Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Point/Counterpoint: The 710 Tunnel Project in Los Angeles

USC Professor James Moore argues for the 710 tunnel here, saying it is necessary and cost effective. The core of his argument:
The regional need for building the last 4.5 miles of the basic local freeway grid — between the end of the 710 Freeway in Alhambra and the intersection of the 210 and the 134 freeways — is beyond any informed dispute. Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Southern California Assn. of Government studies show that this project would offer more relief from congestion and pollution than would any other local highway project. The 218,000 daily vehicle trips postponed or diverted by the 710 gap are nearly half the number of trips affected by the recent closure of the 405 Freeway.

About half of these trips are burdening other freeways, and about half are tying up surface streets. As a result, we face a self-inflicted "Carmageddon" every day. Public polls of 26 cities and political districts find not a city or district in which the majority opposes the tunnel. (South Pasadena and La CaƱada Flintridge are evenly split.) A review of poll results collected by Godbe Research in 2004 and by the Rose Institute in 2000 shows Los Angeles voters favored completion by 5.6 to one, and San Gabriel Valley residents by 5.7 to one.

Many of the voices that had been against a bulldozed surface connection have been muted by the underground tunnel alternative, which would leave elegant, mature neighborhoods intact. Tunnels are expensive, but they solve problems, and the technology needed for the 710's tunneling project is proven.

Michael Dieden argues against the 710 project here, claiming that Moore's thinking is outdated and any investment should be in mass transit. From his op-ed:
But most importantly, why spend the precious time and money on yet another obsolete freeway when the entire country, and world for that matter, is abandoning freeways and moving to mass transit, both bus and rail? Moore needs to let go of the past and embrace the future, which relies on no more public money for freeways and increased investment in public transportation.

For example, why not build a trolley on Huntington Drive through Alhambra, South Pasadena and East L.A. on the same route as the old Red Car, which would absorb much of the 710 traffic and make each transit stop an economic catalyst for job growth and new transit neighborhoods? In lieu of wasting money on the 710, the region's public policy goal for the San Gabriel Valley should instead call for linking the great educational institutions of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena City College, the Claremont colleges and Cal State Pomona with transit, thereby allowing "creative nodes" to be built at each station, creating hundreds of entrepreneurial small businesses and well paying jobs.

The last 50 years of transportation planning in L.A. have not been about "talk," as Moore states, but about the struggle to transform the means by which we transport people, save neighborhoods and create more walkable and livable neighborhoods. Southern California once had a great transit system; it was destroyed by freeway advocates. That system failed, and it is incumbent on this generation to replace it and finish the public mass transit system throughout the region.

As near as I can tell they are not talking about the same thing (Moore discusses traffic and Dieden talks neighborhood preservation and land development around transit). Dieden makes a common and critical error by ignoring freight and goods movement, which is a major contributor to congestion, pollution and traffic in Los Angeles. As nice as mass transit investments are, they really don't do anything to reduce congestion (at least how we build them in the states). The Gold Line that Dieden praises in his op-ed only carries about 34,000 passengers per day, while the 710 gap affects about 218,000 vehicles, which at average vehicle occupancy is nearly 10 times the total number of travelers. Also, in the case of local transit projects generally ignore "job growth" claims. Transport investments redistribute economic activity rather than create economic activity. Jobs "created" near transit largely come from elsewhere in the region.

But whatever your preferences for getting around, we simply can't ignore roads. Transit investment can be worthwhile and should be encouraged, but that doesn't mean we should never invest in roads. The 710 tunnel very well may do more for quality of life in the affected areas than trolleys.

Anyhoo, point/counterpoint.
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