For Goodness’ Sake, Stop Widening the 405

Albert Einstein says that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I have bad news for transportation planners at OCTA and Caltrans. You’ve gone insane. And the disease is spreading.

http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm100.htm
It’s common knowledge that freeway widenings accomplish little besides encouraging sprawl and increasing driving, yet OCTA, Caltrans and Metro want to do it.

The Orange County Transportation Authority and Caltrans are banding together for another 1950’s style environmental disaster, widening the 405 between the 605 and the 73. The massive expansion project would add two lanes in each direction from Costa Mesa to Long Beach, an addition of over 80 miles of highway lanes. One of the lanes in each direction would be a toll lane.  The project’s total cost is only $1.7 billion.

And this isn’t just insanity, it is also schizophrenia. After all, Caltrans’ Strategic Management Plan calls for ending road widening projects even as the branch office wants to triple down on massive 405 expansions from Orange County through the Sepulveda Pass.

KPCC reports that the City of Long Beach, frustrated with the low amount of mitigation funds being offered for a massive freeway widening planned for the 405 that will dump thousands of new cars on local roads, is planning a lawsuit.

The bad news is the reason why:

Sanchez said Long Beach would like for Orange County to slow down the expansion project to give Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority time to come up with a similar expansion of the 405 on the L.A. side.

The MTA is reviewing a feasibility study that could add one or two lanes to a five-mile stretch of the 405 in Long Beach, between the I-605 interchange north to Cherry Avenue. But that project is in the early stages, MTA officials said.

Oh, for the love of…

That’s right, 405-widening insanity isn’t contained in Orange County. Despite the ongoing public relations disaster of its most recent 405 widening, Metro is back for more. Its most recent unpopular proposal is a four-lane widening to connect the OCTA’s all-but-certain widening and the recently completed Sepulveda Pass widening that created more traffic during construction than it “saved” after it was built.

Even the politics-free L.A. Magazine is laughing at the idea that a widening will improve traffic. And L.A. Weekly has been running an ongoing series on the folly of the Sepulveda Pass widening for nearly a decade.

So naturally, every highway planning agency in the southern portion of the state thinks we should widen the 405 again. At least this time, they’re taking into account induced demand, the idea that widening highways creates more traffic. In fact, they’re counting on it.

Again, from KPCC:

About 370,000 cars travel on between Costa Mesa and Long Beach on I-405 every day, according to the Orange County Transportation Authority. The freeway is routinely listed as among the busiest and most congested in the nation.

The widening project is expected to increase traffic on the freeway by 23 percent in both directions. Construction is expected to start in 2018.

It’s good that Long Beach is looking to protect its local street grid as best it can. And it’s possible that the city is playing a high-stakes game of chess to try and force the two widenings to undergo one environmental review, but that’s a risky game. Wouldn’t it just be easier if we just all agreed that another 405 widening is a bad idea? Even Caltrans, at least at the headquarters in Sacramento, seems to understand.

  • BJToepper

    How is it that we can find $1.7 billion for more freeway lanes, but nothing extra for the “Subway to the Sea”? Who makes these decisions? Does anyone vote on them? Why do they always seem impossible to stop?

  • PFT Future

    Boards or Commissions vote for them, in this case it would be the CTC and the OTCA board but not all of these people are elected officials. Additionally, some of the funds are likely coming from some voted on bond or proposition but they are earmarked for “congestion mitigation” aka highway widening which doesn’t seem to mitigate congestion that well. It’s pretty rare that these giant organization have a lack of funds what they lack is direction on how to best utilize them.

  • davistrain

    One might ask, if the freeways are left “status quo”, how many drivers will be so fed up with poking along through rush hour traffic that they either move closer to work (or other frequent destination) or just resign themselves to having more time to listen to talk radio or Sirius music channels?

  • Sean Bleakley

    I recently watched a film from 1946 made by GE entitled “Lifestream of the City” where it actually made the point that no city can depend on the automobile as a primary form of transportation. It stated for a city of 100,000 commuters all traveling by car that a 22-lane freeway half a mile wide would be needed to negate any traffic. All this time and nothing has changed. We can’t build our way out of traffic, we need good alternatives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xl1R-2zYi1c

  • Joe Linton

    Very cool 1940s images of L.A.! Though overall this looks like a General Electric ad for cities to use more of their products – electricity – for streetcars.

  • Sean Bleakley

    Of course, but the video makes some great points that we can still use today. Besides, I’d rather see commercials for streetcars than the barrage of car commercials we’ve become accustomed to today.

  • Chewie

    Orange County is LA County’s richer, more conservative cousin. They have their own transportation sales tax (Measure M) that focuses on road widening projects. The most controversial thing about this in the OC is the tolling.

    Long Beach officials should know better, but at the end of the day it’s going to to take a grassroots freeway revolt on the LA County side to contain the damage. The 405 can’t be widened in LB without throwing people out of their homes. If Metro tries to move on this, they’ll get pummeled with well-deserved CEQA lawsuits and they’ll be doing real harm to the idea of taxing ourselves to pay for transportation.

    We’ll NIMBY this into oblivion Metro. Stick to public transit.

  • Anonymous

    It should be more along the lines of stop widening freeway lanes in OC period! The general public does not know about induced demand and other negative externalities that result from freeway widenings. .Instead, the general public are consistently fed the belief that adding new lanes will fix all. Not all people fully realize the extent of this project let alone that it costs $1.7 billion…Speaking of which…it was previously $1.3 billion, why the increase? With regard to Measure M2, A pie chart shows the breakdown of funding of which 43% goes to freeways and 32% goes to street projects. This is a total of 75% for road projects and meanwhile transit gets 25%. Meanwhile bus ridership is going down and a lost opportunity when Centerline got canceled. Insanity is a right choice of word.

  • Anonymous

    It should be more along the lines of stop widening freeway lanes in OC period! The general public does not know about induced demand and other negative externalities that result from freeway widenings. .Instead, the general public are consistently fed the belief that adding new lanes will fix all. Not all people fully realize the extent of this project let alone that it costs $1.7 billion…Speaking of which…it was previously $1.3 billion, why the increase? With regard to Measure M2, A pie chart shows the breakdown of funding of which 43% goes to freeways and 32% goes to street projects. This is a total of 75% for road projects and meanwhile transit gets 25%. Meanwhile bus ridership is going down and a lost opportunity when Centerline got canceled. Insanity is a right choice of word.

  • For god sakes stop building schools! The more schools you build the more kids people will have.

  • douglasawillinger

    An issue is the excessive concentration of reliance upon a single corridor, with the demand leading to serious delays to the approaches getting to the 405 freeway.

    Where is any planning for some below ground grade separation for some of these approaches within the existing street grid, let along a rail transit line?

    What about alternative road tunnel projects paralleling the 405? Has anyone looked at a box tunnel extension of I-10 beneath the beach to then bored north beneath the mountains?

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