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Calif. Plans Tunnel In Quake Area

Early morning commuters stack up along the 91 freeway headed in to Orange County Nov. 1, 2005, in Anaheim, Calif. Traffic has gotten so bad along the eastern rim of Los Angeles' ever-expanding suburban ring that regional planners are seriously considering the once unthinkable: an 11-mile tunnel under a mountain range in earthquake country. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
AP
Traffic is so bad along the eastern rim of Los Angeles' suburban ring that regional planners are considering the once unthinkable: an 11-mile tunnel through a mountain range in earthquake country.

The proposal for what would be the world's second-longest road tunnel would create a new path between sprawling inland suburbs and Orange County, which has become one of southern California's fastest-growing job centers.

The tunnel would rank second in length to Norway's 15-mile Laerdal Tunnel, which opened in 2000, said Michael Litschi, spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority. There are longer railroad tunnels, including the 33.5-mile Seikan Tunnel in Japan and the 31.3-mile Channel Tunnel linking England and France.

Local officials have worked closely with a British engineering company that has helped build some of the largest tunnels in the world and has concluded that the tunnel is "viable and feasible," said H. Tony Rahimian, a consultant who helped devise the tunnel proposal.

"A tunnel is actually a very safe place. We don't want to run it through the faults and we're going to avoid that," he said.

But critics question the logic of building a multibillion-dollar project in a region so prone to earthquakes that an alternate proposal for a double-decker highway was deemed too dangerous. The tunnel would begin barely a mile from a fault that produced a 6.0-magnitude earthquake about a century ago.

"It's absolutely absurd to have a tunnel 700 feet below ground in earthquake country," said Cathryn DeYoung, mayor of Laguna Niguel and a vocal opponent. "I mean, would you want to be in that tunnel?"