EIR Released for the “Other” 710 Project, Let’s Get Ready to Widen

The I-710 is a marvel of 20th century transportation planning.  The freeway, which is sometimes as large as ten lanes, connects both the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to Route 60, passing the I-405, SR-91, I-105, I-605, I-10, and SR-60 before heading North.  Traffic is so congested north of SR-60, that some local officials, Caltrans staffers and truck companies actually want to dig a tunnel underneath several small cities to extend SR-710 to another highway.

Click on the image to see a larger map.

But today, we’re not going to talk about the San Gabriel Valley’s Big Dig, we’re going to talk about the “other” 710 Project.  Earlier this week, Caltrans released its Draft Environmental Impact Report for the I-710 Corridor Project.  The project recommends adding another four lanes of traffic to the existing ten lanes creating one of the largest freeways in North America.  The justification for this $5 billion project that would add seventy two miles of highway lanes is that it will improve air quality by creating more lanes for cars to drive in, safety by increasing lane width and travel speeds, and reduce congestion by encouraging more cars to use the already congested corridor.

The final result of the proposed project: ten mixed use travel lanes and four truck only lanes connecting Long Beach to SR-60, over eighteen miles away.  $590 million of the project budget comes from Measure R.

The real reason for the project is a glut of trucks that enter and leave the duel ports everyday.  The trucks make life for the other users of the 710 miserable while spewing pollution into the air.  While the “clean trucks” program of the ports is helping slow the continued degradation of the air, it’s not as though the trucks are now releasing rainbows and water vapor into the air.

While the trucks are a nuisance to travelers and a public health disaster to those living near the freeway; they are perceived as lifeblood to America’s consumer economy.  Thus, a ten lane highway that is congested with trucks is perceived as bad for the economy.  A fourteen lane road congested with trucks would be similarly bad, but there would be more trucks, so it would be less bad.

The project will cut through Long Beach, Compton, Paramount, Lynwood, South Gate, Cudany, Bell, Bell Gardens, Vernon, Commerce and East Los Angeles, hardly the most affluent and powerful communities in Los Angeles County.   The power of these communities pales in comparison to the trucking industry, powerful American and international companies that profit from cheap transportation, the ports themselves and a consumer culture that demands cheap projects that are delivered quickly.

The environmental documents supporting the massive widening are a marvel of highway-centric transportation thinking.  An option that would have spared residents along the corridor of the crushing impacts of the project by increasing transit and freight rail options is dismissed out of hand.  You see, part of the project’s “need” is listed as widening the freeway lanes from just under eleven feet to just under twelve feet to create safer conditions for merging.  How does a project that doesn’t widen the highway accomplish such a goal?  It can’t.  This is a common trick of outdated thinking.  The project need is defined so specifically that only a costly and ultimately wasteful highway project can possibly meet it.

As you might expect, the “no build” option receives a similarly negative assessment, although state law requires the project team to study the no build option in the final environmental report.  For this, the project team doesn’t mind.  Including the “no build” option allows them the opportunity to pity the poor residents of the corridor that wouldn’t be blessed with the air quality improvements that come with a fourteen lane highway.

A good summary of each of the alternatives, including the no-build, begins on page 7 of the Executive Summary of the report.  The full alternatives analysis can be found here.

But the main issue here is that each of the assumptions made about the benefits of bigger highways and wider lanes is either outdated or under question.

For example, there is plenty of evidence that widening a highway to “reduce congestion” actually has the opposite impact.  The environmental documents prepared by Caltrans explicitly shows how terrible the air quality surrounding the project area already is, and then claims that increasing the travel lanes by forty percent will decrease this pollution.  By creating faster moving, free flowing traffic cars will be idling less and pollution will go down.

This decades-old thinking fails to take into account “induced demand.”  The theory of induced demand posits that newly built traffic lanes will fill with cars in just a couple of years.  Then, the highway will have the same amount of congestion as it would under current conditions with just 40% more cars idling then currently are.  There are well over 1,000 pages of environmental documents in this EIR.  Induced demand is not mentioned once.

Be careful what you plan for...

The theory of induced demand is well past the point of just being some crazy idea created by environmentalists.  It is now widely accepted at the more progressive transportation departments.  The above graphic was created by the New Jersey Department of Transportation in 2004 to show how widening a rural highway will eventually lead to a demand to widen the highway again because the widened highway will create more traffic.

