710 gap improvements continue, despite cancelled tunnel

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LOS ANGELES – Metro’s decision to kill funding for a freeway tunnel extending the 710 Freeway doesn’t mean there won’t improvements on the seven-mile long maze of city streets that link East Los Angeles and Pasadena by way of Alhambra and South Pasadena.
MTA Board Chairman, John Fasana, a Duarte City Councilman, hopes to ease traffic congestion in the gap by using billions in tax dollars to pay for local street improvement projects rather than construction of a tunnel that would extend the freeway.
“I don’t see any political support or any path to get the tunnel done right now,” said Fasana, a longtime proponent of extending the freeway. “But the path is still open. I think we need to look and find other alternatives,” he said.
Residents fighting the 710-freeway tunnel extension project declared a partial victory in May when the MTA dramatically withdrew its support – and funds – from the project.
The unanimous decision was made at a public board meeting attended by many advocates fighting the proposed tunnel. Among the most vocal were members of the South Pasadena Freeway and Transportation Commission hoping to kill the $3.2 billion project.
Members of the commission explained to the MTA board that despite going underground, a freeway tunnel would have a great number of negative effects on South Pasadena and would potentially endanger several historic homes along the proposed route.
South Pasadena resident Richard Helgeson, chair of the committee said he believed  the decision would be the project’s final straw. Helgeson expressed skepticism that Caltrans would be able to construct the tunnel without Metro’s support.
“If you don’t have the money to build a project, you’ve killed it essentially,” he said.
The tunnel was one of four alternatives that would have closed the 710 Freeway gap – the last major link in Southern California’s vast freeway system. Plans for a tunnel were introduced after a surface route proposed by Caltrans and Metro failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. The route would have run directly through residential neighborhoods.
Altadena resident, Steve Lamb, joined the fight against the freeway after watching his great grandmother’s home in Pasadena be demolished after being purchased by Caltrans due to its location along the proposed route.
“Her sadness and the loss of her house was a deep loss to my family and to the culture of Pasadena,” he said as he spoke about her home on Corson Street.
South Pasadena City Councilwoman Diana Mahmud credited activism for killing the plan.
“Without support of city activists, I don’t think we would be where we are in this fight,” she said.
Fasana’s motion to shift Measure R funds to street improvements was approved in June.
Although he supported the tunnel, Fasana saw the Metro Board’s decision as an opportunity to help in other ways. Fasana insisted that tax dollars allocated to the 710-project remain in the West San Gabriel Valley.
“There was a need for relief, and the money had been set aside to give it. So it seemed important to take action to preserve the funding,” he said.
According to his motion, the Transportation System Management alternative focuses on maximizing the efficiency of transportation systems already in place, rather than creating more. The $105 million allocated to the new program will go towards projects such as synchronized traffic lights, additional metro lines, and projects easing congestion on freeway on ramps.
Mahmud said she appreciated a modern approach to solving traffic problems in the area and pointed to the Metro Gold Line as a success story.
“We would like to see other communities also recognize that it is important to offer transportation alternatives to their residents beyond the car,” she said.

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