405 Freeway Widening Folly
The headline reads, “OCTA committee votes for 405 plan,” as if we could expect anything but a freeway widening plan from people who build freeways for a living.
“Unanimous,” is the word; this lends a sense that these people are united and committed. But not deluded.
This $1.3 billion project will be great for the contractors hired to do the work and someday a few years from now we’re assured that this project is
Expected to cut travel time by more than half for vehicles heading north during the evening rush hour.
That’s impressive, and I’m sure many who read this story want to believe such speculation. Myself, I’m no traffic engineer, but my 6th grade algebra teacher taught me that adding one lane to a 5-lane freeway does not double throughput. So maybe OCTA sokesman Joel Zlotnik got a little carried away; combine $1.3B and unanimous into any decision and someone’s bound to slip in a little hyperbole.
No doubt, spend this kind of money and you will get some relief for gridlocked motorists. Imagine zipping up the 405, sailing to your destination. Who wouldn’t like a faster commute? Even I might be tempted to get in the car and drive; after all, it’s quite compelling to get where you want to go so easily. And that’s the problem: faster freeways attract more traffic. It’s a well-known fact, yet I suspect little mentioned during these unanimous decisions: extra freeway lanes are temporary relief. These zippier commutes bring more motorists. First time home owners can justify a longer commute against a more distant, yet lower home price while others contemplate a better paying job in downtown LA. Very quickly traffic grows and commute times lengthen and taxpayers never really get to enjoy their commutes cut by “more than half”. Experts say that freeway widening projects only buy time, 4 years time on average, before the increased capacity is met with increased demand. We’re making it so easy to get out and drive, is it any surprise that people will? And we’ll be right back where we started.
Take another look at OCTA’s photo above; what will they do for an encore? Is it fair to say that our children will see a double-decked freeway, or more widening to 7, 8 or 9-lanes in each direction?
If that’s the case there are a lot of expensive overpasses to re-engineer. I’m sure someday there will be another unanimous decision to spend even larger funds. But this is just postponing the day when we grapple with sustainable transportation alternatives. We won’t be adding more lanes a generation from now, but we’ll still be sitting in gridlock. Adding these new lanes buys short term relief while postponing the tough choices of automobile alternatives.
Before I get too contrarian, I should remember this is just a committee vote. The final decision will be made by Caltrans.
Will cooler heads prevail? Will someone stop this car-centric madness? Or will Caltrans rubber stamp this unanimous decision? There’s little hope for alternatives; they’re the people who build freeways.