LOS ANGELES — A plan to build a nearly 5-mile tunnel linking two Los Angeles-area freeways after decades of bitter dispute appeared dead Thursday after regional transportation officials rejected the idea.
Directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted unanimously to eliminate the tunnel as an option for closing a gap between the 710 freeway in East Los Angeles and the 210 freeway in Pasadena.
About $700 million in county money had been available for the project, which had a projected total cost of nearly $4 billion. Critics said the price tag was currently unaffordable and eventual construction might take years and disrupt San Gabriel Valley communities without easing traffic congestion.
"Not only was funding for the tunnel unavailable for the foreseeable future, but the project never gained public approval or even acceptance," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, said in a statement. "After 40 years it is time to move on to more affordable, more effective and more immediate solutions."
Money comes from a half-cent sales tax that Los Angeles County voters approved in 2008 for a variety of transportation projects.
The California Department of Transportation is completing an environmental impact report on the tunnel and is expected to vote on the project next year. But without Metro support, it is considered unlikely that the state would build an immense project that would require boring through suburbs north and east of downtown Los Angeles.
The 710 is a major artery for trucks hauling freight from the massive Los Angeles and Long Beach port complexes northward toward Los Angeles. But the freeway ends in the El Sereno area of Los Angeles and traffic spills onto streets in neighboring Alhambra and other communities.
Instead of the tunnel, Metro directors voted 12-0 to allocate $105 million for use on other local transportation and street improvement projects in the region.
Metro board member Hilda L. Solis, who is a county supervisor representing East Los Angeles communities, said that will help people in disadvantaged areas get "traffic relief they deserve."
Residents and commuters can look forward to improvements such as expanding bus service on major streets, synchronizing street lights to ease the flow of traffic, improving freeway on- and off-ramps and encouraging programs such as carpooling, Solis said.
Caltrans had long planned to close the gap. During a freeway construction boom in the 1950s and 1960s, Caltrans bought up hundreds of property lots between Pasadena and Alhambra in order to demolish them ahead of the freeway extension.
However, the proposed route through South Pasadena was fought tenaciously by opponents who argue it would bisect their wealthy little community and threaten architecturally important Craftsman-style homes.
Alhambra and other communities pressed for a link as a way of reducing congestion on their streets.
Decades of delays and legal challenges ensued.
In February, state Assemblyman Chris Holden introduced a bill to prohibit construction of the tunnel.
Holden's district includes South Pasadena and Pasadena.
"I welcome today's vote as it moves us closer to implementing 21st century transportation solutions to relieve traffic congestion, connect communities, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions," he said.