A new busway or elevated train line to Pasadena? What East L.A. may get out of closing the 710 Freeway gap

Jan 29, 2013

Cross section of what an elevated rail line would like on Mednick Avenue at the 60 Freeway. Rendering from Caltrans.

By C.J. Salgado

With memories on hand, I headed over to my alma mater where Metro and Caltrans held one of its All Communities Convening Open House at Cal State L.A. this past Saturday morning to share information about the State Route 710 (SR 710) Study. Its goal is to “improve mobility and relieve congestion in the area between State Route 2, Interstates 5, 10, 210, and 605 in East/Northeast Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.”

There are five alternative plans at this stage of the study to accomplish the goal. A lot of attention has already been given to the “Freeway Tunnel” alternative which completes the 710 freeway from Alhambra to Pasadena, certainly the most expensive of the options with cost estimated into the billions of dollars and, perhaps, the most controversial, given it will tunnel well more than 100 feet beneath communities from Alhambra to Pasadena. However, my thoughts focused on two of the other alternatives most directly affecting East Los Angeles: the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The BRT would basically build a 14-mile long, high speed, high frequency bus service from East L.A. to Pasadena, beginning with its most southerly bus stop on Whittier Boulevard in East L.A. and running north initially on Atlantic Boulevard. The 60-foot articulated buses would run every 10 minutes during peak hours, using exclusive bus lanes for at least portions of the route. Sure, good planning and design would have to occur to efficiently coordinate the movements of the new buses with existing traffic flows, but this might be one of the least disruptive of the alternatives, and one of the “cheapest,” according to Andy Dayal, a traffic engineer.

The LRT would involve constructing a Metro rail line, again, with its most southern point beginning in East L.A. There would be an “aerial” station on Mednik Avenue to be built, adjacent to the existing Metro Gold Line’s East L.A. Civic Center Station. Trains would run from East L.A. for about 7.5 miles at up to 65 mph to Pasadena, using mostly elevated structures of 25-30 feet high and bored-tunnel sections, too. I remember as a young boy growing up in East L.A. being thrilled with excitement upon hearing my father telling us we’d be able to go to Disneyland. Never would I have imagined then that a rail line like Disneyland’s Monorail could one day be a reality in East L.A. Unfortunately, with this option, some private properties would have to be acquired.

This study seeks to increase transit service and connectivity in the region, but some locals are worried about some of the negative consequences- loss of local business, for example. Both BRT and LRT would certainly increase access to the Pasadena area, as well as communities and points of interests along the way. However, one big problem facing East L.A., particularly in the Whittier Shopping District, has to do with keeping consumers shopping locally. Many locals already go outside of East L.A. to shop. The fear is that with the BRT or LRT, East L.A. businesses, already weakened by the poor economy, would have an even harder time attracting consumers who would then have ready access to shopping districts in more affluent communities served by the new transit systems. That is, unless East L.A. businesses enhance their consumer appeal, you might see a net outflow of shoppers.

Although, Frank Quon, Metro’s Executive Officer, Highway Program, doesn’t see it that way. Despite some downsides, ask him and he’ll tell you it’s all good in the big picture. Raised in El Sereno, one of the communities along the 710 corridor, he explains that the BRT and LRT would greatly increase transportation access for affected communities, including East L.A. He tells of his youth when his mother, who worked in Commerce, would sometimes come home late after work, frustrated with her struggles to navigate her way home when using public transit. So he knows how tough getting around could be. More so, Quon said, the BRT and LRT would open up easier access to important educational centers in the area with these proposed transit systems connecting to East L.A. College, Pasadena City College, Cal State L.A., and even Cal Tech. No doubt, that would be a big plus to the many local youths struggling to get an education.

So, how do we connect? Not everyone agrees on which of the proposed alternatives would be the best one to pursue. However, many would agree that inevitably increasing congestion in the future could only further worsen the burdens on existing transportation systems, affected neighborhoods, and ever curtailed mobility. The SR 710 Study offers an opportunity to provide a viable solution. Community members must participate, though, so that the selected alternative indeed reflects sound reasoning by an inclusive and broad representation of those most affected, sharing in the burdens and benefits of whatever is implemented. A decision is coming in 2015. Time to listen and be heard now.

Learn more about the study at

C.J. Salgado is an East Los Angeles resident

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