710 Freeway widening project likely dead, leaving local improvements in question

A plan to expand the 710 Freeway that has been stalled by a lack of funding and a federal mandate for a more extensive environmental analysis could be coming to an end in the coming months, which  may jeopardize proposed street and pedestrian improvements in Long Beach.

The project included a host of “early action projects” to make onramp and offramp locations more efficient and arterial streets that cross the freeway safer, but also to add bike lanes and address other pedestrian safety issues near the freeway. However projects like the Shoemaker Bridge replacement and the corresponding realignment of the Shoreline Drive exit into Downtown Long Beach, and a sound wall project to add new walls along the freeway in West Long Beach, could be safe because they’ve already cleared the environmental review process.

The sound walls are a Metro-financed project and Long Beach is advocating for $350 million to build a new bridge which would realign multiple freeway exits in Downtown and help make more park space accessible at Cesar Chavez Park.

Other projects including vehicle and pedestrian improvements along arterial streets stretching from Ocean Boulevard to the 91 Freeway could be scrapped if Los Angeles Metro and CalTrans, the two lead agencies on the project, decide not to pursue the 710 project, which included hundreds of millions in improvements in Long Beach alone.

A task force for the project signaled earlier this month it will recommend that the full Metro board adopt the “no build” alternative of the project, meaning the agency would do nothing and the project that was supposed to add one additional lane in each direction over a 19-mile stretch of the freeway would die after nearly two decades of planning. CalTrans has already signaled that it would not pursue the project in its current configuration.

Patrick Chandler, a spokesperson for Metro, said it’s unclear how those early action projects would be prioritized; even if work to improve truck or freight movement are kept, it could be some time before any of them move forward.

“How those will be built? We’re not even at that point,” Chandler said. “They would have to go through the environmental process again.”

Chandler added that financing those projects may fall on the city, but the work could eventually be part of a new proposal that the task force is moving toward by continuing to meet with the community to develop a new solution to reducing traffic along the corridor.

That new plan could include the kind of arterial street improvements to streets like Anaheim Street, Pacific Coast Highway and others that cross the 710 Freeway in Long Beach. If they are, the two organizations could use existing environmental studies to reduce the time those projects could take to complete in the future.

Expanding the 710 Freeway was proposed as a way to alleviate congestion on the critical artery that allows trucks to access the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and transport goods to rail yards in East Los Angeles and beyond.

However, the plan was opposed by local community organizations, which said the project would only make pollution worse and increase the already high levels of asthma and other respiratory issues in communities along the 710 Freeway. The groups are calling for a more community-serving project that increases public transportation options in the area and reduces vehicle pollution.

The LA Metro Board of Directors approved a $6 billion plan in 2018 to expand the freeway, but because the project only had about $1 billion in funding on hand, the agencies prioritized the smaller  projects like freeway entrance and exit improvements and changes to arterial streets that intersect the freeway like adding bike lanes and other pedestrian amenities. The project was originally projected to break ground in 2022.

However, the project hit a major snag last year when the Environmental Protection Agency demanded a more detailed analysis of how widening the freeway would affect neighboring communities, noting that doing so would likely make air quality worse for those that live around the freeway.

Metro voted to pause the project and create a new task force to meet with the community, and earlier this month it signaled it will recommend that the full Metro board adopt the “no-build” alternative, meaning the project would be killed.

The full board will likely vote on what to do next in the coming months. The task force is scheduled to meet again on May 9 where members of the public can comment on the pending proposal to the board and the future of the 710 Freeway. A registration link for the virtual meeting can be found here.

Federal regulators’ demand for pollution study could derail 710 widening project

LA Metro board opts to pause pursuit of 710 Freeway widening project

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.
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