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Residents Dig Into the Pros and Cons of 710 Freeway Tunnel

Politicians and experts discuss a proposal to build a passage that would complete the highway from Long Beach to Pasadena.

October 23, 2005|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Members of the public had a chance Saturday to grill politicians and technical experts about the possibility of building a tunnel to complete the missing link in the Long Beach Freeway.

The prospect of a tunnel is the latest chapter in a fourdecade dispute over finishing the freeway, which was intended to connect Long Beach to Pasadena but ends on Valley Boulevard at the Alhambra-Los Angeles border. South Pasadena residents have fought the freeway's completion because it would destroy homes and bisect their small town.

Earlier this year the conflict took a twist when the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority began a preliminary study on filling the roughly five-mile freeway gap with a tunnel under Alhambra, South Pasadena and Pasadena.

State Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) was host of the Saturday meeting at Cal State Los Angeles, where about 75 residents of the area voiced their hopes, concerns and fears about the freeway.

"I don't know that the freeway needs to be finished; any time you bring in a freeway, you bring in more congestion," said Janet Ervin, 63, of South Pasadena.

The meeting featured a long presentation by MTA tunneling expert and geotechnical engineer Dan Eisenstein, who offered a primer on tunnel construction and geology.

He also made a point of showing photos of other long tunnels that have been built around the world, including a 31-mile rail tunnel, part of the system that runs beneath the English Channel to link England and France.

The audience's response: a flood of questions.

Where would the exhaust from vehicles go?

Would trucks be allowed?

Could underground gases cause an explosion?

For the most part, officials explained that the current study's scope is basically limited to one question: Is tunneling feasible?

If the answer is yes, another study will be launched to tackle specifics such as alignment, cost and unearthing hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for it.

That left some in the audience to return to a more fundamental question: Does the 710 Freeway need to be completed, or has the region learned to live without it?

"It has to be finished because that was planned and Alhambra has suffered a lot," said Eva Morgan, 74, noting that traffic spills from the freeway onto her city's streets. Frustrated with South Pasadena's unwillingness to support the completion, she sarcastically suggested that South Pasadena residents should not be allowed to use the freeway system.

But there were signs that South Pasadena might be amenable to a tunnel.

City Councilman Mike Ten, the former mayor, said the lack of a freeway has also piled cars onto South Pasadena streets.

"You can't tell me that 40,000 cars going up and down Fair Oaks" Avenue -- one of the city's main thoroughfares -- "makes that environment any safer," Ten said.

Cedillo said he believes that tunneling might work and that finishing the freeway would be a major infrastructure improvement for the region.

"There are people living in the world above tunnels that for them have provided solutions for the same problems facing us," Cedillo said to the crowd. "I say the status quo isn't working.... The world has changed, and there may be opportunities to find a solution."

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