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
  • Vooch

    Proof that double decking freeways is the solution !

    Saves enough land for loads of free parking !

  • Ben Phelps

    how is this even still happening

  • Sean Shen

    may be it is caused by the low-density development alone I-5 corridor. Density is too low to promote enough ridership for rail transit, so the only thing could do is widening the freeway

  • keenplanner

    Caltrans officially states that widening (adding capacity) doesn’t solve congestion, just creates more in the near future. Probably an LA-Metro designated project to assuage frustrated car commuters/voters. Caltrans biggest problem is that so many their projects are added or altered by local electeds who are assuaging whining SOV voters.

  • idop

    the whole region is built for cars, mass transit barely works for most people unless you happen to work in a particualar hub or enjoy spending 6hrs a day jumping around bus/trains

  • keenplanner

    Funds should be increasing transit opportunities, not enabling SOV driving.

  • idop

    you can dump more money in it, but 99% of the people won’t be able to use it.

  • MartyinLA

    That is a HUGE route for 18 wheelers carrying all of the stuff that you and I consume and keeps our economy rolling.

  • Build more lanes but make them pay lanes. Use the revenue for trains

  • Joe Linton

    This may be true, but why does Caltrans lie about freeway widening benefits? Do you actually think that widening freeways will reduce congestion or pollution?

  • Joe Linton

    The author here. I am not in favor of these projects. My sense is that the costs far outweigh the benefits, and I agree with you that investments in greener modes are needed. We need to convince L.A. voters and L.A. politicians that this is the case… part of this, I think, will include freeway builders no repeating their false claims.

  • idop

    Its as much as a lie like saying if they build mass transit in so cal, traffic congestion will be less

  • Joe Linton

    That is also not true – building quality mass transit gives people good choices – but does not reduce car congestion.

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Really? This stupid article again? More screaming about the induced demand fallacy as an attempt to throw the loudest voice and clout to minority while the majority(car drivers and suburban dwellers) are the ones who will suffer.

    I’m pretty sure this is just a recycled article. I just can’t wait to see your next article whining about Louisville’s freeway expansion. Freeways are here to stay. Cars aren’t going anywhere. Get over it. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Do your part to increase investment in mass transit and pedestrian infrastructure but don’t do it at the cost of car based infrastructure that people like me see great value in.

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    That makes zero sense. That would be like saying take the money mass transit brings in and use it for car lanes.

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Widening freeways does reduce congestion. Ever notice that the examples of “induced demand” as an argument against freeway expansion always come from freeways that were widened in cities that were already notorious for horrid congestion with most projects only adding a single lane in each direction when they should have added around 4-5?

    I can point out a plethora of benefits from the 405 expansion through the Sepulveda pass.

    As for emissions, your beef with that should be with the engines that power vehicles— not freeways or cars themselves. Less traffic congestion would lead to a more prosperous region and country which will ultimately lead to more innovation bringing cleaner engine technology.

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Examples from the 405 Sepulveda pass project. Rush hour window reduced by hours in many cases. Local congestion reduced by over 25 percent. Infrastructure and bridges on 405 corridor and many local streets upgraded and modernized. End to end travel times OUTSIDE of rush hour reduced.

    Travel times during peak hours increased by a minute after expansion. Numbers of how many moved in the area that might use this corridor for commuting from the beginning of the project not included nor is there any mention of the defunct 101 interchange. Regional traffic patterns also not included.

    Induced demand is arguably a fallacy and certainly a misnomer for the root cause. Latent demand is much more prevalent and the “proof” always cited from the study done in the 90s that many other studies base from but no new criteria is used other than the typical cherry picking of freeway projects in the largest most congested metros that already suffered from severe congestion.

