Coalition hopes to pave the way for alternative to 710 Freeway tunnel

A coalition of organizations and elected representatives from Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, Pasadena and South Pasadena announced Thursday a transportation initiative they hope has enough merit to unseat plans for a multibillion-dollar 710 Freeway tunnel.

Members of the newly formed advocacy group Connected Cities and Communities held a press conference on the front steps of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority headquarters in downtown Los Angeles to launch their “Beyond the 710” campaign.

Speakers — among them Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, La Cañada Mayor Pro Tem Jon Curtis, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino — encouraged Metro officials to review the multimodal initiative as a feasible, less-expensive alternative to a controversial 4.5-mile underground tunnel estimated to cost between $3.15 billion and $5.56 billion.

The coalition’s suggestions will be submitted to Metro officials as a public comment, to which representatives would have to respond. Members expressed hope that open minds would see reason in them.

“Today is a new day in the 710 debate, and we are committed to finding solutions that work for everyone,” Najarian said, acknowledging long-standing tensions between northern San Gabriel Valley communities that oppose a tunnel and their pro-tunnel counterpoints in Alhambra and Monterey Park.

“That’s why we are presenting a starting point for new discussions on how to resolve these issues amicably,” Najarian added.

Options floated in “Beyond the 710” include rapid transit upgrades, improved bus services and free passes for area students.

Proponents also envision creating a “Golden Eagle Boulevard” at the 710’s south terminus in Alhambra that would connect to Alhambra Avenue and South Pasadena’s Mission Street. A 2.5-mile bike path and restoration of nearby Arroyo Rosa de Castilla would aid in the creation of 30 miles of parklands that would connect surrounding cities.

Some speakers questioned why representatives of Metro and the California Department of Transportation hadn’t taken under advisement similar recommendations made in public scoping sessions held prior to the March 6 release of a draft Environmental Impact Report, detailing possible avenues of consideration. The 2,260-page report is up for public comment until July 6.

“The Caltrans/Metro approach is so deeply flawed that it cannot be a basis on which to move forward,” Curtis concluded. “Caltrans and Metro must take a new look at how best to connect people to their destinations and use transit and great streets to sustainably grow communities and improve everyone’s quality of life.”

Tunnel advocates — who think the project would go a long way toward creating jobs and ameliorating air-quality issues — said they were not convinced by Connected Cities and Communities’ proposal.

In an interview after the press conference, Alhambra Councilwoman Barbara Messina called the initiative “an outrage.”

“We’re in the middle of a federal EIR. You don’t just decide in the middle of it to change horses midstream,” Messina said, questioning the legitimacy of the plans in the proposal and how they’d be financed. “For them to bring this up now is ludicrous.”

An itemization of the coalition’s proposals, available online at beyondthe710.org, estimate the build-out of Golden Eagle Boulevard would cost around $200 million, while rebuilding street connections at the 710’s northern terminus in Pasadena is estimated at $95 million.

Funding for any adopted projects might come out of $900 million of earmarked, but still unspent, Measure R money, as well as up to $250 million Metro could earn from the sale of homes and properties purchased decades ago, when above-ground completion of the 710 seemed a feasible option.

“That’s going to go a long way toward completing most, if not all, of these projects,” Najarian said.

Afterward, Schiff said he’d urged the coalition to work with area organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Natural Resources Defense Council to come up with a plan that would rally antitunnel support in a positive direction.

“I’m very pleased to see that’s exactly what they’ve done,” he said. “It’s vitally important that (the effort) not just be a ‘no’ to the tunnel, but a ‘yes’ to a set of alternatives that communities can embrace.”

Source: Glendale News Press/Valley Sun