710 Tunnel: San Gabriel Valley cities take it off wish list for sales-tax funded projects

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A group representing San Gabriel Valley cities has removed a controversial freeway tunnel proposal from its wish list of projects that might be funded by a new transportation sales tax.

The decades-old idea of extending the 710 Freeway north from its Alhambra terminus near Cal State Los Angeles to the 210 Freeway in Pasadena via an underground tunnel has been divisive.  Alhambra wants a tunnel, Pasadena doesn't. Other cities have taken sides.

But all 31 San Gabriel Valley cities united in taking the tunnel and other proposals for speeding traffic through the western valley off the list of projects that would have priority for funding with a potential new transportation sales tax.

The vote by the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments does not kill the tunnel idea, but it has the potential for limiting the means of paying for its construction, estimated by Caltrans at more than $5 billion.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is laying the groundwork for a ballot measure that would  double the countywide half-cent transportation sales tax if two-thirds of voters approve. Part of the sales pitch to voters would be the list of projects that would be built with the billions of dollars in new taxes.

SGV Council of Governments Executive Director Francis DeLach said pro-tunnel cities asked for the 710 Freeway-related projects to be taken off the SGV Council's list of sales tax-funded projects.

"Their intention is to make it a public private partnership," he said. The tunnel, if selected, would be funded by private investment and vehicle tolls, he said.

The tunnel remains under study, along with light rail, bus lines and road improvements. Caltrans will propose a final plan to Metro in about a year.

"The tunnel is so flawed and politically unpopular that it would be a poison pill that would kill any prospect of the sales tax measure getting passed by the voters  next year," said Coby King, spokesman for an anti-tunnel group known as Connected Cities .

Measure R, passed by voters in 2008, added one-half cent to the county's sales tax (bringing the basic county sales tax to 9 percent) and is estimated to produce about $40 billion for transportation projects over its 30-year lifespan. A new sales tax under study at Metro would increase the tax to one cent, however it's not clear yet how long it would last. A bill, SB 767, is pending in the legislature to permit the measure on the November 2016 ballot.

How should Metro handle the 710 project?

Metro’s five alternatives are:

  1. No-build: The only changes will be those already planned by local jurisdictions.
  2. Transportation System Management/Transportation Demand Management: Metro would improve the existing system by introducing strategies such as coordinating traffic signal timing and promoting carpooling and public transit.
  3. Bus Rapid Transit: By creating bus lanes, high speed and high frequency buses would run between 18 proposed locations.
  4. Light Rail Transit: Metro would build a 7.5 mile light rail with trains connecting East Los Angeles to Pasadena.
  5. Freeway Tunnel: A 6.3 mile four-lane tunnel would connect the end of the 710 freeway in Alhambra with the 210 freeway in Pasadena.

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