May 24, 2007 - From the May, 2007 issue

Caltrans Begins Study of 710 Extension: Controversy Vs. Connectivity

The pressure to build more capacity in the region's transit system persists beyond any of the political and demographic change that runs rampant in Southern California. One of the region's most talked-about transit fixes, a link between the 710 Freeway and the 210 Freeway in South Pasadena, has for years faced intense opposition from residents who do not wan a freeway trench to bisect their city. But the need for the connection persists, and Caltrans is studying a compromise: a tunnel that would link the two freeways while avoiding some of the impacts of a surface route. To discuss the prospects of the study as well as the implementation of funds from last November's voter-approved infrastructure bonds, MIR was pleased to speak with Caltrans District 7 Director Doug Failing.


Doug Failing

After years of speculation and preliminary studies, Metro and Caltrans have embarked on a $13 million study to determine the technical feasibility of a tunnel that will extend the 710 to the 210 Freeway under South Pasadena. What are the prospects for this tunnel, and what do you hope to learn from the study?

I am very excited about the study. As a civil engineer, I love the idea of being able to resolve the issue. This has been sitting there a long time. I recognize the impact that a surface facility has, and I recognize how much an underground or tunnel facility reduces those impacts. But there are some issues that have been raised. We are in an area where tunneling should be OK. We've got some indications of artesian conditions in the area. We'll figure out what would be the best route for us to follow, because we don't necessarily have to follow the planned surface route once we're underground, but we do need to know what we will dig through and how that might impact the surface. I am hoping to get enough information to tie down a final environmental document that will lead us to a project that we can proceed with.

Pasadena's opposition has always been about where the tunnel emerges. How is that being resolved politically?

The issue has always been surface route in Pasadena, and everyone pretty much recognizes the existing end of freeway conditions. One of the things we will look at is whether to continue on and join the existing freeway between Del Mar and California or come up at a different location. It provides some opportunities for us, particularly when you look at how the existing 210/134/710 interchange operates. There are problems with the interchange the way it exists today. As we consider this tunnel we can look at that interchange and see if there are some things to do within this that will either make this interchange work better, or, perhaps, reduce the impacts to that interchange.

The other thing that we talked about recently with Pasadena has had to do with businesses along Colorado Street and Green Street-the central business corridor in Pasadena. I had a good conversation recently with some of the city leaders. Even if the tunnel doesn't extend, we talked about being able to deck over portions of the existing freeway and creating continued-streetscape business opportunities in that city. That's exciting and could happen independently of whatever happens with the tunnel.

Why has the extension of the 710 to the 210 always been so critical?

Several problems arise as a result of the lack of a connection between the 710 and the 210 and 134 in that area. A lot of traffic coming out of the Eastside-cars that want to be in the northern part (Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena)-has to do one of two things today. They're getting off and running up streets like Fremont, San Gabriel, all other city streets going north-south through the area, adding to congestion, stopping at intersections. Second to that, a large number of drivers traverse through the Downtown Los Angeles area. They'll go over to the 110, the 5, and the 2 to get around, or further around to the 170. It drives a lot more traffic into this stretch of roadways, which is heavily congested even without that traffic. When you model that out and look at the overall system, this project is the single best project for improving air quality in the entire region, and it reduces a significant amount of congestion.

Since the infrastructure bonds were put on the ballot and passed by the voters, seasoned veterans have pointed out that we have a $200 billion infrastructure deficit, and the bonds are only a $20–40-billion band-aid. How will this money flow to Southern California, and what remains to be addressed?

From most of the transportation officials, first thing, is "thank you" to the voters for their vote in November. Congestion and traffic is a big issue, and the people clearly said that with their vote. And yet we have so much more that we need to do. The people have trusted us, the transportation professionals, to spend that money on the right projects, to reduce congestion, and to spend this money efficiently and effectively.

The bond measure of $19.925 billion is broken down into different categories. The most significant category is the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account. It aims to accomplish two things: reduce congestion and provide for connectivity in the more rural areas. That $4.5 billion was a competitive program. The only restrictions were that 40 percent of the money should be spent in the northern counties, and 60 percent should be spent in the southern region. Other than that it was truly a competitive process: How much congestion can you reduce with your project? How quickly can you go to construction? And how good of a project can you put together to manage that corridor after you are done?