    What worthwhile reasons to add car lanes? Ask the fastest growing areas in the country in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, etc. that are adding lanes and new freeways at huge rates while California just posted it’s most tepid growth in the states history last year. A state and region(Los angeles) that has some of the fewest car lane miles per person of any city with few exceptions. Some of the most canceled freeway corridors of any city is more a likely culprit of the notorious congestion there region suffers from than the lack of transit and comical bike lanes that most people won’t use. This isn’t mentioning either the trends that show California loosing population.

    People want their cars. They want suburbs. Even millennials want it. People are getting tired of these nanny states trying to dictate how they should live. What transportation they should use.

    As I said before to others; your beef with the carbon emissions and fine particulate emissions should be with the technology that powers them.

  • Joe Linton

    I did mention some benefits from these projects, but, based on actual results of freeway building, it’s clear that these projects don’t reduce congestion or pollution.

  • Joe Linton

    What’s your source for “local congestion reduced by over 25 percent”? That’s not what studies have shown.

  • Campbell Sadeghy
  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Right, but it isn’t the freeways that cause pollution, it’s the engines that power the vehicles. The freeways contributions to the urban heat island effect can be debated, but our focus with pollution and fine particulate reductions ought to start at the source.

    As far as congestion, that can be argued that latent demand was not taken into account nor was shifting commuting patterns occurring in a region where nightmarish gridlocked freeways that need additional lanes themselves are a stone throw away. I don’t understand why these facts are never taken into account when making cases like this.

  • If people want to drive let them pay an exorbitant fee to do so

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    They already do! I don’t even want to think about the thousands of dollars in taxes I’ve paid for my car and tags not to mention license and gas taxes on top of the tolls that are spread throughout the country.

    Now let’s talk about the price of a gallon of gas and the price of a car.

    By all means, please tell me what your definition of an exorbitant fee is.

  • High enough to get you working on alternatives to cars :)

  • Joe Linton

    So… Caltans is lying by not taking latent demand into account. (It’s incredible that you’re still arguing in favor of freeways in 2019.)

  • Joe Linton
  • Campbell Sadeghy

    I’ve seen that article. That is called growth. Imagine if we hadn’t widened the freeway how much worse it would have been… or are you going to say it wouldn’t have gotten worse. Is the philosophy really that we except to build a freeway and never have to have it widened? Much like a train built and eventually it’s success requires increase in frequency? Or shall we shake our heads at that and call it induced demand?

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Well you better believe it. It really shouldn’t be that incredible given how much money is currently being invested in freeways by professionals and elected officials who are placed into office by the population. By your very own statement you de facto alienated a large portion of the population. It isn’t just me. I am sorry reality apparently doesn’t sit well with you. I am just one who will come onto a forum filled with, IMHO, ill informed advocates who want to see things the way they visualize the world to reaffirm their own wishes while disregarding the impracticalities their ideology would have on the masses.

    Believe it or not, you can’t debit statistics and you argue from idealistic viewpoints but I am simply providing a differing viewpoint. Once again, you shouldn’t find that incredible. As a journalist, I may say, it shows your bias which journalists should try to avoid. But that’s just my opinion. I respect yours with all things considered and don’t find it incredible though for the sake of argument I could find many reasons to.

    My raison detre for freeways is simple: I want solutions that move people and don’t force a change of lifestyle on them. Most people in urban areas can live with freeways with a new approach that mitigates the negative impacts they have on communities. You know darn well the new urbanists agenda doesn’t end with the crusade against cars— even though the irony being the new urbanism prime points of existence is to deal cars as traditional urbanism excluded being personal cars are a relatively new concept(you should know this). It goes well beyond that infringing on how we live and move as a whole. To not include that in your argument against freeway expansion is disingenuous and one of the reasons I take such passion in providing my two cents against the tirade of the online new urbanist/bike lanes and streetcars solve everything type.

