Is the 710 Gap Closure Project So Bad?
The transit/livability blogosphere is fairly intolerant of dissent, or so I’ve observed. I’m going to go out on a limb here and toss my opinion into the stew of NIMBY-ism, politics and money that surrounds the Interstate 710 Gap Closure Project. Granted, I am an engineer looking at this project, not a community organizer or politician who sees the more subjective aspects to the project – rather here I will concentrate on the engineering, traffic and transportation merits of closing this crucial gap in the Metropolitan Los Angeles Freeway System.
Unlike most other freeway extension proposals in Los Angeles (extending CA-2 to US-101 comes to mind), the I-710 Gap Closure project addresses a critical connection between freeways that would increase the utility of both the existing portion of I-710 south of Alhambra and I-210 in Pasadena and points north and east. In addition, Caltrans already owns sufficient right of way for tunnel portals and ventilation structures, the state along and LACMTA have been studying this corridor for decades and funding would be (relatively) easily obtained.
Before I go further, note that I am advocating a proposal of an entirely bored tunnel under Alhambra, South Pasadena, Northeast Los Angeles and Pasadena along the alignment highlighted on the map. A surface option is obviously not viable. In addition, the construction of this tunnel would be accompanied by significant mitigation measures. Each bore would have three lanes, an HOV-3/Bus Lane and two general purpose lanes (GPL). Tolls would be electronically collected from motorists and truckers with dynamic pricing ensuring smooth-flowing traffic in the tunnels at all times. These tolls would help fund extensive bus service. Another mitigation measure would be a connecting structure between the HOV-3/Bus Lane in the tunnels to the El Monte Busway on I-10.
A mitigation measure that could ease the community’s concerns about this project is the demolition of the 110 freeway from its terminus at Arroyo Parkway to near Arroyo Drive. This three mile segment would be turned into a surface-level boulevard, providing development opportunities and removing the physical barrier between Pasadena and South Pasadena. The 110 would empty out onto this new parkway, but also give motorists the option to change over to the 710 freeway in a small-scale, low-speed interchange in the Arroyo Seco.
Such a proposal would connect the three currently unconnected freeway segments in the area and solve the nightmarish traffic problems on surface streets at the north end of the 710, south end of the 710 and north end of the 110.
Yes, the 710 Gap Closure Project would increase VMT. It would also increase carbon emissions, potential traffic congestion on either end of the tunnels on the 10, 710, 110, 134 and 210 freeways and would likely massively increase truck traffic on I-210 between Pasadena and San Fernando due to the convenient new connection between the ports and I-5 north.
The biggest problem I have with the opposition to the 710 Gap Closure Project is its concentration on the small picture of hyper-local issues. Yes, Caltrans will likely need to demolish about 10-20 properties to build the project. I have worked on transit project that have condemned more, potentially including a 32-story office tower. Tunnel boring machines are extremely effective, safe, and can build tunnels at adequate depth to avoid surface noise and vibration from any type of road traffic. This is a message our friends in Beverly Hills need to hear about their upcoming TBM experience for the Westside Subway Extension. Anyway, a little sacrifice from the few residents who stand to lose their homes (note: Caltrans is already their landlord – they bought potentially effected properties in the 1980’s) would benefit the whole region. NIMBY’s have already used their power to (rightfully) force a bored tunnel option for this project. Opposing it in its entirety is taking their power a bit too far.
Why am I still a proponent of a mitigated, bored tunnel for the 710 Gap Closure Project? Transportation policy is about moving people and goods in the most efficient possible manner. Although I’m very much dedicated to increasing the reach and viability of transit, intercity rail, walking and cycling, the automobile is here to stay as a mode of transportation in America. Freight trucks are also here to stay, and rail connections between Southern California and the Central Valley are terrible. To permit the most efficient movement of goods and people, the freeway system around Pasadena needs this reworking. With proper mitigation – extensive bus service, dynamic tolls, limited lane capacity and an HOV-3 requirement, the 710 tunnel would be a great success, improving mobility in the San Gabriel Valley and in Los Angeles as a whole. I would let Caltrans bore a tunnel deep under my house, wouldn’t you?