Freeway task force comes out against widening lanes

Freeway task force comes out against widening lanes

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — A test for consensus to move forward a revised list of projects to improve mobility of people and goods and reduce smog along the Long Beach (710) Freeway to East Los Angeles resulted in task force members vilifying projects seeking to widen vehicle lanes.  

Six of 21 members at the monthly task force meeting conducted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voiced concerns that projects related to trucks moving containers may run counter to combat air pollution and freeway safety.

Although 14 members said they can live with the process of building consensus to start evaluating the revised list before it incurs an official yes or no vote, the concerned vowed to oppose projects such as creating auxiliary or truck bypass lanes in the 19-mile corridor between Long Beach and the Pomona (60) Freeway interchange.

The consensus tally took place amid the backdrop of looming deadlines to apply for federal and state grants that could generate billions of dollars to fund projects from creating bike paths connecting streets to bus and light rail stations to electrifying fleets of big rigs and installing charging stations for cars and trucks. 

Nickie Smith, an MTA staff member in charge of targeting grant opportunities, announced that last November the agency submitted requests for $47.4 billion to fund initiatives tied to the freeway corridor. 

She presented a table naming five grant programs funded by federal agencies, 12 programs from the state and 14 more from other sources with application deadlines in February, March and April. 

“This is just a snapshot, or an example of what’s available this fiscal year,” Smith said. “Over the next weeks we’ll be able to map out a list to find programs [that provide funds] for three years or more.” 

Joseph Lyou, president and CEO of the Coalition for Clean Air, pushed for the task force to act fast and approve the revised list of potential works to avoid missing deadlines to apply for grants that may not exist next year.  

“If there is some way not to leave money on the table, we should move forward,” Lyou said. 

Chris Chavez, also with the Coalition for Clean Air, underscored that he will support many multimodal projects aiming to improve transportation of people and goods, but attacked those seeking to widen freeway or street lanes. 

Another project the Coalition for Clean Air opposes is the so-called Garfield Avenue widening project, because Chavez alleged “the projects do not appear consistent with vision and goals.”

He cited a review letter forwarded to the MTA that highlights the pilot program to electrify locomotives of the Pacific Harbor Line and projects to include community gardens and farms focused on providing low-cost healthy food for local residents. 

Likewise, Luke Klipp, senior transportation deputy of County Supervisor Janice Hahn, initially questioned the value of the pre-evaluation process, and said MTA staff appears unable to weed out projects that do not meet the corridor’s vision and principles.

“Unless staff is incapable of running an evaluation, I think that what we should do is to remove some of the programs,” Klipp said. 

However, he joined the majority of members backing the consensus “to apply for grants” on time and form and not to lose potential funding. 

Michael Cano, interim executive officer with the MTA, told Chavez that the state’s Department of Transportation wants to see a freeway development within its footprint, and not an expansion. 

“We only ask the ability to evaluate [the projects] fairly and truly,” Cano said. “We are going to give those projects a very hard look. We want to make sure there’s not a misconstruing process of what is going or moving forth.”

Natalia Ospina, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, chimed in with concerns about the lack of clean air projects on the list, and vowed to back programs for nonprofits that foster community engagement and build social and physical infrastructure. 

Long Beach Harbor Commissioner Sharon Weissman said the task force should develop criterion to delete projects that do not meet the corridor’s goals, vision and principles. 

Weissman also said she can live with the consensus process to speed up filing for grants before time runs out. 

Cano pointed that the MTA did not want to be aggressive to file for funding sources, because he wanted to gauge task force members on their stance on projects that should be chosen to fit the need to correct past wrongs, combat pollution and ease multiple forms of transportation. 

“The short answer is that if there’s a project that is not aligned with the vision of this body, we will not consider it for funding,” Cano said. 

He warned that in the rush to file for grants certain projects may be left adrift and cause more inequity. 

“We are going to make sure that there is discussion from task force and [community leadership committee] members on these programs for funding,” he added.

In addition, a feedback letter from the Environmental Protection Agency warned the group that after revising the initial list of projects it found that many lack details, descriptions and an “understanding of the potential adverse environmental impact that may result.”

Specifically, the EPA cited 15 individual improvement projects for the freeway involving street interchanges, connectors to the San Diego (405) and Glen Anderson (105) freeways, and auxiliary and truck bypass lanes. 

The document, signed by Dunning Connell from the Environmental Review Branch of the EPA, advised the task force to identify a subset of proposals “ready to proceed” without further analysis or permits along with those requiring less complex approvals.   

“Goods movement and freeway and rail expansions/alterations, and more complex projects on the list, have the potential to require environmental analysis, identification of mitigation, and project-level transportation conformity determinations, and may result in adverse impact to communities with environmental justice concerns,” said Connell in the letter dated Feb. 10. 

Cano said that the feedback will help to weigh in on projects that may not be subject to lengthy environmental impact reports and put at risk funding.