Photo by Brian Ulaszewski

An under-utilized truck corridor adjacent to several Long Beach neighborhoods is one step closer to becoming the city’s second-largest green space as CalTrans announced this week a $225,000 grant that will fund the project’s design and planning.

The idea, originally promoted by nonprofit urban planning group CityFabrick, is to repurpose the mile-long City-owned portion of the Terminal Island Freeway between Willow St. and Pacific Coast Highway into a regular road and convert the 33 acres of surrounding space into a much-needed green belt for West Long Beach.

“The transition of the TI Freeway into a local-serving road would enable better circulation between the neighborhoods and schools that are consistently exposed to visual, air quality and noise impacts,” said 7th District Councilmember James Johnson. “The community would benefit from improved public health and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

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The California Department of Transportation’s Environmental Justice Grant Program is geared towards engaging low-income and minority communities in transportation projects that mitigate negative impacts while increasing mobility and accessibility.

According to the CalTrans award listing, removal of the little-used truck corridor is a unique opportunity to benefit the “disproportionately impacted environmental justice community in West Long Beach.” The approximately 50,000 residents that live between the 710 freeway and the post complex’s industrial rail yards are among the most park-deprived in the city and they also suffer from the highest rates of respiratory illnesses in the county.

“Recognizing that there are existing schools at home on one side of the freeway and goods movement facilities and infrastructure on the other side, the opportunity to replace one of these impacting land-uses with a 30-acre park could dramatically environmental conditions for this part of the community,” said Brian Ulaszewski of City Fabrick, which earlier this year presented a possible plan for the Terminal Island Freeway called “The Yards.” “There is still more that can and should be done, but this is a healthy start.”

Removing a freeway is not an unprecedented occurrence in other parts of the country, but in Southern California, the act is decidedly more rare.

In 1978, the Harbor Drive Freeway in Portland was converted into the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in what is cited as the first instance of freeway removal in the country. Other cities have followed suit since including Toronto, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Syracuse and Newark. One of the most notable removals continues to be the Central Freeway and Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, which together carried 150,000 vehicles daily and was removed after the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged it in 1989.


Map of area from City Fabrick’s “The Yards” proposal

The 2.5 mile-long Terminal Island Freeway was originally constructed to connect the Port of Long Beach to the Union Pacific Railroad facility on Willow St. Though it was supposed to be extended all the way to Union Station, the Alameda Transportation Corridor was built about a mile west, making the freeway redundant.

Today, City Fabrick estimates the road carries about the same traffic volume as 4th St. through Retro Row and remaining truck routes can easily be realigned to the Alamedia Corridor.
“West Long Beach is completely surrounded by regional-serving transportation projects that have the potential to significantly impact the community, including three rail yards and the expansion of the I-710 Freeway,” Ulaszewski said. “In contrast, the Terminal Island Freeway Transition Plan will be define a community led vision of how public infrastructure that benefits West Long Beach.”

Starting in 2014, a series of public workshops and meetings will be scheduled to help generate a comprehensive vision for the re-purposing of the Terminal Island Freeway. Funds for the construction of the local roads and greenspace buffer will need to be procured as well.

Brian Ulaszewski is a frequent contributor on urban planning and design to the Long Beach Post.

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