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With 710 tunnel killed, millions of dollars up for grabs for new transportation projects

Early morning traffic jams the entrance to the 710 Freeway Wednesday April 21, 2010 in Alhambra, Calif. For more than half a century, residents of South Pasadena led a successful fight against a 4½-mile, 710 freeway extension project that would cut across their quiet, tree-lined neighborhoods.
Nick Ut/AP
FILE: Early morning traffic jams the entrance to the 710 freeway on Wednesday April 21, 2010 in Alhambra, California.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority made the landmark decision last week to scrap a controversial proposal that would extend the 710 freeway with a tunnel from Alhambra to Pasadena.

The agency's board of directors acknowledged they would likely never have the $3 billion to $5 billion needed to complete the project, which had inspired fierce debate for more than 50 years.

But the agency does have about $700 million to spend on the project, funded by the Measure R sales tax increase passed by county voters in 2008.

"The terrain will shift a little in the struggle now of how to divvy up this amount of money," said Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, who looks forward to being part of that decision.

The funds must be used in the same area and to achieve the same goal as the 710 extension — namely reducing traffic on surface streets in the areas of the San Gabriel Valley and East L.A. where the tunnel would have been built.

Metro plans to spend about $100 million right away on small fixes that have already been studied by Caltrans as part of the most recent Draft Environmental Impact Review, including synchronizing traffic lights, improving freeway ramps, building new sound walls and adding bike lanes.

This leaves about $600 million up for grabs. Metro is currently devising a plan to take in proposals and come to a consensus with communities in the area. Any new plans will still need to undergo environmental review, which could take years.

Further, nothing can happen until Caltrans, the state transportation department, makes its official decision on the 710 tunnel. State officials have already indicated that they will follow Metro's recommendation as there is otherwise no funding in place for a solution.

The tunnel was one of five options considered by Caltrans and Metro to build a north-south connection between the busy 10 and 210 freeways through the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, extending the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena. 

Caltrans is still finalizing its current Environmental Impact Review on the 710 and has indicated it will make the official decision in 2018.

Local officials, like Pasadena's mayor, are also excited about the potential to develop land that had been set aside on either ends of the freeway called "stubs."

In Pasadena, the 710 stub is directly adjacent to the city's thriving Old Town, which Tornek said could be used to build more housing, retail and green space.

"I see magical things happening there," he said.