To be fair, Caltrans does admit that there will be some negative air quality impacts, especially for those living closest to the widened highway.  However, by putting on blinders to induced demand, they’re also not giving residents and other stakeholders a clear look at what the project area would look like thirty years from now.

The idea that widening highway lanes to improve safety is also debatable.  The environmental documents state that the rate of traffic accidents along the 18 mile study area is higher than the national average for highways with high concentrations of truck traffic.  The study team points to the 10 feet and eight inch travel lanes and claims the lanes need to be widened to 11 feet and 8 inches.

The increased safety claims of this line of thinking is also dubious.  First off, by using the word “accident” instead of the word “crash” to describe the collisions, roll overs, and other actions caused by unsafe driving, the engineers shift the blame for the action away from the person choosing to make an unsafe turn and choosing to merge into a lane where his vehicle doesn’t fit.  It’s not the drivers’ fault.  It’s the highways.

Caltrans and Metro will hold a series of public hearings in August to update the public on the Draft EIR/EIS and the potential effects this project may have on the environment. Those hearing dates are:

  • August 7, 6:00pm to 9:00pm at Progress Park, 15500 Downey Ave., Paramount
  • August 8, 6:00pm to 9:00pm at Silverado Park Community Center, 1545 W. 31st Street, Long Beach
  • August 9, 4:00pm to 8:00pm at Rosewood Park, 5600 Harbor Street, Commerce

Electronic versions of the Draft EIR/EIS on compact disc also are available for review at public libraries throughout the I-710 corridor. The Draft EIR/EIS may also be viewed online here.

  • Ubrayj02

    Those living along the 710 corridor are being asked to pay for the costs of America’s addiction to cheap imported goods. If the streets are choked with trucks and we can’t support anymore without placing more losing bets on freeways (which bring “growth” to areas outside of our tax base) – then how about we just let the market deal with it?

    Why is it that “the market” can’t find “efficiencies” to deal with the issues of inland states and goods movement?

    Trucking is too cheap for all the wrong reasons. Cargo movement via rail would be cost competitive with trucking if we would stop doing what this idiotic project does: provide more lane miles unpaid for by the industry that abuses them.

    If we want “growth”, within our tax base, we need to stop focusing on the money losing investments of the past.

  • The crazy thing is that the Alameda corridor, a 3-track, fully grade-separated freight train route, parallels the whole 710 corridor, and the Alameda Corridor East project will extend it thru the SGV. (
    http://www.theaceproject.org/). The Alameda Corridor has a huge capacity to haul freight which is currently very underused. If fact, it has had trouble paying back the loans used to build it due to less freight traffic than expected.

    Instead of spending $5 billion to widen 710, we should be encouraging freight to be shipped by train. A single diesel train can carry the freight of 100 or 200 trucks (or more?), leading to much fewer emissions, and since the corridor is grade-separated there is no impact on the streets or on traffic. And the freight route could be electrified in the future, for a few million dollars, to lead to zero emissions freight movement thru the LA basin.

  • J

    Imagine how much transit you could build for $5 billion. Certainly enough to give a major boost to mobility in the area. I’m sure more than a few of the people stuck in endless traffic would jump at the chance to take a train to get around. It certainly wouldn’t eliminate traffic, but it would at least provide options.

    Even with this massive and expensive highway expansion, I’ll be shocked if it’s not at capacity within a few years.

  • Alternative 6 takes freeway expansion to a truly monumental level with ten car lanes plus an elevated 4 lane truck corridor cantilevered over the Los Angeles River.

  • Anonymous

    Simply convert the freeway to express tolling. It achieves all the stated goals at a MUCH lower cost to taxpayers and the environment.

  • Anonymous

    Why does every project that promises “better air quality due to reduced congestion” ignore the reality of induced demand?  It’s lunacy.

  • An Honest Question

    I don’t want to get this thread off topic, and I promise I am not trolling, but I don’t really understand the induced-demand argument. I get its logic, but couldn’t the same argument be made for any mode of transportation mode? I.e., if we took the highway money and instead built a rainbow-and-water-vapor emitting unicorn-drawn train, wouldn’t the induced-demand argument say that in two years this new mode of transportation would get congested and need to be widened?

    I guess what I’m saying is: I see how induced demand argues that highway building doesn’t solve congestion, but how is it NOT an argument that any form of improvement in transportation will ultimately be ineffective because of its own success?

    Happy to be pointed to links and to take my questions elsewhere. 

