A new busway or elevated train line to Pasadena? What East L.A. may get out of closing the 710 Freeway gap

Cross section of what an elevated rail line would like on Mednick Avenue at the 60 Freeway. Rendering from Caltrans.

By C.J. Salgado

With memories on hand, I headed over to my alma mater where Metro and Caltrans held one of its All Communities Convening Open House at Cal State L.A. this past Saturday morning to share information about the State Route 710 (SR 710) Study. Its goal is to “improve mobility and relieve congestion in the area between State Route 2, Interstates 5, 10, 210, and 605 in East/Northeast Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.”

There are five alternative plans at this stage of the study to accomplish the goal. A lot of attention has already been given to the “Freeway Tunnel” alternative which completes the 710 freeway from Alhambra to Pasadena, certainly the most expensive of the options with cost estimated into the billions of dollars and, perhaps, the most controversial, given it will tunnel well more than 100 feet beneath communities from Alhambra to Pasadena. However, my thoughts focused on two of the other alternatives most directly affecting East Los Angeles: the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The BRT would basically build a 14-mile long, high speed, high frequency bus service from East L.A. to Pasadena, beginning with its most southerly bus stop on Whittier Boulevard in East L.A. and running north initially on Atlantic Boulevard. The 60-foot articulated buses would run every 10 minutes during peak hours, using exclusive bus lanes for at least portions of the route. Sure, good planning and design would have to occur to efficiently coordinate the movements of the new buses with existing traffic flows, but this might be one of the least disruptive of the alternatives, and one of the “cheapest,” according to Andy Dayal, a traffic engineer.

The LRT would involve constructing a Metro rail line, again, with its most southern point beginning in East L.A. There would be an “aerial” station on Mednik Avenue to be built, adjacent to the existing Metro Gold Line’s East L.A. Civic Center Station. Trains would run from East L.A. for about 7.5 miles at up to 65 mph to Pasadena, using mostly elevated structures of 25-30 feet high and bored-tunnel sections, too. I remember as a young boy growing up in East L.A. being thrilled with excitement upon hearing my father telling us we’d be able to go to Disneyland. Never would I have imagined then that a rail line like Disneyland’s Monorail could one day be a reality in East L.A. Unfortunately, with this option, some private properties would have to be acquired.

This study seeks to increase transit service and connectivity in the region, but some locals are worried about some of the negative consequences- loss of local business, for example. Both BRT and LRT would certainly increase access to the Pasadena area, as well as communities and points of interests along the way. However, one big problem facing East L.A., particularly in the Whittier Shopping District, has to do with keeping consumers shopping locally. Many locals already go outside of East L.A. to shop. The fear is that with the BRT or LRT, East L.A. businesses, already weakened by the poor economy, would have an even harder time attracting consumers who would then have ready access to shopping districts in more affluent communities served by the new transit systems. That is, unless East L.A. businesses enhance their consumer appeal, you might see a net outflow of shoppers.

Although, Frank Quon, Metro’s Executive Officer, Highway Program, doesn’t see it that way. Despite some downsides, ask him and he’ll tell you it’s all good in the big picture. Raised in El Sereno, one of the communities along the 710 corridor, he explains that the BRT and LRT would greatly increase transportation access for affected communities, including East L.A. He tells of his youth when his mother, who worked in Commerce, would sometimes come home late after work, frustrated with her struggles to navigate her way home when using public transit. So he knows how tough getting around could be. More so, Quon said, the BRT and LRT would open up easier access to important educational centers in the area with these proposed transit systems connecting to East L.A. College, Pasadena City College, Cal State L.A., and even Cal Tech. No doubt, that would be a big plus to the many local youths struggling to get an education.

So, how do we connect? Not everyone agrees on which of the proposed alternatives would be the best one to pursue. However, many would agree that inevitably increasing congestion in the future could only further worsen the burdens on existing transportation systems, affected neighborhoods, and ever curtailed mobility. The SR 710 Study offers an opportunity to provide a viable solution. Community members must participate, though, so that the selected alternative indeed reflects sound reasoning by an inclusive and broad representation of those most affected, sharing in the burdens and benefits of whatever is implemented. A decision is coming in 2015. Time to listen and be heard now.

