In a letter sent to Los Angeles County Supervisor and MTA Board Chairman Mike Antonovich, Schiff said the agency is underestimating costs and overstating the likely supply of funds to build a tunnel. He said the agency should focus on alternatives including light rail, other transit features and street improvements.
"I have expressed my concern over Metro's apparent rush to judgment on a tunnel option many times, but without success," he wrote. "This has only confirmed what many in the community suspected, that Metro was once again starting with the conclusion it wished to reach and working backwards."
La Canada Flintridge, Glendale and South Pasadena have long opposed a freeway connection, saying it would generate truck traffic and air pollution. The Los Angeles City Council last month voted to oppose an extension of the 710. San Marino and Alhambra are among the cities that favor an extension.
MTA is in the middle of a three-year environmental study of options for easing traffic in the so-called 710 Gap. Last month the agency jettisoned several options, including a surface highway connecting the 710 to the Foothill (210) Freeway in Pasadena and a possible highway along Avenue 64. But it left on its list a 4.5-mile tunnel between the 710 and 210 that would cross under Los Angeles neighborhoods, South Pasadena and Pasadena.
MTA is expected to issue a final environmental report in 2014 that would result in agency leaders selecting a project.
Schiff acknowledged that he had supported a technical study of the tunnel, and said that MTA officials estimated in the past technological improvements would allow it to construct a tunnel for about $1.5 billion. The most recent estimate, Schiff wrote, is $5.6 billion, about a third of which would come from the federal government, a third from state and county funds and a third from private sources.
Schiff wrote he is skeptical MTA can raise as much from private sources and said large projects routinely run into substantial cost overruns..
On Friday, Schiff spokesman Patrick Boland said the congressman believes the federal Department of Transportation "may be reluctant to see [MTA] proceed on such an expensive project without a consensus of those representing the region."
"Metro will have to consider opposition to the tunnel by any member of the California delegation such as Representative Schiff to pose a serious obstacle to pursuit of a tunnel," Boland said.
In his letter, Schiff said that Metro could complete all the other proposals under consideration, light rail, rapid buses, better control of street traffic, for less than the cost of a tunnel.
"These options ... would help move people in an environmentally friendly manner without disrupting our long-established neighborhoods."
-- Daniel Siegal, Times Community News