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MTA board votes down plan to widen 710 Freeway

LOS ANGELES — The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority put the brakes on a much-contested $6 billion plan to widen the Long Beach (710) Freeway March 1, opting instead to focus initially on more modest improvements that won’t displace residents or businesses.

The widening plan has drawn vocal opposition from residents of communities along the freeway because it would result in 121 businesses and 109 homes being razed. The board’s decision did not put an end to a potential widening, but another vote will be required down the road to move forward with such an effort.

Several board members, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is the board’s chair, made it clear they would be hard-pressed to approve a widening of the freeway unless the added lanes were dedicated to electric vehicles.

“Widening freeways, we should be past that time unless we are putting vehicles that don’t emit into those lanes. Period,” Garcetti said.

By putting off a decision on widening with an 11-0 vote, the board went against the recommendation of its staff, which was to widen the freeway to five lanes in each direction between Long Beach and East Los Angeles and add truck bypass lanes at the San Diego (405) Freeway interchange. The plan would cost $6 billion, but only $1 billion in funding has been secured for the effort.

Environmental studies of the project — which is aimed at fixing aging infrastructure and reducing traffic congestion that has grown along with activity at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — began 10 years ago. Four proposals were developed in 2012 and then reworked to address concerns raised by the Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice, among other considerations.

The board also approved a second motion that altered the 710 plan by doubling the recommended investment in near-zero and zero-emission trucks to $200 million, while also eliminating near-zero emissions from the program in favor of a full investment in zero-emission vehicles.

Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis joined Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and housing advocate Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker as sponsors of the zero-emissions motion, which dubbed the 19-mile southern section of the freeway the “diesel death zone.”

“For many years, children and adults alike have suffered from serious health issues as a result of the pollution emitted by the trucks delivering freight inland, and neighborhoods have been severely impacted by congestion and traffic,” their motion states. “The future 710 freeway must not be a ‘diesel death zone’ but a corridor where freight can be moved quickly without impairing the health of communities alongside the 710 Freeway.”

The motion also mentions “rechargeable roadways” technology that could allow vehicles to charge while driving as a game-changing future development.

Solis, Hahn and Garcia were sponsors of the second motion that altered the plan by shifting away from widening the freeway. It was co-authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Inglewood Mayor James Butts and Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian,

That motion concludes that the air quality benefits proposed in the full $6 billion widening plan will only materialize with funding for near-zero and zero-emission trucks and if commuters shift to the freeway rather than taking shortcuts through residential streets. It proposes making smaller scale improvements to the 710, emphasizing those that don’t displace residents, businesses or sensitive land uses and those that have the most immediate safety, mobility and air quality benefits.