Have you ever noticed that traffic on the 10 freeway is worse when there’s a three-Sigalert morning on the 101? Or that the normal slow-and-go pattern on the 110 freeway descends to a creep-and-beep crawl when there’s a big collision on the 405?

That’s because L.A.’s highway system is one big interconnected network. A snarl on one freeway will make drivers divert to others, clogging them up.

L.A.’s commuters have been living with just such a crippling clog in our system every day for, ahem, more than 30 years. That’s the 710 freeway. If you look at it on a map, you see that the freeway courses up from the south, passes to the east of downtown Los Angeles and wants to connect to the 210 freeway in Pasadena. Instead, the poor 710 abruptly ends about 4 miles short of that goal. Its stump extends a mile north of the 10 freeway, sticking out like a Civil War veteran’s hastily amputated arm.

The 710 was built partly to accommodate trucks from the port complex. They should be able to get on the freeway in Long Beach, where the 710 starts, drive north and connect to the 210, where they can go east to the numerous distribution points along that highway as well as further east to the warehouse-rich Inland Empire.

Instead, the trucks scatter from the ports, contributing to bottlenecked traffic all around. Even 40 miles away in Orange County.

“The current lack of capacity in Pasadena adds to Orange County’s congestion on I-5 in Santa Ana and brings excess truck traffic to the 91,” wrote transportation analyst Baruch Feigenbaum in the Orange County Register last week.

But trucks aren’t exactly the most popular vehicles to have rumbling through your neighborhood, and residents in the area of the 710’s missing link have long opposed allowing their peace to be disturbed – not to mention their air sullied – by an endless parade of 18-wheelers. Beyond that, the area where the freeway would have gone has been developed over the years, and hundreds of homes are in or near the would-be path.

The California Department of Transportation and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority abandoned the notion of building a surface route more than five years ago and worked with various community groups to come up with alternatives. The most ambitious: twin freeway tunnels with four lanes in each direction, built at a cost of $5.65 billion.

Yeah, it’s expensive. And it would be long – at six-plus miles, it would have more miles underground than Boston’s Big Dig. But the tunnel appears to be the best way to finally fix L.A.’s missing freeway link with the least disturbance to the South Pasadena-Alhambra area. And it’s the main solution derived from years of meetings, studies and negotiations.

But a group calling itself Beyond the 710 popped up a couple of weeks ago. It’s made up of various cities and groups and reportedly includes many of the same folks who opposed a surface route years ago. This new group is opposed to most any fix, especially a tunnel.

The era of building freeways is over, one said, and the group basically wants to widen a couple of boulevards and make some other small, community-based improvements. Trucks and cars can just go somewhere else. Or disappear.

This is magical thinking. Like it or not, L.A.’s freeway network carries the vast percentage of workers and goods around Los Angeles, and it will remain that way for the foreseeable future. The 710 is a needed part of that network. Building a $5 billion tunnel (and we know the price would go up) seems like a generous gesture to the neighborhood. Besides, the tunnel proposal is the product of years of work.

Barbara Messina, an Alhambra City Council woman, may have put it best when she wrote: “To disrupt this process is unconscionable and disrespectful to the hundreds of residents who have participated in the process through the years.”

Charles Crumpley is the editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com.

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