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 replies

  1. Three thoughts on your post:

    1. When Measure R was passed, the section related to the 710 contemplated closing the gap between the 710 and the 210 spur in Pasadena (which you identified as California Blvd.). At least two of the alternatives proposed, those affecting the west part of Pasadena, don’t do this; they would connect with the 134 Freeway somewhere west of the current 210 spur, which is quite a different matter and was not authorized by Measure R.

    2.. Frank Quon may feel that Metro has done a good job “connecting with the communities,” but as is often the case, what Metro thinks in its downtown tower doesn’t square with actual practice. We live in Highland Park, an area that will be affected by some of the west routes. Moreover, Metro has my email address through dozens of different meetings I’ve attended, my Senior TAP card, and the fact that I once volunteered for Metro. Not once have we received any notice about anything related to this project. I have talked with close friends who live in the area being studied and none of them received any information either. Many of us seriously doubt that Metro sent out any information on this project but if it did, it was done with monumental ineffiency. In addition, I believe this is the first time this issue has shown up on The Source and The Metro Web site has the project buried deep and calls it “SR 710 Project;” I had to search quite some time to find it.

    3. Among the many possibilities that Metro is required to study are Transit Systems Management (TSM) and Transit Demand Management (TDM). I don’t think I’ve ever seen Metro recommend these for any project; in fact, I wonder whether they’re even seriously studied. However, this is one project where they ought to be taken very seriously as opposed to digging tunnels or building surface freeways that require destroying neighborhoods and spending billions of dollars.

    The 710 isn’t the first freeway that will fail to get completed because of community opposition. One thinks of the 2 Freeway south of the Golden State Freeway, which was originally planned to continue south to Santa Monica Blvd. and then west through Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Not surprisingly, those communities (and this was 60+ years ago) objected to their communities being destroyed to build a freeway. Here again, Metro is wasting a great number of taxpayer dollars that not only won’t be completed but should not be completed.

  2. Your article does not tell the reader why the SR-710 Gap was placed on Measure R in the first place. Please explain this to me: who decided to place it on Measure R and why. This should be public knowledge for the public to be able to evaluate.

  3. On August 6, 2012, I found out about the alternatives being studied to route the 710 through Ave 64. I was shocked. My home is right on Ave 64. I was never notified either by mail or flyer. On one of the meetings I attended Metro Consultant Michelle Smith stated that they involved the Communities, by scheduling meetings with them. She stated that they had meetings in May 2012. The number of attendees to these meetings were as follows:
    El Sereno 37,
    Eagle Rock 35
    La Canada 62
    Pasadena 95
    So. Pasadena 75
    Alhambra 38
    Total 342
    Do you think that number represents all those cities? Mr. Frank Quon stated on Metro Website that, “We are trying to connect with all the Communities and get their imput.”
    He also stated, ” We have embraced the public outreach process and need to hear their voices”. At the last Pasadena City Council Meeting there were more than 850 in attendance, mostly from the San Rafael Area, South Pasadena, Highland Park, El Sereno.
    etc.
    WE ALL OPPOSE 710 ALTERNATIVES AS FOLLOWS:
    ALTERNATIVE: F5 FREEWAY TUNNEL CONNECTING I-10 TO SR-134 THRU SAN RAFAEL NEIGHBORHOOD THROUGH AVE 64
    ALTERNATIVE: H2 AN ARTERAIL ROAD ALONG THE CURRENT AVE 64 PASADENA
    ALTERNATIVE: h6 HIGHWAY ALONG HUNTINGTON DRIVE/FAIR OAKS/PASADENA AVE

    RESPECTFULLY,

    AVELINA ROSHOLT

  4. With all due respect, Metro needs to stop trying to sell the message that “No Decisions Have Been Made.” The truth is that decisions have been made without adequate public notice, involvement or feedback. As one of the earlier comments highlights, out of a scoping area population of over 1 million people only 0.00352% of the stakeholders participated in the last round of open houses and comments. This is not a public process.

    As the article admits clearly, DECISIONS HAVE BEEN MADE, to narrow the number of proposed routes from over 40 to 12. I have heard people state that the initial number of proposed routes was as high as 60. How were those decisions made? Who made those decisions? Metro took 28 routes or more off the table with 0% public comment. Metro has admitted there hasn’t been any quantitative analysis performed on the routes. How then were the 12 routes decided upon? Decisions have been made and are continuing to be made daily without public participation. We were told that the route numbers will be further narrowed to 5 or so when the technical information is released.

    Three rounds of decisions without any input from those who would be most affected. This scoping process is not transparent and lacks robust technical review. Metro, you can do better than this.

