Metro’s Hacienda Heights 60 Freeway Ramps Expansion Plan on Hold – Streetsblog Los Angeles
An on/off ramp project in Hacienda Heights intended to preface the future widening of Interstates 60 and 605 has been postponed by Metro since the start of the pandemic. Metro felt that the Hacienda Heights SR-60/7th Avenue project was beneficial to drivers and did not have too much of a negative impact on adjacent residents, but if and when the project and the freeway widening are at launched again, construction could come very close to homes. So what’s holding him back?
The 60 Freeway/7th Avenue project is part of Metro’s 605 Freeway “hot spot” improvements that are preparing for the more than $5 billion Metro 605 Corridor Improvement Project (605CIP). Metro funds and executes dozens of freeway “hot spot” widenings, freeway on- and off-ramps, surface streets leading to the 605, and freeways it connects to.
These “hotspot” widenings set the stage for the overall 605CIP, which is planned to widen about ten miles of the 605’s main stem, plus “upgrade” (mostly widen) neighboring parts of the 5, 10, 60 and 105. Highways. The 605CIP would affect nine cities – Baldwin Park, Downey, City of Industry, El Monte, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, South El Monte and Whittier, as well as several unincorporated county areas.
This 605 mega-project is basically on hold. In 2020, Metro announced that 605CIP would impact over a thousand parcels, including the demolition of over 300 homes, primarily through Downey and Santa Fe Springs. This proved too much, even for proponents of freeway widening, so the Metro board instructed staff to revamp the 605CIP environmental documents to include less harmful alternatives.
Many small hot spot expansions are underway (i.e. tens of millions of dollars projects, not hundreds of millions), including:
One flashpoint project that is not moving forward is Metro’s planned redesign of the Interstate 60 on- and off-ramps on 7th Avenue in Hacienda Heights (unincorporated LA county).
In 2015, Metro and Caltrans completed initial studies (see Project Study Report and Appendices, including maps) to determine how to widen Interstates 605 and 60 through much of the San Gabriel Valley. The PSR includes four alternate configurations for 605, but all of the alternates show essentially the same configuration for Interstate 60 through Hacienda Heights.
After completing the larger 605/60 study, Metro sought to identify small preliminary projects to prepare for the 605 widening. These projects (including the Valley Boulevard and Whittier Boulevard projects listed above) could advance ahead of the larger project if they provided an independent benefit (usually meaning they would increase car capacity) and the costs (tax and in terms of demolition of adjacent homes/businesses/etc) were not too onerous . The 60/7th Avenue project met these criteria.
Another Metro study from 2017 on the 60/7 project reiterates that “improvements [to the 60/7th Avenue on- and off-ramps] are in progress to allow for the widening of the SR-60 main line necessary to improve the I-605 / SR-60 interchange. For this Hacienda Heights project, Metro is retooling the ramps on the north side (westbound) basically to push them a bit farther north, to make room for later adding an extra westbound lane to the 60.
In 2018, Metro’s Board of Directors approved a two-year, $2 million contract (staff report) with Advantec Consulting Engineers to design/engineer the project.
In August 2020, Caltrans approved environmental documentation for the 60/7th Avenue project, stating that it was “categorically exempt” from the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) despite the somewhat increased capacity of the cars by “increasing storage on WB [westbound] Access ramp SR-60 by lengthening and widening the ramp. Widening a short stretch of road – apparently less than about a mile – will induce more driving, but falls below the agreed threshold for environmental impact. (The Metro Highway program has several early-stage highway projects that are just under a mile long — including the widening of Highway 91 from Metro Atlantic to Cherry in Long Beach — that seem have been analyzed into these small pieces to minimize environmental review processes.)
Through Hacienda Heights, Highway 60 passes close to homes, apartments, schools, a church, and a few commercial developments. Its noise barriers line hundreds of courtyards.
Despite this proximity, Metro plans to add one more lane to 60 without removing any homes. (Note: this just means there are no house demolitions at Hacienda Heights. Metro’s 2015 PSR schedule shows seven to nine home demolitions on Linnard Street in El Monte as part of the planned future widening of Highway 60. Outside of Hacienda Heights along the 60, there are also a number of commercial/industrial plots slated for partial or full demolition. But these future demolitions are not part of this first 60/7th Avenue project.)
According to Metro and Caltrans, “No permanent right-of-way acquisition of public or private property would occur” for the 60/7th Avenue project, although it does require certain temporary construction easements (TCEs – shown in the image below). above) from eleven owners and the county-maintained Clark Channel Creek. Metro’s initial 2020 site assessment shows building easements up to the back doors of a few homes on Hedgepath and Finegrove Avenues.
The westbound 7th Avenue exit has a landscaped buffer approximately twenty feet wide between the houses and the existing offramp noise wall. The ramp expansion would occur within the footprint of the existing buffer zone.
In April 2022, Metro staff reported that “Design and Construction [for the 60/7th Avenue project are] pending” (see page 20 of the Metro presentation). At that time, Metro had only spent $1.07 million (page 27), about half of the contract costs approved by the board in 2018.
Streetsblog asked Metro why the project was put on hold. Metro spokesman Patrick Chandler responded that it happened in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, when Metro’s fiscal outlook was uncertain. The project remains on hold today, even though the agency has returned to better-than-expected revenues and increased highway program budgets. Chandler wrote, “Due to declining tax revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, steps have been taken to assess and prioritize Metro’s capital program schedule in the near term. After evaluating Metro’s overall financing capacity, priority was given to projects under construction. As a result, Metro has decided to halt or slow down work on several projects in the pre-construction phase, including the SR60/7th Avenue Interchange Improvement Project, to meet current funding constraints. Chandler confirmed that the suspension was not due to project scope/design changes or other unforeseen costs resulting in design costs exceeding the $2 million the board had already approved.
When Streetsblog asked for the overall cost of the project, Chandler replied that the estimated total cost was $24.1 million, based on a Caltrans project report approved in June 2022.
According to Chandler, Metro is not currently seeking any specific outside funding to complete the design work or implement the project, although “should funding become available, Metro would resume work on the design.” He also noted that the future of the project will be determined in collaboration with local municipalities. « Metro speaks with the SGVCOG [San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments] to determine project priorities for the sub-region as well as sources of funding to be sought,” he wrote.
Streetsblog SGV reporter Chris Greenspon contributed to this story.
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