I was somewhat heartened last week when coverage of the massive I-405 Sepulveda Pass Widening Project actually mentioned the amazing amount of highway vehicle congestion that will be created by the project over its estimated three year construction phase. However, I waited to write about the press coverage because I was hopeful that some writer would actually make the connection that the this project could actually create more congestion over the course of the construction than will be "relieved"before induced demand helps fill those new travel lanes back up. Unfortunately, there is no such luck. The news coverage ranges from, "traffic is going to be awful but at least everything is going to be so much better when it’s done" to "traffic is going to be worse than they’re saying because the government is always wrong about these sort of thing." Unfortunately, nobody is taking on the government’s claim that the project is going to permanently reduce congestion in the corridor.
Let’s start with NBC 4. In a January 11 story entitled "Reconfiguring the 405: Short Term Pain, Long Term Gain," NBC uncritically repeats the claims of Caltrans and Metro in an article about local closures resulting from the project. If you believe the poll on the side of the article, which is about as unscientific a poll as you can find, it appears that the project doesn’t have near the local support that Metro and Caltrans seem to think. In the meantime, all we get from NBC is a promise of Long Term Gain, and a sentence from unnamed officials that the project is totally worth it.
In the Times, Ari Bloomekatz spends a lot of time talking to former Caltrans District 7 Director, and current Metro highway program director and dutifully passes along Failing’s claims about the awesomeness of the project without criticism. Actually, I take that back. Bloomekatz does take a second to complain that the project is for carpools only and thus doesn’t help eighty-five percent of commuters. I used to complain about terms such as Road Sage and Bottleneck Blog to describe Steve Hymon’s columns, but the car-centric transportation coverage from the Times these days more than earns those titles for their transportation beat.
One writer I can’t take issue with as far as not just repeating statements from public officials is the outgoing transportation writer of the Daily News, Sue Doyle. Doyle talked to a series of business owners along Sepulveda who are terrified of the three years of traffic that will clog the street in front of their business and a handful of "transportation experts." None of the experts mentioned induced demand, and they uncritically passed along Caltrans and Metro’s statistics, but hey. At least Doyle took the time to ask someone else. Sue, if you’re reading this, you will be missed.
At news blog LA Observed, editor Kevin Roderick does take the time to note that the three year timetable is a best-case-scenario to finish the project. Given that it’s already behind schedule because of the rain we’ve seen recently, it’s a little hard to believe that it’s going to stay on schedule. Roderick doesn’t mention the obvious awesomeness of the project, must be why he’s writing a blog, but he earns points for not uncritically passing off government spin.
Given the rapid evolution of media over the last several years, it’s unlikely that I’ll still be writing Los Angeles Streetsblog when the project is completed and the congestion has returned to "pre-2010" levels, but I promise you this. When that day does happen, I’ll come back and we can measure what took longer. The construction of the new travel lanes and other capacity enhancements or the time it took for that expansion to become filled up.