By PRECU DUMLAO | Reported by JAMES MACPHERSON
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012 | 4:59 AM
It was Glendale City Councilmember Ara Najarian who captivated the crowd of about 350 at Pasadena City Councilmember Steve Madison’s public forum on the 710 Freeway extension held Tuesday night in the Convention Center.
The forum featured a panel of scientific, medical, historic preservation and political professionals experts who mostly were in agreement in pointing to potential health and safety dangers which could arise from plans to build any 710 Freeway extension.
Najarian, who was a METRO Board Member for six years, was colorful and frank in voicing his objections to any construction of a 710 extension. He described his dealings with METRO planners over the years — calling his experiences “shocking.”
“This tunnel is an outdated idea. This is a huge waste of money. This is someone’s legacy that they are trying to build. We can solve the traffic problem, but not with a tunnel,” declared Najarian.
Najarian’s declaration was met by wild cheers from the mostly partisan crowd,
Najarian slammed METRO’s cost estimates for the extension, saying the project was a world-wide dinner bell that sent contractors rushing for California to feed on the handout. Estimates have ranged from $2.8 billion and $14 billion.
“How can we start down the road to build something if we have no idea where it’s going to end?” he asked.
Najarian continued, “How can we afford to build such a tunnel? Light rail has no sex appeal [to them] as well as a multi-mode of transportation. The tunnel is a lifelong legacy for generations to come that is why they want to build it.”
As a member of the METRO board, Najarian said he originally filed a motion at the MTA for a cost estimate of the project before taking another step. Instead of acting on his motion, he claimed to have been “ridiculed, derided and poked fun at.” He claimed that for many years, he was the only one who stood up against the project.
But now he has friends, he said.
Najarian said he was eventually given an estimate by the MTA that the 710 Freeway Extension would cost $2.8 billion. But when asked how they arrived at that figure, he said was not given a specific answer but the MTA cited that cost of other tunnels.
He queried one of the engineers at MTA who privately told him that the $2.8 billion was incorrect because nobody knows at this time how much exactly the project would cost.
“The $2.8 billion figure was given to make the public believe that the project is feasible. But it will be done via ‘public-private partnership’ initiative to be funded by private invest. These investors need to recoup their investment and will charge $20 to pass through the tunnel,” he said.
Najarian dismissed claims that truck might not be permitted to use the 710 extension as a lie.
“The tunnel will not work [be financially feasible] without the trucks,” he claimed.
“We can do it through light rail. We can extend or make adjustments to existing road to ensure a smooth traffic flow,” Najarian said, suggestingd instead of pushing with the 710 Freeway Extension plan.
Najarian is served on the Metrolink Board or the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, for six years. He was appointed by the following Metro Board Chairs: Supervisor Gloria Molina, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor, Villaraigosa (again), Supervisor Knabe and Villaraigosa (a third time.) He also served as Metro Board Chair in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.