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Freeway Plan Has Initial U.S. Support : Roads: Federal official generally backs state proposal to close gap in South Pasadena.


Confirming an assertion by state officials last week, the top federal highway official for California on Tuesday guardedly voiced his support for completion of the controversial Long Beach Freeway through South Pasadena and Alhambra.

"We're generally supportive of what Caltrans is recommending," said Roger Borg, head of the Federal Highway Administration's California division. "We don't have any reservations at this point."

But Borg said it would be premature to say that final approval has been given. "You never know what new information might come up," he said. "We haven't prejudged this. That is what the review process is for."

Borg said he expected federal highway officials to sign within three weeks an environmental impact report the state Department of Transportation sent them last week. That would be the first step in obtaining federal funding for 85% of the project, which is expected to cost from $630 million to $660 million. Borg said the federal review could be completed by fall, clearing the way for final design preparation.

Although federal officials have rejected prior plans for the freeway completion, Borg said he believes the current environmental report adequately addresses the concerns that have blocked the project.

Considered by transportation planners as the last significant link in Los Angeles County's freeway system, the 6.2-mile gap has been mired in legal, environmental and historic preservation debates for more than three decades.

Gov. Pete Wilson's Administration directed state officials last Friday to take "all necessary steps" to push ahead on the project, which would have eight lanes of freeway and two lanes for light rail. The project would close the Long Beach Freeway (Interstate 710) gap between the San Bernardino Freeway (Interstate 10) in Los Angeles and the Foothill Freeway (Interstate 210) in Pasadena.

Several proposed routes have been suggested. Opponents in South Pasadena have successfully batted these down and made the fight a cause celebre among city officials, historic preservationists and environmentalists because it would split the city in half and require that scores of architecturally significant Craftsman, Mediterranean Revival and Victorian houses would be destroyed or moved.

In making their announcement, state transportation officials Friday said they had obtained the crucial support of federal highway officials and would not have submitted the environmental documents unless Caltrans believed it would be approved.

Borg said Tuesday that there is a pressing need to complete the freeway in order to combat traffic congestion, reduce smog and cut commuting times, as noted in the environmental impact statement.

Federal highway officials, he said, essentially agree with that conclusion.

At this point, he said, federal highway officials are "agreeing with what's being said" in the environmental impact statement. His agency, he said, worked with Caltrans on the report before the final version was submitted.

Borg said the federal agency will solicit written comments from the public after the environmental report is signed. But he said federal officials will hold no public hearings.

After allowing time for written comments, Borg said the federal agency will issue what is known as a "record of decision" about the environmental report. That could happen in the summer or early fall, he said.

One of the key elements influencing the preparation of that decision, he said, will be a panel set up by Caltrans. Community leaders will be named to the panel, Caltrans officials have said, as a way to address environmental and historic preservation issues.

Besides the federal process, Caltrans has its own procedures which include formally recommending a route before the California Transportation Commission and also requesting a public hearing to be held by the commission.

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