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From the Ashes of the 710 Extension: A Bold Plan for Southern California

An architecture critic spots an opportunity to think big after Caltrans finally ditched a plan to extend the I-710 Freeway through several Southern California cities.
December 10, 2015, 1pm PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Ken Lund

Christopher Hawthorne shifts through the ashes of a long-controversial plan to extend the 710 freeway, above ground, through the cities of Alhambra, South Pasadena, and Pasadena. Instead of the above ground option, transit officials are now considering five options, including a tunnel option that has already attracted a lot of attention and comes with an estimated price tag of $6.5 billion.

Hawthorne's bold suggestion, however: "The debate we're having about the 710 Freeway should be a whole lot broader and more imaginative than it's been so far." Specifically, Hawthorne focuses on the potential for the land, owned by Caltrans, now made available by the demise of the plans for an above-ground extension. Hawthorne explains that over the four decades the above-ground freeway extension proposal was in play, the state transportation agency "acquired about 400 residential properties, most of them single-family houses, that it planned to demolish to make way for the freeway." Moreover, "[Caltrans] also owns nearly 60 vacant residential lots as well as several large open pieces of land, many alongside, between or near freeway ramps at each end of the corridor."

Caltrans is currently some of that land on the market, in batches at a time, and offering current tenants first opportunity to buy the houses at "appraised fair market value." Hawthorne's recommendation, however, is for Caltrans to "work with Los Angeles County and the state of California to build a combination of new parks and affordable and market-rate housing in the 710 corridor. New bike and walking paths could lead to the Arroyo Seco and rail stations on the Gold Line, helping stitch back together neighborhoods long separated by a no-man's land set aside for freeway construction."

Hawthorne goes into a lot more detail about how such a planning process could unfold, and why any such effort would signify a strong response to the challenges—like affordable housing, open space, and others—facing the region.

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Published on Friday, December 4, 2015 in Los Angeles Times
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