By Alfredo Santana
LOS ANGELES — Plans to widen the southern corridor of the Long Beach (710) Freeway were scrapped May 26 by the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Following a cascade of phone calls from residents who were opposed to the freeway expansion, the board voted to cease plans to widen the freeway between Long Beach and the Pomona (60) Freeway in East Los Angeles and moved to receive input on plans aiming to eliminate carbon emissions and improve transportation on surface streets.
The action provides more leverage for the I-710 task force, a community leadership committee and an ad-hoc committee from local governments to devise programs that reshape the movement of goods and people pinned to zero carbon emissions in blue-collar communities along the freeway.
It also directs MTA Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Wiggins to consult them on works feasibility before funding is awarded.
With a 10-0 vote, the motion brought by Supervisor Janice Hahn and co-authored by her colleague Hilda Solis and board member Fernando Dutra, directs the MTA staff to identify federal and state programs that would provide money to support programs to clean air and improve mobility along the busy freeway.
At the May 26 board meeting, more than 40 community members and stakeholders called to oppose the “alternative 5C plan,” a project that started to crumble last year after the federal Environmental Protection Agency said the plan would increasing air pollution and displace Latino and Black residents.
After the EPA rejected the project’s environmental impact report, the California Department of Transportation withdrew its support — and financial backing — for the plan.
The widening project called for $6 billion in infrastructural redesigns, and cost the county agency $60 million in nearly 17 years of studies and planning.
“We’ve spent a lot of time talking about improving that freeway,” Hahn said. “After we hit a roadblock with the state and federal governments’ intents of funding, we voted on the ‘no build’ alternative.”
Hahn, who represents cities along the freeway, called for shifting about $750 million collected from sales taxes to fund projects pitched by the task force and the community leadership committee, along with proposals from an ad-hoc Gateway Cities Committee.
“We need to redirect that $750 million for quality of life improvements as soon as possible,” Hahn said.
Ranging from environmental activists, lawyers working for charity organizations, residents from neighborhoods hit by increasing air pollution along the freeway corridor and representatives from Commerce, Cudahy, Long Beach, Bell, South Gate and Lynwood, callers requested investment on clean-air public transportation, rapid bus lanes along the freeway and construction of parks.
“I support the ‘no build’ option for the I-710 freeway,” said Clara Solis, an East Los Angeles resident and task force member. “The freeway has impacted communities of color and brought pollution and increased levels of cancer and asthma.
“I think you should be able to increase outreach efforts toward the community so they can give input on this improvement project.”
Chris Chavez from the Coalition for Clean Air said he support the task force efforts, and asked MTA board members to embrace transportation alternatives for people and freight from the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that clamp down on pollutants.
“I encourage you to use everything in your power to reduce traffic in the corridor,” Chavez said.
Before she cast her vote, Hahn said Bell City Councilman Ali Saleh proposed an initiative to revamp regional transportation to better connect cities in Southeast Los Angeles.
Cudahy City Councilwoman Ana Maria Quintana called for the redesign of the Florence Avenue on- and off-ramps so pedestrians can safely walk, bike and drive across the bridge.
“Many of our [Southeast] city council members have also brought up the need for air filtration in our schools, more sound walls, and better access to the L.A. River,” Hahn said. “Our ports are also working toward becoming fully zero emissions, so we need to invest in a zero emissions truck program.
The I-710 South Corridor Project name will be scratched and the task force has been asked to rebrand itself using feedback from the community with a focus for its advancement.
The new name should be presented to the MTA board for its discussion and approval in September.
Other callers proposed to streamline 710 project funds to build the new West Santa Ana Branch light rail train from Artesia to the A-line’s Slauson Avenue station on its initial phase, and to empower the community leadership committee so its decisions can reach the MTA Board of Directors undiluted.
“I’m not in opposition to this motion,” said Laura Cortez, co-executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and a task force member. “It’s that the language needs to be rectified to bring justice to the communities.”
The new guidelines require the I-710 task force to report to the MTA board with a vision and goals statement, and rethink the project beyond the freeway to address air quality, movement of good and people, and safety in cities along the corridor.
Furthermore, the document requires MTA staff to create an investment plan with short, mid and long-term initiatives that include a minimum of three projects shepherded by the task force, and requesting funding in 2022.
The infrastructural redressing was a milestone also celebrated by county Supervisor Hilda Solis, who until last December represented most of the working-class cities situated along the 19-mile freeway stretch.
“A year ago, I brought a motion to stop the I-710 freeway expansion,” Solis said. “I called for the residents to bring their priorities to better all the communities along the freeway.”
Commerce Mayor Orelia Rebollo blamed the freeway’s overwhelming pollution and excessive noise for her mother’s cancer and for elevated levels of asthma among school children and adults, and vowed to push for plans that eliminate diesel and gasoline emissions.
“It’s important that we move away from widening so we can focus on air and transit improvement,” said Rebollo, also a member of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments. “We need clean, zero environmental technology.”
Clara Solis insisted the official end to the freeway widening was long overdue.
“I’m happy to see this day when not longer there’ll be an expansion on the I-710 south corridor. It’ll improve directly the communities by helping them bring clean air and improve the quality of life,” Solis said.