Connecting with a cleaner world
Supporters believe much-maligned 710 Freeway tunnels will greatly ease congestion and dramatically improve air quality for millions of people
By Barbara Messina 01/17/2013
How many people over the years have taken Interstate 10’s “710 North Pasadena” off ramp to find themselves trapped in a sea of vehicles trying to get to Pasadena or the Foothill (210) Freeway?
Former state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino would have you believe that there is a statewide groundswell of opposition to plans to connect the two freeways, particularly if that is accomplished by building a tunnel to close the 4.5-mile gap that separates them.
The truth is, however, despite repeated attempts to stop any linkage between the 710 and 210 freeways after findings that a surface connector was unacceptable, work has progressed on evaluating other means of making this vital connection happen. In 2008, Los Angeles County voters took the matter into their own hands by accepting a tax increase, Measure R, to complete a number of transit projects, including a tunnel to connect the two freeways.
Support for the 710 connector tunnels comes from residents of the very cities that Mr. Portantino once represented. The city of Pasadena, for example, has an initiative ordinance, approved by 58.3 percent (9,654) voters, that states “it is the policy of the city of Pasadena to favor completion of the 710 Freeway between the I-210 and the I-10 Freeways.” Recent attempts to change this policy have been ineffectual.
The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGV/COG) represents 31 cities, some of them in Mr. Portantino’s former district. The COG has unanimously adopted a resolution designating the 710 connector as a “high priority.”
Regular polling by the pro-tunnel 710 Coalition consistently shows majority support for freeway completion in communities such as Glendale (51 percent), El Sereno (60 percent) and cities around the San Gabriel Valley. Even among residents of the most vocal connector opponent, the city of South Pasadena, 42 percent of of those polled said they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” completion of the 710.
So why does Mr. Portantino claim a tunnel option is going forward with no basic information and is a misguided and unpopular idea? Because the disinformation and scare campaign to stop any 710 connection is failing spectacularly, in large part because completing the freeway system is an idea whose time not only has come, but is long overdue.
Here is a sampling of what’s been going on:
• In 2008 and in 2012, a 710 tunnel plan was included in the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Last-minute, behind-the-scenes attempts by two cities to change the project description from a tunnel to simple roadway improvements failed. The congestion relief and air-quality benefits of a tunnel project were a major reason why the plan was certified both years.
• In 2009, the SR 710 Tunnel Feasibility Study found that a tunnel would be feasible and has provided a sound technical basis for the environmental impact study that is under way now. This was not the result opponents had wanted.
• In June 2010, The MTA Board of Directors adopted a motion for a cost-benefit analysis to be completed before the 710 connector project environmental impact report came up for certification in 2014. Despite this fact, a small group of vocal opponents are calling for a cost-benefit analysis and have former MTA Board Member Ara Najarian championing this demand. Mr. Najarian, a Glendale City Council member, conveniently never mentioned the fact that the MTA Board has already taken the very action critics want.
• In December 2011, when ridiculous claims of tunnel costs were being taken as fact because of Mr. Najarian’s representations, the MTA Board asked MTA staff to prepare a summary of potential tunnel costs. This study, which was presented in public, identified costs in present dollars of about $3 billion. Again, when facts cloud the opposition’s “story,” they are ignored or ridiculed, as demonstrated by Mr. Portantino as well as Mr. Najarian’s disruption of the December 2012 MTA Board meeting, during which he made outrageous and untrue tunnel cost claims from the floor. Adjusted for inflation, the official tunnel cost estimate by SCAG is $5.3 billion.
• In 2011, the MTA published the first report that establishes the framework for funding a tunnel. The concept of a public-private partnership (PPP) is viable and will limit the expenditure of public dollars. Once again, former MTA Director Najarian and others have chosen to ignore studies already requisitioned, mainly because they do not like the results.
Mr. Portantino seems to have a bad case of “wishing will make it so.” The 710 extension is one of the most popular projects in the state, approved by a majority of voters in California’s most populous county. Voter mandates are typically strong directions given to elected officials. Mr. Portantino does a disservice to the public when he dangles the thought of using the voter-approved 710 extension tax money for other small, politically popular local projects that do not come close to delivering the congestion relief and air-quality benefits we need so badly in Los Angeles County.
The voters of Los Angeles County are anxious to have the current environmental study of the 710 connector project completed so we can all discuss the findings and participate in the public process that will lead to the implementation of the voter’s will. The time of fear and scare tactics is over.
Barbara Messina is the mayor of Alhambra, president of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and a representative to the six-county Southern California Association of Governments.