Officials Celebrate Highway Widening. Tough Questions Remain Unasked.

11_3_09_times_mapImage: Times

Anyone that reads Streetsblog knows that one issue that makes this blog different than your run of the mill news source is that we have opinions on how a transportation system should and shouldn’t be built.  Some people charge that this bias taints our writing.  Other times, it’s clear that bias helps us ask questions that traditional journalists don’t ask.  That is especially true when it comes to the dubious value of highway widenings.

For some reason journalists, even ones we enjoy reading because they challenge government officials more often than not, tend to believe government officials when it comes to the alleged "benefits" of widening a highway to relieve congestion.  One might think that in a region that has tried to widen itself out of congestion and failed miserably; that at some point the press would start asking, "Hey, does any of this make sense?"

If the coverage of the nearly $48 million widening of Route-91 from Route-241 to Route-71 in Orange and Riverside Counties is any indication, we haven’t reached that point yet.

Today’s Times features an article by the usually tough Ari Bloomekatz that reads more like a Caltrans press release than a story in the local paper of record.  The article begins by celebrating that some people’s commutes are about to get easier and ends with some ideas for the next great place to widen.  Nowhere in the article is there any mention of "induced demand," "sprawl," or even an analysis of how much traffic and congestion will be created during the construction phase.

Here in the "biased" Livable Streets Blogosphere, we would take the time to point out that for some reason widening Southern California’s freeways hasn’t led to reduced commuting time and a sustainable transportation system.  We might also note that the theory of "induced demand," which is embraced by urban and state DOT’s across the country, posits that new travel lanes will be filled by new traffic within a couple of years of being built.  In other words, the "improved commutes" for those traveling the I-91 won’t be long-lived.  In fact, considering the congestion that will be created by a year of construction, OCTA planners can’t even prove that there will be a "net gain" in congestion reduction.

Just in case you thought I was just picking on Bloomekatz, the Orange County Register had a similarly themed story last week.


OC Using Stimulus Funds to Widen the 91

Last stop before the 91/241 interchange.  Photo: kllm14369/Flickr "That ain’t Change, it’s more of the same!" was an applause line used frequently during last fall’s presidential campaign by Senator Joe Biden to critique many of the proposed policies of Senator McCain and Governor Palin.  Watching how stimulus funds are spent in California, transportation reformers and […]

Media Praises I-405 Widening Project, Tough Questions Unanswered

Photo: Gentleman of Sophistication and Refinement/Flickr Last Friday, local media outlets participated in a rally for the Sepulveda Pass Widening Project, that would widen the I-405 to connect carpool lanes between the I-10 and I-101, with Governor Schwarzenegger, Mayor Villaraigosa and various other union and public officials.  Using an uncritical media to amplify their claims, […]

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 […]

Homeowners Rail Against 405 Expansion

A bi-partisan collection of officials celebrate the destruction of air quality around Encino The Daily News printed a rare opinion piece yesterday that dared challenge the orthodoxy that adding lane capacity to the 405 is somehow going to improve quality of life for the people living near the widening area in Encino.  The I-405 widening […]