Freeway task force discusses blame for diesel pollution

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By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Trucking industry leaders tried to deflect blame for diesel pollution along the Long Beach (710) Freeway and asked freeway task force members seeking to improve environmental issues to pay attention to other sources like freight trains, cars and ships unloading containers at the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports.

Matt Schrap, chief executive officer of the Harbor Trucking Association, told those attending a 2 ½-hour virtual meeting of the Long Beach Freeway corridor task force Jan. 10 that his members have invested more than $1 billion in electric fleets with the target of reaching zero emissions.

“Clearly, trucks have been a great contributor to the diesel particle matter levels in Southern California, and in the Port of Long Beach,” Schrap said. “But people have a negative view of trucks, particularly older trucks. The newer vehicles with newer technology are getting us to that [zero emissions] goal.”

Despite receiving support from Thomas Jelenic, the vice president of Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, Schrap’s comments were rebutted by others who said environmental studies show big rigs are the source of most diesel pollution in the 18-mile drive from Long Beach to the Pomona (60) Freeway in East Los Angeles.

Theral Goldman, a North Long Beach resident with the local housing association, said that residents have suffered the impact of uncontrolled area emissions for decades, and it is time to stop it.

“When we don’t speak enough about health effects of pollution, the end result is death,” Goldman said. “All fossil fuels leave particle matters. Until there are no fossil fuels, there will be no emissions.”

Goldman reminded the audience at the third task force meeting conducted by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority that the freeway corridor is known as the “diesel death corridor,” and said he will “appreciate that we get all the help that we can get,” to get rid of carbon pollution.

Task force member Sarah Gavit also contradicted Scharp and said most of the trucks hauling cargo are older models that contribute heavily to the diesel particle matter levels and that there is a “strong correlation between the trucks and asthma cases” in the region.

In spite of technology that make big rigs less polluters, brake dust and tire wear make the busy freeway a continuous source of health hazards, another task force member said.

Susan Ambrosini, an urban planner and principal of AECOM, an environmental engineering firm in Los Angeles, said that a study and data obtained from the U.S. Census shows that 893,000 people with Latino or Hispanic backgrounds are impacted daily by traffic, noise and pollutants from the freeway.

Blacks, with 101,000 residents, are the second largest ethnic group in the area; whites number 94,000 people, and Asian Americans account for 66,000.

The concentration of Latinos living south of the Glen Anderson (105) Freeway is the largest along the corridor, she said.

Ambrosini added that 140,000 area jobs are industrial, professional services account for 105,000, commercial services total 90,000 and 145,000 belong to other unspecified activities.

“Compared to [the rest of] L.A. County, the region has more industrial and other jobs sectors,” Ambrosini said.

On area land use, the project director of an environmental impact report for the Florence-Firestone area in South Los Angeles said that 53% is for residential use, 34% for industrial, 10% for commercial businesses and 3% for offices.

“The study is telling us that residential and industrial make up nearly 90% of land use in the area,” Ambrosini said.

Gary Hamrick, a principal at Cambridge Systematics Inc., a company that provides transportation planning projects to public and private entities, said that last year 111,000 people boarded light rail trains and buses in the study area, accounting for 8.5% of all public transportation users in the county.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, public transportation boardings have decreased, but they may pick up as infections recede and more passengers decide to leave their cars.

Hamrick said that 74% of all area drivers ride alone, and freeway speeds average between 35 and 45 miles an hour.

Ambrosini underscored five points.

  • Compared to other freeways, the Long Beach Freeway south corridor experiences high volumes of cargo trucks, although they decrease substantially north of the Glenn Anderson Freeway.
  • The stretch running from the 105 to the 60 carry more big rigs in comparison to other freeways.
  • Accidents along the corridor are highest in North Long Beach, followed by those occurring near or at the intersection of the Artesia (91) Freeway.
  • The heaviest concentration of diesel particle matters is in the industrial segments of Long Beach.
  • And air pollution south of the 105 freeway and in East Los Angeles is the cause of dangerous asthma rates, with 75 people or more visiting hospitals and clinics a year.

Kerry Cartwright, director of goods movement for the Port of Los Angeles, sought clarification on what is considered the I-710 south corridor.

“I want to make sure that the definition of corridor is the freeways as well as truck roads that encompass the whole area,” he said.

On the topic of assembling the community leadership committee, applications from community stakeholders would open Jan. 18 through Feb. 18, said Michael Cano, deputy executive officer of good movement and state policy programming at for the MTA.

The committee will be tasked with implementing remediation proposals and strategies to advance efforts using government data and findings from residents impacted by the freeway’s pollution, traffic and noise.

That differs from previous plans that called for freeway expansion with little or zero inclusion from impacted neighbors whose homes and businesses were targeted for demolition.

“The public has the chance not just to renew, but to participate in the process and help rewrite the process to choose the community leadership committee,” Cano said.

Cano acknowledged that the three task force meetings have transformed the way he approaches transportation projects with an eye on the community, as opposed from above.

Currently, there are 50 members on the I-710 south corridor task force.

After Cudahy Mayor Elizabeth Alcantar criticized the lack of social outreach to accept candidates for the community leadership posts, Cano said the MTA would use social media outlets to inform interested parties of the task force’s role and vetting process.

Applicants should live within the study area, have firsthand knowledge of the issues, history and concerns affecting the communities, and not be a task force member.

For questions, or concerns related to the I-710 South Corridor Project, call (213) 922-4710, or email at 710corridor@metro.net.

 

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