Caltrans Lies Again: Widening 5 Freeway Will “Minimize Congestion… Reduce Pollution”

Still from Caltrans April 2019 video showing the $1.3B cost of cost of 5-Freeway North
Still from Caltrans April 2019 video showing the $1.3B cost of cost of 5-Freeway North
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At this week’s Metro Roads Committee, Caltrans presented another misleading video claiming that their 5 Freeway widening projects will “reduce pollution” and “minimize congestion.” Given the past 80 years of highway building have resulted in massive congestion increases and climate-threatening pollution increases, it is clear that Caltrans is lying.

The false claims appear at minute 3:30 of the April, 2019, I-5 Corridor Update video.

Caltrans makes these claims at Metro meetings because these highway projects would not be happening without significant funding from Metro – especially Measures M and R sales taxes.

Caltrans is spending $1.9 billion to widen seven miles of the 5 Freeway from La Mirada to the 605 Freeway in southeast L.A. County. The south county widening, originally anticipated to be completed in 2016, is now nearing a projected 2022 completion. Caltrans engineers are looking ahead to widen the 5 from the 605 northward into central Los Angeles next.

Caltrans continues to quote an early budget figure – $1.3 billion – to widen twelve miles of the 5 Freeway from the 134 Freeway to the 118 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley. This project has overshot its budget and schedule to the point that when Metro boardmembers ask, Caltrans officials decline to state a projected total cost and completion date. Metro has been quietly approving additional small budget allocations that spend some project monies earlier, but do not yet exceed the approved budget.

Metro’s project management staff have identified the I-5 North project cost overruns as a “major issue” and are anticipating needing to increase the project budget in the coming fiscal year. When confronted by irate residents at a Burbank community meeting last year, the project’s construction manager admitted that Caltrans had already “well overstayed its welcome in Burbank.” The agency then blamed delays and cost overruns on contractor disputes; last week new delays were blamed on rainy weather.

There is no need for Caltrans to make false claims about congestion and pollution. There are arguably worthwhile reasons for Caltrans and Metro to proceed with these projects. They will increase road capacity, expand some economic activity, provide jobs… but they will not minimize congestion and they will not decrease pollution.

These projects will increase traffic congestion. They will increase pollution – in the air, water, and land. They are demolishing homes and disrupting neighborhoods. They increase asthma, obesity, crashes, injuries, and noise.  They saddle the next generation with a legacy of climate disruption and budget-breaking infrastructure maintenance costs.

Sadly, this week’s lies are not a one-off. They continue Caltrans District 7’s pattern of lies – with earlier updates dating back to at least 2016 making similarly ridiculous lies.

How road widening works. Cartoon via @BrentToderian Twitter
How road widening works. Cartoon via @BrentToderian Twitter

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