Pasadena City Council members on Monday stopped short of opposing plans for a 4.5-mile tunnel to connect the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways, but city leaders will go on record with a litany of questions and concerns about the project.
After a resolution against the 710 tunnel failed to garner five votes required for passage, the council voted 7-0 to threaten regional transportation planners with future opposition if the tunnel would be open to truck traffic, increase air pollution in the city or push some drivers to detour into neighborhoods in order to avoid tolls.
The statement by Mayor Bill Bogaard to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will also raise questions about the estimated $5.5 billion cost of the project, seismic and other safety concerns, impacts of tunnel construction and the future of Caltrans-owned homes in the freeway extension corridor.
Officials also called for a city-funded study, separate from the environmental review being conducted by the MTA, about the tunnel’s potentially harmful impacts on the city.
MTA is expected to release a draft of its review in February 2014 and make a decision on the project no earlier than 2015. Other options under consideration include expanding bus and light rail service, local street improvements or doing nothing.
Some 150 people gathered for Monday's meeting at the Pasadena Convention Center. More than 30 spoke, all but three asking city leaders to oppose the plan.
Council members Steve Madison, Gene Masuda, Victor Gordo and Mayor Bill Bogaard voted to oppose the tunnel outright.
Council members Terry Tornek, Jacque Robinson and Margaret McAustin said they did not support the tunnel but felt ruling on a project prior to completion of environmental review would set dangerous legal precedent.
McAustin also said she hesitated to contradict a 2001 citywide vote in favor of ballot measure stating the city’s policy would be to support completion of the 710.
Bogaard later proposed that he write a compromise statement telling transportation officials of the “strong negative views against the tunnel on this council, in this community [that] they need to keep in mind.”
Environmental attorney Fred Woocher, a former special counsel to the state Attorney General’s Office, said opposition to the tunnel would risk a court challenge alleging violation of the 2001 voter-approved measure. But council members were free, he said, to criticize any aspect of the proposal.
Tunnel proponents said connecting the two freeways would alleviate local traffic congestion.
Bob Huddy, a former senior planner with the Southern California Association of Governments who once also headed the Pasadena Transportation Advisory Commission, said the tunnel would decrease air pollution caused by existing commuter traffic on city streets.
Huddy accused opponents of cherry-picking data to support their own views.
“Now I know what it’s like to be at a witch-burning,” he said.
Gordo said he feared the tunnel would contribute to neighborhood traffic congestion if trucks and commuters were to use city streets to avoid freeway backups or tolls. The 210 is already overloaded at rush hour, he said.
“For 50 years Metro has hung onto a solution that doesn’t take into account the possibility of moving people differently,” said Gordo, who supported further study of bus and light rail alternatives. “They’re focused on moving cars and trucks, not moving commerce and people. I think that’s a failure of vision.”
Council members and others complained that Metro has not been clear about whether the tunnel would accommodate truck traffic or operate as a toll road.
“There are legitimate questions that remain, and proponents of the 710 tunnel never answer them,” said former state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino.
Tornek proposed the city conduct its own environmental review due to tunnel opponents’ lack of faith in the Metro process.
Council members will determine the scope of that study at a meeting early next year, Bogaard said. But the mayor also cautioned that regional transportation leaders are not bound by the desires of local officials.
“They’re reading their mail, but in the end I think they’ll be guided by their own judgment,” said Bogaard.
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