710 tunnel not winning any popularity contests, at least not yet

710corridorsAt a recent meeting with the Eagle Rock Assn., Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar — who is also a member of the Metro Board of Directors — was asked for his views on the proposed tunnel to close the gap in the 710 freeway between the Alhambra-L.A. border and Pasadena.

The Boulevard Sentinel had this nugget:

The Councilman had something to say regarding the 710 freeway gap through his district’s communities of El Sereno, Highland Park, Glassell Park, Mt. Washington or Eagle Rock.

He said, “I will not allow in the areas of my direct jurisdiction, any above ground or tunnel to come through Northeast Los Angeles to fill that gap. It just- does not- make- sense.” To which he received a rousing applause.

The quote caught my eye because the 710 gap closure is slated to receive north of $700 million in funding from the Measure R sales tax approved by voters last year. So it was interesting to see a Metro Board member publicly come out against a Measure R project — although Huizar wasn’t on the Board when Measure R was conceived and opposition to a Measure R project by board members isn’t exactly unprecedented.

Board Chairman Ara Najarian, also a Glendale City Councilman, has been vocal in his opposition to a tunnel route that would connect the 710 to the 2 freeway and bring impacts to what he calls “the heart of Glendale.” The above map shows the five corridors where soil conditions were recently studied.

I emailed Huizar spokesman Rick Coca to check if the quote was accurate. Coca replied that Huizar is opposed to the two proposed tunnel routes that would be under Mt. Washington and Eagle Rock and that it remains to be seen whether Huizar would support the route that would take the tunnel straight north from the 710’s current terminus at Valley Boulevard.

“It [the tunnel] absolutely would need to start well south of Valley Boulevard and not adversely affect the El Sereno community for him to even consider it,” Coca wrote.

The intent of this post is not to pick on Huizar (and in the interest of full disclosure I did some freelance policy work for him this past summer). Rather, I think it’s interesting that the 710 tunnel was first proposed in response to the fact that a surface route through L.A., South Pasadena and Pasadena was seen as politically impossible.

But the tunnel isn’t proving to be much more popular. Glendale, South Pasadena and La Canada-Flintridge are all opposed and my sense is that communities above any of the proposed tunnel routes will have strong concerns.

Nonetheless, a geotechnical study released last month by Caltrans and the engineering firm CH2M Hill found that tunneling was possible along five different corridors they reviewed. Excerpt from the executive summary:

Based on the information collected and reviewed as part of the current geotechnical study, tunneling is geotechnically feasible in all five zones. Geotechnical feasibility implies that it is feasible to construct a tunnel in the geologic formations expected, including the geotechnical conditions associated with these formations using currently available tunneling technologies. Section 12 discusses several tunnel projects and the construction technologies available for conditions similar to those present within the zones under consideration for this project.

Stay tuned on this one. At this point, everything is a bit of a moot point because the Measure R money isn’t nearly enough to complete any kind of 710 tunnel. It’s expected to be a multi-billion project — in 2006 a Metro feasability study found the cost to range from $2.3 billion to $3.6 billion in 2006 dollars.

No other funding for the tunnel has yet been found and it’s expected that private sector money will be needed to ever complete the project. One idea being floated is that a firm that helps finance the project could recover its investment from tolls.