The Sierra Madre City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to join other local cities in opposition to a proposed tunnel extension of the 710 Freeway.
In the discussion regarding closing the 710 gap between Pasadena and the Long Beach Freeway in El Sereno, Mayor Josh Moran expressed concern that while Sierra Madre is in a study area as being affected by the extension, councilmembers had not been invited to meetings held by Metro to get the input of stakeholders.
“I wasn’t invited,” he said. “I just showed up. But that’s not what irked me the most.” Several of the other identified stakeholders, such as Duarte, were also not invited, he said. “Some of these plans would impact our community.”
South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti spoke about the position that city had taken on connecting the two spurs of the 710, and invited the Sierra Madre City Council to join in opposing the Caltrans plan. He urged the council to support a multi-modal plan that encompasses several transportation alternatives, including funding the Alameda Corridor East, electrified transportation rail to move goods from the ports, and full funding of the Gold Line east to the Ontario Airport and west to Universal City, and the Gold Line through East L.A. to San Bernardino.
Cacciotti noted that north-south corridor is not well-served by public transportation, but said that the tunnel would not solve that problem, because it would by-pass many of the busiest locations. He suggested a bus line that would serve the many schools and business centers along that corridor, including Art Center, Caltech, Pasadena City College, Cal State Los Angeles, and East Los Angeles College, and light rail from below the 60 Freeway to the Fillmore Gold Line station in Pasadena.
Councilmember John Capoccia asked if the bus line would be similar to the Orange Line, with dedicated bus lanes. Cacciotti did not have specifics because the plan would go through several cities. Capoccia said, “A train is one thing. People find the train to be somewhat convenient. The bus is not convenient.”
He also pointed out that both San Marino and Alhambra support the tunnel, because those cities are impacted by surface street traffic going to and from the Long Beach Freeway.
Several speakers and councilmembers brought up the impact on air quality they believe the tunnel would have, and the expected increase in traffic on the 210 Freeway that providing access via the tunnel would cause. Some of the concern was related to studies showing an increase in emissions at the mouths of tunnels, but the issue of truck traffic came up.
According to Cacciotti, Metro keeps changing its mind regarding whether or not the tunnel will be open to truck traffic. Cacciotti insisted that regular vehicles would not be taking the tunnel to get downtown, but trucks would use it to get to the distribution center in the high desert.
Harry Baldwin, executive director of the 710 Coalition, a group that supports closing the gap, said that the coalition represents Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Marino, and other cities and labor groups. “This is a transportation program that has been in effect for 50 years,” he said. He said the tunnel option alleviates the objection to losing homes and property to a surface route.
The tunnel, as a public/private partnership, would be built by a firm in Spain, he said, and to recoup their costs and make a profit, they have to charge tolls. Councilmember Chris Koerber said that when tolls are too high, people will not pay them and traffic is dumped onto the street, but trucking companies will pay.
Baldwin does not think that trucks will use the route, because it will add six miles to their trip and there are two steep grades on the route. He asked the city council to wait until Metro’s environmental impact report is completed before making a decision.
When Mayor Moran called for a vote, it was decided to oppose the tunnel but to not yet endorse another plan. “I think we have the opportunity to make the resolution go further, but I don’t feel comfortable at this juncture,” he said, citing the length of the document provided by South Pasadena and the need to look at other information as well.
Councilmember Koerber agreed. “I think keep it simple,” he said. “Then we can revisit it.”
The council voted to oppose the 710 tunnel, and to have staff write up the resolution.