  •  I’m not as aware of research on induced demand for bike lanes, pedestrian amenities, transit as I am for roads ( http://ideas.repec.org/p/tor/tecipa/tecipa-370.html ) but the effects of more walking, cycling, transit use are positive and the impacts of more driving are negative. Cars also take up more space per user.
    I’d gladly have the bike lanes of LA fill up with cyclists so we can argue for the need for bigger and better infrastructure.

  • You’re absolutely correct: Transportation is often an “if you build it, they will come” situation. If you build bike lanes, people will bike. If you build transit, they will ride. If you build highways, they will drive.The question is, which mode will best handle the traffic load, with the fewest consequences to society? You also need to take in to account that different modes handle congestion differently.

    Passenger rail is a great example of this. Look at the New York City subways at rush hour. Nobody would argue that they’re not congested as all hell. However, a congested subway train moves at the same speed along the track as an empty one. Congested highways, on the other hand, suffer a marked decrease in speed and throughput as the number of vehicles on them increases.

    So, if we have to move an ENORMOUS amount of stuff from the ports to the I-10 and SR-60 corridors, and we’re going to spend $5bn to do that, what’s the best way for society to accomplish that? Would we rather expand our freight rail capacity, which is more efficient and will likely result in huge environmental benefits, or would we rather dedicate more space for more congested highway?

  • Ubrayj02

    An Honest Question:

    When cars are congested on the road, we need to spend lots, and lots, of money making room for them. When bikes, or pedestrians, are crowded on a sidewalk or in a bike lane it is much less capital intensive to provide more space for them.

    Trains and buses full? Try adding more trains and buses on a given line first, then let’s talk about more tracks and additional right of way.

    In most cases, the automobile stuff is incredibly expensive. In some cases, we use funds that are legally restricted to improving air quality and reducing congestion being used to do exactly the opposite by widening roads to automobiles. This type of insanity is part of what feeds the techno-onanistic belief that magic and computers will save us from ourselves.

  • Ubrayj02

    But where would all the magic fairy powered eTrucks drive if we used that rail line?

  • Ubrayj02

    Oh, it is not just $5 billion – we’re borrowing to spend this money on this freeway. Do you think the freeway will pay back into our coffers to cover its own maintenance? Fat chance.

  • Davistrain

    One part of that “vicious cycle” chart that is not applicable: “Land further out becomes accessible”–the 710 has the Pacific Ocean at one end, and, if completed at the other end (over the dead bodies of South Pasadena residents) will run up against the San Gabriel Mountains.

  • The other important thing that’s being left out is that if you widen the 710, then *even if* the 710 itself never gets quite as congested, it will be dumping cars and trucks out on the 405, 105, 10, etc. much more quickly, which will make *them* more congested.  Unless the trucks leave the port, drive the 710, and then magically disappear, because as we know, most goods shipped into the port of Long Beach are bound for East LA, and not Phoenix or Vegas or Denver or Chicago.

  • Anonymous

     And then as the those freeways get congested, they’ll back up onto the 710.

  • Kent Strumpell

    Thank you Damien for highlighting this capacity expansion charade that has been going on for decades under the guise of congestion relief.  Truly, every expansion project digs us deeper into highway dependency and the increased volume of traffic just inflates the impacts.  But there are so many special interests that benefit from its continuation: the trucking industry, highway construction companies, the unions that do the work, engineers, government planning staff, the automobile industry, elected officials… it’s a juggernaut!  It’s high time for a high profile legal challenge.  The core assumption, that capacity expansion will reduce environmental impacts, seems to be fundamentally flawed in light of a clear history of the opposite effect.  Love to see one of the big enviro groups put some of their lawyers on this.

  • Ubrayj02

    Doesn’t SCAG (Southern California Council of Governments) study after SCAG study show that no amount of capacity increases will relieve congestion?

    You reduce congestion by using good urbanism in the design of neighborhoods.

  • zstern

    It is almost laughable that a project whose number one goal is to improve health and air quality in a region is advising to do so by expanding a highway.  I really hope rational minds prevail and this project does not happen. 

    If getting freight from the ports in to various distribution centers is key – I hope increased rail infrastructure (ideally electric) to do so is considered.

