A sea of semi-trucks carrying shipping containers congests the northbound 710 Freeway leaving the Port of Long Beach Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

After nearly two decades and $60 million worth of studying and planning, the Metro Board of Directors voted late last month to officially kill the proposal to widen 19 miles of the 710 Freeway.

The congestion and safety issues the $6 billion project were meant to alleviate, however, remain in Long Beach, and city officials intend to push forward with their own projects to address them.

Most impacted by the demise of the 710 Freeway widening project were a series of improvements to multiple interchanges, particularly at Pacific Coast Highway, Artesia Boulevard and Anaheim and Willow streets, according to Public Works Director Eric Lopez.

“There are still critical improvements that are necessary,” Lopez said. “The on-ramps and off-ramps are a big part of those required improvements but also some of the bridges.”

These projects would have been part of the freeway widening effort but could not move forward before the fate of the full project was finalized. Now that it’s been shelved, city traffic engineers will work with CalTrans to determine the full need and scope of those improvements, Lopez said.

Those discussions have not started, but Lopez said he fully expects some of the freeway entrances and exits to be reconfigured.

“There are improved standards—design elements that are safer and more efficient,” Lopez said. “So some of these ramps will require some modernization.”

As for the bridges, similar to the on- and off-ramps, Lopez said the main focus will be on implementing modern design standards to increase pedestrian and vehicular safety, including protected bike lanes, in some cases, such as those already on the Artesia Boulevard Bridge, which will remain after street improvements along the corridor.

Landscaping and hardscaping also will be a top priority in these projects, Lopez said.

“These medians, for example, that have grass, we don’t have the water or rainfall to support that type of landscaping,” Lopez said. “So as we look at some of our improvements to on- and off-ramps and our major corridors, landscaping and hardscaping is really important.”

The price tag for the list of interchange improvements is just under half a billion dollars, according to city documents. Funding from regional, state and federal infrastructure spending, however, is expected to pay for most of the projects, Lopez said.

The Metro Board of Directors voted to allocate $750 million to smaller municipal projects in lieu of the freeway widening. Metro staff is expected to report back to the board this month with a new project plan and objectives for the finding. Staff also will draft an investment plan with short-, mid- and long-term initiatives.

Heading into Downtown Long Beach at the end of the 710 Freeway, the city is moving forward with its plans to replace the Shoemaker Bridge, which includes realigning Shoreline Drive to better connect existing park space.

As it is, the exit from the 710 Freeway into Downtown runs along the Los Angeles River, while the entrance to the freeway runs directly through park space, making large sections inaccessible unless a person crosses multiple lanes that have no speed or safety mitigating measures. The realignment effort would see the entrance moved west to run congruent with the exit lanes.

The bridge itself, which connects Downtown to the 710 Freeway, has reached the end of its lifecycle, Lopez said. Entitlements have been secured by the city for the project, which is well into the fully funded design phase.

Combined, the bridge and realignment projects are estimated to run about $350 million, which is also expected to be funded in large part with regional, state and federal money.

The city is hopeful the interchange projects as well as the bridge-realignment effort will be completed before the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, Lopez said.

“We’re going to have a lot of eyes on Long Beach,” Lopez said. “[These projects] are going to be a huge benefit to the region.”

“We really hope that we can leverage the momentum that the 2028 Olympics are going to create so we can get these major improvements done,” he added.

These projects would not have a drastic impact on the congestion often associated with the 710 Freeway, especially once drivers near the Port of Long Beach, which can see lines of semi-trucks backed up for miles during peak hours. The Harbor Department’s $1.5 billion Pier-B On-Dock Rail Support Facility project, however, aims to eliminate thousands of truck trips per day—roughly 7 million per year.

The rail project is decades in the making and will add 36 tracks to the Pier B rail yard, increasing capacity by at least 600,000 20-foot equivalent units (the standard measure of a shipping container) by 2035. The project is on track with a groundbreaking expected next year, according to port Executive Director Mario Cordero.

“We’re moving forward with land acquisitions,” Cordero said.

The first phase is expected to come online by 2025, Cordero said, adding that he hopes the full project will be completed by 2031, though the official timeline has completion in 2032.

The port supported the 710 Freeway widening project specifically due to the inclusion of lanes dedicated to containerized truck movement, Cordero said. But the killing of the project will not have any negative impact on port operations or its capital improvement projects, including the Pier B rail.

“In fact, the canceling of the project encourages us to move forward in the way we are: moving these containers by rail at a greater percentile,” Cordero said. “It’s not only a better environmental footprint, but it avoids the congestion on our commuter corridors.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.