There’s nothing like a raucous public hearing to get the blood pumping, like the Project Committee meeting for the I-170 expansion project. The Project Committee is an advisory body to Caltrans, Gateway Cities Council of Governments, and LA Metro on the I-710 expansion project. The body is comprised of elected leaders and representatives from all up and down the corridor.
The I-710 expansion proposal is a potentially $6+ billion highway project that seeks to add 6 additional lanes to the 8-lane highway that runs from Long Beach up to just southeast of downtown Los Angeles. The project mainly accommodates the massive amount of freight containers that travel via truck along this highway every day to and from our ports, but the agencies slipped in elements that would expand capacity for single-passenger automobiles through the addition of general purpose lanes.
The Coalition for Environmental Health & Justice has been engaged in this project for many years advocating for a more sustainable solution for this expansion project. The Coalition worked with its community members and technical experts to develop Community Alternative 7, which is a better alternative compared to the ones that were studied in the environmental review for this project. Community Alternative 7 focuses on advancing zero emissions freight trucks and public transit, instead of adding lanes to accommodate single-passenger automobiles. It also promotes making it safer to bike and walk in the corridor and advancing community benefits. You can read more about Community Alternative 7 here.
Community Alternative 7 is a comprehensive, sensible package that allows the dramatic expansion of the freight industry desired by freight enthusiasts in the region, but also places a priority on what residents in the region need like safer facilities to walk and bike, enhanced public transit, and mitigation for the major impacts from the highway. It is such a good solution that more than 120 people showed up last night to advocate that the Project Committee recommend putting it on the table as an option for this project.
The Project Committee meeting got off to a tenuous start. The venue only accommodated approximately 90 people. With more than 120 people, the Coalition for Environmental Health & Justice (e.g. members of Communities for a Better Environment, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, and Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma) easily exceeded capacity for the hearing. The meeting had to be paused because of these safety concerns. A negotiation was brokered between representatives from Communities for a Better Environment and East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and the Chair of the Project Committee to limit public testimony and rotate people in and out of the meeting.
After hearing very compelling testimony, Project Committee members from almost all the cities and agencies present at the meeting (e.g. Bell, Commerce, Lynwood, Paramount, Port of Long Beach, Long Beach, LA County, South Gate, Signal Hill, Bell Gardens, etc) supported analyzing Community Alternative 7. There were only two voters who abstained (the California Department of Transportation and Southern California Association of Governments). The Project Committee also recomended taking several environmentally destructive alternatives off the table.
After the vote, my coalition partners poured out of the building with lots of chants of “¡Sí Se Pudo!” going around. There’s still a long way to go to make sure this project is done correctly. But, last night the community achieved a tremendous victory because our elected leaders really listened to what type of transportation project the community wants.