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What Do These Things Have in Common: Smog, Highway Widenings, and Congestion?

10:32 AM PDT on April 29, 2010

Screen_shot_2010_04_28_at_9.50.31_AM.pngRepairs to the I-5 Near Sacramento

Sometimes, the news comes to you from several directions at once, and you have to pull the pieces together to see the bigger picture. Such a thing happened yesterday, when three seemingly unrelated story created the perfect tapestry of cause, symptom and effect.

First, the cause. The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) released a report showing that California is amongst the nation's trailers when it comes to fixing and maintaining our highway system. The wretched state of our roads and bridges is hardly breaking news. Back in November Streetsblog noted that groups have complained about the failing state of California's roads since last century. But CALPIRG breaks down the extent of California's car addicted planning, by the numbers. From a press release:

A startling 13 percent of California's bridges are deemed to be "structurally deficient" by engineers - 3,228 in total. Measured as a percent of the state's bridge deck area, only two states are worse by this measure. Yet in recent years California has spent over a half billion federal dollars per year building new or wider highways. In fact, California spends on average of 2.3 times as many federal dollars on new roadway construction than on bridge repair or maintenance. Only four states spend less per square foot on repairing their backlog of structurally-deficient bridges.

"This report calls into question our nation's transportation priorities," said Erin Steva CALPIRG Transportation Advocate. "It is a waste of scarce resources to continue spending billions on new highways while existing roadways need repair. It's like adding a guest room on your home when the roof is leaking."

Ok, anyone still think that our Governor is "green?"

Screen_shot_2010_04_28_at_9.50.16_AM.pngIt's not just me, right? They're bragging about leading us off a bridge?

Not surprisingly, the state's desire to spend as much as it can, and more than it should, on highway expansion leads people to believe that the best way to move from place to place is on said freeways. A piece sent to me from the journalism site run by USC Graduate Students Neon Tommy sent a photo essay showing people plodding along on an endless herd of congested highways. We can throw around statistics such as, "the average Angeleno spends 72 hours a year more on the road because of congestion" or "you're lucky to average ten miles per hour on L.A.'s freeways at rush hour;" but there's nothing quite like pictures of endless cars stuck in traffic to make the point that too many Angelenos believe they have no choice beyond car commuting to live their lives.

And yesterday, the Los Angeles Times brought the sad news that while things are getting better, the City of Los Angeles is still the nation's "smoggiest city." While the Times focused on the political and legal battle over the state's emissions laws, which is a fair point; you get a more complete picture of the problem when you take a look at the picture together:

First the state spends the bulk of its funds on widening and expanding the highway network instead of maintaining the roads we have. Then our highways are flooded by people lured by claims of faster commutes. Poof! Our city is the smoggiest in the country.

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