  • @531a7806081a75b97b52903e784f16fb:disqus hmmm… good urbanism doesn’t reduce congestion either. I think congestion is pretty much a given for places that are awesome. Good urbanism reduces the number of people stuck in car congestion, perhaps. I think that nuclear bombs and failing economies reduce congestion.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks indeed to author Newton and various commenters for ferreting out key omitted factors and logical deficiencies in the I-710 widening proposal and in the EIR.  One big omission indeed is ‘induced demand’ – an instance (as noted by commenter Nelson) of ‘build it and they will come’ – which will occur for a widened highway simply because the reduced congestion lowers users’ time-costs.  When the road has a prime traffic source, widening the road amounts to a subsidy to promote profitability of expanding the source – be it suburbs or ports.  (As commenter Davistrain notes, the featured chart does NOT fit the I-710 case, because for I-710 the prime traffic source is ports, not suburbs.) 

    But the big logical deficiency (as Newton notes) is failure to define explicitly a credibly broad overall project aim and then to correctly treat and weigh alternatives.  For instance, the aim might be to increase net benefit (to public, not just shippers) – roughly speaking, economic benefits less environmental and health costs – of goods movement to and from the ports.  Toward such aim two evident alternatives (noted especially by commenters Eisenberg and traal) are (1) Alameda Corridor (AC) rail and (2) re-pricing schemes to change the user-economics of I-710 vs AC  (e.g. institute modest I-710 express road tolls).   The project and EIR’s neglect of these alternatives is scandalous and even criminal in view of (1) all the hype and billions thrown just a few years ago at AC, and (2) indications that modest shift in I-710 vs AC use costs could convert AC from low-use failure to high-use success.   

  • JohnP

     I’d argue the induced demand argument is invalid here, as the increased capacity is from the building of truck only lanes, which is the preferred mode based on what I’ve seen and heard.  This same stretch of road may be the test route for electric powered trucks (via power lines above the lanes connected to trucks similar to how light rail or some bus lines in Seattle work).  If both come to be, pollution would be less, and there’d almost be too many lanes for cars from practically the 405 to the 105 (trucks take up most the capacity there, and it is already a fairly fast stretch). 

  • reality check

     

    Yep,
    this is not about helping commuters or improving air quality; it’s about the
    ports planned expansion and their desire to overload the 710 freeway with
    90,000 daily truck trips.

    (http://www.metro.net/projects_studies/images/2009_lrtp_techdoc.pdf PG 18 4th paragraph

     

    The reason they are building more tuck lanes as opposed to
    using an electric rail line is due to graft.  It’s much more expensive to
    expand a freeway and build a tunnel to move goods than to build a rail line –
    hence our tax dollars end up in lager amounts in the corrupt politicians
    pockets who are backing this new pollution inducing, over congested, 14 lane,
    diesel truck (zero emission trucks are voluntary) cargo freeway.

  • zstern

     JohnP –

    I agree that induced demand is not the biggest concern here.  It is valid however.  You state that increased capacity is from building truck only lanes which would take trucks of mixed use lanes and indirectly add capacity to them potentially inducing demand.

    Nevertheless, it is clear something needs to be done to improve the freight travel in a environmental friendly way.  My concern is that the electric truck option has a) never been done and b) completely optional.  This tells me that c) it won’t happen.

    Which is why I prefer rail investments to move the freight.

  • Ubrayj02

    The feasibility report written by Metro/Metro contractors is … well let’s say I have encountered more valuable pieces of bum wipe this morning.

    The projections used to plan this project are: “low growth” and “high growth”. There is no “no growth” option in either port traffic or vehicle trips.

    This makes sense, since the report was compiled just as the 2008 financial disaster was getting ready to take down our economy – but the report authors were being criticized for not projecting out growth aggressively enough.

    The EIR and EIS contain totally off-the-mark projections about port growth and traffic growth, carried out 25 years.

    Only in this twisted liars game does this project look like a good idea – and within the EIR/EIS it is made clear that only by building a double-decker truck only right of way will we be able to stop poor air quality in the future when millions more trips and containers will be generated out of thin air.

    Since this report was prepared and published:
    – Global financial collapse
    – Global peak oil has been passed
    – Container traffic dropped by 1 million TEU’s from 2008 to 2009 and has held steady at these lower levels
    – The Panama Canal Expansion is under construction and will divert up to 25% of west coast port shipping traffic

    We are heading into an LA/Long Beach port contraction. Our highways will be soon be oversupplied with lane miles we cannot afford to maintain (as they are now I might add).

    What is needed? A contraction plan. A plan to recuperate our losses on these particulate matter cancer cluster nightmare freeways. Tool booths. VMT taxes. You name it. If we aren’t careful, all that coal we are shipping to China will no longer go through LA, and we won’t have a commercial rail system functioning anymore.