710 Tunnel Serves No Useful Transportation Function

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Since the 1940s, the six-mile Route 710—proposed through parts of Pasadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra, and Los Angeles—has been stopped by the public many times.

Each time, California’s Department of Transportation (Caltrans) waits several years and then tries to build it again—and the cycle repeats.

Even Caltrans’s latest traffic models prove that the proposed highway serves no useful transportation function. Plus, the highway would damage Pasadena’s historic core and harm minority communities to the south. The so-called “north State Route 710 tunnel” is one of three alternatives proposed by Caltrans and LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to solve a contrived problem statement. The other two alternatives are strawmen.

There are polar-opposite value sets at work here. The proposed highway will cost between $6-12 billion dollars, which is very appealing to Caltrans and the powerful highway building industry. However, for this context, an appropriate use of the funds would reinforce the connected network of streets, invest in transit, encourage mix and infill land uses, and provide better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

A couple of decades ago, Caltrans did manage to construct two highway stubs at the ends of the proposed highway before the public could stop them.

In the process, Caltrans destroyed hundreds of buildings, removed a huge portion from the tax base, and dug a half-mile-long and one-block-wide trench for the highway. In response, the community proposes to fill in the “ditch,” reconnect their street network, and build parks and a diversity of buildings. So, while Caltrans wants to spend a lot of money to build a highway that will damage the city, the community wants to invest less money and repair the previous damage and get a better city.

It would seem obvious that the last thing LA County needs to do is spend billions on corporate welfare and end up with a highway that will induce more traffic, create more air pollution, and increase the region’s automobile dependency problem. In the current fight against this highway, a five-city coalition—Glendale, Pasadena, Sierra Madre, South Pasadena, and La Cañada Flintridge—has joined forces along with a myriad of other organizations. We wish them well in what is America’s longest-running highway fight. Like a bad penny, this proposed highway just keeps coming back. It has made the top 10 list of Freeways Without Futures 2017, published this week. and needs to be stopped once and for all. It was a bad idea decades ago and it is a worse idea now (because everybody knows better).

Ian Lockwood PE is a Livable Transportation Engineer with Toole Design Group who specializes in active transportation, place-making, and helping cities through collaborative planning, design and engineering.

1 COMMENT

  1. I will refute this argument and state that there IS a useful transportation purpose in building this tunnel. For that, one must look beyond the immediate communities and view the transportation neetwork from a regional perspective.

    For the longest of time, the 5 and the 101 Freeways have been the only way to drive through Los Angeles if you want to reach points north and south. This has led to traffic on said freeways that they were not designed to handle. That is because there is a parallel freeway, the 210 west of Pasadena, that can be used in conjunction with a tunnel to provide a meaningful bypass of LA that currently doesn’t exist. The 210 west was built with that in mind but is currently underutilized. Building the tunnel provides drivers a real alternative that allows them to drive around LA instead of through it. Travelers and goods distribution benefit from the bypass: If traffic is bad through downtown, you simply take a way around.

    It is a simple but valuable benefit. That opponents continue to fight this critical link, even when new technology allows them to sacrifice significantly less. One can continue to to fight it out of sheer pride, but it will never be “stopped once and for all” so as long as the problem described above remains and there are new technologies that increasingly make the project a win-win situation for all involved.

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