Should LA Spend $3.5 Billion to Extend the 710 Freeway to Pasadena?

Sep 24th, 2012 | Posted by

Today’s Long Beach Press-Telegram has a long and detailed – and quite good – article on the current status of the ancient debate over the 710 extension. The latest concept is to bore two tunnels under South Pasadena at a cost of at least $3.5 billion. But is it even necessary? Especially when there’s a screaming need for more passenger rail investment?

San Bernardino Freeway signs at I-710

The article does a good job of laying out the terms of debate – if the 710 extension is built, would it help complete the regional freeway network, or would it become just another clogged SoCal freeway? South Pasadena mayor Michael Cacciotti argues the latter, and he has evidence to support him:

Cacciotti, also a board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said Caltrans’ 1993 completion of the Century (105) Freeway in the South Bay is a prime example of what could happen on the 710.

“Within two weeks of opening it was bumper to bumper in rush hour,” he said. “Traffic patterns move to the open areas.”

And the same thing happened with the Foothill (210) Freeway when it was extended from La Verne to the 215 in San Bernardino, Cacciotti said. In 2009, Iteris, a Orange County- based traffic consultant group, conducted a survey called the “I-710 Missing Link Truck Study.” Released only in draft form, the study seems to back up Cacciotti’s claim.

Commissioned by the Southern California Association of Governments, Iteris consultants found that fully half of 18 trucking companies surveyed indicated they would use the 710 extension route for trucking operations.

Cacciotti argues for building light rail along the corridor instead, which makes sense – remove the passenger trips and leave the freeway to trucks going to and from the port, which is a major source of traffic on the 710 as it is. And already there is rail service from Long Beach to Pasadena via the Blue and Gold lines, a trip the Downtown Connector would make even quicker and easier.

But even turning the 710 into a de facto truck freeway may not be the most effective use of money or the best way to move goods. The answer instead could be rail:

Improvements to rail, which carries two-thirds of the items from the port out of the Los Angeles County basin will be the key to moving goods more efficiently, according to Michael Christensen, deputy executive director of the Port Of Los Angeles.

Port of Los Angeles officials say they are turning to the Alameda Corridor East project as the solution to freight congestion rather than installing north-south train tracks through existing neighborhoods.

The Alameda Corridor East is essentially a pathway from the ports followed by eastbound trains along the 710 corridor to the 60 Freeway and into San Bernardino County and beyond. For the most part it runs parallel to the 10 and the 60 — between both.

The ACE project aims to update west-to-east rail lines to accommodate communities along its path. It will also add a second rail line to increase efficiency.

“We’re providing a larger artery for the increased volume,” said ACE board Chairman David Gutierrez. “This project has been identified as not only a project of regional significance but also of national significance.”

BNSF is also building a major new rail yard near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which according to the company would “take 1.5 million trucks off the 710 Freeway.”

The Alameda Corridor East project, modeled on the successful north-south Alameda Corridor rail project completed about ten years ago, combined with other rail improvements would help address the goods movement issue. Many of the goods offloaded at the port are handled in warehouses in the Inland Empire, and the Alameda Corridor East would help trains get to those warehouses more easily.

That seems a much more sound use of money than building two large bored tunnels underneath South Pasadena. The article points out that the model for those freeway tunnels is Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel, an extremely controversial project that has yet to begin tunneling. Uncertainty remains about whether it will be built without cost overruns, and last week it emerged that a lot of traffic might avoid the tunnel altogether if tolls were set at rates needed to help pay for the project.

It’s not at all clear to me that the 710 extension is a good use of money. Investments in new transportation infrastructure in California ought to be focused on rail, for both passengers and freight. It’s time to stop wasting billions on freeway lanes that will just get clogged with cars while the need to invest in clean, reliable, fast passenger rail continues to grow.

  1. Richard Risemberg
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 08:38

    There is in fact a superb rail-based concept well under development now that would obviate the perceived need for putting the 710 on steroids–fourteen lanes in the south, a West Coast version of the Big Dig debacle in the north…absurdities!

