Building a mega freeway in LA: What's the cost?
Yesterday, I attended a public hearing on the I-710 expansion in Long Beach. Just to refresh everyone’s memory, this project plans to expand the approximately 18 miles of road from around East Los Angeles/Commerce down to Long Beach. Currently, the majority of this road is 8 lanes, and the proposed project will likely add 6 additional lanes. The impacts of the project are immense ranging from acquisition of homes, to increased noise, to construction impacts for seven years. The project will even impact donut lovers because of the proposed acquisition of Dales Donuts in Compton, which has the iconic large donut, instead of a traditional sign. The public hearing last night was full of residents who expressed major concerns with this project.
Some have coined this project “LA’s Big Dig” referring to the Boston highway expansion that was highly criticized for escalating costs. The project proponents estimate the I-710 expansion project will cost upwards of $6 billion (yes, that is a “b”). Given our regional transportation priorities, this project comes at a critical time when the public needs to decide whether we want outdated transportation solutions for our congestion woes like adding lanes to the sea of roads crisscrossing the region--or--do we want to think outside the highway lanes to figure out better transportation solutions like public transit?
I think this project is a test for the region. First, this is one the first environmental review documents for a highway expansion since the Sustainable Communities Strategy under SB 375 was passed. There is great hope that we will see better transportation solutions as a result of this forward-looking bill, but I don’t think this project lives up to the spirit of that bill. SB 375 seeks to push us away from over reliance on single passenger automobile transport towards less carbon intensive transportation options like public transit, biking and walking. This project adds capacity for single passenger automobiles. Second, this project sparks a debate over the region’s fetish over freight expansion. I admit that freight movement provides economic benefits to the region, but at the same time it poses large environmental challenges like regional air pollution, toxic hotspots near freight facilities, amongst other impacts. In the present case, the agencies are looking at zero emissions trucks, which is good, but the project needs a more solid commitment to this technology. A major question is who should pay for the infrastructure. Should taxpayers subsidize this industry through our health and our limited transportation funds? Or, should this industry pay for itself? These are questions that need to be asked and answered.
The environmental report for this project does not identify a preferred alternative, but instead focuses on the following options:
1) No Project.
2) Adding solely 2 general purpose lanes (one in each direction). A general purpose lane can be used by anybody (e.g. large trucks, passenger vehicles, motorcycles, etc.).
3) There are three different permutations for truck-only lanes as follows (in addition to two general purpose lanes):
- Four trucks lanes with no restrictions (can be diesel trucks);
- Four truck-only lanes using zero emission trucks;
- Tolled lanes allowing only zero emission trucks.
Overall, this project is so immense that is hard to capture in one blog post. Accordingly, over the next week or two, I will be posting more about the I-710 project in hopes of spurring an informed and robust dialogue about this project. I will cover topics like air quality and health, impacts of the project on the LA River, impacts of the project on homeless populations, and a discussion of the community’s preferred alternatives that has been proposed by the Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice. My desire is to spur debate about this project because it will have such an immense impact on our region, and particularly, on those communities along this corridor. It is imperative that our transportation planners get this project right.
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