I wanted to provide a quick update on one of the many road projects involving Metro: improvements proposed for the 710 corridor between Long Beach and the 60 freeway.
In 2008, Metro launched an environmental study on how to improve this part of I-710. As many battle-tested motorists already know, that segment of the freeway is often very congested.
The main problem is that the freeway is just three lanes wide between Long Beach and the 405 freeway and four lanes wide between the 405 and 60. In addition, the freeway is often clogged with both commuters and truck traffic that is traveling to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Among the alternatives being studied for the project is widening the freeway to 10 lanes (five lanes in each direction); adding four elevated truck-only lanes adjacent to the 710 (two lanes in each direction); restricting the truck-only lanes to be used by trucks with zero tailpipe emissions; and possibly tolling the truck-only lanes.
That’s obviously quite a road widening and one of the few still possible in the region, where freeways are often hemmed in by development. In the case of the 710 south, such a project is possible because of the utility corridor that exists between the 710 and the Los Angeles River.
This is not just a project about improving traffic, Metro officials say. Neighborhoods near the ports and the 710 freeway have long pointed to studies that show very bad local air pollution in the corridor from vehicles, trains and ships. The air is so bad that it likely leads to premature deaths in the region.
Here’s a link to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency web page on air pollution from diesel emissions in the freight corridor north of the ports.
So how does widening a freeway — i.e. increasing its capacity — help improve air quality? Doug Failing, Metro’s Executive Director, Highway Program, points to several items:
1. The hope is that the new configuration will result in overall better traffic flow and fewer idling vehicles. “A car sitting in congestion is more polluting than when it’s moving,” he says.
2. Separating some of the trucks from cars on the freeway should make the 710 safer, with fewer accidents resulting in less traffic tie-ups.
3. Because traffic is often bad on the 710, many motorists and trucks are using parallel streets as a short cut. It’s not good for residents of those neighborhoods and many of those surface streets do not move that kind of traffic efficiently. Officials hope that an improved 710 should help lure that traffic back to the freeway, where it belongs.
4. Last, and certainly not least, Metro is working with state air pollution officials and a group called Calstart to create a cleaner fleet of trucks for use on the road. One possibility being looked into: is it possible to create a truck powered by overhead electric wires on the freeway’s truck lanes?
The project is in the planning phase. In September, in response to concerns about the project’s footprint, the Executive Committee agreed with stakeholders to make changes to the project, which would extend the time it will take to complete the draft environmental impact statement that is underway.
Now that recommendation is going to the full Metro Board of Directors on Dec. 9. The goal is to release the study next fall.
There are still money challenges. The construction cost of some of the alternatives ranges from $3.8 billion to $6.7 billion, depending on which alternative is selected. As part of the Measure R sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 2008, $590 million is available for the I-710 project. In order to help address the funding shortfall, this project and five others, is being studied for a public-private partnership — i.e. deals in which private firms help pay for a project’s upfront cost in exchange for payments later. This is one reason the tolling option for trucks is being studied.
This is certainly a big project in Los Angeles — or anywhere else, for that matter. But Metro’s Doug Failing believes it has a good shot of succeeding.
“The project addresses a lot of growth that has happened over the years. There is a lot of latent demand — the roads down there are too crowded,” he said. “There are also a lot more laws coming online in the next few years requiring cleaner trucks and vehicles on the road. And that’s the goal of the project: help deal with the demand and encourage greener vehicles.”