Damn the Gas Prices, Full Road Widenings Ahead

Despite concerns from residents living adjacent to the highway that a highway widening of Route 57 would ruin their quality of life, officials from the Orange County Transportation Authority and Caltrans will not change their plan to widen five miles of highway in Orange County.  The transportation officials pushing the project argue that reducing congestion will improve air quality by reducing the amount of cars sitting in traffic.

The theory that you can build your way out of highway congestion has been debunked by advocates and DOT’s throughout the country.  When capacity is added to a highway, the traffic lanes actually are filled up by new traffic in a matter of years because new sprawl development will lead to more traffic which will lead to calls to widen the highway again.  This is called induced demand, and is proven everyday in Southern California.  How have past highway widenings helped car commutes near where you live?

That OCTA and Caltrans are promoting a project that will increase the amount of traffic on Route 57 isn’t the only thing that has locals so concerned.  Residents are also concerned that the widening will remove a sound wall which keep carbon particulates off their windows.  One resident tells the register:

"At first, I think people just dismissed it as adding a lane. But
look into it and you see that it’s adding a merging lane, too, would
take down our sound wall and it’s a health hazard," said Kevin Campion,
a resident in the Glenbrook neighborhood near the 57 and Birch Street.

said many residents already have to clean windowsills of dust particles
and bits of tire rubber that waft in from the nearby freeway. They are
worried about recent studies that indicate "nano particles" could pose
a more serious risk to respiratory health than previously thought.

"We’re worried about our health, and we don’t want the freeway any closer to make it worse," Campion said.

Is there any further proof that Southern California needs a true revolution in the way we think about transportation?  Caltrans and the OCTA are basically spending $140 million to widen a highway in the name of clean air, and at the same time advocate for alternative transportation are fighting just to get High Speed Rail or a sales tax increase partially dedicated to transit on the fall ballot?

Photo: Orange County Register

  • There is no escape from the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Resistance is futile.

  • Matt Gleason

    Induced demand is fairly controversial among researchers of the subject. Cervero at Berkeley has written some interesting papers on the topic.
    Frankly though, the generalizations you’re making a too broad, and ignore the economic benefits of more people being able to use a new road way.

  • Gary K.

    What do we need housing for anyways, let’s rip it all down and make room for more cars. If it weren’t for housing we’d have much freer flowing traffic. Nano particles, kids don’t need to breathe outside, that’s what we have the Nintendo Wii for right?

    (note: sarcasm and generally angsty mood)

  • Matt Gleason,

    The benefits of using a new roadway? Please. If it were 1950, and the U.S. were still producing most of its own crude, you’d have a point. The good times are soon up, my friend, and mis-allocating our children’s wages on the suburban consumer living arrangement is folly. Our public money should be going to transportation projects that will reflect an energy scarce future – and that is most likely NOT going to involve easy motoring through the southland.

    If induced demand is so controversial, please explain how. To me the facts are generally quite clear: build a heavily subsidized transportation network, and people will use it. You’d have to work hard to find examples of this type of thing failing to induce demand.

  • The flip side of induced demand is that it does divert traffic away from neighborhood streets and arterials and onto the freeway. Plus, there will be a time at which the induced demand equation fails.

    I agree that there are a lot more effective ways of spending $140 million, even in Orange County. Signal synchronization, travel time information systems, and enhanced bus services are a better use of the money. Not rail, since there is not much center in Orange County. The roadway capacity would only be used for a few hours a day, since that segment of the 57 is not congested outside of rush hour. Freeway improvements are necessary but should be reserved for segments that get congested for at least 8 hours a day.

    As far as the ITE goes, one thing that would help would be alternative transportation advocates who have actually gone to engineering school and can debate the numbers. The problem is that most of the planners can’t speak their language. And hem and haw as you much, but they are the ones that are in control, and they are the ones that get sued if they fail to heed the common practice.

  • gleason, we read all that cervero stuff in class and while he questions some of the research, he still believes in its effect.

    not to mention, your division at metro is really sucking it up on the funding. lets get it together ok?

  • Widening roads as to solve congestion is the equivalent to curing a cocaine addict’s habit by giving him a wider straw.

  • “As far as the ITE goes, one thing that would help would be alternative transportation advocates who have actually gone to engineering school and can debate the numbers. The problem is that most of the planners can’t speak their language.”

    I have heard this line from several transportation engineers now, and it really pisses me off (full disclosure: I am neither an engineer nor a planner).

    I’ve wasted time reading through the bullshit metrics that engineers use to “study” the roadway – but their conclusions are already decided in advance because the metrics they use only have to do with car throughput and passive safety measures (which they don’t spend much time scientifically researching anyway).

    The truth is, from the ITE’s own web-site, that this trade group grew up with the automobile. Their very reason for existing was to guide the expansion of the automobile network that has taken over our nation. It wasn’t a conspiracy, but it is how things happened.

    Real measurements of a roadway would not be limited to throughput measurements of “vehicles”, or mobility measurements limited to “vehicles” – but would include things like: effects of roadway planning on tax dollars, measured air quality, measured noise levels, polls to establish livability and social cohesion, demographic and modal surveys of roadway users, and a few other things.

    These cheap, off the shelf, source of information would allow real, scientific, study of our roads, but that is not what concerns american transportation engineers.

    Planners don’t understand the math? Take your cockamamie cooked numbers and stuff ’em is how I feel about it. Those numbers don’t mean jack squat to anyone except the cabal of college educated drones who fill the ranks of DOT’s across this nation.

    But lemme tell you how I really feel…

  • Furthermore, where the hell are the statutes that dictate “common practice” for traffic engineers? Where is the case law that forces their hand to focusing only on cars?

    I’d love to hear what sort of breezy review of case law you guys get in school. Please, show me where a transportation engineer followed the law designing non-car facilities but got his city sued for not following “common practice”.


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