    The new paradigm is called GRID, for “Green Rail/Intelligent Development,” and it would combine an integrated port crane and storage facility which would transfer containers directly between trains and ships, and a “freight conveyor”–a true bit of genius!–which would send all-electric drone trains through modified large-diameter water pipes, installed using simple proven techniques, between the ports and various railyards and distribution centers, out of sight,out of mind, with no noise, congestion, or local pollution. It could remove up to 70% of trucks from the 710 and feeder freeways, and would be built using off-the-shelf technology and private money.

    It could even lead (as proponents hope) to a future light rail line associated with a string-of-pearls liner park with transit villages along it right of way, greatly enhancing the livability of the eastern part of the county.

    Read more about it at

  2. Roger Christensen
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 08:56

    For decades there has been a running gag amongst SoCal transit advocates that when assessing various projects many were listed as “not in our lifetime” but the 710 extension was always “not in God’s lifetime”. The culture against it is deeply entrenched. And one assumes and hopes that rail solutions are much higher on the radar screen.

    Thank you Bill Clinton for the Alameda Corridor loan. The smart money should be on Alameda Corridor East. In terms of passenger rail, there are light rail options still on the table but I am not sure where. Even with the Downtown Connector, a Long Beach to Pasadena Blue Line could be ninety minutes. I’m not sure where there is room for more passengers. In August the current old Blue Line busted the seams at a record 92,000 daily boardings.

  3. StevieB
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 11:38

    The 710 extension was essentially dead until Los Angeles County Measure R identified $780 million for the project. In the scramble to place Measure R on the ballot Sen. Alan Lowenthal required project funding in the measure to pass through his key committee.

  4. Richard Mlynarik
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 11:40

    No, it shouldn’t.

    Next question: should the State of California and the US Federal GOvernment write blank checks to the proven serial fraudsters at PBQD and allied mafiosi?

    Ridiculous scams can come with ridiculous out-of-this-world rent-seeking costs regardless of whether there’s a thin veneer of yucky asphalt or a thin greenwashing veneer of steel rail on top of the scammery.

    jonathan Reply:

    Richard, where is the _evidence_ of this “proven serial fraud[]”?

    joe Reply:

    Next question: should the State of California and the US Federal GOvernment write blank checks to the proven serial fraudsters at PBQD and allied mafiosi?

    Not even on the radar of CA voters.

    GAO has a fraud reporting site.

    Maybe Ralph Nader can take up the cause.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Master plan: If only they would sue him for libel then a court would order discovery and all the evidence will pour forth…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    We all know they’re not going to sue. Even if there is actual damage (say, from Stephen Smith using information provided by Richard in articles on Bloomberg). It’s not because they’d lose – they probably have enough money to throw at the lawsuit to win. It’s that it puts Richard and them on equal grounds. Power means not having to care about what blog commenters think and say about you.

    For exactly the same reason, I know Wendell Cox isn’t going to sue me for calling him a liar and a fraudster (although I don’t think he has the money to win by attrition).

  5. Derek
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 11:48

    The 110 will get express tolling in November. All they have to do is do the same for the other freeways in the area. It would permanently eliminate traffic congestion, and without traffic congestion, that’s one less reason to extend the 710.

  6. morris brown
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 13:54

    Considering that 40 years have passed trying to get this extension, I guess in another 40 years, something might actually take place

  7. morris brown
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 13:55

    Would Funds for High-Speed Rail Be Better Spent on Improving Existing Intercity Rail Service?

    An excellent article in the WSJ


    Well worthwhile reading — has both pro and anti viewpoints.

    Joey Reply:

    If existing corridors could be freed from FRA regulations and operations brought out of the 19th century, maybe. If not, no.

    Mike Reply:

    What an odd piece from Orski. His lede is that US HSR should wait until our nation is on sounder financial footing. Which (1) implicitly concedes that HSR is a nice and good thing to have, and (2) is economic and fiscal nonsense …. if a generational investment such as HSR makes sense, now is EXACTLY the time to be doing it. The US can borrow untold amounts at ridiculously low interest rates, provide economic stimulus now, and provide the mobility benefit to the next generation of Americans at a much lower cost than if we wait for those who will benefit (i.e., us in the future, and our kids) to decide that they want it.

