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California lawmaker wants to spike plans for 710 Freeway extension

Anthony Portantino, who had requested the recent audit of Caltrans, asks the agency to halt tunnel study. Area residents call for a criminal probe of Caltrans.

August 23, 2012|By Adolfo Flores, Los Angeles Times

Residents are calling for a criminal probe of Caltrans and a local lawmaker wants to spike plans to extend the 710 Freeway in the wake of last week's stinging audit of the transportation agency.

Caltrans and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority are studying whether to build a tunnel extending the 710 from its terminus in Alhambra to the 210 Freeway in Pasadena. Many residents of the area and some nearby cities including South Pasadena, Glendale and La Cañada Flintridge oppose an extension, citing concerns about truck traffic, noise and pollution. Alhambra, San Marino, the Port of Los Angeles, unions and businesses contend the long-planned connector is a key link in the region's transportation chain.

In planning for the freeway decades ago, Caltrans acquired nearly 500 homes in Pasadena, South Pasadena and Los Angeles that could be in the freeway's path. Last week, the California state auditor issued a report alleging that Caltrans failed to collect $22.5 million in potential rental income over the last four and a half years, vastly overspent on repairs and improperly allowed state workers to live in 15 of the homes at below-market rents.

The audit, which Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) requested, prompted the lawmaker to ask the California Transportation Commission and Caltrans on Wednesday to halt the freeway study.

"The recent state audit highlighted the complete lack of trust that I have for the folks shepherding the 710 corridor and this historically massive project," Portantino said in a statement. "If these folks can't be trusted to fix a roof, how can we trust them to build a $15 billion tunnel?"

Caltrans officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. MTA officials have said that they did not yet know what the cost would be for the 4.5-mile tunnel.

On Wednesday evening, a group of activists known as the "freeway fighters" held a meeting to demand a criminal probe of Caltrans' management of the homes.

"I'm calling for the Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris to use this audit to bring criminal sanctions," said Don Justin Jones, a member of the group, earlier Wednesday.

Not everyone wants the project killed.

State Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) announced Wednesday that they had amended a bill sponsored by Liu that would speed up the sale of Caltrans-owned homes not needed for a new connector. The amendment calls for 25% of home-sale proceeds to go to build sound walls along the 210, where opposition to the 710 extension is strong.

The measure, Gatto said in a statement, "is a creative way to turn a negative, the 710 extension, into a positive: relief along the nearby 210 corridor."

The proposed tunnel extending the 710 is one of several alternatives the MTA is studying to ease congestion in the so-called 710 gap. The study is slated to wrap up in 2014.

adolfo.flores@latimes.com

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