    As for what Caltrans is doing, I have no idea other than what I see. Their last director who made rather strange comparisons of his character blatantly said the days of GP lane expansions are gone. The current governor is playing smoke and mirrors with the HSR and just a billion dollars in fed funding due to the public stance he took likely to buy voters(IMHO). The whole situation is a clown show. Hopefully we can agree on that. California is in trouble. Models showing a loss in population in the coming years. Perhaps Caltrans is beginning to follow NYSDOT in becoming anti-freeway. If the state and it’s people support that, than ultimately at the end of the day, I support the will of the people. Should you know me and my beliefs you’ll find I greatly support mass transit and walkability. That doesn’t mean I am anti-freeway. I know, I know, it’s incredible; however with a small bit of cognitive thinking I hope you will at least understand why and not call my thinking incredible.

    Let me also point out how some of the fastest growing states like NC, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, and Florida are all investing heavily into freeways. Correlation? Well, I pride myself on being as factual as possible and will admit that correlation doesn’t equal causation. But clearly what California is doing isn’t working. This state just seems like it has mastered the art of persuading the public into doing things it has already done in the past but clearly failed by simply reinventing the wheel.

    We are seeing record levels of construction in recent history with LA skyline being altered to be more akin to NYC than LA. Yet housing shortages are at record highs. Funding towards homelessness is at record highs. Homelessness also at record highs. Investment in rail expansion, road diets, and bike facilities more than likely at or near record levels, yet how is traffic again? Oh yeah? At a time when the last regional infrastructure bond initiative had something like 20%(?) of funds towards car based infrastructure with a large majority going towards public transit which is supposed to reduce traffic… tell me how that works out in 10 years. Rinse and repeat. I’m sure you’ll have an excuse for it.

    But by all means, call my views incredible when I actually support some of the things you want to see expanded. It’s always nice to alienate those who might otherwise support you even though you seeing exactly eye to eye.

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Okay so you admit your plan is to price people out of cars. Stop playing games by dancing around words and just admit your real plan is to force people out of cars.

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Freeway builders? The same people who will build virtually any other infrastructure job they get selected for? Or are you going to make this about some conspiracy with GM and Ford? Cry me a River. I was just arguing with some gentleman on twitter who is blaming nuclear bombs for cars. This is comical at times though I do respect everyone’s opinion. It just gets a bit much.

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Won’t be able to or don’t want to? At what LOS do you expect mass transit to serve low density communities?

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Joe, I must say, thank you for stating this. Regardless of what this means to you, I respect you for stating the truth on this issue. Mass transit only reduces car congestion for those that choose to use it and I support it for that reason to provide alternatives.

  • Joe Linton

    I can imagine if we hadn’t widened the freeway – and that we instead invested billions in mass transit, active transportation… and imagine that the planet wasn’t having a climate emergency.

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Imagine if we went back and lived like cavemen how much of the environment we could save? We will always have an impact on the environment. You conveniently forget that insane congestion that would have resulted due to not expanding the freeway and assume all extra cars would have taken a theoretical mass transit line. Yet as expensive as the freeway project in question was, does it compare to the Purple Line phase which is north of a billion dollars a mile? So what would we have gotten transit wise for the amount of money that was spent on the Sepulveda corridor?

    Furthermore, taking commuting patterns into consideration, how would the commuters of the Sepulveda pass get access to this proposed transit?

    Once again, I’m not against transit, but we need to be real and not think ideally. Build rail lines the right way and some semi quasi streetcar like the Van Nuys Line will be. At the same time investing in our freeways and expanding them as much as needed to ensure proper traffic is critical. Veering towards a conversation about its impact on the environment I will argue against the premise of that subject and as I’ve said; it is the technology of the engine powering the vehicle that is the cause of emissions.

    The urban heat island effect freeways surely have on cities can mitigated as much as possible along with smarter freeway design to better connect communities that might suffer from being sliced in half by large freeways that are needed in major metros. The best infrastructure is almost always the kind you never see. Having an entirely underground freeway, road, bike, and rail network would be amazing with only pedestrians walking on the surface— but we live in reality.

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