November 7, 2011 - From the November, 2011 issue

Future Ports Conference: Engaging in the Expansion of the 710 Freeway

The FuturePorts conference on October 11th in Long Beach included an infrastructure panel moderated by LaDonna DiCamillo, BNSF Railway Co., featuring Jerry Wood, Director of Transportation and Engineering with the Gateway Cities Council of Governments. MIR presents the following excerpts on the development of the I-710 Freeway expansion, an effort that has involved balancing community input with the infrastructure needs of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The I-710 Freeway is the primary trucking route between the ports and the rest of the U.S. Its effects on air quality, however, make neighbors concerned and willing to participate in infrastructure planning. 


Jerry Wood

"One of the interesting results from the 710 process is that the original design involved taking out about 70 homes. With input from the community that number was down to just a handful of homes." -Jerry Wood, Gateway Cities Council of Governments

LaDonna DiCamillo (BNSF Railway Co.): What does the future of our LA/LB ports look like? What’s on the horizon? We’ve come a long way from an environmental standpoint, a very long way. But we want to move to the next level. Of course, there has to be room for infrastructure development; we’re not just considering the environmental & sustainability. From a financial standpoint: we also must allow these ports to grow, to allow businesses to invest; and, this means that we have to provide the infrastructure to make that happen in a balanced way. 

Future Ports has brought together panelists today engaged with some of the largest projects in this harbor area. I’m going to start with the 710 Freeway and what feeds the ports. Please welcome Jerry Wood.

Jerry Wood (Gateway Cities Council of Governments): I’m Jerry Wood, the Director of Transportation and Engineering for the Gateway Cities Council of Governments, and I’m here today to give you some information about the 710 Freeway project. For those of you who don’t know what the Gateway Cities are, we represent 27 cities in Southeast Los Angeles County with a combined population of about 2.2 million people. If we were one city we would be the fifth largest city in the United States. We are 2.2 million people anchored by the Ports of Long Beach and L.A. 

The 710 Freeway is the primary truck route in and out of the ports. We currently have a lot of transportation initiatives under way in the 710 corridor to help reduce congestion, to increase safety and mobility, and to address the health and economic vitality of the communities along the freeway. The 710 project began back in 1999. Dick Powers, our Executive Director, formed the Gateway Cities Council of Governments and sent out a questionnaire asking what the number one transportation problem was in the Gateway Cities. At the time, I-5 was going to be our number one priority. But the results of that survey showed that the 710 corridor was the number one transportation concern in the region. Thus, we embarked on a major corridor study. 

At that time the ports were putting out 10 or 20 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) a year. That’s probably all we were doing back then, but it has grown since. We finished the studies up in 2005 with a very strong community participation process. We organized local groups from all the communities along the 710, and they came up with the design that we went with: 10 general-purpose lanes and 4 separate truck lanes that we now call the freight corridor. The ideas that emerged from that process were to improve air quality, to modernize the freeway, and to separate the cars from the trucks. All of the communities along the freeway voted in favor of moving the project forward. One of the interesting results from the 710 process is that the original design involved taking out about 70 homes. When we input from the community that number was down to just a handful of homes. 

We had a lot of cooperation from Edison, LADWP, and the L.A. River folks to make that happen. What came out of the 710 Project process was a focus on air quality. The communities along the freeway said that once this project is complete they want air quality that is better than what they started with. We want to improve traffic safety, to address traffic volume, and to address the projected growth of population and employment activity related to goods movement. Based on that, we put together seven funding partners with the two ports contributing one third of the costs. SCAG, Caltrans, MTA, Gateway Cities, and others all came together and started an EIR/EIS, which began in 2008. 

One of the interesting aspects of the 710 EIR/EIS is the preparation of air quality health risk assessments. This is the first time that anybody has ever done health risk assessments for a major freeway project. It’s been done for other projects, but Caltrans has never done it for a freeway project like this. 

