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