Media on the I-405 Widening: It’s Going to Take Awhile, But It’s Totally Worth It!


I was somewhat heartened last week when coverage of the massive I-405 Sepulveda Pass Widening Project actually mentioned the amazing amount of highway vehicle congestion that will be created by the project over its estimated three year construction phase.  However, I waited to write about the press coverage because I was hopeful that some writer would actually make the connection that the this project could actually create more congestion over the course of the construction than will be "relieved"before induced demand helps fill those new travel lanes back up.  Unfortunately, there is no such luck.  The news coverage ranges from, "traffic is going to be awful but at least everything is going to be so much better when it’s done" to "traffic is going to be worse than they’re saying because the government is always wrong about these sort of thing."  Unfortunately, nobody is taking on the government’s claim that the project is going to permanently reduce congestion in the corridor.

Let’s start with NBC 4.  In a January 11 story entitled "Reconfiguring the 405: Short Term Pain, Long Term Gain," NBC uncritically repeats the claims of Caltrans and Metro in an article about local closures resulting from the project.  If you believe the poll on the side of the article, which is about as unscientific a poll as you can find, it appears that the project doesn’t have near the local support that Metro and Caltrans seem to think.  In the meantime, all we get from NBC is a promise of Long Term Gain, and a sentence from unnamed officials that the project is totally worth it.

In the Times, Ari Bloomekatz spends a lot of time talking to former Caltrans District 7 Director, and current Metro highway program director and dutifully passes along Failing’s claims about the awesomeness of the project without criticism.  Actually, I take that back.  Bloomekatz does take a second to complain that the project is for carpools only and thus doesn’t help eighty-five percent of commuters.  I used to complain about terms such as Road Sage and Bottleneck Blog to describe Steve Hymon’s columns, but the car-centric transportation coverage from the Times these days more than earns those titles for their transportation beat.

One writer I can’t take issue with as far as not just repeating statements from public officials is the outgoing transportation writer of the Daily News, Sue Doyle.  Doyle talked to a series of business owners along Sepulveda who are terrified of the three years of traffic that will clog the street in front of their business and a handful of "transportation experts."  None of the experts mentioned induced demand, and they uncritically passed along Caltrans and Metro’s statistics, but hey.  At least Doyle took the time to ask someone else.  Sue, if you’re reading this, you will be missed.

At news blog LA Observed, editor Kevin Roderick does take the time to note that the three year timetable is a best-case-scenario to finish the project.  Given that it’s already behind schedule because of the rain we’ve seen recently, it’s a little hard to believe that it’s going to stay on schedule.  Roderick doesn’t mention the obvious awesomeness of the project, must be why he’s writing a blog, but he earns points for not uncritically passing off government spin.

Given the rapid evolution of media over the last several years, it’s unlikely that I’ll still be writing Los Angeles Streetsblog when the project is completed and the congestion has returned to "pre-2010" levels, but I promise you this.  When that day does happen, I’ll come back and we can measure what took longer.  The construction of the new travel lanes and other capacity enhancements or the time it took for that expansion to become filled up.

  • It’s a brave new freeway.

  • This picture is misleading. You can see a mountain in the background – which will be impossible once this is built due to the increase in fumes put out by all those cars that are sure to fill up this new lane.

  • limit

    I kind of want an HOV gap closure. When I drive the 405 from SF Valley to the Westside it is often with multiple passengers.

  • Brent

    While they’re widening the freeway, couldn’t they pave a bit extra on the other side of the fence and make a nice Class I bike lane out to the Valley?

  • The freeway isn’t going to reduce congestion. Transit isn’t going to reduce congestion. Short of a neutron bomb hitting the Westside, nothing will reduce congestion. The point is to provide move more people past a certain point than before, which this lane will do, although the billion dollars could be better spent by restriping one of the general lanes to a carpool lane instead and massively improving the transit system along the corridor to – actually get people where they want to go (for example, service to Century City from the Valley is negligible on the few LADOT buses that operate, and only during rush hour, yet Century City is one of LA’s more important job centers).

