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710 plans are inching along

Approval of environmental study stokes opponents' concerns.

May 29, 2010|By Melanie Hicken

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — Opponents of the proposed underground tunnel extension of the Long Beach (710) Freeway were dealt a major blow Thursday when county transportation officials voted to initiate a major environmental study of the project.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted Thursday to approve the more in-depth environmental studies needed to move the proposal forward.

Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, who as chairman of the MTA Board of Directors has been a vocal opponent of the tunnel, tried to push an amendment that would have called on officials to first study all available solutions to the traffic congestion — including a tunnel, light rail and freight corridor improvements — and compare the cost benefits, but that effort failed.

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"My concern is this is going to go to the environmental impact report and get the same old rubber stamp," he said.

Some board members said they would consider studying the cost benefits of other alternatives while completing the study.

While an environmental document will take years to prepare, the vote was still a major landmark for the tunnel proposal, which has been dismissed for years as unlikely and too expensive.

The decades-long controversy surrounding the proposed "gap closure" of the Foothill (210) and Long Beach (710) freeways had been relatively dormant since 2003, when federal officials withdrew their support for the defeated surface highway option.

But the debate over the alternative, an underground tunnel, was reinvigorated last year when the California Department of Transportation and MTA released a $6-million route feasibility study. The report showed tunneling was feasible within five potential route zones, which include connections to the 210 and Glendale (2) freeways.

The debate renewed an ongoing fight between the San Gabriel Valley communities, which have long pleaded for relief from traffic congestion, and several foothill communities that say the connector will add more polluting big rigs to local freeways.

Stakeholders were forced to wait nearly six hours Thursday to hear the board's decision on the study after more than a hundred angry protesters organized by the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union interrupted to call for a public hearing on a planned bus fare hike.

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