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Metro board may vote to take controversial 710 tunnel proposal off the table

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 Wednesday April 21, 2010 in Alhambra, California.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board this week is scheduled to take up the project that has inspired considerable debate over half a century: the 710 tunnel proposal.

The tunnel would extend the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena. While communities like Alhambra and Rosemead have pushed for a tunnel, saying it would ease cut-through traffic on their streets, cities like Pasadena and South Pasadena have fiercely opposed it, arguing it would only create more traffic and destroy their neighborhoods.

The proposal is 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. It’s been estimated to cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.

Metro currently has a fraction of that sum allocated to the project, through revenues from Measure R, a voter-approved sales tax that passed in 2008. John Fasana, Metro board chair and Duarte councilman, isn’t sure the agency can make up the difference.

"To me, it seems that the path has run out to obtain the funding and the resources needed to get this thing done," Fasana said at a meeting of Metro's Ad Hoc Congestion, Highways and Roads Committee last week.

Fasana introduced a motion proposing Metro scrap the tunnel idea. He cited legal concerns that risk tying up any efforts to fund the project through a private partnership, which had been the hope of many tunnel backers.

He suggested Metro instead use the project's existing funds on smaller fixes to reduce traffic in the area, such as synchronizing lights. The rest of the money, he said, could be used to improve mobility in the San Gabriel Valley, such as with transit or bike infrastructure projects.

The full Metro board will take up Fasana's motion at its meeting on Thursday.

The board will also hear a presentation by Metro staff that recommends the tunnel as the best of the five alternatives; the analysis indicated it would reduce congestion on surface streets the most.

Fasana's proposal follows an effort by state Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) to push a bill that would also rule out a tunnel option. So far, the measure has failed to pass out of committee in the Assembly, although it may be reconsidered in the future.

Metro and Caltrans are expected to make their final recommendations on the project by early next year.