Residents look over the plans for the 710 Corridor expansion.

A series of meetings and public hearings have taken place this week as outreach to the public for the Environmental Impact Report being prepared for the I-710 Corridor project.

The draft EIR for the $5 billion project is being circulated now, with comments due by Aug. 29. There have been requests to extend the comment period, but so far Caltrans (the California Department of Transportation) has declined.

The Long Beach series of meetings began Sunday at a meeting of the North Long Beach Community Action Group. Representatives from Caltrans, Metro (the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority) and URS Corporation, the project consultant, were on hand to provide an overview and answer questions.

“We’ve been at this for nine or 10 years already,” said Jack Waldron, URS’s vice president and senior project manager. “Now we’re in the formal EIR process.”

That process could be done as early as the end of the year, with responses to comments made and a final EIR prepared by early 2013. Waldron said Caltrans had the power to certify the EIR, and construction could begin in a few years. The study targets being able to handle traffic demands expected in 2035, Waldron said, but the project would be done before then.

An 18-mile stretch of the 710, from its beginning in the Port of Long Beach to a point near the 60 Highway (where there are railyards) is included in the proposed project. There are four primary alternatives, with one just widening each direction by one lane to five lanes and three including a separate four-lane freight corridor limited to truck traffic. One of those options would be for all trucks while the other two include infrastructure for zero emission electric trucks taking power from lines similar to those running the Metro Blue Line.

Concerns voiced Sunday centered around the on- and off-ramps where trucks would enter or exit the freight corridor. One interchange between the regular 710 and the freight corridor is set for near Del Amo, in the middle of the Eighth City Council District.

“Our concern is with pushing trucks to Del Amo that were on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) or Anaheim (Street),” said resident Laurie Angel. “I’m trying to imagine how much traffic there’s going to be… This is critical to us. We live in the diesel death zone. I see where you are saying it is going to get better, but we want to know how we can make it even better, through mitigation with plants or the like.”

Air quality studies show there already will be an 80% reduction in Nitric Oxide and diesel particulate emissions between now and 2035 due to increasingly stringent regulations on trucks, according to Elizabeth Mahoney, URS’s senior transportation manager. But those numbers can be reduced even further, particularly near the freeway, with improvements.

The separate freight corridor actually increases pollution if all kinds of trucks are allowed to use it because of the increasing number of diesel trucks (traffic is expected to triple, even with more use of on-dock and near-dock rail for cargo movement). But pollution is reduced significantly with the addition of the electric, zero emission option.

In order to limit the amount of private or residential property taken by the freeway expansion, some sections of the freight corridor would be elevated anywhere from 20 feet to more than 100 feet above the current roadbed. Adding power poles for the electric lines would mean massive visual impacts, according to resident John Deats.

But Waldron said the only area with the 100-foot heights would be over the 91 Freeway interchange, with most of the roadway much lower. When questioned about the impact of plans to put the freight corridor over the Los Angeles River levy and potential changes in flood insurance, Waldron said the engineering had been done with studies showing there would be no impact. The Army Corps of Engineers has been asked to comment on the EIR, as well.

The final public hearing took place Thursday, at Rosewood Park, 5600 Harbor St. in Commerce. The draft EIR is available for review at area libraries and at www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/resources/envdocs/docs/710corridor/.

Comments can be made at that website or by writing to Ronald Kosinki, Caltrans District 7, Division of Environmental Planning, 100 S. Main St., MS 16A, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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