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Counting blue (and silver and red and white) cars on the 210

May 14, 2012 |  2:26 pm

Counting cars

Four people pitched their canvas chairs on a recent day above the 210 Freeway, their gaze focused unwaveringly on the roadway below. Their mission? To count cars. All of them.

One of the counters, Leandra Alvarez, positioned her fingers over two rows of four keypads at the top of a clipboard, with keys for cars and two-axle, three-axle and four-axle trucks. She was charged with watching two lanes.

"It's not that hard," she said, her eyes fixed on the road. "I just have to concentrate."

The data -- collected from their perches on the Gould Avenue overpass -- will be used for a Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority study of local traffic patterns, which will be included in an environmental impact report for closing the "710 gap."

The study is controversial. La Cañada Flintridge officials and others believe county and state transportation officials will favor a hotly contested, 4.5-mile freeway tunnel connecting the 710 and 210 freeways. The tunnel would pass through South Pasadena, where residents and city officials have long decried the project's potential impact on traffic, noise and air, the Glendale News-Press reported.

Other local cities, including Alhambra, favor the connector.

In recent months, MTA officials have conceded they will not seek to build a surface freeway connection.

The workers planted on the Gould Avenue sidewalk were too focused on counting trucks, cars and buses to care about the political drama.

The counting takes place Tuesdays through Thursdays, "when there is normal traffic" — Mondays, Fridays and weekends are too unpredictable, said Denni Wilson, the chief financial officer at Pasadena-based Wiltec, a subcontractor for a firm hired to lead the three-year, $3.7-million MTA study.

A few steps from Alvarez, Solomon Isaac Jr. watched his two lanes of the northbound 210. He said the work has taken him as far north as Petaluma and as far south as Oceanside.

"I like this job," he said, as a second or two passed with no traffic in his lanes. "I'm in the open. I've got time to think, and I'm thankful just to have a job."

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-- Bill Kisliuk, Times Community News

Photo: Traffic counters keep tabs on vehicles passing under the Gould Avenue overpass in La Cañada Flintridge. Credit: Raul Roa / Times Community News

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