By Alfredo Santana
LOS ANGELES — Infrastructure projects within the Long Beach (710) Freeway corridor between Long Beach and East Los Angeles to improve movement of people and goods are slated to move up the funding list as the process of evaluation kicks off this month.
The announcement came from Here LA co-founder and moderator Shannon Davis at the monthly community leadership committee meeting held Feb. 23.
More than 200 projects are listed on a preliminary list for task force and leadership committee members to peruse for viability to reduce carbon emissions and revamp transit along the 19-mile corridor.
Among the projects under consideration are several bike paths to link bus and light rail hubs along the Los Angeles River, measures to filter air inside classrooms of schools near the I-710 Long Beach freeway, plans for job creation and legal frameworks to shield home owners and tenants from being displaced.
“As we start to get the evaluation criteria, we will get closer to bringing some of these projects up to be considered for funding,” Davis said.
Davis said that committee and task force members have discussed “at length” how to phase in projects to enhance access for people with disabilities in line with the American With Disabilities Act, and training programs for residents, pending updates with the corridor’s tech team.
In addition, Davis indicated that five new projects selected from suggestions made by members that were not on an initial list have been added for consideration.
In contrast to most projects seeking funding, the new projects do not have official backing from cities, county or state agencies within the corridor’s jurisdiction, nor are they supported with studies that include engineering and timelines for deployment or agencies in charge of funding and upkeep.
The five projects were proposed over the course of recent meetings among working groups.
They pitch works like refurbishing bus stops with shelters, benches and lighting, equipping them with drinking fountains, garbage cans and solar-powered displays at locations 1.5 to 2.5 miles away from the freeway.
Other more expensive and complex proposals include electrifying freight rail lanes and building a Metrolink line from Union Station to Long Beach with stops in Commerce and Lakewood.
Julie Rush, an infrastructure consultant with the firm AECOM, said that new details will emerge on projects’ viability once the evaluation process begins, such as concerns for environmental reviews, funding sources or physical scope.
Rush said that all public infrastructure projects follow a pattern of five phases, including planning, environmental, design, right of way and construction.
“Some may evaluate steps like how to develop a light rail project,” Rush said in reference to the West Santa Ana Branch line currently undergoing an environmental impact study. “Work is strategic planning for the 19-mile corridor.”
And depending on each project’s plan, there would be further phases involving technology development and land use for charging stations, such as in the zero emissions truck program.
Moving forward, Rush indicated that selected projects will require community feedback and “lots of public meetings” in each of the five phases.
Citing the West Santa Ana Branch line, Rush said the planning phase encompasses the rail path and the number of stops and the environmental design reveals the actual project’s footprint and properties impacted by the construction.
The environmental phase is what defines “whether the project is or not approved,” and sheds light on potential displacements, she said.
Design is where stakeholders better understand signage, vegetation, kind of lighting and bike lanes along with permits.
At this stage “you get more and more involved into the project you are doing,” Rush added.
A potentially complex project is a freeway soundwall, because the California Department of Transportation would have to study what is the best resource for residents and what impact would it impose on properties.
“Would it be a sliver, or a right-of-way acquisition, an easement for a power line, an underground for a power line? It all depends on what happens in the environmental impact, or what doesn’t happen there,” Rush said.
On the right-of-way phase, each project must incur a review process followed by funding allocations that often are hard to get, she said.
She cited a medium complex project in Downey at Imperial Highway and Paramount Boulevard where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the city are expected to foot the bill for a $2.3 million project.
Others, like one alongside Atlantic Boulevard near Commerce, calls for numerous street features to ease congestion, with completion expected in 11 to 12 years.
Street bicycle lanes do not require environmental impact studies, but may need traffic studies.
Committee member Jamila Cervantes from Maywood said she wants equity safeguards in place before the evaluation stage and projects move ahead.
And Guadalupe Arellano from East LA said she will pay close attention to the evaluation process so it sticks to the corridor’s vision and goals in selecting projects for investment that benefit low-income communities.
“We will use our equity tools in different parts of this process,” said Keandra Cylear Dodds, the MTA’s executive officer of equity and race. “We have a very thorough process.”
Programs aimed to make transportation of goods from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach more efficient and cleaner will pose a challenge recently underscored by representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The agency warned task force members and the MTA, the leading agency conducting community outreach in the efforts to reduce pollution in the corridor by investing in transportation solutions, that any changes to the freeway’s ramps and widening lanes will trigger environmental reviews.
A similar alert was made for railroad improvements to pick up more cargo containers from trucks, as part of a project to electrify engines even if they would keep their current footprint.
In the list, projects such as transforming diesel truck fleets into electric vehicles and building supercharging stations for big rigs and vehicles would also require meeting regulations from state and federal agencies, and billions of dollars in investments the MTA aims to get in grants.