On a glorious day that saw wisps of clouds accenting a bright blue sky and clear air making the nearby mountains appear startlingly close, State Assemblyman Chris Holden held a press conference at the South Pasadena Gold Line station announcing new legislation that, if passed, would end the 710 freeway tunnel option and develop new alternatives aimed at benefiting both the environment and regional transportation.
“As our state and cities integrate smart-growth initiatives in transit-oriented development … we need an approach that reflects how we travel today in line with future transportation needs,” Holden said last Thursday, surrounded by about a dozen local leaders and representatives of environmentally conscious nonprofit groups. “The freeway tunnel may have been a viable option 50 years ago, but it is not today or tomorrow’s reality.”
As written, AB-287, officially introduced Feb. 2, would “require the Department of Transportation, in consultation with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to establish the I-710 Gap Corridor Transit Study Zone Advisory Committee … to study the alternatives considered in the State Route 710 North Draft Environmental Impact Review and other transit options to improve travel in, and environmental impacts of, the I-710 Corridor project area, along with alternatives not considered by the environmental review.”
Holden emphasized that the bill also “will specifically prohibit the Department of Transportation from building the tunnel.”
“Constructing a tunnel could cost up to $1 billion a mile” to close the 6.2-mile gap, he noted, while under Measure M, the projected cost of extending the Gold Line from Azusa to the San Bernardino county line, he said, is “less than $1 billion for 20 miles.”
Financial considerations were not always front and center for those commenting on the bill, however.
South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti who, not surprisingly, rode his bike to the event, said: “This bill sees that there are alternatives that are more sustainable, cost-effective, multi-mobile, 21st century transportation solutions that not only reduce traffic congestion [but] improve mobility and reduce harmful air pollution. You know, although air quality has dramatically improved since the ’50s and ’60s, we’re still one of the worst air-polluted districts in the nation.”
South Pasadena City Council member Marina Khubesrian added, “This is, for me, a lot about health. Because I’m a family doctor, and I see on the front lines what people deal with: asthma, dementia, cancer, heart disease – really, a lot of it is air pollution.”
Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek said, “The important thing about what [Chris] is recognizing is that it’s not enough just to say ‘no’ to something; what you have to do is say, ‘Well, what do we do?’ I think this process that Chris has suggested … is exactly right in terms of addressing the real transportation issues.”
Specifically, the bill establishes an I-710 Gap Corridor Transit Study Zone Advisory Committee, with three representatives from the Department of Transportation, two from L.A. County Metropolitan Transit Authority, two each from the cities of Alhambra, Los Angeles, Pasadena and South Pasadena, and two members each from the state assembly and state senate representing the I-710 Corridor area.
Holden, whose 41st District stretches along the foothills from Altadena to Rancho Cucamonga, said, “My bill creates an opportunity for all relevant stakeholders to craft a solution that solves critical mobility issues facing the area today while protecting our environment and enhancing the quality of life for future generations.”
“With the passage of Measure M, residents voted for new transportation solutions. We have the opportunity to think outside the box,” he urged, during an event that was occasionally interrupted by passing trains. “For example, instead of just focusing on the 710 corridor gap, we should consider extending the light rail system to create a loop that connects cities beyond the San Gabriel Valley, into communities like Downey and Whittier.”
As written, the bill would require the committee to make recommendations by Jan. 1, 2019 on “the most appropriate and feasible alternative in the I-710 Corridor project area to improve air quality and public health, improve traffic safety, modernize the freeway design, address projected traffic volumes, and address projected growth in population and employment and activities related to goods movement.”
Of course, there is opposition to the bill. “This legislation is an audacious maneuver by 710 tunnel opponents to thwart years of progress toward completion of the freeway,” said the 710 Coalition in response to the announcement. The Coalition is made up of San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles County cities, residents, organizations, school districts, and businesses determined to see the 710 Freeway completed and the tunnel built. In its press release, the Coalition added: “The opposition is disregarding years of public input. Hundreds of project related meetings and hearings have occurred over the last five years. To disrupt the process is unconscionable and disrespectful to all involved. The tunnel is the best way to close the gap – it provides reductions in traffic and the biggest job boost to the local and regional economy.”
Those at the press conference saw things differently. Damon Nagami, a director with the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “The 710 tunnel is an outdated, multibillion-dollar boondoggle that would do nothing to improve mobility in the West San Gabriel Valley.” Will Eley, deputy political director with the California Public Interest Research Group, said his group assessed the proposed tunnel to be “the most expensive, most polluting and least effective option for solving San Gabriel Valley’s transportation problems.” Co-opting Nagami’s terminology, he added that of 12 highway projects studied, “it would be the most expensive boondoggle in the country.”
Holden admitted that he had not yet coordinated with Caltrans or Metro, and there are state appropriations committees to work through regarding the fiscal impact, but he said he hoped to “be able to get [the bill] before the governor before summer.”
He also said, “Given the fact that the Governor has signed impressive legislation that has looked to move this state in the direction of addressing climate change in a very proactive and aggressive way … it would be a little bit out of logical thinking for him to then not support a bill like this.”
Someone in the crowd of about 60 asked whether the bill has a sponsor in the Senate.
“We have one that we hope would be happy to be a sponsor,” he said laughing, in obvious reference to 25th District State Sen. Anthony Portantino. “We’re certainly going to ask him, because we’ll need his vigorous leadership in the Senate.”
Among others in attendance were South Pasadena Mayor Pro Tem Richard Schneider and council member Bob Joe, former South Pasadena mayors Odom Stamps and Harry Knapp, Pasadena City Council members Andy Wilson and Steve Madison, former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, La Canada-Flintridge council members David Spence and Terry Walker, and Sierra Madre Mayor Pro Tem Rachelle Arizmendi.
Before Holden began speaking, Schneider noted, “There are a lot of good ideas about improving transportation, but the tunnel is the big roadblock.”
“I think this is really sort of the death knell of a project that all of us would like to have just go away,” Pasadena’s Tornek said later to the receptive crowd.