Op/Ed: Freeway Expansion Is a Pill for Poor Health

Dr. Roberta Kato, MD, is a Pediatric Pulmonologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and an Environmental Health Ambassador with Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA.

As a Pediatric Pulmonologist, I’m concerned that Caltrans proposed expansion of the I-710 Corridor— from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the Pomona Freeway—will negatively impact air quality in adjacent communities.  Our children will be healthier when fewer vehicles travel through the neighborhoods where they live, learn and play.

Caltrans claims that expanding the 18-mile freeway is a path towards cleaner air.  The over 10,000 page Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) analyzes six different design proposals—called alternatives—for improving the I-710Corridor, including a no-build alternative.  Five of these alternatives propose expanding the I-710 to up to ten general purpose lanes, and several include an additional four lane freight corridor.

A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of the I-710 Corridor Project recommended a complete modeling and mitigation plan to address future air quality impacts attributable to the project.  This is essential; the community deserves protection in case Caltrans’ modeling—which suggests air quality will improve—turns out to be inaccurate.  Unfortunately, Caltrans excluded the HIA in the DEIR.

Concerned community members have put forward their own “Alternative 7” as a viable strategy to improve air quality.  Instead of building new general purpose lanes, Alternative 7 would reduce emissions by investing in public transit and developing a zero emission freight corridor.  The freight corridor would be funded through a public private partnership with shipping companies, so that independent operators would not carry all the costs of converting to clean technology.  The community proposed option also includes river improvements, comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, expanded open space and community enhancements for the I-710 Corridor.

Rather than build new lanes to accommodate additional vehicles, we need to address the root cause of freeway congestion: our over-dependence on trucks, cars and cheap foreign products.  Instead of expanding our freeway to import more cheap electronics and clothing from China, why can’t we invest the project’s six billion dollar budget in our local economy?  We could put residents of the Gateway Cities back to work growing food, operating buses and providing health care and education for our children.   And while trucking remains a major sector of our economy, we need to spur the development of the cleanest technology for moving goods with innovative transit systems.

Freeway construction and expansion has led to a car dependent Los Angeles with among the worst air pollution in the nation.  Now we must choose our children’s health and envision a healthy environment for all communities.