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710 Tunnel opponents: Don't extend the freeway, tear out more of it

Glendale Mayor and Metro Board Member Ara Najarian at a press conference discussing their alternative plan for the 710 Freeway on May 28, 2015 at downtown's Union Station. Courtesy Salvador Ochoa

Opponents of building a freeway tunnel to connect the 710 to the 134 and 210 freeways have floated a new idea to solve one of Southern California's most vexing transportation disputes: they want to tear out the last mile of the 710 Freeway near Cal State Los Angeles and build a new, wide surface street to allow traffic to fan out.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has already spent $42 million on an environmental review process evaluating the tunnel and four other alternatives to find a solution to the quandary, which has had neighboring cities at odds for decades.

North-end cities like Pasadena and Glendale are against a tunnel because they expect it to bring more traffic and the pollution of heavy trucks to the region. Cities to their south, like Alhambra and South Pasadena, are sick of clogged surface streets crowded with the thousands of cars that stream off the 710 freeway's northern terminus on Valley Blvd.

So far, the options on the table are a $5 billion freeway tunnel or installing light rail, adding bus lines or trying to better manage the traffic on city streets.

Tunnel opponents on Thursday announced they were coalescing as a new group called "Beyond the 710" and unveiled their proposal.

It would transform the last mile of the 710 near Cal State L.A. into a surface street and extend it northward crossing Valley Blvd., Mission Road and possibly to Fremont Ave. The idea is that rather than creating a bottleneck at the T-shaped Valley/710 intersection, the wider street would give drivers options and spread out the traffic. It would also create an entrance to Cal State Los Angeles that would be more convenient to 710 drivers.

The resulting street, mostly on the right of way acquired for the now-defunct above ground 710 freeway extension, would be named Golden Eagle Boulevard --  after the college mascot.

"We see this as the beginning of a discussion, not just among ourselves but clearly with the pro-tunnel people and the communities on the south end of the 710," said Beyond the 710 spokesman Coby King.

Alhambra Vice Mayor Barbara Messina said the idea comes far too late, after hundreds of public meetings.

"To disrupt this process, to me, is unconscionable and disrespectful to the hundreds of residents that have participated," she said.

Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, who chairs Beyond the 710, said the anti-tunnel group spent about $100,000 on the proposal, and expected it to be carefully analyzed by Metro alongside other alternatives during the environmental review.

Metro has spent $42.5 million dollars studying five alternatives to ease traffic between Pasadena and Alhambra. Spokesman Paul Gonzalez said this new idea will be treated as a public comment,  and analyzed, but would not be considered a new alternative, which would require a deeper level of analysis.

The plans are at the tail end of the public comment period. (The last public hearing will be June 20 at the D.W. Griffith Middle School auditorium in Los Angeles. Map viewing is from 10 to 11 a.m., followed by the public hearing from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Comments may be submitted by mail or online until July 6.

The next step in the process calls for Caltrans to analyze and respond to the comments and recommend an action to the Metro board.

From there, the Metro board will decides what, if anything, to build.