Learn more about the study at www.metro.net/sr710study.

C.J. Salgado is an East Los Angeles resident


  1. It is a complete fantasy to believe that any option other than the tunnel will be selected. This entire project is about getting freight from the port to the freeways. It has nothing to do with alleviating the woes of people using public transit – nothing. It’s all about closing the freeway gap with an unbelievably expensive toll tunnel that will not even have any exits except at the beginning and the end – it won’t alleviate traffic, because locals will be not able to afford to pay for it on a regular basis, and they won’t want to travel the entire length and then double back to their residences; it will pollute the entire area, push even more traffic on to the surface streets, and present real and frightening dangers if there’s an earthquake, given that it’s on a fault. It’s a terrible idea, and Metro has structured the options so that’s it’s the ONLY idea.

  2. Build a major 6-lane street with grade separation at major intersection such as Huntington Drive and add BRT between I-10 and I-210. This would be the most functional and economical.

    • If you look at the alternatives analysis, they actually considered two ideas like this, and rejected both because it involves acquiring more private property than any of the alternatives, performs worse on travel time improvements, and is the worst in terms of air pollution.

  3. How can LRT or BRT help connect the two freeways? This entire project is intended to “close the gap” in the freeway. Sure a new LRT would be amazing, but that’s not the point of this and it’s a strange sidestep to even consider anything but a freeway tunnel at this stage of the game.

    • While the project may have been prompted by the designation of this region as a “gap” in a freeway, they are actually interested in what can be done to improve travel times, decrease congestion, and improve air quality. The LRT turns out to do a lot more on the latter goal, though somewhat less on the first two, according to the study.

  4. Yes, I’m with MHR on this one. I was at the open house in San Marino last week and saw what they had in mind for LRT, and I must say it is something of an overreach. The cost would range between $1.1 billion and $2.4 billion, with the most expensive option requiring several deep-bore tunnels underneath Cal State LA and South Pasadena. Yet it would attain only 20,000 new transit riders. This sort of investment would be better spent on bringing the Wilshire subway to Santa Monica or a rail tunnel underneath the Sepulveda Pass.

    Except, those are not the solutions that will help the specific problem at hand. Any cross-regional traffic going up and down must go through either the 101 or the 5 Freeways, which contributes to traffic congestion on those freeways. The region has long been in need of a north-south bypass around Downtown LA, which a 710/210 Freeway would do. The 210 Freeway north of Pasadena already has enough capacity to provide the relief; we just need the freeway tunnel to make it happen.

    I would gladly support the freeway tunnel as a solution to a regional travel problem and recommend Transportation Demand/Systems Management as a solution to the local traffic issue in the western San Gabriel Valley. BRT should also move forward as a more economical way to increase transit capacity through the area, while massively upgraded Metrolink service (which no agency is considering, much less in the current Alternative Analysis study for the 710 gap) would make regional public transit more attractive. All of these alternatives will compliment each other in offering choices for travelers and solving current and future transportation needs, as I see it.

    • Why catering to much to cars? Peak oil, toll roads, higher insurance, no health care… life has changed. Less cars mean less traffic. Alternate trucking routes mean less traffic. Less traffic = less pollution.

      • It is not “catering to cars” to propose one freeway tunnel and multiple rail lines. In this case, cars and trucks traveling from the Port to the 210 or the SGV will not stop, park, and change transit modes to get to Pasadena.

        I’m a big fan of rail lines in almost every applicable corridor. I would love to see a freeway tunnel with a tunneled LRT right-of-way integrated into the project to connect these areas. But for this particular corridor, and this particular problem, closing the road gap is the best possible solution.

      • I don’t ‘cater to cars’. I cater to EVERYONE. As a transportation advocate, I believe we should be able to transport people, goods and services in whatever way we choose or feel is necessary, be it highway, rail, buses, air, pipeline, bicycling or walking. We need more transportation options, not less. The 710 tunnel will provide just one element, albeit a crucial one, that can be used in tandem with other solutions.

