Derrick Shore: The 710 Freeway expansion is being called the largest infrastructure project in the United States, but how does its redevelopment affect nearby communities?
Simply put, it may be hazardous to their health. According to the National Resource Defense Council, nearly half of the US Latino population live in cities with the worst air quality. The heavily Latino communities along the 710 are among them.
Pedro Melendez lives in one of those communities -- Carson. He's been driving trucks for 24 years.
Derrick Shore: So this is where you spend a lot of your time, in this baby.
Pedro Melendez: Yeah. That’s where I spend my name.
Derrick Shore: You have rims like these -- those are pretty cool, I've gotta say I don't think I’ve ever seen that on an 18 wheeler! This shipping container is filled with 20,000 pounds worth of goods that Pedro will drop in the city of bell.
So on any given day on the back of this truck you're hauling products, goods that Americans use every single day.
Pedro Melendez: Exactly, like you're wearing right now.
Derrick Shore: Maybe my clothes arrived on this truck.
Pedro Melendez: Yeah, yeah that’s true.
Derrick Shore: What's the freeway that you travel most frequently?
Pedro Melendez: 710.
Pedro Melendez: Every truck driver uses the 710.
Derrick Shore: And what is it like to be out on the road every day?
Pedro Melendez: For me, it’s fantastic, man. This is what I like to do – drive a truck.
Derrick Shore: Is traffic usually light, is it heavy, what is it like?
Pedro Melendez: You know, it depends on the hours. After 1 it’s a lot of traffic. After 1, everyone’s going north to the pier, so it’s heavy. It’s very heavy, the traffic. When I go to make deliveries, 2 or 3 a day. That's it.
Derrick Shore: So it's realistic though that you would go up the 710 and back several times a day?
Pedro Melendez: Yeah.
Derrick Shore: The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are the busiest point of entry into the United States. Every day, giant shipping containers are offloaded from cargo ships, put on the backs of trucks, and most of those trucks travel right up the 710.
Derrick Shore: Once called the LA River freeway, the 710 is one of the earliest freeways in Southern California. It was intended to transport American goods to the ports for shipping overseas, but now the 710 is a major pipeline for foreign goods coming into the U.S.
As the global economy continues to grow, that means more goods, more trucks, more congestion, more pollution. To keep up with all this, there are plans to redevelop the 710. It's been in the works for years -- and proposals range from doubling lanes from 8 to 16, adding an overhead electric truck lane, and the list goes on...
So what does this mean for the families living nearby? Hi Francis, I'm Derrick from KCET, how are you? Francis and her family live directly across from the 710.
Derrick Shore: Even though you can't see the freeway here, on the other side of that wall is the 710. She'll never forget the day a tanker truck crashed in front of their house. So early one morning you heard a big explosion. What did this whole area look like?
Francis Lopez: Well it was black all this thing was on fire...
Derrick Shore: In October 2013, a tanker truck carrying 8,000 gallons of crude oil crashed and burst into flames just steps from Francis' home. We were over there, the smoke it was over there, the smoke was around us and we could not see nothing, it was black.
Francis Lopez: We were scared, we just wanted to get together my family, my husband, my sister-in-law, she was trying to pack something to leave.
Derrick Shore: While serious accidents are rare, residents living along the 18-mile stretch of the 710 contend with heavy truck traffic, noise, and poor air quality -- with high levels of particulate matter from diesel exhaust. According to the California Air Resources board, instances of asthma and cancer are much higher in these communities.
Mark Lopez: The 710, the rail yards, these factories, it's our everyday reality -- and so to a certain level that just becomes our norm. And we operate under that, and we accept that.
Derrick Shore: Mark Lopez is the co-director of a non-profit group dedicated to preserving and bettering community members' quality of life.
What are the primary concerns of the 710 expansion project?
Mark Lopez: So the primary concerns is one, displacement of homes -- there's over 100 homes that are on the chopping block. One whole neighborhood that's actually potentially being displaced.
Derrick Shore: But getting immigrant, working class communities mobilized is a challenge. Do you feel like the voices of the community here are really being heard?
Mark Lopez: For your average resident living on the block, it can be very difficult to engage into the amount of meetings that happen can become barriers.
Derrick Shore: At this community workshop, residents are learning about how to navigate the multiple layers of government agencies involved in the 710 expansion.
Jacqueline Munguia: So we're going to start looking at the agencies -- of air quality agencies and transportation. So here's a list of them right from the federal level to the local level.
Derrick Shore: Local activists came up with a plan that would limit widening traffic lanes while at the same time improving the LA River and bike and pedestrian lanes. Governor Brown vetoed a bill that would require CalTrans to examine that plan, but mark says he understands why.
Mark Lopez: He felt like Sacramento wasn't the venue to engage in this project and so really recommended that we handle this through the current public process that already has been established and so that's what we're continuing to do.
We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to continue to be engaged as long as this project is on the table.
Derrick Shore: But while proposals grind their way through layers of bureaucracy, life presses on for residents in these communities. Pedro is doing part by driving a natural gas-powered truck. You love what you do?
Pedro Melendez: Oh yeah I love my job. With that job, I pay my bills you know for my kids. I’m proud of my kids. I don’t make a lot of money, but I make money. That’s the reason I work hard.
Derrick Shore: Some of that money will help pay his oldest daughter's tuition to UCLA. And while thousands of trucks run up and down the 710, Francis will continue facing the reality of living with a freeway in her front yard.
Francis Lopez: It's like raining smog on the kids.
Derrick Shore: Is that just part of life here?
Francis Lopez: I think, yes. That’s your life. It’s like it is.
Derrick Shore: Is it a good life?
Francis Lopez: Uh, it’s your life.
Derrick Shore: For “SoCal Connected,” I’m Derrick Shore.
The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are the busiest point of entry into the United States. Every day, shipping containers are loaded from cargo ships and put on the backs of trucks -- many which travel right on the 710 Freeway.
The freeway is an integral part of our commerce and global economy, but as port traffic increases and plans to modernize the 710 continue to unfold, what does it mean for nearby residents?
Some residents have expressed concern regarding the long-term health impacts of living along the 18-mile stretch of the 710 Freeway corridor.
Data from the South Coast Air Quality Management District reveals that high levels of air toxins along the 710 Corridor have been linked to health problems such as decreased lung function, asthma, heart disease, among other serious problems, according to Departures, which is producing a series about the corridor.
In this episode of "SoCal Connected," Derrick Shore interviews residents to find out how they feel about the project.