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The expansion and extension of State Route 710 (SR-710) freeway is a Los Angeles County transportation network project that was proposed over 40years ago but still remains to be implemented. According to the U. S. Department of Transportation (2000), the 710 freeway project is not a typical highway project due to its magnitude and the immense impact that the project will have on the freeway system once it is completed.
The current 710 freeway suffers from a heavy traffic load that has led to congestion and high inefficiency. Expanding and extending the freeway will help increase the roads capacity therefore making it more efficient. In spite of the positive impact that the proposed freeway project would have on the transport region in Los Angeles metropolitan, the 710 Freeway project has been faced with controversy from its initial proposal leading to a lengthy delay.
Various stakeholders in the project have taken a stand either for or against the project. Due to this, the project has been stalled for over 40years and this highly contentious atmosphere still characterizes the implementation of the project. This paper will provide a detailed research on the 710 freeway project with focus on the merits and demerits of the project. The information presented will assist the community to decide on whether they should take a stand for or against the proposed 710 tunnel.
The 710 freeway is regarded as a “critical north-south link in the LA Country transportation network” (Redmond and Romero, 2011, p.738). As of 1970, state officials observed that the freeway was unable to effectively serve the transport needs of the road users in the region.
An expansion and extension project was therefore proposed to increase the carrying capacity of the freeway. The bad traffic conditions that served as the basis for the project at its inception have continued to exist and actual become more dire as the number of vehicles on the freeway increase.
From its onset, the project faced controversy with a lawsuit being filed against the proposed project by the city of South Pasadena in 1973. This opposition from the city led to an injunction against the project and work could not get underway until the injunction was lifted. Because of this lawsuits and oppositions from the local community and the Los Angeles County officials, the freeway project has been refined numerous times.
In 1976, the original route of the highway expansion was revised to ensure that the freeway did not pass through the Arroyo Seco Park. In reaction to opposition based on the impact that the proposed project would have on historical properties along the corridor, a new Meridian Variation Alternative was identified in 1986. This new alternative would have a reduced impact on historic property therefore easing concerns about the impact of the project on the historical integrity of the region.
The Route 710 Freeway project has undergone various modifications due to the opposition from various groups. One of the most significant modifications is the depression of the freeway in order to reduce its footprint by up to 20%.
At the onset, a surface freeway extension was proposed to help ease the traffic congestion and open up the freeway to enable it to accommodate the growing traffic within the County. However, this surface freeway extension did not receive support from the local communities and this necessitated major amendments to the original proposal.
The tunnel concept for the extension has raised the cost of the project and presents some engineering challenges. It is estimated that the tunnel system will have an excess of 15m in diameter and 7.2 to 17.7Km making it one of the largest and longest highway tunnels in the world. The 710 freeway project continues to face opposition in spite of the many refinements made over the years.
Merits of the 710 Freeway Project
The proposed freeway will contribute to the decongestion of the Californian Route 710, which suffers from pervasive congestion due to the heavy truck traffic along the route. The U. S. Department of Transportation (2000) states that the project will remove over 90,000 vehicles from city streets a day and provide a better route for over 100,000 vehicles from other sections of the regional highway network.
This will free up the congestion on the city streets therefore increasing mobility and access to the city’s residents and increase the safety standards. The freeway will therefore have major impact on the traffic in the city streets in LA.
The commercial and industrial opportunities in Los Angeles will be increased because of the proposed freeway. By providing viable routes into and around Los Angele’s CBD, the city will become an attractive venue for investors. Many investors are currently unwilling to invest in the region due to the poor transportation system.
The U. S. Department of Transportation (2000) asserts that the California Route 710 under consideration for expansion/extension is the most “severely congested freeway system” in the United States. If the project is implemented, this congestion will be mitigated hence making Los Angeles an attractive venue for commercial and industrial investors.
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The Route 710 freeway is predicted to have a positive impact on car-pooling initiatives. Car-pooling involves individuals sharing their cars on their way to work or school. This strategy is advantageous since it reduces the number of cars on the road and has a positive effect on the environment by decreasing the greenhouse emissions from automobiles.
The State is therefore keen to encourage ride-sharing initiatives among its residents. The U. S. Department of Transportation (2000) reveals that the freeway will connect corridor cities with a countrywide transit and high occupancy vehicle lanes hence giving greater incentives for ride sharing.
