On March 6, Caltrans and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) released an environmental study that recommends a tunnel to complete the infamous 710 Freeway gap. According to the documents, a 6.3-mile (10km) tunnel – running from Valley Boulevard, in Alhambra, to the 210 Freeway, in Pasadena – would provide the greatest amount of traffic relief of any transportation alternative and the fewest impacts. Besides the tunnel, the EIR also examined four other options: traffic management solutions, a dedicated bus line, a light-rail train or no-build.
The 2,200-page Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) concludes that the tunnel alternative “would have the largest increase in freeway and arterial performance” but carries the highest price tag. At $5.65 billion, the tunnel would cost twice as much as the light-rail alternative, estimated at $2.4 billion.
So far, the single bore double-deck tunnel running beneath Alhambra, El Sereno, South Pasadena and the western part of Pasadena has gained the most traction. According to the EIR/EIS, impacts to land, air, noise and aesthetics are minor compared to the impacts from building a 7.5-mile light-rail train from East LA through Alhambra and Pasadena.
“The tunnel is the only one that makes sense. And it is doable,” said Barbara Messina, Alhambra councilwoman and immediate past president of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. Alhambra is a leading force in the 710 Coalition, which calls for “closing the gap” of the freeway that starts in Long Beach and is considered the missing link in the 14 Southern California freeways. Caltrans first proposed the extension in 1959. Other cities in the group include San Marino, Monterey Park, Rosemead and San Gabriel.
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Opponents, citing a consultant’s study, say the extension of the 710 will not solve traffic gridlock problems in the region. They complain that the EIR/EIS leans heavily toward building the tunnel, instead of a light-rail train, or a dedicated busway.
Construction would take five years for the tunnel, six years for the LRT, the report estimates. Currently, $780 million has been put aside for the 710 Freeway gap project from Measure R, a 2008 half-cent sales tax passed by voters. A final EIR/EIS will be written after public comments are received.