    • One feature of the way the study is done is that they don’t consider any regional solutions that extend any farther south than the East LA stretch of the Gold Line. However, since the LRT option seems to be less expensive than the freeway option, it seems to me that it would be worth considering a longer LRT route. For instance, you could continue south and have a stop at Whittier Blvd and either Arizona or Atlantic, follow Eastern through Commerce (with maybe a stop somewhere there), then turn onto Florence and have a stop at Garfield, and then another one at Florence and Lakewood, and then it can follow Lakewood as far south as the money lasts, with at least a stop connecting to the Green Line, and perhaps also at Alondra, Ashworth, Del Amo, Long Beach Airport, PCH, and either Cal State Long Beach and the VA hospital there, or Belmont Shore.

      This would greatly improve the connectivity of the rail system, since it would be a north-south line that intersects three of the east-west lines (the north part of the Gold Line will be part of the Blue Line, the south part will be part of the Expo Line, and it will intersect the Green Line), as well as giving options for connections to any further east-west lines that run south of the Green Line. It will parallel the north-south routes provided by the Blue Line, the Crenshaw Line, and whatever line gets built down the West Side from the East San Fernando Valley down to LAX, and perhaps extending west end of the Green Line south.

      • It should be noted that there will already be a regional light rail line that will (if loosely) follow the 710 for its entire length: The Long Beach-Pasadena Blue Line. This will happen when the Regional Connector through Downtown LA is complete. Construction on that link has already begun. SCAG is also doing an Alternatives Analysis report for the Santa Ana rail right-of-way, which would connect southeast LA County with Downtown LA. Both projects are locally funded under Measure R.

        As much as I would like to see an Atlantic Blvd. rail line, there are other areas in the county that are in much more need of rail transit, such as the West Hollywood area and the Gold Line from Azusa to Montclair, which aren’t funded by Measure R.

  5. Only the tunnel makes sense. Currently tones of traffic heading thoughout the area ends up on Valley in Alhambra placing a big burden on those neighborhoods. Just keep trucks out like they do on the 110. It’s the only compromise that might be accepted.

    • Been living off valley by the 710 for 7 years now and I have yet to see the “tonnes of traffic clogging the streets” in all my time here.

      • I attended Cal State LA for several years and I can attest to the traffic on Fremont Avenue, especially during rush hour. It gets worse when the street narrows through South Pasadena. A TDM/TSM solution, which is being studied along with the tunnel, would help in that department, though.

        However, I have also used this route when coming down from either Tujunga (my hometown) or Sylmar (where I currently live) to get to Orange County when traffic on the 5 Freeway north of LA is especially bad: Just take Fremont and Valley to the 710, and catch up with the 5 there.

  6. Since the purpose of this project is to move goods moved by trucks, I think a freeway segment would be the only solution, since light rail does not carry freight. I believe that this could be a privately-built and privately-operated toll road (kind of like a privately-run Alameda Corridor). The investors may be able to profit off the tolls and in return, they may also be required to eventually pitch in on a light rail line or some other transit-improvement. When the current most fuel-efficient truck gets 9 mpg in free-flowing conditions, truck drivers may be willing to pay the toll so that even if the savings from the fuel and the cost of the toll break even, the driver still saves time.
    By the way, BRT sounds good, but we’re talking about Atlantic Blvd which saw several rounds of service cuts resulting in the 762 running at 20+min headways weekdays only, so it’s likely that the BRT would eventually get service cuts as well.
    Truck Fuel Economy: http://www.telegram.com/article/20120530/NEWS/105309831/1237

  7. Tunnel proponents say it will take 100,000 cars a day off of surface streets. This is a fantasy. Fremont and Fair Oaks carries 60, 000cars a day. Of those cars 20% go from Valley to Del Mar. That means 12,000 cars could be taken off the road if the drivers were willing to pay the 5-10 Toll each way. Where will the other 88,000 cars come from?

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