Understanding why the 710 gap is being studied and what is being considered

As many readers are surely aware, the ongoing studies to improve traffic in the area around the gap in the 710 freeway just finished their latest round of community meetings. Not surprisingly, the meetings got a lot of fur flying in some communities — the reason I wanted to post today to explain exactly what is being studied, why it’s being studied and what might come of it.

First, I want to be very clear about something and I’m going to put it in large, bold letters to emphasize my point: DESPITE WHAT YOU MAY HAVE HEARD FROM A FRIEND, NEIGHBOR, POLITICIAN, PERSON IN LINE AT THE COFFEE SHOP, ETC., NO DECISIONS HAVE BEEN MADE BY METRO OR ANY OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCY TO BUILD ANYTHING. INCLUDING A TUNNEL. 

As someone who has watched this issue percolate for many moons, I am going to do my best to explain what is being discussed and studied by Metro:

WHY IS METRO STUDYING THE 710 GAP ISSUE?

In 2008, nearly 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters approved the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase to help fund 12 transit projects and a long list of highway projects. Among those was a project to address traffic issues raised by the four-mile gap in the 710 freeway between Valley Boulevard in Alhambra and California Avenue in Pasadena. The project is set to receive $780 million in Measure R funding.

Measure R did not obligate Metro to build any particular 710 project, although its passage did obligate Metro to study the issue and determine if a project was warranted — just like every other project listed in the Measure R expenditure plan. To put it another way, Measure R obligated Metro to come up with possible project alternatives and then decide if any of the alternatives were worth pursuing — which is the lovely and fascinating process we have before you now.

WHO WILL MAKE THE FINAL DECISION ON A 710 PROJECT?

At the end of the day it will be up to Metro’s 13-member Board of Directors who oversee the agency; Board Members either elected officials or their appointees. There’s a good reason for this: elected officials are accountable by the public at the ballot box.

BUT HASN’T IT BEEN DECIDED WE CAN ALL LIVE PEACEFULLY WITH THE STATUS QUO WHEN IT COMES TO THE 710 GAP?

No. A formal decision has never been made by the county, state or federal government or the courts that the 710 gap is a settled issue and that nothing should be done to help improve traffic in the area. The 710 freeway reached Valley Boulevard in 1965 and there were plans to continue to Pasadena but it never happened.

An attempt to close the gap with a surface-level freeway died in the 1990s due mostly to community opposition. To this day, there remains communities who would like to see the 710 gap issue addressed just as there are communities — or, at the least, community members — who would probably like to see the issue forever vanish into the ether.

As a Pasadena resident, I do think it’s fair to say that the region has in some sense adapted to the 710 gap, just as many Westsiders have adapted to their horrible traffic congestion. I also think it’s hard to ignore the fact that the gap still causes a number of traffic issues, among them increased congestion on surface and residential streets as traffic detours around the gap.

The most obvious impact is on surface streets between Alhambra and Pasadena — in particular Valley Boulevard, Fremont Avenue and Pasadena Avenue. But many others believe that the impact is more pronounced with a ripple effect outward and increased traffic on other north-south roads in the area — such as the 5 and 605 freeways as well as east-west corridors used to get around the area, such as the 10, 210 and 134 freeways and Huntington Drive.

WHY IS METRO STUDYING ALTERNATIVES THAT ARE CERTAIN TO MAKE SOME COMMUNITIES HOPPING MAD?

Great question!

The answer is actually pretty simple: both state and federal environmental law requires Metro to consider a wide variety of options instead of simply assuming one or two of them is the best way to go. Every Metro project must clear this hurdle. For example, in the environmental studies for the Westside Subway Extension, Metro planners had to look at a very wide variety of transit types and routes — not to mention their respective impacts — in order to justify why extending the Purple Line subway to Westwood would serve the community best.

With the 710, it’s obvious that no project alternative is going to please everybody. But Metro has to consider a variety of alternatives in order to find one that’s best, whether it be traffic signal improvements, new bus rapid transit lines, a freeway tunnel or other road widenings to improve traffic flow. In my view, it’s just further proof that democracy can cause one big mess — and that big mess, in my humble view, is still better than the alternative.

“We stepped back — way back — in 2010 when the Metro Board of Directors said we want to look at this all over again,” said Frank Quon, Executive Officer, Metro’s Highway Program. “We’re trying to connect with all the communities and get their input. We have embraced the public outreach process and we need to hear all the voices.”

Quon, in a recent talk with me, pointed out that Metro may end up choosing one or more of the alternatives, a sort of hybrid approach. He also said that, as always, reducing impacts or being able to manage them will be a very important consideration — and a big reason that Metro is seeking so much community input.

Impacts, in fact, are always a huge consideration. A project has to both perform well and have impacts that are acceptable and manageable.

SO WHAT’S UP WITH SOME OF THESE ALTERNATIVES THAT METRO IS FLOATING?

When Metro launched the latest round of studies on the 710 gap in 2010, the agency and its Board of Directors decided the best approach was to start fresh and put everything on the table. After an initial scoping process — with a lot of community input — more than 40 ideas sat on the proverbial table.

Metro staff and consultants have narrowed that list to 12 alternatives based on many criteria including this significant one: the alternatives that have survived to date are ones that Metro believes would either have a positive impact on reducing travel times in the area, reduce freeway congestion, improve road and transit connections and/or increase transit usage. Here they are (here’s the direct link to the pdf):

Sr710 Open House Alternative Concepts

Keep in mind that a tunnel would undoubtedly cost several billion dollars and the project, at this point, has $780 million in Measure R funding. Metro has studied whether public-private partnerships (known as PPPs) can be used to build projects that are not completely funded (here’s the web page on metro.net explaining them). Generally speaking, a PPP arrangement involves having a private firm build a project in exchange for some type of future revenue — such as money collected from a toll road, for example.