  5. I will put this in BOLD LETTERS so you do not miss it, Steve

    DESPITE WHAT YOU MAY HAVE HEARD FROM A METRO, AND WHILE NO DECISIONS OR ASSURANCES HAVE BEEN MADE BY METRO – THREE ROUTE ALTERNATIVES ARE ILLEGAL PER STATE LAW (F2, F5 and H2) – Arroyo Seco Parklands Preservation Act 1975) , ALL ALTERNATIVES START REAL ESTATE DEVALUATION, LOST BUYERS, AND DIFFICULT IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE REFINANCING TO PROPERTIES IN THE PROPOSED PATH.

    Get it? Residents are “hopping mad” and “fur is flying” (ed note: are you suggesting we are animals with that comment?) as this has deferred retirements for some, equity loans for their college kids, declined home sale offers for others – oh yes – we are mad.

    As for your politicians statement – who do you think will make the final call on funding? And what are we hearing from these politicians? Dig, Dig, Dig!

    With Metro’s outreach being so poor (we have done just fine on no budget btw – care to share Consensus’ budget with us going forward our outreach?) Do you blame us for being just a little skeptical?

    Since you like blogs, I will invite you to read Bloomberg’s news article on Boston’s “Big Dig – Big Debt” – http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-04/D9U10DT00.htm Two quotes to focus on – “The Big Dig debt has never been dealt with, and it’s squeezing our ability to do a bunch of other things that we need to do to sustain the economy and the quality of life here,” Gov. Deval Patrick told a gathering of regional business leaders this past week. Steve Poftak, a transportation analyst at the Boston-based Pioneer Institute, says the cost overruns and massive debt incurred by the Big Dig have left a bad taste in the public’s mind. “There is a lot of cynicism built up, rightly or wrongly, from the Big Dig,” he said. “People are very skeptical of the state’s ability to do a good job with transportation dollars.”

    If Boston has troubles even 10 years after opening to attract dollars, why burn our $780M in cash for a poor idea on arrival for a tunnel a mile longer than the ill-fated “Big Dig”?

    This is simply seen by residents as a – “Put Consultants to Work” project to ride through the recession on the backs of homeowners.

    I do hope you address these very real concerns in your next blog posting.

  6. Um, thanks for the rather condescending tone in your explanation?

    I’m pretty sure that the populace in the affected communities knows that a decision hasn’t been made. It’s irksome, though, that some outlandish alternatives are being proposed and the Measure R (public funds) money is being used to study them. To be complete, why don’t we throw in some personal, family, and cargo jet-pack alternatives? Maybe some Star Trek transformers (actually, that’d be nice!). It’s just tiring to have to fight the same ol’ fight to remove alternatives that violate existing laws. THAT’S what’s getting the community in a well-justified fur-flying (your loaded words) fest. And many residents aren’t digitally connected, so to overlook the requirement to inform the public via mail is outrageous, as well.

    What residents DON’T want is to pay for an analysis of alternatives, or for the EIR to go forward, when it contains alternatives that are clear violations of laws and regulations, and that have little or no community support. And please don’t trot out the old canard about elected officials and their appointees being accountable at the ballot box. Some do not care about their constituents or re-election and will vote for what they want regardless of whether their voters want it. Don’t embarrass yourself again by trying to get that one past incensed residents.

  7. I am getting pretty tired of Metro’s condescending attitude towards this project. Don’t call this a democratic process when you don’t involve the public. Don’t give the same answer again and again that no decision has been made because as long as that route through Ave 64 is even being talked about, life at my house will be at a standstill. We will not put money into any improvements if there is a possibility the house will be torn down. Be adult and admit that you tried to pull one over on the communities that will be hardest hit by this study and hold a public hearing now to get our opinions and PLEASE advertise this one properly.

  8. No one is buying what you are trying to back-peddle. You can not “do damage control” no matter what you try. We are informed by the facts, and we are not going back to your smoke and mirrors game. Especially the one where you divide and conquer us.
    You should all be ashamed that you have wasted our hard earned tax money.
    Our salaries support your salaries, but you have forgotten that.
    Shame on you

  9. Actually, Metro, there are many very valid reasons our “fur is flying:” 1) The plans are not lawful; 2) the plans will destroy historic neighborhoods; 3) the plans will destroy property values; 4) the plan destroys family-built homes where original families still live; 5) the plans will destroy peoples’ lives; 6) the plans will destroy the nearby native habitat. I’m sure there is more that others can add to this list.

    You have made decisions without stakeholders’ input, attempted to divide and conquer, pretend you have had adequate communications with the public, and then insult our intelligence by telling us that we are wrong after we became wise to the game. Your communications have been woefully less than halfway adequate. Your willingness to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a study no one wants is egregious.

    So don’t try to schmooze us. We’re not falling for it and we won’t go away. Grow up and admit your wrongdoing, Metro.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. “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.

  14. 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.

    • 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

  15. 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.