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Southern California did well. I am pleased with the support from L.A. Metro chair Gloria Molina, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the entire MTA board, and our Assembly and Senate folks. They helped us get things like the northbound H.O.V. lanes between the 10 to the 101, which is one of the most congested corridors in the nation. Another one that the people all recognize is the 5 Freeway widening between the 605 and the Orange County line. We have very good cooperation with the communities in that area: the I-5 JPA, Santa Fe Springs, and Norwalk. That project is moving ahead with full funding. The other project that we got funded through the CMIA is the rest of the HOV lane widening on I-5 between the 134 and the 170. Working in partnership with Metro, we have been able to get funding for the piece for the HOV lane on I-5 from the 14 down to the 118, which is currently under construction. From the 118 to the 170, we are fully funded. That project is almost done with design, and we anticipate going into construction over the next year with that project. The I-5 to the 14 direct connector, which ties the HOV lanes between these two freeways, is nearly done with design and we should be able to go to construction with that project over the next year.

We picked some really good corridors, and we were able to put those projects forward. The next source of funding for us is the State Transportation Improvement Plan, which is the process by which we do the major capacity enhancement on our system: adding new lanes, adding new HOV lanes, adding new bus service (which is not operations money, it's capital money), and adding new rail lines. In that bond measure, $2 billion is being put aside to augment the existing STIP.

Really the only money we have had for that has been the Prop 42 gas tax money that we got a few years ago. Although most of that money had been going to the general fund, in the last few years it has started to come back into transportation. This puts $2 billion of fresh money into it. It's based on formula, so every county gets a certain amount of money for that.

In addition, $2 billion is being set aside for corridors where goods movement is a significant issue. The counties of L.A., Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside are working together on a plan that addresses all the goods that are primarily coming out of the ports of L.A. and Long Beach (although there are some goods coming out of the Port of Hueneme) and coming up the 710 and 110 corridors and turning east toward the rest of the United States. We anticipate putting forward a series of projects to address the impacts of trade on Southern California.

You've also been participating in a Metro-led discussion involving local government and developers re a congestion mitigation fee for new development. The objective would be to gain an additional revenue source for local jurisdictions to upgrade the regional grid. Is this effort worthwhile?

First, I appreciate how L.A. County Metro has taken the lead in pulling together what we call the Nexus Study. We're looking at how the growth in new housing and new development will impact the existing system and what we need to do to mitigate the impacts of that growth. The Nexus Study does not, and should not, worry about existing deficiencies in the system. That's all of ours to address. But the fact that the Nexus Study is coming together to give cities an opportunity to address the impacts of development is going to have on the regional transportation system, not just the freeway system, but other major corridors that serve a regional purpose, and to select what types of projects are going to mitigate those impacts, and then work with the development industry to come up with funds to mitigate the impacts of that development. This idea would let the city take more ownership over how development happens in their city and play a greater role in mitigating the impacts across a regional basis.

The process also allows for smart growth, so that any smarter proposal that reduces the impact on the system does not have to generate as much funding to mitigate those impacts. It took a long time to develop the congestion that we have here in Los Angeles, and it happened because a lot of decisions were made assuming that development was going to happen a certain way. We have made decisions based on development without having to necessarily worry about the impacts of development other than in your own local area. You didn't have to look regionally; you didn't have to look statewide.

In order to solve these problems, it is going to take all our resources. We have to build additional capacity. We have to take the existing system and operate it smarter. And growth has to happen in ways that are smarter as well-better jobs-housing balance, better connectivity between housing and jobs so people who are working those jobs can live in the area near their job. There isn't a magical, total solution. But all of these can work together to reduce the congestion. We need to make that connection between how cities develop and their local and regional impact. And we need to create a process for rewarding smarter growth. And for those who aren't, for whatever reason, able to grow in the manner that has fewer impacts, at least they can make the decision to mitigate those impacts. It's just such a great idea.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.