  8. Paul Dyson
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 16:04

    From the trucker’s point of view the extension would open a north-south route avoiding the congestion of the east Los Angeles area where I-5 and I-10 intersect at grade and the 60 is thrown into the mix just for yucks. Container traffic from and to the ports is mostly intrastate in that axis so there is little scope for conversion to rail for example to service the IKEA DC at Tejon ranch. Trucks servicing the DCs in the inland empire mostly use the 91 from the 710, or the 60, so they only clog up the southern end of the 710, not where the tunnel would be.
    Alameda Corridor East is needed but is not part of this discussion. Whether ACE would be used for shuttle trains to the IE is in my mind doubtful as the RRs need all the terminal capacity at the harbors for long haul business and no one makes any money out of railing containers 60 miles.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Indeed. The 710 lives on as a fantasy in WalMart’s imagination as to how to allow truckers a straight shot from Long Beach to Bentonville.

    The Alameda Corridor could work, but likely needs to be a joint powers authority track running non FRA compliant speed rail cars back and forth from Colton where UP and BNSF could have an intermodal center to ship freight nationally.

    But as long as there’s a Wal-Mart, there’s going to be too much truck congestion in Southern California.

    Ed Begalke Reply:

    If the people would quiet using Walmart there would be jobs for all and the ships could stay in China.

  9. Mike
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 16:42

    Without expending much mental energy, it’s pretty easy to conclude that it’s not worthwhile to spend $3.5 billion of public transportation funds on a 710 tunnel under Pasadena. But that’s not the concept on the table, is it? LA County has been talking of the tunnel as a privately financed, toll-funded project. Conceivably, this could be done with zero dollars of public funds in the mix, but it’s more likely that the amount is more than zero and less than $3.5 billion. So it seems that the real question is how much public money is it justifiable to put into a tolled tunnel, and can we trust LA County to structure a private deal that sufficiently protects the public interest? (me: “$800m”, and “maybe”)

    As for the contention that, drawing from a Seattle example, setting tolls at the level necessary to fund the project might mean that traffic will avoid the tunnel … so what? That’s a GOOD outcome for this discussion. It means that either the tunnel doesn’t get financed and isn’t built, or it’s built and doesn’t induce any new traffic and the world continues as previously. The BAD outcome is if it’s concluded that toll-backed funding isn’t nearly sufficient, and that results in an unjustifiable amount of public funds (e.g., $1b+) being dumped into the project.

  10. kevin
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 17:18

    Let’s not pretend that the stance taken by local pols in S. Pasadena and Pasadena is any different than the NiMBYism that is driving opposition to high speed rail on the SF Peninsula.

    I’m a strong supporter of smart growth and public transit, but the proposal for a light rail line is simply an effort to change the subject and avoid constantly being in the position of saying no.

  11. Keep Houston Houston
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 17:43

    You can’t judge freeway efficacy by the rush hour. If you’ve got LOS A at rush hour, you either spent too much on freeways or you’re in Wyoming.

    Connecting the 710 stub at Valley to the 210 stub at Del Mar is an obvious slam dunk. Should this take priority over needed transit extensions? Of course not. But Mr. Cruickshank has devoted numerous blog posts to debunking the ridiculous logic that “we shouldn’t spend money on high speed rail when schools/healthcare/etc need funds,” and that same logic can be applied here. A crosstown freeway and a radial rail line are complementary goods.

    Alternately, you can always ask the question I ask: WWTD (What Would Tokyo Do?) And the answer is, make it a toll road and build the damn thing. Check out the newly-opened second ring, almost entirely below grade. And this in what is arguably the most rail-oriented metropolis on the planet.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Two things:

    1. Please approve my comment on KHH. Not sure why, but nearly every WordPress blog has spammed my comments automatically since I moved to Vancouver, and I need to email people to get them to whitelist me. The Urbanophile still spams things I write unless I drop the link to my blog in my name.

