Streetsblog L.A. Editor Joe Linton Talks Freeway Expansion on KPCC’s AirTalk
This morning, Streetsblog L.A. Editor Joe Linton was a guest on KPCC radio’s AirTalk with Larry Mantle. The segment, called How L.A. County’s Highways Serve As Historical Examples Of Inequitable Infrastructure, included two historians who have written on past racist freeway building in Southern California: UCLA professor Eric Avila and Long Beach City College professor Gilbert Estrada.
Avila noted how freeway building has been part of so-called “slum clearance” efforts. Estrada spoke of the excesses of land dedicated to the tangle of freeways that carve up Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. Mantle touched on how freeways carved up west Pasadena, historically and presently a predominantly Black neighborhood. Several speakers noted that Southern California freeway construction proceeded through lower-income Latino and Black areas, while whiter and more well-off places, including Beverly Hills and South Pasadena, were able to block planned projects.
I, Joe Linton, have expanded my brief on-air comments below, including links for readers wanting a deeper dive.
I brought home the point that harmful freeway projects are not just history, but are still happening right now. Metro and Caltrans are currently spending billions of dollars on numerous freeway mega-projects under construction:
- $1.9 billion widening the 5 Freeway adjacent to Orange County – in Norwalk, La Mirada, and Santa Fe Springs
- $1.3+ billion widening the 5 Freeway through Burbank and the Valley
- early phases of the $6 billion widening of the lower 710 Freeway
- early phases of the $10 billion 91 Freeway/605 Freeway/405 Freeway “hot spots” program
- approved last month, the $679 million widening of the 5 Freeway through Santa Clarita
Metro is also currently planning many more freeway expansion projects throughout L.A. County. These include:
- $5+ billion 605 Freeway Corridor Improvement Project – which also includes widening parts of the 5, 10, 60, and 105 Freeways. The project as currently planned would demolish hundreds of homes mostly in Downey, Santa Fe Springs, and Norwalk.
- Metro’s 28 by 2028 Olympics project acceleration initiative includes seven highway expansion projects: the lower 710 and North County 5 (both above), ExpressLanes expansion, plus additional 57/60 interchange expansion and 405 Freeway South Bay Curve expansion. (Read my 28 by 2028 commentary.)
- expanding highway 138 from two lanes to six – in the Antelope Valley
- South Bay ramp and interchange expansion
- 405/110 interchange expansion
- 605/10 interchange expansion
- 60/605 interchange expansion
And there is some good news!
Many community groups are already fighting against Metro’s freeway plans:
- East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) campaigns against lower 710 Freeway impacts on nearby communities
- The Happy City Coalition is fighting Metro’s plans to widen the 605 and 5 Freeways, especially through the city of Downey
In recent years, community-led efforts have successfully killed two of Metro’s planned freeway expansions:
- Climate Resolve and its partners successfully sued to get Caltrans to cancel the Metro-funded High Desert Freeway. The project was canceled in 2019, and instead Metro is now studying building high-speed rail there.
- Decades of community activism resulted in Metro’s 2017 decision to cancel its planned $6 billion North 710 Freeway tunnel project. Though Metro steered much of the project funding toward smaller road expansion projects, some of the leftover funding is being used to improve safety, and expand transit and active transportation.
I hope that these recent freeway project cancellations show a new way forward, where destructive highway mega-projects can be reined in, and replaced by greener alternatives.