Though it's still six to 10 years away from reality, a massive $5 billion overhaul of an 18-mile stretch of the Long Beach (710) Freeway broke through gridlock when an ad hoc committee gave it the thumbs up.

After gathering comment for 18 months, the I-710 Oversight Policy Committee has approved a plan to widen the freeway to 14 lanes from the existing six to 10. Four of the 14 would be dedicated to carrying the 35,000 to 42,000 truck trips made on the stretch daily.

The oversight committee, comprised of representatives from the Gateway Cities Council of Governments, L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Port of Long Beach, Caltrans and the Southern California Association of Governments, had been seeking a way to mitigate what had become the site of congestion and pollution caused largely by trucks serving the ports.

The proposal is now headed to the MTA, whose board is expected to approve the start of a three- to four-year draft environmental impact report process next summer. Plans call for construction to be complete by 2010 to 2015, depending on how long it takes to fund of the project's estimated $4.4 billion to $5 billion cost.

The Gateway Cities COG applied more than a year ago for $745 million in federal funding to cover the initial construction phase, which would likely entail widening the circumference of the 50-year-old freeway's on- and off-ramps to accommodate today's larger trucks.

Alterations to the initial plan could add another $500 million.

Although the funding plan isn't in place yet, traffic officials believe they have at least cleared one of their biggest hurdles by getting an OK from the Gateway Cities COG, which is comprised of the 27 cities that line the corridor.

"It would be somewhat more costly to realign the freeway," said Richard Powers, executive director of the Gateway Cities COG. "But the bottom line is without the community support, there will never be a project."

The plan would expand the freeway by building on the rights of way between the freeway and the dozens of giant electricity transmission towers that line the road.

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