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Pasadena angry over new 710 Freeway tunnel proposal

August 13, 2012 |  3:54 pm

710 FreewaySigns stating “No 710 on Ave. 64” and“Freeway extension? No way” are springing up in Pasadena's San Rafael neighborhood, a place where few anticipated the battle over the extension of the 710 Freeway would flare.

In recent weeks, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have floated three new alternatives for improving traffic near the northern end of the 710, including the prospect of carving a tunnel under Avenue 64 between the Arroyo Seco Parkway and the 134 Freeway or by adding lanes and making the road a fast-moving thoroughfare.

Though fresher than the decades-old plan to build a tunnel through South Pasadena and Pasadena to connect the 710 and the 210 Freeway, the new ideas are getting the same blast of cold air from residents and local officials.

“Metro and Caltrans have come up with some new proposed routes in West Pasadena that would just destroy a very vibrant, historic neighborhood,” said Councilman Steve Madison, who represents the area. “It will bring all the bad things that a freeway can create: noise, pollution and disruption to emergency services.”

The Avenue 64 proposals are among 12 alternatives that Caltrans and Metro are studying for the closure of the so-called 710 gap. Another new one is a highway along Huntington Drive, Fair Oaks Avenue and Pasadena Avenue that would connect the 10 to the 210.

The proposal that has garnered the most attention in recent years is a 4.5-mile tunnel connecting the 710 in Alhambra to the 210 in Pasadena. Many local cities oppose the tunnel, including South Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge. Alhambra and other cities favor it, and many local officials believe that is the likeliest proposal to emerge from Metro's environmental study process when it is completed in 2014.

Helen Ortiz-Gilstrap, spokeswoman for Metro, said the agency is looking at all 12 alternatives equally.

“No decision has been made at this time, and no decision has been made regarding the alternatives,” Ortiz-Gilstrap said. “The alternatives carried forward … will be those that best reduce local and regional congestion and improve mobility.”

Pasadena has remained quiet in the debate over the 710 extension, in part because of Measure A, approved by city voters in 2001. The measure stated that the city would favor extending the 710 Freeway between the 210 and the 10 and that “such a policy could not be changed or repealed without a vote of the people.”

But on Thursday the Pasadena city attorney's office issued a written opinion that the city can stand up against the new proposals because the routes would be highways, not freeways, and would not connect to the 10 and 210.

“I don't think there's any reason why we can't oppose those,” Madison said, “and I believe the council will reach the same conclusion.”

John Shaffer, a San Rafael resident, is worried that the routes will separate the neighborhood from the rest of Pasadena, just like the 210 Freeway did downtown. More emphasis should be placed on studying public transportation and rail lines, he said, as well as improving the Gold Line.

“Most of the alternatives that are currently on the table make no sense,” Shaffer said. “They're 20th century solutions to 21st century problems.”


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Photo: A jogger runs past a sign in opposition to the 710 Freeway being built at Nithsdale Road and Avenue 64 in Pasadena. Credit: Raul Roa / TCN / Aug. 8, 2012