Freeway task force struggles with safety, economic issues

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By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — The Long Beach Freeway task force delayed the approval of newly drafted language to spur economic opportunities tied to transportation and environmental improvements along the freeway corridor until the community leadership committee weighs in on the matter.

Among other items, the 11th task force meeting Aug. 8 aimed to resolve concepts of safety and economy, two of six definitions attached to the vision and goals statement that serves as criteria to consider works to improve movement of people and goods and the environment.

Although the procedure did not require sending proposed new verbiage to the community leadership committee, task force members opted to get feedback from the group mostly composed of corridor residents.

The panel deleted the word foster and put in place increase, so the economy goal aims to “increase community access to quality jobs, workforce development and economic opportunities.”

The task force also attached a paragraph for the committee to discuss a new prosperity goal for the region and develop a definition that suits residents, port workers, users of multi-modal transportation, companies in the freight business and other stakeholders.

The assignment includes crafting language to increase access to quality jobs and how to train and develop workforces so they can reap the benefits of emerging economic opportunities.

“It’s important that the concept offers an opportunity goal,” said KeAndra Cylear Dodds, executive officer of equity and race with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “I’m hearing that it may not be supported if a prosperity goal is not described.

“All goals have to support a vision and support the principles.”

Dodds underscored that the transit agency does not want goals that pose conflicts or contradictions.

Gene Giuliano, a USC professor of transportation policy, suggested that regional economic opportunities should be divided in two, one geared toward community residents and local businesses, and another for activities involving freight and labor connected to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“It’s going to be more about localized economy, but the current goal doesn’t account for the ports at all and the opportunities that come with them,” Giuliano said.

For example, Kerry Cartwright, Port of Los Angeles director of goods movement, said that a recent $150 million plan to upgrade mobility within the ports and start a training center will result in more job creation and added freight routes.

“I think it’s important to keep the goals of economy and prosperity for all people involved,” Cartwright said.

Long Beach Harbor Comissioner Sharon Weissman said she would not support new opportunities that do not envision a clear notion of prosperity.

“It would be difficult to vote on a prosperity goal without knowing what the opportunity is,” Weissman said.

National Resources Defense Council attorney Natalia Ospina reminded the group that the leadership committee input on the subject is crucial to lend credibility to the process and in the spirit of equity.

“I think it’s really important for us to be taking that feedback seriously, and to really consider how we can approach these issues,” Ospina said.

In comparison, the safety concept was approved without changes, but not without calls to strengthen the language, followed by a debate on the use of safer as it implies current unsafe ways of travel within the freeway corridor.

As it stands, safety aims to “make all models of travel safer,” with a compromised reached to address upcoming challenges as projects begin to unfold along the 19-mile freeway stretch and connecting streets and communities from Long Beach to the Pomona (60) Freeway in East Los Angeles.

Michael Cano, interim executive officer with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, reminded task force members that to make the two concepts more robust everyone should think of them within a framework of equity and sustainability.

“Our goal is not to make open-ended wordsmithing, but how to capture the ways to make this corridor safer for residents of these communities,” Cano said.

Chris Chavez with the Coalition for Clean Air criticized the safety wording and said a problem is the growing number of cars and trucks using the corridor, adding safety risks to pedestrians, bike riders and commuters.

“Lack of specifics are a problem,” Chavez added. “The potential of traffic expansion is present.”

Regarding 21 projects discussed to receive funding, Cano said that the Port of Long Beach plan missed the July 1 deadline to submit plans and may be scratched from consideration.

Weissman argued that the port received a tight deadline to gather and submit all documents, and asked the panel to review and reconsider it based on the investment made to design it so that the MTA Board of Directors may allocate funds.

The issue raised concerns from other panelists, who requested the project be sent to the leadership committee so its members could study its impact and merits to be recommended for MTA funding.

The Long Beach project calls for construction of five new receiving and departure tracks and 34 new railroad tracks.

All those projects seek grants from the federal Department of Transportation, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the California Transportation Commission, the California Department of Transportation and the California Energy Commission.

Three would be picked and sent to the MTA Board of Directors in September for potential allocations.

Cano said that based on the unique dynamics, the Long Beach project’s information will be sent to the MTA board for a final decision.

Task force members also voted to approve a new name to replace the non-official title of the I-710 south corridor project, with the name Long Beach to East LA Corridor Mobility Investment Plan, pending confirmation from the MTA Board of Directors.

Fifteen task force members supported the new title while seven favored Re-connect Communities: The Southeast LA Mobility Investment Plan, and two backed the San Pedro Bay to East LA Corridor Mobility Investment Plan.

Cano announced that $5 million would be allocated to help truck owners and drivers living in communities near the ports switch fleets to zero emissions, from a $50 million fund to spearhead infrastructure and assist with technology to build electric charging stations for them.

He said that the goal was to secure allocations of up to $200 for similar purposes.



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