The Long Beach City Council could ask for a path forward Tuesday on a long-discussed plan to replace an underutilized portion of the Terminal Island Freeway in West Long Beach with nearly 25 acres of new green space that would serve as a buffer to the port-related industries.

Known as the “Green TI” to advocates, the project could take a roughly 1-mile stretch of the freeway that runs between Pacific Coast Highway and Willow Street, which is owned by the city, and turn it into a local road with park and recreation space.

Perhaps more importantly, it would also create a green buffer between homes, parks and schools in Long Beach, which have suffered disproportionate effects from the pollution generated by the Port of Long Beach and adjacent industries.

West Long Beach Councilmember Roberto Uranga is asking for city management to put together a feasibility report for the project and to bring it back to the council to for consideration in 120 days.

“This project would be beyond transformative. It would be life-changing in matters such as clean air, traffic congestion, and of course, park equity, to mention a few,” Uranga said in an email. “Residents of West Long Beach have had less access to open space than the average resident of Long Beach, and this project would take major steps toward closing that gap.”

Part of that report could include a cost estimate, which is currently unclear given the amount of time that has passed since 2015, when the council last discussed the project. Uranga said that the city could look to area transportation agencies, the port and the federal government for funding the project, which is likely to cost tens of millions.

He pointed to the 2028 Olympics as an opportunity for the city to acquire funding for the project.

“As we look forward to the 2028 Olympics, it is important that we use the opportunity to build lasting resources for the community as opposed to throwaway projects that will not see use after 2028,” Uranga said.

The section of the Terminal Island Freeway between 20th and Willow streets could be reconfigured to include fewer traffic lanes in exchange for public green space. Monday, March 13, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.
A rendering of the proposed project to alter the Terminal Island Freeway into public green space. Courtesy of the city of Long Beach.

When the council discussed the plan in 2015, it heard support from residents who said the project would improve their lives, but there was opposition from labor unions, trucking companies and neighboring cities, who said the Green TI would force truck traffic onto alternate routes and affect the efficiency of moving goods in and out of the port.

The council opted to examine how the project would affect things like traffic and the environment before moving forward. Because the project is still a conceptual plan, no environmental impact report has been completed.

Talks of removing the freeway have been underway since at least 2010, after the state transferred ownership the northernmost 1-mile stretch of the freeway to the city.

Brian Ulaszewski, the executive director of the design firm City Fabrick, has championed the freeway’s removal for over a decade. Ulaszewski said he was excited about both the recent $30 million in funding to help realign Shoreline Drive, a project that would also increase park space, and the freeway removal project potentially moving forward.

“Transforming the TI Freeway into a lush greenbelt will improve air quality citywide, benefiting residents living in every corner of Long Beach,” Ulaszewski said in a text message.

The Green TI project is part of a larger vision City Fabrick has for the area.

Alexander Jung, the firm’s director of urban design and planning who worked on the Green TI vision for the design firm Melendrez, said the Westside Barrier Project includes the Green TI, but also proposes the repurposing of Southern California Edison’s rights-of-way as well as the relocation of Intermodal Container Transfer Facility as part of a much larger open-space vision.

A rendering of wetlands included in the proposal to alter the Terminal Island Freeway to feature increased green space. Courtesy of the city of Long Beach.

Combined with the sharing of Long Beach Unified School District open space at adjacent schools on the Westside, Jung said that the project could cobble together about 350 acres of open space, which would rival El Dorado Park in East Long Beach, the city’s largest park.

However, the focus is on the Green TI for now, where Jung said advocates have to begin education campaigns for the community and city staff.

“A lot of the folks who worked on the Green TI plan—most of them, if not all of them, are all gone now,” Jung said.

While there isn’t a current estimate on how much the project could cost, Jung pointed to a similar project that the Port of Los Angeles helped fund in Wilmington.

What was originally proposed to be a wall in the mid-1990s was turned into a 30-acre waterfront park along Harry Bridges Boulevard that helped separate the community from the industry of the port and create much-needed park space.

The $55 million park opened in 2011.

Like Ulaszewski, Jung is hopeful that the recent change in policy at several levels of government could result in funding for the project.

Long Beach just received a $30 million grant from the federal government to realign Shoreline Drive, which has cut off a large portion of green space Downtown from Cesar Chavez Park.

Last year, Caltrans and LA Metro abandoned plans to widen the 710 Freeway after federal regulators required a more thorough environmental analysis and the port is investing over $1 billion to expand its ability to move cargo by rail instead of by trucks.

“With a new kind of focus the momentum is there and maybe this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where we need to think outside of the box,” Jung said.

$30M grant will help fund dramatic Shoreline Drive overhaul

Terminal Island Freeway Removal Project To Face More Scrutiny Before City Takes Action

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.