The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is developing a new plan to invest in transportation-related improvements from Long Beach to East LA and is seeking public comment from residents along the 710 freeway.

Metro, the state agency that coordinates most of the public transportation system in LA County, and the California Department of Transportation originally sought to expand the 710 freeway to make it easier to get around the region. However, after two decades of studies and community input, in May 2021, Metro suspended consideration of widening the freeway due to concerns that the project would worsen air quality and displace communities adjacent to the freeway. 

Now, Metro is seeking public comment on a plan to identify sustainable and safe transportation methods for the region that Metro recently referred to as the “diesel death zone,” due to the amount of pollution that vehicles such as trucks, buses, and ships emit.

The 710 corridor passes through 18 cities and communities in Southeast Los Angeles County, including Bell, Commerce, Compton, Lynwood, Vernon, and East/Rancho Dominguez. The population consists of approximately 1.2 million residents in the area with 77% of people identifying as Latino. If you are in the region, you can submit questions and concerns about the project until April 1. 

You could submit your comments via email at [email protected] or call the project hotline at 213-922-4710. After the public comment period ends, the project recommendations are expected to reach the Metro Board in April. 

What is the proposed plan?

The proposed plan, called the Long Beach- East Los Angeles (LB-ELA) Corridor Mobility Investment Plan, identifies projects and programs that focus on “multimodal, equitable, and sustainable” transportation methods over the next 20 years. In September 2021, immediately after plans to widen the 710 freeway were suspended, the Metro Board established the Long Beach to East Los Angeles Corridor Task Force to help develop recommendations for the plan. (Find the draft plan in other languages here).

“Southern California is a huge hub for the goods movement,” said Christopher Chavez, deputy policy director for Coalition for Clean Air, an organization working exclusively on air quality issues in the state. “It’s very likely that somebody ordering a TV in Iowa [that] their TV is going through the Port of Long Beach or Los Angeles.” 

As the population and demands for goods continue to grow in the Greater LA County area and the rest of the country, LA Metro has looked into ways to meet the increasing demands for sustainable transportation. The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are the largest seaport complex in the United States and combined are responsible for 29% of imported and exported goods in the country, according to Port of LA data. The 710 freeway and Alameda corridors are responsible for carrying tens of thousands of heavy-duty trucks daily transporting essential goods to warehouses and distribution centers throughout Southeast LA County, East LA, and the Inland Empire. These trucks are carrying things like crude oil, electronics, plastics, furniture, and clothing. The ports generate $374 billion in direct and indirect business sales yearly, according to Port of Long Beach data

Metro is the agency planning and eventually implementing the Long Beach- East Los Angeles (LB-ELA) Corridor Mobility Investment Plan. Metro is led by a board that consists of several local elected officials including LA Mayor Karen Bass and all five LA County Board of Supervisors.

The investment outlines dozens of potential infrastructure projects and community programs. The plan claims to prioritize projects and investments in communities that have historically been disinvested in and harmed by the environmental ills caused by the current transportation system. 

For the past two years, Metro has been meeting with stakeholders and community members to learn about their transportation needs and concerns. According to the plan, some key issues for community members are: poor air quality; unsafe commuting for pedestrians and bicyclists; poor transit service reliability; lack of green space and shade; historic disinvestment in communities along the corridor; and lack of trust in previous 710 freeway project process. 

The Metro Board seemed to be more intentional in incorporating the voices of those who live and work in the region in this plan compared to the previous 710 freeway expansion plan where residents and community-based organizations expressed their concerns in community meetings but were continuously ignored and downplayed by Metro. For this plan, Metro established a task force composed of community-based organizations, elected officials, and businesses as well as a community leadership committee consisting of 27 residents who represent communities along the corridor. 

“This plan gave us an opportunity to tell Metro specifically what our community wanted, what they are pissed off about and will no longer tolerate,” said Janeth Preciado Vargas, youth organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, an environmental justice organization.

“[This plan] came from a 20-year fight, trying to make sure that they didn’t expand the freeway and also in advocating for the community to be co-designers of this new plan.”

Much of the region has levels that exceed the federal standard of particulate matter which can increase the risk of lung cancer. Asthma rate and cancer risk are also disproportionately high in this area, according to the plan.

“We can’t forget that areas like West Long Beach, South LA, Wilmington were all formally racially redlined communities,” said Chavez. “There’s a very good reason why there’s a lot of polluting facilities in those communities.”

The 710 freeway expansion was stalled. Is it canceled?

In 2021, Metro suspended plans to widen the 710 freeway after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled that the plan violated the federal Clean Air Act.

A huge concern for both Chavez and Vargas are recommended projects that focus on freeway investment and possible freeway expansion, despite the Metro Board previously suspending plans to do so. The plan recommends 12 projects making improvements to interchanges and two projects adding new auxiliary lanes, which help motorists merge in and off freeways, according to Chavez. Depending on the design, these could allow for expansion of the freeway, Chavez added.

At least one county supervisor has voiced opposition to possible freeway expansion. In a letter to Metro CEO that she shared on X (previously Twitter), Supervisor Janice Hahn said she would oppose any projects that would demolish homes to expand the freeway. Hahn represents the Fourth Supervisorial District, which includes the Southeast LA communities and the two ports.

​​“Today I called on Metro to make sure that none of the projects we have planned along the 710 will involve taking people’s homes. Not one,” wrote Hahn. “When this plan comes to the Board in a few months, I expect that we will have an ironclad commitment that no one will be forced to move.”

What kind of public comment can I make about the project?

The LB-ELA Corridor Mobility Investment Plan draft was released on Jan. 31. The initial 30-day review period was extended an additional 30 days through April 1. Check out the project’s interactive website for more information.

Planning documents like this are hundreds of pages long and complicated to understand. If you choose to submit a public comment, it can be as general or as specific as you’d like. Community members can ask questions about the plan’s decision-making process or a recommended project. For information on project recommendations, skip to section eight in the draft (page 175). Community members can also make demands about features they’d like incorporated into the plan or removed, although it’s not guaranteed every suggestion will be included. 

This document can be confusing to understand even for advocates like Chavez and Vargas who are both members of the investment plan’s task force. They both shared with LA Public Press that certain parts of the plan were unclear to them and both are asking for clarity on some of the projects mentioned in the plan and their potential environmental impact.

Other organizations who are actively involved in sharing information on the project include East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice’s Instagram, which is an environmental justice organization consistently involved in this project advocating for zero emissions, more green space, active transportation, local hire, and no displacement of local residents.

Ashley previously worked with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

Ashley Orona is a journalist and community organizer from South Central Los Angeles. She loves spending time with her family, supporting local businesses, and finding new scenic views around LA.