The project will increase the safety levels on the road specifically reducing the number of accidents per year. The current high accident rate on the highway is blamed on congestion and the lack of quality roads. The quality of the roads will be improved once the project is completed. Congestion will also reduce due to the high volume of the road. Studies indicate that on completion, the project will reduce accident rates by up to 40% (The U. S. Department of Transportation, 2000).
The LA metropolitan area suffers from a bad quality of air with a government report classifying it as one of the most “severely deteriorated air quality regions in the US” (U. S. Department of Transportation, 2000, p.10). The project will lead to a relative improvement in air quality for the region.
It will aids in the achievement of national ambient air quality standards for the LA metropolitan area in line with the provisions of the Clean Air Act. SR-710 will reduce the pollution levels in the LA area therefore improving the air quality. The improvement of traffic flow that the project will bring about will help improve air quality. The current poor air quality is blamed on the traffic congestion, which increases emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide as cars idle along the freeway or move at low speeds for extended periods.
The project has endeavored to incorporate the local community to the greatest possible degree. Concerned public and private organizations have been involved and their views on the project have been incorporated. In addition to this, decision-making has not been left to the Federal agencies even though the project is going to be funded by the Federal government.
Instead, the community has been given the opportunity to take part in the decision making process. The U. S. Department of Transportation (2000) confirms that numerous opportunities have been provided for all interested parties to participate in decisions concerning the 710 freeway project.
Demerits of the 710 Freeway Project
The proposed 710 freeway extension and expansion will have a negative impact on some historical resources within the LA area where the project will take place. Some of the historical properties that lie along the path of the proposed freeway will have to be demolished in order to accommodate the freeway.
In addition to the actual damage, some of the historical resources that will be left impact will suffer due to their proximity to the freeway. The relative worth of the historical property will therefore be degraded because of the SR 710 freeway project. The U. S. Department of Transportation (2000) contends that major variations have been made to ensure that the severity of the impact of the project on historical resources is reduced significantly.
Measures such as narrowing of the width of the freeway have been taken to make the impact on historical resources minimal. While amendments to the original proposal have been made to reduce the impact on historical resources, great damage will still be done on some areas. Opponents of the project state that the historical integrity of historic buildings will e damaged by relocating them or building tunnels underneath them.
The proposed 710 freeway project will have significant negative impacts on the community. To begin with, the project will require additional land space and this will lead to displacement of people and businesses.
Residential and commercial buildings will have to be demolished in order to build the “cut and cover” tunnels. While the displaced people will receive government compensation and suitable relocation venues, the impact on the individuals who have grown attached to their community will be great. Therefore, the project has had a negative impact on the cohesion of the community.
In spite of the fact that the project has not yet been implemented, it has already managed to divide the community into those who support the project and those who do not. The project will also create a barrier between communities in the South Pasadena region leading to community isolation. Even with the best efforts to avoid displacement, the project will still require the displacement of hundreds of families.
The project will reduce the value of property in the area therefore decreasing the investment for people who have real estate in the region. Expanding and extending the freeway will attract more traffic into the region leading to air and noise pollution in areas that were previously not exposed to heavy traffic.
These mostly residential areas will experience depreciation in value due to their proximity to the freeway. The aesthetic value of the area will also be decreased since the project will involve cutting down of trees and destroying the landscape.
The tunnels present a major environmental issue due to the ventilation systems proposed. One proposal is for tall ventilation buildings to be built along the tunnel path for the emission of exhaust gases from the tunnel. Such a set up will lead to a concentration of exhaust fumes at certain location. The other proposal is for exhaust to be vented at specific ends of the tunnel into the communities of Pasadena and El Sereno. The air quality at these points will be greatly deteriorated if the proposals are implemented.
Route 710 project violates the rule of Environmental Justice by placing a disproportionate burden on minority communities. Opponents of the project claim that the Route 710 project corridor mostly affects minority communities in LA County.
This claim is not baseless since the proposed extension mostly affects the El Sereno community of Los Angeles. The affected portion also has individuals with lower than average income levels and a higher share of elderly residents. The government has acknowledged the environmental justice concerns and taken up steps to mitigate them.
For example, the decision to depress the freeway, and provide cut and cover tunnels was made with the main objective of reducing the impact that the project will have to minority communities. The “cut and cover” tunnels entail digging of a trench along the path that the road will pass, constructing the roadway, and then covering the roadway such that the area above can be used in the same manner that it was before the roadway was build.