The 710 goes not only to the rail yards in Commerce and Vernon, which are part of the Gateway Cities, but also further inland. The project committee decided early in the process to accept SCAG’s estimates for population growth and to use the figure of 14.2 million TEUs for the volume moving through the ports (we all know it’s between 14 and 15 million right now). The SCAG EIR was just released, and the 710 is a lighting rod for a lot of issues. We have started to study our other freeways in the Gateway Cities, and we’ve learned that even the 605 serves only half as many trucks as the 710. We’ve now initiated studies to expand all of our freeways in the Gateway Cities, including the Imperial Highway. 

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The 710 is essential for goods movement, but we listened to what the communities wanted done to separate the cars from the trucks. So in our project, we have 10 general-purpose lanes that are separated from the four truck lanes. The EIR required us to look at alternatives. Alternative one is always what if we didn’t do anything at all. Alternative five is what if we just improved the freeway with 10 general-purpose lanes, traffic signal improvements, transit improvements, and some other elements. Alternative six is the recommended community improvement project: 10 general-purpose lanes and four freight lanes, with three twists. Alternative 6A is with conventional trucks that exist at this time. Alternative 6B is with zero-emission trucks, and alternative 6C could be either one of those two combined with a hold facility to be built as a public-private partnership. Those are all being analyzed as part of the EIR/EIS. 

SCAG was looking to extend the freight corridor further inland and possibly connecting it with a new east-west freight corridor. There is some research being done on that, and the initial results indicate that if you build it they will come. The initial projection for the east-west freight corridor is 50,000 truck trips a day, which would primarily be pulled off the 60 Freeway. Because of the work that we have done on this, when Measure R passed we were able to get $590 million dollars for early-action projects on the 710 and another $590 million for projects on the 91, the 605 and the 405. As part of that process the MTA is looking at a potential public-private partnership to fund and build the freight corridor. That’s under way. We’re going to be getting some initial results for that early next year, but so far it looks very promising. 

I’ve made two presentations to the Harbor Trucking Association, and so far they have taken a neutral approach. They want to wait and see if it benefits them. I think people will start to realize, though, that if we don’t support this it may become impossible to build the project. So that is moving forward, and we will see how it turns out. If we are able to build the freight corridor, it’s possible the way it’s designed to build it next to the existing freeway. 

We’re also doing an ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) implementation plan for goods movement. We did an ITS integration plan for goods movement a couple of years ago and formed an ITS working group that includes leaders from both the public and private sector. It’s one of the first times, as far as I can tell, that the public and private sectors have gotten together to talk about goods movement.

We learned a lot from talking with the private sector, and eventually we got the funding to do an ITS plan to start implementing technology improvements and to provide real-time travel information for goods movement. From the Gateway Cities’ perspective, our objective is to make goods movement more efficient and to reduce the total number of truck trips. This is just an example of some of the ITS elements that that process has started; it’s now just about a year away from being completed. 

We’re also doing an Air Quality Action Plan. One of the questions that came up as a result of our emphasis on air quality had to do with what happens as things progress in the future. If everybody does what they say they are going to do with air quality, what will the air quality look like in the Gateway Cities? We’re in the process of preparing this plan right now. We’ll put together the numbers, and we will see what else needs to be done. 

So what’s next? The community participation process continues. We’re getting a lot of input from all kinds of community groups. The draft EIR/EIS will be out at the end of February, as I mentioned. We’ll be looking at a number of different options with respect to that, and many things are already starting to happen with the early action projects. For example, we will be building some sound walls as early as possible. We’re also looking at utilities in more detail, considering arterial highways as a potential source of local energy. One of the things we’ve formed, that the MTA is setting up, is the I-710 zero-emission technology collaboration. This is developing to explore in detail how one might implement zero-emission trucks. That process will start with our partners: Caltrans, SCAG, and the ports. I’ve been hearing for a few years that this seems like a George Jetson solution that might not happen, but I’m much more optimistic now that there are a lot of people working on implementing zero-emission technologies for trucks. Thank you.

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