Metro’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a plan today to revamp the 710 freeway from Long Beach to East Los Angeles, but it’s holding off on the most costly and contentious part of the plan: widening much of the route to five lanes in each direction.
Instead, the board approved fast-tracking portions of the plan that would be cheaper to implement and wouldn’t result in displacement for residents and business owners in areas close to the freeway. The board still needs to nail down the projects, but they could include parks, air filters in schools, and road improvements near the freeway.
“I think this freeway could be the freeway to the future,” said boardmember Janice Hahn.
She authored a motion also approved by the board today to create a working group to study how to reduce emissions along the entire 19-mile freeway—notorious for its negative health effects on residents who live close by.
The board also asked Metro CEO Phil Washington to come up with a plan to quickly phase out freeway access for smog-producing diesel trucks, mandating instead that trucking companies use near-zero, and eventually zero-emission, trucks to haul goods along the route.
“The meat of the matter is getting to zero emissions,” said board chair Eric Garcetti. “If [the freeway] is never widened, great. Let’s do it with what’s there today.”
But some community advocates and environmental groups expressed dismay that the board wasn’t shutting the door completely to an expansion of the freeway, which they say would lead to increased levels of pollution, even with stricter emission standards.
“Instead of coming up with a cohesive and thoughtful plan... the board is asking communities to take a leap of faith and just blindly trust that the agency will somehow transform this project at some point in the future,” said Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez after the vote,
The board’s decision pushes forward with the environmental review process for a $6 billion project that would widen the freeway between the 405 and 60 freeways, overhauling numerous entrances and exits along the way.
Metro staffers say improving the freeway is necessary to keep up with growth at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where the volume of goods flowing into the harbor by 2030 is expected to be more than double what it was in 2005.
Boardmember and mayor of Long Beach Robert Garcia called the freeway a “gateway to our ports” and suggested that “modernization” was necessary to ensure continued economic growth.
But Garcia also said he wasn’t convinced that a widening project would improve congestion along the route and expressed concerns about displacement. 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.
Funds for the full 710 project aren’t yet in place, and members of the board stressed that Thursday’s decision does not give Caltrans a green light to begin widening the freeway.
But several boardmembers asked for clarification over whether another vote would be necessary before new lanes could be added.
Boardmember Mike Bonin also asked Metro staff to clarify what elements of the project could be started right away.
“I’m voting for this only because I’m an optimist,” said boardmember Sheila Kuehl. She said she hoped “that the words that we put in here mean what we think they mean.”