A Metro committee forwarded a $6-billion plan to widen much of the 710 freeway to the full Metro Board of Directors Wednesday.
The agency’s Ad Hoc Congestion, Highways, and Roads Committee reviewed a version of the widening project that would expand a 19-mile stretch of freeway running from the 405 to the 60 to five lanes in each direction. Two truck bypass lanes would also be constructed in either direction at the 405 interchange, allowing goods to be transported in and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach more efficiently.
Environmental groups and residents in areas around the freeway say adding lanes will worsen air quality and expose communities to the harmful effects of diesel exhaust emitted by trucks hauling freight along the route.
“Today is Ash Wednesday,” John Fasana, a Metro board member said at the meeting. And for communities living near the 710, “tomorrow will be Ash Thursday and the day after that Ash Friday.”
The project’s draft environmental impact report acknowledges the poor air quality alongside the freeway and its association with health problems like asthma, cancer, and heart disease.
New state regulations on diesel-powered vehicles are expected to cut down on harmful emissions in coming years, but opponents of the project worry that expanding the freeway to accommodate more trucks will limit the effect of those reforms.
Widening the freeway will also displace some residents and business owners who live or own property close to the 710. Metro estimates that more than 400 residents in the cities of Carson, Compton, Long Beach, and others would have to be relocated as a result of construction.
In a letter to Metro, a coalition of community organizations and environmental advocates, including the Trust for Public Land and the Los Angeles Sierra Club, asked the agency to work with Caltrans on crafting a new version of the project—with or without widening—that would avoid displacing residents, force shipping companies to use zero-emission trucks on the route, and ensure construction is carried out by local workers.
Instead, the committee sent a motion from boardmembers Janice Hahn, Hilda Solis, Robert Garcia, and Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker to the full board asking state agencies to investigate the possibility of setting aside one of the five lanes for zero-emission vehicles. Of the project’s total budget, $200 million would also be used to fund grants and subsidies encouraging companies to switch to zero-emission trucks.
Opponents of the project say that’s not enough to counteract the negative impacts of making room for more vehicles.
“You’re going to make the problem worse, then go get taxpayer dollars to clean it up?” asks Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez. He calls the widening project a “1950s-era solution” to congestion on the busy freeway.
The project still has a long way to go before construction gets underway. Metro’s full Board of Directors will need to sign off on the plan approved Wednesday, after which the environmental review process will continue into next year. If construction gets underway after that, the project would be built in multiple phases, taking years to complete.
Members of the committee were optimisic that, by that time, zero-emission technology will be commonplace, cutting down on any additional smog that a widening project would produce.
Metro and Caltrans have already spent years developing the plan, and its long approval process has given opponents plenty of time to mobilize resistance to the project. Last year, after decades of redesigns and community pushback, Metro’s Board of Directors pulled the plug on an extension of the northern portion of the 710 to Pasadena.
“The highway system we have today is what we’ll have 100 years from now,” said Fasana at the time.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the committee recommended widening the freeway to five lanes in each direction. In fact, the committee forwarded a staff report to the Metro Board of Directors that recommends this option.