OC Using Stimulus Funds to Widen the 91

8_3_09_approaching_91_and_241.jpgLast stop before the 91/241 interchange.  Photo: kllm14369/Flickr

"That ain’t Change, it’s more of the same!" was an applause line used frequently during last fall’s presidential campaign by Senator Joe Biden to critique many of the proposed policies of Senator McCain and Governor Palin.  Watching how stimulus funds are spent in California, transportation reformers and Livable Streets advocates could use the same battle cry when critiquing how federal transportation dollars are being spent under President Obama’s watch.

The most recent example is the I-91 widening in Orange County.  The OC Register explains the project before it mindlessly recites Caltrans talking points about the benefits of highway expansion:

The 91 eastbound will be widened by one lane from the 241 toll road to
the 71 in Riverside County, reducing congestion and improving travel
time by 15 minutes, California Department of Transportation officials
say.

A poll we discussed last week by the Public Policy Institute of
California,
illustrates that most Orange County residents prefer their transportation agencies to focus on improving transit over widening highways.  In the Orange and San Diego County region, spending on transit projects out-polled spending on highway projects by a 75% to 22% margin.  This is an especially relevant point since the Orange County Transit Agency is picking up the "rest of the bill," i.e. the millions of dollars for the project that aren’t coming from Washington, D.C.

It’s hardly a surprise to see a newspaper not bother to critique massive highway spending plans.  When given the chance to press Governor Schwarzenegger and Mayor Villaraigosa about highway widenings in our own backyard, the Times brushed off the chance so they could reprint our elected leaders talking points.  Maybe if we print the question that should have been asked of Caltrans and OCTA officials enough, reporters will start to add it to their notebooks.  Here’s the question I’m dieing to hear an answer for:

Since other major road widening projects
in Southern California are causing congestion during their construction, and
because transportation agencies are reporting that additional highway
capacity actually brings more cars to the road, are commuters going to
see any net reduction in commuting time?  Or will the delays caused during construction actually outweigh the short amount of time that there will be congestion relief?

When we start seeing "mainstream" reporters asking questions like that one, we’ll be well on our way to holding politicians accountable for wasteful highway spending.