable agencies spend public money by the millions was unique - it is not. That Metro is so unresponsive to the public or its elected officials just adds salt to the wounds.

At best, Metro is a Tammany Hall-style financial junta.

It's time to demand an audit the likes of the recent Caltrans investigation and address this once and for all.

posted by charlesmiller on 1/03/13 @ 10:09 p.m.

I also want to thank Ara Najarian for his unselfish support. He could have just gone along with the program to save his butt, but he stood fast, communicating his constituents' wishes and questions. Thank you, Ara!

posted by vlkea01 on 1/03/13 @ 10:38 p.m.

I have been following this project for almost 4 years now and everything that Mr. Portantino writes about is absolutely true. I have done extensive research and learned about the huge public deception with regard to transportation issues in LA County. It's shameful. It's all documented on no710.com. The phrase that I keep focusing on, first appeared in an InfraConsult financial report dated 7/10/10 that was received and filed by the MTA Board in June 2012. When referring to the SR-710 Gap Closure (as a tunnel), it states, "traffic volumes - and hence toll revenue - are projected to be extremely high from opening day forward." The report goes on to describe the plan to bundle the SR-710 with the I-710 Freight Corridor and the High Desert Corridor, in order to attract investors. This bundling is needed to make all projects viable. The SR-710 would financially support the other two projects which have shortfalls in funding. This strategy is being sold to investors right now, combined with plans for tolling the Sepulveda Pass and the I-5 from the SR-14 to Parker Road. The public has no idea that all of this is coming but it is outlined in the investor presentations as "Local Taxes and Highway Tolls: The New Normal." This disturbing trend explains why Metro, Caltrans, SCAG, and others are pushing for the tunnel so hard. That's the only way they can afford to build new highways. Tell your friends and neighbors about these plans. As for the SR-710, the northeast cannot take "extremely high traffic." We already have more than our fair share from the last gap that was closed. The 210 is very loud and crowded.


posted by sbolan on 1/05/13 @ 04:20 p.m.

I remember when they built the 210 freeway in Pasadena, right through the middle of my low income neighborhood. When it reached the affluent part of town to link up with the 710, that's as far as it got, and it will never get any further.

posted by Vivavilla on 1/07/13 @ 11:36 a.m.

I also recall when they started the 134/210. (Vivavilla, the 210 also went north and butchered La Canada Flintridge and the 134 was then hooked up to it on my just east of the San Rafael offramp.) I was in junior high school (McKinley) way back when dirt was young. I lived and still live on the west side. It was a horrendous time for our Pasadena neighborhoods, wealthy, poor, and anywhere in between, east and west of the Arroyo. I also recall the boarded up historic homes and even then, when I was about 14, I hated the thought of it and the sight and sounds of it. Although I'm a good 15-minute walk from the 134, then and now, I can hear the trucks downshift, especially in the middle of the night as they hit the crest at Figueroa and rumble through Pasadena. Our various and unique neighborhoods must stand together, as we are all in this mess together. We cannot allow this to occur in our city every again. We are not as different from each other as we might perceive us to be.

posted by vlkea01 on 1/07/13 @ 08:00 p.m.

Vikeao1, Wish more people felt like you, but unfortunately they do not. Too many run roughdshod over my part of town and then want me to cry bitter tears when someone runs roughshod over theirs. I got tired of helping others fight their fights to find myself alone when I needed help with my fights. If they complete the 710, I promise to use it. Otherwise, not my fight,

posted by Vivavilla on 1/08/13 @ 07:30 p.m.

M = Make
E = Every
T = Thing
R = Really
O = Obsolete

posted by tmgulotta on 1/09/13 @ 10:44 a.m.

It's all our fights no matter where you live. I live in La Crescenta and give total support to the freeway fighters in El Sereno, South Pasadena, and Pasadena. This project will wreak havoc like you have never seen. You won't use it vivavilla. Ten years from now when it's completed, it will likely cost $15 per trip, that's $30 plus your gas to go to Long Beach and back. There are better solutions to traffic problems and you should not be so egocentric.

posted by sbolan on 1/09/13 @ 11:33 p.m.
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