710 Freeway Expansion Would 'Improve Air Quality and Public Health,' Says Metro; Residents Call B.S.
A new wave of resistance is swelling in the decades-old struggle between California transportation officials and L.A.-area residents over both an expansion and extension of the uber-clogged 710 freeway.
That's partly because various extension scenarios just released by Caltrans and Metro happen to barge through suburban, serene Northeast Los Angeles. As with helicopter noise and subway construction, the hubbub gets so much more louder when the L.A. gentry get involved!
But the real losers will be those lower-income folks living and working right up against the roadway:
Under all five of the 710 expansion scenarios (besides "no build," obviously), the interstate would grow into a 10-lane beast. And in three of them, an additional four lanes would be constructed -- reserved exclusively for the 43 million semis that Caltrans estimates will need to pass through by the year 2035.
(The 710 serves as the main artery between the Port of Los Angeles and the rest of the state; 14 million trucks already pass through every year, according to Caltrans.)
In 2009, opponents won a small victory when Metro and Caltrans agreed to conduct a Health Impact Assessment as part of the scheduled EIR.
But now that the EIR is here, we're more confused than ever.
Somehow, by widening the 710 to allow thousands more vehicles through at a faster rate, project officials claim that air quality would actually be improved in nearby communities.
Say what? There are a bunch of numbers and graphs in the EIR that supposedly prove this. We admit that they mostly look like gibberish to us, and we've contacted Metro officials for translation. But so far, the only real argument we can find in the stack is that California will have made huge strides in low-emission technologies by the time freeway construction begins.
Good for us -- but what does that have to do with expanding the 710? Even the greenest fleet of semis will do more damage as it increases in size.
"It doesn't make sense to me, looking at it as a community member, that a two-lane increase, even with a zero-emission corridor, would bring me significant air pollution reduction in comparison to a no-build," says Isella Ramirez, co-director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.
USC professor Andrea Hricko tells California Watch in an email that she's skeptical of the findings:
"The draft EIR for the I-710 corridor has thousands of pages, and Caltrans does not always make its underlying assumptions easy to understand. The health risk analyses are confusing, with some of the alternatives for expansion showing increased PM (particulate matter pollution) levels, yet decreased health risks."
Indeed, USC research has shown that the most dangerous particulate matter flying off freeways comes in the form of little bits of tire rubber and brake metal -- which can make their way into kids' developing lungs and cause irreversible destruction. (See LA Weekly print story "Black Lung Lofts: Many Children Being Raised in L.A.'s Hip, New Freeway-Adjacent Housing Are Damaged for Life.") No matter what kind of pollution science you try to pull, millions more vehicles rattling up and down the 710 will mean that millions more tires and brakes will be shedding their little invisible killers into the atmosphere.
The special elevated corridor in the new proposal does lift some problem vehicles up into the air, placing them closer to the L.A. River than to residents. But what about plans to revitalize the river? What about nearby parks? And what about all the trucks that aren't equipped with zero-emission technology, and choose to instead utilize the wider 10-lane freeway?
Public comment on the EIR is over at the end of August. But it's difficult to respond to science this baffling, besides with a call for complete do-over.
Update: Adrian Martinez, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, explains that "with these environmental reports, it's all about the assumptions that are made."
He says Caltrans assumed "an immense amount of growth -- that trade through the port is almost going to triple." In this way, transportation officials may have "inflated the need" for a 14-lane freeway.
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