There are significant concerns on the fiscal viability of the SR-710 freeway extension. The sheer magnitude and scale of the project means that it will require billions of dollars to complete. In addition to this, the wide opposition to the project will result in much litigation, which will delay the project leading to increases in cost. Presently, government agencies have failed to come up with a uniform cost estimate for the project. While some agencies estimate that the project will cost $4.5 billion, others estimate that it will require $14 billion.
This high variability suggests that the project presents a significant fiscal risk for the federal and state government. The cost of constructing the tunnels contributes to the inflated construction cost. Local and State authorities reveal that most of the funding for the tunnel will be done through Private, Public Partnerships. Private investors will therefore cover most of the costs for the project. While this will reduce the financial burden on the taxpayers, it will lead to very high tolls to use the roadway.
Recent Epidemiological Studies
The proposed tunnel will have a negative impact on individuals with respiratory problems. Pollution levels in road tunnels are generally higher compared to those of surface roads. A study by Svartengren et al. (2000) on the impact of short-term exposure to air pollution in road tunnels showed that road tunnels significantly enhanced asthmatic reactions.
The long tunnel that will be part of the 710 freeway extension will therefore have adverse health effects since travelers will spend considerable amount of time in the tunnel. Svartengren et al. (2000) assert that the length of the tunnel contribute to the adverse health effect to individuals who are exposed to motor vehicle exhaust.
The construction of the long underground tunnels poses significant engineering challenges. Extensive studies on the area through which the 710 extension will occur reveal that the tunnels will be prone to strong ground shaking since Southern California is seismically active and crossed by a number of faults (Redmond & Romero, 2011).
Some of the zones around which the 710 extension will pass contain groundwater basins. This groundwater basins act as a primary source of water for the region. While the groundwater levels vary considerably, there is a potential for inflows into tunnel excavations.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (2008) documents that when considering air quality outside a tunnel, the area surrounding the ventilation stacks or tunnel portals experiences significant concentration of pollutants. These pollutants are released at a high concentration hence worsening local air quality to a great degree.
The negative impact of tunnel ventilation systems on the local air quality can be mitigated by installing the stacks in nonresidential locations (The National Health and Medical Research Council, 2008). Such an approach will improve the local air quality to levels better than open roads since the road transport emissions will be deliberately removed from residential areas.
A major stakeholder in the 710 freeway project is the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). This association has earmarked this project as an integral component in the transportation plans for the region. The SCAG is keen to ensure that the project is implemented since the project will open up the area for investments and increase the tax base for the local governments.
This stakeholder also contends that completion of the Route 710 freeway will be critical to transforming the Los Angeles transportation system. This freeway will play a key role in addressing the current transportation needs of the area as well as future need even as the transportation requirements of the city grow.
The local community in the Northeast Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley are major stakeholders in the project since the proposed 710 freeway extension will have an impact on the region. These stakeholders are mostly opposed to the expansion project since they perceive that they will not be the major beneficiaries of the project. The proposed extension will not significantly reduce the vehicle hours travelled for the regional community and the tunnel will only increase congestion as more vehicles move to the route.
Discussion and Conclusion
The 710 Freeway expansion and extension project is a huge undertaking that will have major repercussions for the community. A project of this magnitude will have positive as well as negative impacts on the community and the city within which it is taking place. Over the years, the project planners have taken steps to reduce the negative impacts of the project.
The 710 freeway will attempt to use alternatives that do not damage historical resources and in cases where no feasible alternatives are available, plans will be put in place to minimize harm on historic sites. The chosen freeway corridor will cause the least amount of displacement.
If the project is not implemented, the desirable goals of enhancing connectivity and mobility within the Los Angeles Metropolitan region will not be achieved. The conditions will in fact worsen over the years as the population increases leading to more congestion and delay. The community affected by the proposed 710 tunnel need to consider the benefits as well as the costs that the project will bring to them.
National Health and Medical Research Council (2008). Air Quality in and around Traffic Tunnels. Auckland: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd.
Redmond, S., & Romero, V. (2011). Rapid Excavation and Tunneling Conference Proceedings. NY: SME.
Svartengren, M., Strand, V., Bylin, G., Jarup, L., & Pershagen, G. (2000). Short-term exposure to air pollution in a road tunnel enhances the asthmatic response to allergen. Eur Respir J, 15(1), 716-724.
U. S. Department of Transportation (2000). Record of Decision: State Route 710 Freeway. Web.