Caltrans Official Vows to Work With City on Relinquishing 710 Freeway Stub to Pasadena

Published : Tuesday, September 24, 2019 | 4:54 AM

Above left, an aerial view of the 710 stub in Pasadena, nicknamed "The Ditch"; at right, New Caltrans District 7 Director John Bulinski speaking before Pasadena's City Council on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. Images courtesy Connect Pasadena via Facebook and Pasadena Media.

New Caltrans District 7 Director John Bulinski promised Monday to work closely with Pasadena officials in connection with a State relinquishment of the 710 Freeway Extension connector stub back to the City.

With the legislative nails being hammered in the 710 Freeway Extension’s coffin this month in Sacramento, Pasadena has pulled focus on reclaiming the below-street-level connector stub which scars West Pasadena in the area bounded by California, Del Mar, St. John Street, and Pasadena Avenue.

Bulinski explained to the City Council that for that relinquishment to proceed, the City needs to maintain the project’s original “purpose and need.”

“For any developments that get approved,” said Bulinski, “we need to ensure that the purpose and need of the project remain intact, for legal purposes and to ensure the integrity of the environmental process.”

The 710 Freeway extension was a project designed to move traffic through the San Gabriel Valley, Bulinski explained, and it still needs to do that.

In other words, as City Manager Steve Mermell responded during a Caltrans presentation to the City Council Monday, “Because the project is not going forward, the City needs to solve the problem of the connection between the state highway system and our local roads. We will not achieve relinquishment unless we work out the interconnection first.”

Mayor Terry Tornek explained that the issue is not a matter of just “filling in the ditch and developing it,” but rationalizing the offramps and onramps, since the project is not going to happen but traffic still will.

Tornek also noted the existence of the “Connecting Pasadena” project developed by local architect Stefanos Polyzoides and others, that essentially creates a new neighborhood from the rubble of the freeway stump.

“We’ve made tremendous strides here,” said Tornek. “Instead of having a 60-year battle … we can begin to do what we should have been doing over the last few decades, which is figuring out to best move traffic without slicing a gigantic freeway or tunnel through Pasadena.”

Tornek added, “The difference we have now is that Caltrans District 7, instead of being at odds with us, is now working cooperatively with the City … and helping the City stitch back together what has been sliced through the City.”

Caltrans and City staff will begin to meet and coordinate the next steps required in the process of returning the land back to Pasadena, and reaching a mutual agreement, said Pasadena Director of Transportation Laura Cornejo.

Meanwhile, Councilmember John Kennedy emphasized to the Council that the area affected by the 710 project was once home to a thriving African-American community as well as a substantial Japanese-American population. Kennedy said he wanted to be sure that their participation was acknowledged as any development moves forward.

City Manager Mermell responded that that discussion would come further down the line, following the relinquishment of the land back to Pasadena.

‘This is a long process,” said Mayor Tornek. “Maybe 15 to 20 years.”

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