A long-stalled effort to reduce traffic in Boyle Heights will soon get under way after Los Angeles County approved $8 million in funding to build a roundabout at a busy intersection.

Construction in the area where Cesar Chavez Avenue meets Lorena Street and Indiana Street, known as “Cinco Puntos,” is slated to begin by the end of the year, according to the Los Angeles Department of Public Works.

The project is part of a larger effort by the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) to finance traffic improvements in local communities with funds from the now-defunct 710 Freeway Extension, which was finalized at the end of last year.

Metro approved the funding based on the city’s argument that a roundabout would “improve mobility and accessibility between the Boyle Heights community and downtown Los Angeles,” as well as reduce accidents and improve air quality.

But some community members and environmental organizations have criticized Metro’s decision to channel the 710 Freeway funds toward projects that could put more cars on the road.

“We cannot find this list of projects acceptable,” Carter Rubin, a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Curbed LA. “This is only going to increase transportation emissions.”

Drivers have long experienced confusion, delays and accidents at Cinco Puntos, where 64 collisions have taken place since 2010, according to Los Angeles Police Department data. Converting an intersection into a roundabout, however, has been shown to reduce overall accidents by 35 percent.

Plans to renovate the five-way intersection into a roundabout have been under discussion since at least 2001, when Metro pledged $6.8 million to have the project completed by 2006.

However, development stalled until 2011, when the Los Angeles City Council approved an updated version of the project proposal with a budget of $11 million. Three years later, the council voted to adopt the plan again after a new report filed by the City Attorney showed how the city would acquire property to build the roundabout.

The latest funding request was approved by Metro’s Board of Directors in December, as part of a $515 million grant to finance dozens of “mobility improvement projects” throughout the county. The funds were originally meant to go toward extending the 710 Freeway north in an attempt to reduce traffic congestion, a project that was finally voted down by Metro in 2017 as too costly to attempt.

Instead, Metro decided to pursue smaller projects in communities along the path that the longer 710 Freeway — which currently ends at Valley Boulevard just north of the 10 Freeway — would have traveled.

“How do we address these traffic needs and congestion and mobility needs of the cities along the corridor?” Metro Board Member Ara Najarian said at the board’s meeting in December. “The cities were apprehensive about having a top-down solution imposed by Metro.”

The 710 Freeway project was initially allotted $780 million in funding, but estimated costs reached $3 billion to build a tunnel extending all the way to the 210 Freeway. The project also faced criticism from environmental activists who said it would increase pollution in an already-congested area.

Now, some of those same critics argue that Metro’s alternative proposal is still too car-centric, neglecting public transportation and other environmentally-friendly options in favor of improvements to help individual vehicles.

A coalition of environmental groups sent a letter to Metro’s Board of Directors in November, asking that the funding be directed to projects that “prioritize equitable, healthy, and sustainable mobility for all.” The letter also voiced concerns that Metro had not given the public enough opportunities to weigh in on the project.

Metro, however, said its goal was to tackle more manageable projects that will have a faster impact on traffic in the area.

“With the impacts and the source of impacts well known, the investment is focused on preventative and mitigation work to address congestion on the street network as a result of the regional and local vehicular traffic impacts,” the agency said in a statement.

Photo from Flickr.

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