So there is a potential financing model out there, but it’s important again to note that no decision to build a freeway tunnel for the 710 has been made. It remains unknown whether there are even private firms out there willing to take on that kind of risk.

WHERE DOES THE PROCESS GO FROM HERE?

Metro staff will finish the ongoing study — called an alternative analysis — this fall. That report will include recommendations from Metro staff about which project alternatives should be studied in a much longer, much more thorough draft environmental impact statement/report. The final decision about what gets studied further will ultimately be up to the Metro Board.

In the more immediate future — by the end of August — a technical advisory committee will start looking at the performance of the alternatives still on the table and narrowing that list.

17 thoughts on “Understanding why the 710 gap is being studied and what is being considered

  1. The comments already posted are quite in sync with mine. I would like to point out that the SR 710 Study is paying consultants millions of dollars to forever “study” north-south alternative routes as determined by Metro / Caltrans with miniscule public input. The community outreach attempted by Metro is a joke. I find it interesting that no one from Metro will even mention the word “cargo” or “truck” when they are discussing objectives of this plan. This whole project is being done in order to move goods from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles via truck which is an outdated mode of transport for the 21st century. Have you been on the 210 freeway lately? It’s a parking lot. Add to that hundreds more trucks and you have system failure. Also will residents of the area pay a $10 toll to travel 4.5 miles in a tunnel to reach the 210? No. The toll is being charged to trucks carrying cargo from the Ports, and the revenue will provide earnings to private investors. And this is considered worthy of Measure R funds? This 710 extension proposal is a travesty.

  2. I try my best to stay informed on issues that affect my community. The 710 extension project that has been studied affecting Ave. 64 has hit my radar about three weeks ago at this point in time. I can’t believe that any Metro official can even begin to pretend that sufficient outreach has been conducted. That’s a joke. You guys have been trying to work with as little public attention as you could get away with.

    I voted in favor of Measure R based on the idea that light rail and subway projects would be advanced NOT for freeway/highway/tunnel projects to connect the 710 to the 210/134. I can promise you, I will in no way support Measure J to continue feeding the beast that is Metro.

    I categorically oppose any route negatively impacting/destroying Ave. 64: F5, H2 & H6.

  3. I too am tired of Metro’s condescension when talking to the public about this study. The worst is use of capital letters and bold to essentially yell at us that no decision has been made. Really? Then why is the tone of the entire post that SOMETHING must be built and we all will just have to organize to stop it? Mr. Hymon acts as if the decades of struggle against this project and the legacy of stop it is merely temporary, while the mandate to build it (which exists no where) is the real status quo. I’ve learned from going to these meetings, and from my neighbors not the metro, that there never a plan to extend the 710 to the highway, just state authorities attempting to make it seem inevitable. That’s why the nubs of 710/210 exist: they don’t go anywhere and only are there to make it seem as if plans exist and it is only a matter of time. Well, the people of this community didn’t want it in the 60s, they didn’t want it in the 70s, they didn’t want it in the 80s, 90s, 00s, and we still don’t want it.

  4. “With the 710, it’s obvious that no project alternative is going to please everybody.”

    No build, nowhere will please most if not all of the people. That should be obvious.

  5. Steve, I usually like your reporting and enjoyed your work while you were at LA Times. This article wanders pretty far the objective and unbiased reporting we’re used to.

    First, there is no gap! There are simply neighborhoods in the way of a massive superhighway expansion plan. Does anyone talk about a gap between the 2 and the 101, and then on through Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and on to the 405. Or a gap between the 90 and 110? Its a freeway expansion, period. I don’t think anyone has justified the NEED for the project, which is what the scoping process is SUPPOSED to accomplish.

    You say, “I also think it’s hard to ignore the fact that the gap still causes a number of traffic issues, among them increased congestion on surface and residential streets as traffic detours around the gap.” But that’s not the point! There is congestion everywhere, and I have not seen any justification about the congestion being worse in western San Gabriel Valley relative to other parts of the LA Basin. I’m sure a completed 2 freeway from the 101 to the 405 would also achieve WONDERFUL rates of performance! Lots of LOS F mileage on area roads would be removed I’m sure (which is one of the big performance metrics used in the current analysis). But obviously no one is talking about doing that project, which would probably run circles around the 710 expansion in terms of performance. So why are we talking about expanding the 710????

    So, Steve, I know Metro is now your boss and paying your salary, but this article really doesn’t do anyone a good service. I hope you’ll be able to post more objective articles in the future on this issue.

  6. Hi Yu-Han;

    Your points are well taken. The point of the blog post was to try to explain, to the best of my ability, why the 710 gap was being studied again and why there were so many various alternatives on the table, including some that are profoundly unpopular. I am not advocating for any particular alternative and I am not saying that there is one that will improve traffic. I stand by my assertion that the current gap does have impacts.

    The big question — which you articulate well — is whether there’s a project out there that performs well enough and has acceptable enough impacts. I don’t know. That’s why they’re studying it. Obviously questioning the competence of the studies and/or outreach efforts is fair game, thus the reason people like you are being asked for your opinion!

    Steve Hymon
    Editor, The Source

  7. Steve, if Metro wanted to get serious about reaching out to inform the public in the study area and soliciting their opinions on the alterlnatives, they would have used some of the millions in study funds to conduct focus groups, polls, surveys, mailers. with specifics and details of cost, construction, impact on health, air quality, environment, induced traffic, toll attrition, impact of truck traffic. The devil is truly in the details. Measure R voters did not earmark $780 million for a freeway tunnel, and San Gabriel Valley officials supported the measure only after the Fasana ammendment with promises of Goldline Foothill extension, not a freeway.

    Mark Dreskin, M.D.

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