    2. Tokyo actually has a very minimalistic expressway network for its size. The extent looks about comparable to Houston or even slightly less, and the expressways in Tokyo are narrower – 2 or 3 lanes in each direction, because each lane is another chunk of Tokyo land you need to buy.

    Keep Houston Houston Reply:

    Bad WordPress! You are approved.

    You know who else doesn’t have a lot of lane-miles per capita? LA. At least, not by American standards. I think last time I looked the Shuto Expressway entrance toll was around $10.50. It’s probably higher now given the Yen’s continued craziness. Since higher tolls divert more traffic you can get away with narrower roads. I would think you could do the same with the 710.

    Obviously, a long tunnel is not something you’re going to give away for free. And if the good people of South Pasadena don’t want it, then they don’t need an exit. Just make it a straight shot, five miles, one toll plaza, no exits. I don’t see why that needs any more than six lanes, and you could probably make it work with four.

  12. missiondweller
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 21:57

    How many freeways are enough? Just when you thought LA was seeing the value of other transportation types we hear this.

    And where are the folks who hear “billions” and cry BOONDOGGLE! This, I think is the perfect example that explains why HSR is not as expensive as people think when compared to expanding freeways and runways over the next 25 years. You can spend $100 Billion on new freeways and they’ll be clogged again in a few years and you’re back where you started. To me this demonstrates the futility of just building more freeways. They use a huge amount of land that is becoming scarcer and more costly all the time. At least with trains you can easily increase capacity and simultaneously increase convenience.

  13. John
    Sep 24th, 2012 at 23:01

    And it almost makes me laugh every time someone mentions the $3.5B number for boring TWIN double-decker extremely-wide freeway tunnels for four miles under LA, S. Pas, and Pasadena. Something closer to $20B would probably be more on the mark, if not a lot more. Just to keep things in perspective, the Big Dig had an initial cost estimate of around $3B as well, and ended up hitting the $22B mark. Highly doubtful any private company would want to engage in such a risky venture without large amounts of public subsidy and guarantees.

    VBobier Reply:

    About the only way to do that would be to use Prison Labor, aka the New Legal Slavery… Not that I’d want anything to do with that of course…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Big Dig was unique.

    By analogy, the Big Dig of rail – East Side Access, at $4 billion per tunneled route-km – is about an order of magnitude more expensive per km than the Subway to the Sea as currently projected.

    John Reply:

    Um, the 710 extension will be pretty unique too, easily the longest and widest auto tunnel in the U.S., bored through a couple active earthquake faults and an important local aquifer. I’m sure you’re not suggesting the $3.5B number is anywhere near the actual costs it would take to build this thing.

  14. BMF from San Diego
    Sep 25th, 2012 at 07:44

    The 710 study looks at light-rail as an alternative to a freeway extension. Not certain “freight rail” is.

    For light rail… the line needs to connect with logical locations and provide seem less connections.

  15. jimsf
    Sep 25th, 2012 at 09:49

    Im not intimately familiar with that area but looking at the map it looks to me like connecting the 110/66 to 210 at downtown and filling that short missing gap, would be more useful than extending the 710.

    jimsf Reply:

    downtown tunnel

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    110 is a parkway, no trucks allowed.

    John Reply:

    Yep, and we all (well, we in SoCal) know that the 710 extension is in a big way designed to handle truck traffic coming out of the ports. Hence a lot of business interests pushing this extension, when most of the locals are saying no way. Of course, you could call that NIMBYism, but would you really? I wouldn’t vote for building a new mega-freeway anywhere in the LA or SF urban area…

  16. Mark
    Sep 26th, 2012 at 01:01

    Lots of ignorance and trippy logic in this thread about the 710, especially from project advocates that have spent the better part of the last few years defending HSR against the very same attacks the 710 tunnel faces. And the business plan for a 710 PPP tunnel with toll revenues is much more sound than the business plan for HSR. How about sticking to something you know about, HSR, and staying away from projects like the 710? We already have enough crazy surrounding this project from idiots in South Pasadena and Pasadena spewing all kinds of idiotic nonsense.

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