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Adrian Martinez’s Blog

Building a mega freeway in LA: What's the cost?

Adrian Martinez

Posted August 9, 2012

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Yesterday, I attended a public hearing on the I-710 expansion in Long Beach.  Just to refresh everyone’s memory, this project plans to expand the approximately 18 miles of road from around East Los Angeles/Commerce down to Long Beach.  Currently, the majority of this road is 8 lanes, and the proposed project will likely add 6 additional lanes.  The impacts of the project are immense ranging from acquisition of homes, to increased noise, to construction impacts for seven years. The project will even impact donut lovers because of the proposed acquisition of Dales Donuts in Compton, which has the iconic large donut, instead of a traditional sign.  The public hearing last night was full of residents who expressed major concerns with this project.       

Some have coined this project “LA’s Big Dig” referring to the Boston highway expansion that was highly criticized for escalating costs.  The project proponents estimate the I-710 expansion project will cost upwards of $6 billion (yes, that is a “b”).  Given our regional transportation priorities, this project comes at a critical time when the public needs to decide whether we want outdated transportation solutions for our congestion woes like adding lanes to the sea of roads crisscrossing the region--or--do we want to think outside the highway lanes to figure out better transportation solutions like public transit?

I think this project is a test for the region.  First, this is one the first environmental review documents for a highway expansion since the Sustainable Communities Strategy under SB 375 was passed.  There is great hope that we will see better transportation solutions as a result of this forward-looking bill, but I don’t think this project lives up to the spirit of that bill. SB 375 seeks to push us away from over reliance on single passenger automobile transport towards less carbon intensive transportation options like public transit, biking and walking.  This project adds capacity for single passenger automobiles.  Second, this project sparks a debate over the region’s fetish over freight expansion.  I admit that freight movement provides economic benefits to the region, but at the same time it poses large environmental challenges like regional air pollution, toxic hotspots near freight facilities, amongst other impacts.  In the present case, the agencies are looking at zero emissions trucks, which is good, but the project needs a more solid commitment to this technology.  A major question is who should pay for the infrastructure.  Should taxpayers subsidize this industry through our health and our limited transportation funds?  Or, should this industry pay for itself?  These are questions that need to be asked and answered.     

The environmental report for this project does not identify a preferred alternative, but instead focuses on the following options:

1)      No Project.

2)      Adding solely 2 general purpose lanes (one in each direction).  A general purpose lane can be used by anybody (e.g. large trucks, passenger vehicles, motorcycles, etc.).

3)      There are three different permutations for truck-only lanes as follows (in addition to two general purpose lanes):

  1. Four trucks lanes with no restrictions (can be diesel trucks);
  2. Four truck-only lanes using zero emission trucks;
  3. Tolled lanes allowing only zero emission trucks.

Overall, this project is so immense that is hard to capture in one blog post.  Accordingly, over the next week or two, I will be posting more about the I-710 project in hopes of spurring an informed and robust dialogue about this project.  I will cover topics like air quality and health, impacts of the project on the LA River, impacts of the project on homeless populations, and a discussion of the community’s preferred alternatives that has been proposed by the Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice.  My desire is to spur debate about this project because it will have such an immense impact on our region, and particularly, on those communities along this corridor.  It is imperative that our transportation planners get this project right.   

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john tecumsehAug 9 2012 03:46 PM

A few things:

- Comparisons to Boston's BIG DIG are totally inapt. That project went through the heart of Boston's downtown, not through a mainly industrial area with some suburban and urban areas on its edge. It was extremely disruptive on a daily basis to thousands and thousands of people. This project is not likely to have that kind of ongoing, significant impact on a day to day basis.

- Housing acquisitions have been met by the owners affected with something like GLEE. They are thrilled to sell their homes above market and move out of the transportation area.

- Mentioning bikes, pedestrians and public transit is confusing, since this project is about moving freight. Not on bikes. Obviously.

- You "admit" that "freight...provides economic benefits to the region"? Well, thanks - though I don't see what choice you have on that, since the reality is (and you've understated it quite a bit here) freight doesnt provide economic benefits to the region; freight is THE economic engine for this area. Without it, there would be NO ECONOMY AT ALL. Important point, don't you think?

- As you acknowledge, the zero-emissions alternative here is attractive. Clearly, along with relieving congestion through added lanes, the zero emission lane can significantly bring DOWN pollution regionally. Instead of complaining about this very necessary project, why not HAIL the presence of a green alternative and THROW YOUR SUPPORT BEHIND IT?

- Finally, the idea that either the taxpayers or industry will pay for this project is fallcious. First of all, the industry IS one of the area's biggest taxpayers, and clearly they understand they will be paying their share here, so you've set up a phony dichotomy. Second, federal and state dollars will be supporting this project, not just local or regional taxes, which I think your readers would like to know but which you did not mention. And third, the benefit of this investment will vastly increase the tax base, more than off-setting any upfront costs.

While your tone here is calm and erudite, your stance is actually fairly uninformed, which makes it a knee-jerk reaction. Slow down!

Alan FishelAug 10 2012 07:18 PM

How about a NO PROJECT option!
This is one project that has no merit and needs to be stopped now before any more money is wasted on this unwanted and unneeded project. Caltrans just spent millions to improve the 710. There is no need for this massive welfare program to the trucking industry and some unknown contractor. With the completion of the new Gateway container transfer and the Alameda East Corridor most container traffic that is now and in the future that is on the 710 will be on container trains making for little need to expand the 710.
If the goal is to reduce pollution, electrifying the Alameda and Alameda East Corridor to the reloading yards out of the LA basin will reduce pollution by thousands of tons since moving the container by train involves hundreds of trains a day each using hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel a trip.

Alex HuertaAug 11 2012 07:52 PM

so funny. people criticizing these environmental reviews should work for planning firms. RE: the alternatives section, there is so much misunderstanding. The "no project" alternative is always an assumption and "alternatives" doesn't mean devise a new scheme altogether; it means modify the existing one slightly...and this is a scheme sometimes made by an entry- to mid-level planner with not a lot of in-depth thought.

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