Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Straight Outta the Stimulus: Widening the 91


The Los Angeles Times reported today that the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is breaking ground on a widening of the 91 highway, which connects southern Los Angeles County in the west with the "Inland Empire" of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties to the east. The widening is projected to cost $59.5 million and will add one eastbound general use lane on a six mile segment between the 241 and 71 highways.

This project is 80.5% paid for by money from president Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, a.k.a. "the stimulus package").

I'm generally against highway widenings. They make it easier for more cars to drive faster for a while, and they soon fill up with traffic again. New road space means new construction somewhere near the highway, which, if done in a suburban format (the most likely scenario), means more car traffic. Also, when a road moves faster, people who avoided it before start to drive on it. The result is that, soon enough, even more cars move at the same relatively slow speeds. The environmental impact in the long run is negative, both in terms of air pollution (local and global) and land consumption (for development).

I've criticized the ARRA before for giving money to highways. The goal of the bill is to create jobs immediately to get us out of the recession. While this is a good goal, I say we shouldn't pursue it at the expense of the environment. We need to put people to work building clean/renewable energy, transit, and dense, mixed-use neighborhoods, not highways which make our environmental problems worse.

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