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Breathing Uneasy: Living Along the 710 Freeway Corridor

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The I-710 and 60 Freeways.

This is part of a series examining the 710 Corridor and its impact in the surrounding communities, produced in partnership with the California Endowment.


This story has been published in tandem with a segment for KCET's award-winning TV show "SoCal Connected."

Angelo Logan remembers growing up playing baseball in his neighborhood park as semi-trucks grumbled overhead, dropping plumes of exhaust onto the field. A Commerce native, he would ride bikes with his friends up and down the congested streets and "navigate among the big rigs."

For him, the harsh health impacts of living along the freeway were an everyday reality.

"At a particular time there was a slew of cancer on the street I lived on. We called it Cancer Alley," said Logan, who lives in Long Beach along the 18-mile stretch of the 710 corridor. "And on this street it was constantly, 'Oh did you hear? This person has been diagnosed with cancer. This person passed away from cancer.' And some of these people had never smoked a day in their lives."

Now co-director of the East Yard Communities For Environmental Justice, a community organization that fights for a healthier environment for Southeast Los Angeles County residents, Logan is advocating for a 710 freeway expansion alternative that would better serve the communities living along the corridor.

The I-710 Corridor Project is a massive infrastructure overhaul that seeks to update the freeway spanning from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the 60 Freeway. As the local economy expands -- last month, shipments through the Port of L.A. jumped to the highest levels since 2007, according to the port -- the impacts of truck traffic on an aging freeway continue to grow.

There are three versions of the 710 project currently being considered that would address congestion and safety issues related to traffic between the ports and the Pomona Freeway. The proposals, also called alternatives, include widening the freeway and including a four-lane, zero-emission "Freight Corridor" for trucks only.

While construction on the 710 is slated to begin in 2020, Logan says the current expansion options don't keep the neighboring communities in mind.

"The communities have been bearing the brunt of industries that use the 710 as a Walmart super highway," Logan said. "They get to the shelves of Walmarts while the people see no benefit, and all they get is the negative impact."

The South Coast Air Basin, which includes the 710 corridor communities, has been designated as an extreme ozone non-attainment area and a non-attainment area for small airborne particulate matter, according to a June 2012 environmental impact report (EIR) on the corridor project. That means the area doesn't meet national air quality standards.

Data from the South Coast Air Quality Management District also shows high levels of air toxins along the 710 that have been linked to various health problems, such as decreased lung function, asthma, increased lung and heart disease symptoms and chronic bronchitis, the report says.

The highest levels of estimated cancer risk in 2005 -- about 1,200 to 2,000 in a million -- also occur in that area, especially around the ports and rail yards and along the 710, the report shows. Experts say these health impacts disproportionately affect low income households.

"There is an element of environmental justice here. Many of those people have low socioeconomic means," said Ed Avol, an expert on respiratory health and air pollution at the University of Southern California. "They tend to be communities of color."

But, Avol admits, a solution marrying cleaner air and the port economy won't come easy.

"I think we have to be realistic. We can't close the ports," he said. "We need to think of public health as being a part of this, and we need to begin by thinking of how to move cargo without further deteriorating the air quality."

Logan says many locals feel their ideas for improving life along the 710 are not truly being heard -- that's why East Yard Communities has been fighting alongside the Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice to promote another option, called Community Alternative 7 (CA7).

CA7 addresses the needs of the residents, Logan says, while acknowledging the importance of the port economy in Los Angeles. The plan includes a comprehensive public transit element and a mandatory Zero Emission Corridor, as well as pedestrian and bicycle access. It also proposes leaving current general-purpose lanes the way they are.

Last October, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a senate bill that would require Caltrans and other agencies involved in the 710 expansion to include CA7 as the new EIR is drafted, and consider it as an alternative to address the air quality, public health, and mobility impacts the project will have on neighboring communities.

"Statutorily requiring the project environmental impact report to consider specified mitigation measures that exceed the project's scope is a precedent I don't wish to establish," Brown wrote in his veto message.

When asked by KCET to write how they would improve the corridor at a film screening last week, many residents who live along the 710 pointed to a better expansion plan and working toward cleaner air as potential solutions.

"Take the expansion projects away from communities," one card response reads. "Measure pollution levels and disease rates."

"Divert traffic away from [the corridor]," another said. "The air quality is deplorable. Area residents disproportionately present with asthma. Undoubtedly, this is due to high traffic and nearby factories."

Logan echoed these concerns. The best case scenario, he said, is that Caltrans will eventually consider the community alternative as a viable option for the freeway.

"I would like to see local folks build the project so we can start to see natural assets," he said. "That way folks can use it without seeing a constant black cloud overhead."

The 3 Alternatives

  • Alt 1: Enhanced goods movement by rail; clean trucks program; expanded night gate operations at Ports; traffic signal coordination. This is a no build alternative.
  • Alt 5C: Improvements to freeway; adding a general purpose lane in each direction; modernizing interchanges and making freeway improvements and having a truck by-pass lane at the 405/710 interchange.
  • Alt 7: A 710 freight corridor from the southern end of the freeway to Commerce; improvements and enhancements to freeway and interchanges.
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