  • Evan

    Back in November, the Daily Bruin had an article on the new 405 HOV lanes between the 10 and the 90. There were four sources quoted in the article, two of whom were skeptical that the carpool lanes would reduce congestion. One of those two was the only expert source in the article. The headline? “Newly opened carpool lanes to help cut time from commute”.

  • David Galvan

    Just point everybody to this study by RAND.

    It shows that pretty much all attempts to reduce congestion (including new HOV lanes and widening freeways) provide negligible effects in the long run.

    study itself:

    grist article about it:

  • David Galvan

    Also, widening the freeway won’t reduce CONGESTION in the long term, but it will increase CAPACITY in the long term, as calwatch points out.

    However, since they are going to be moving/rebuilding bridges over the 405 for this project, it seems like now is the time to be brainstorming about what sort of rail/BRT will be built over the sepulveda pass, as that project is in the plans for using measure R money and will obviously be impacted/constrained by the changes they are making for this expansion.

    I’d much rather they spend this $1B+ to put a light rail in the 405 median over the pass. That won’t reduce auto congestion over that pass in the long term either, but at least it will give people another option.

  • Interurbans

    As pointed out this massive project will increase compactly but will do little to reduce congestion. The multimillion dollar freeway widening and car pool HOV lane projects in Orange County did little to improve congestion. Within months traffic congestion was back to the freeways pre “improvement” congestion.

    To start couldn’t just a few feet of pavement on the right of the freeway and some restriping as was done on the south bound lanes give space for a car pool lane at a whole lot less money? I realize that Caltrans is large organization that is running out of projects as few new freeways are being built and they do need new projects for job security but isn’t this going a little bit too far?

    A much better use for that multi billion dollar budget for the 405 Sepulveda pass widening would be to build a Metro north south subway from the Airport to Van Nuys. This would connect with the Purple Line at Westwood as well as the Green, the Expo and the Orange lines. The cost would be about the same and would give an alternative to driving and the trip would take the same time no mater what time of the day it was. It would vastly improve capacity and the time to get from place to place along the line would be considerably faster than driving except maybe at midnight.

    I guess it is a little late now to build the subway instead if this huge project but the subway would be a much better short and long term investment than what Caltrans is doing just to keep their people employed. Why else is this project so massive instead of simply widening the 405 freeway a couple of lanes for a car pool lane.

    Also how long will it be before Caltrans converts the HOV car pool lanes to toll lanes for “congestion pricing” for “improved capacity”?

    A subway will be needed and built at some time, why not now?

  • Our neighborhood closely parallels the 405 for 4 of the 10 miles of construction. We are 1 mile or less East of the project. As we have pointed out in great detail in our coments to the original EIR, we doubt the counts made of the traffic and the wisdom of reconfiguring the Bridges not to help traffic but merely to provide a dangerous animal crossing.

    We absolutely do feel that the benefits have been so politically whittled down that the pain during construction will be far greater than the CLAIMED benefits to the flow of traffic.

    Further the nature of the project as a “design-build” project awarded to Kiewit will inevitably lead to cost overuns and time drags. Murphy lives here and now. The project was proposed at 1.7 B and has already escalted to 2.1 B before the first spade turns paydirt.

    I think LA needs the jobs and the busy work but public transportation and a real solution to traffic it just ain’t and for our 800 families it’ a potentially lethal mess.

  • bob

    Because of the gradient required for an at grade rail the construction costs would be upwards of 2 billion for the 10 miles. Above ground rail is not legally compatible with the 405 freeway. Below ground rail is about a magnitude more costly then at grade. Also where will the stations plus vast park and rides be located? Real estate along the corridor is problematically expensive: Getty, Skirball, etc.

  • Interurbans

    A 100 million dollar a mile bored subway with minimal stations is doable. This would be a deep bore with no stations between the UCLA station in Westwood with the Purple Line and Sherman Oaks. The Billion plus cost to build a single HOV car pool lane would be a much better investment for a subway instead.

  • Joangr

    I have lived next ot the 405 for 43 years and I have never seen such horrible traffic congestion on the surface streets going east and west and north and south. It is an automobile living hell.


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