Last month’s unanimous vote by the Los Angeles County Transportation Authority ultimately killed the $6 billion plan to widen the 710 freeway along a 19-mile corridor between east Los Angeles and the ports. Last year, federal officials dismissed Metro’s flawed environmental studies. At the time, supervisor Hilda Solis insisted, “You can’t afford to expand freeways at people’s expense. . . allowing more carbon to be spewed into areas that are already toxic hotspots. She offered to “immediately cease work” on the plan; the board reluctantly agreed to “suspend” him.
Does the latest vote signal the end of the freeway lobby’s stranglehold on transportation choices in Southern California? When the British drove back the German Panzers at the Second Battle of El Alamein, Winston Churchill joked, “Now is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. But this may be the end of the beginning.
For more than eight decades, Southern California politicians have put cars before people. We pioneered the misnamed “highways” – which were anything but free. In fact, the incalculable economic, environmental and human cost of tearing down the region’s extensive tram network and replacing it with vast slivers of concrete will never be fully assessed. Tens of thousands of Southern Californians had their homes and businesses bulldozed, neighborhoods destroyed, and for decades we choked on smog and pollution from stranded traffic.
Those who bore the deadliest burden were low-income, mostly black and Latino residents living in neighborhoods divided by freeways. This grotesque injustice spawned AB 1778, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia’s bill to ban freeway expansion in poorer or polluted neighborhoods. It passed the Assembly last month by a vote of 41 to 25.
News from around the country is also promising. Colorado highway officials scrapped plans to widen I-25 through downtown Denver in the face of fierce opposition and lack of funding. In Portland, the state highways agency conceded a court battle over the expansion of Interstate 5 through the city’s east side. These victories over the freeway lobby are clearly not the end of the perverse delusion that the way to cut traffic is to make it easier for people to drive – after all, there have been other victories against the Panzers of the highway since the transit agencies launched their war. in urban neighborhoods.
Yet now that the brutal racism, colossal waste and utter failure of these monstrosities are increasingly recognized, the tide may be turning against the displacement, pollution and climate fire consequences of expanding urban highways. A new “Freeway Fighters Network” has been launched nationwide by 75 local grassroots organizations and coalitions fighting to stop, remove or cover urban freeways.
Meanwhile, Metro is allocating $20 million this year to cover cost overruns on its $1.3 billion project to add two lanes to Highway 5 through Burbank. They are continuing to expand 5 south of 605 ($1.9 billion) and north of 14 ($679 million); further widening of the 405 ($250 million); widening of the 57/60 interchange (over $500 million); extension of the 71 widening currently under construction (over $100 million); and highway and street widenings on the 605 corridor at over $10 billion.
Just as the 405 quickly filled up after Metro spent over a billion dollars widening it, these expensive projects will invariably fail to reduce congestion. It is madness to repeat the same approach, expecting different results. When will Metro’s board agree that it’s time to “immediately stop work” on the rest of Metro’s road madness?
Rick Cole is a former mayor of Pasadena and city manager of Santa Monica, Ventura and Azusa. He welcomes comments at [email protected]