Interstate 710 in Los Angeles, like the city itself, is famous for its traffic. Freight trucks with passengers traveling between the city and the port of Long Beach clog the highway. trucks stand idle in the crowd, contributing poor air quality In the surrounding areas where more than one million people live.

The proposed solution was one that transportation officials across the country have used since the 1960s: widen the highway. But while adding lanes may initially reduce congestion, it may also encourage people to drive more. A few years after the highway was widened, Research showsTraffic – and the greenhouse gas emissions that come with it – often returns.

California’s Department of Transportation, like many state transportation departments, was established to build highways. Every year, states spend billions of dollars on expanding highways, while other solutions to congestion, such as public transit and pedestrian projects, are typically handled by city transit authorities and receive less funding.

Over the next five years, states will receive $350 billion in federal dollars for highways through infrastructure legislation enacted last year. While some have signaled a change in their attitudes toward transportation spending – including the following federal guidelines Those who encourage a “fix it first” approach before adding new highway miles — many still pursuing multi-billion-dollar widening projects, including Democratic-led states with ambitious climate goals.

The Biden administration has suggested that states should be more thoughtful in addressing congestion. Sometimes widening is necessary, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, but other options to address traffic, such as fixing existing roads or providing transit options, should be considered. “Getting people where they need to go, more efficiently and affordably,” he said, “is always a lot more complicated than just getting more concrete and asphalt.”

Some communities and government officials are pushing for the plans to be widened. This protest had an impact in Los Angeles. After $60 million was spent on design and planning over two decades, the extension of Route 710 was canceled last May.

“We don’t see widening as a strategy for LA,” said James De La Loza, chief planning officer for Los Angeles County’s transportation agency.

It remains to be seen whether the cancellations are the start of a trend or an outlier. Widening projects are still in the works for highways in Texas, Oregon, and Maryland, to name a few. New York City is also considering re-widening the traffic-choked Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

los angeles

The expansion of Route 710 was canceled after California learned the hard way about the principle of “induced demand”.

In 2015, a $1 billion project was completed to widen a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 405 through Los Angeles. For a period, “congestion was relieved,” said Tony Tavares, director of CalTrans, California’s Department of Transportation.

But this relief did not last long. He said traffic was soon restored during rush hour.

When a congested road is widened, travel time is reduced—first of all. But later people’s behavior changes. After hearing that the highway is less busy, commuters may switch from transit to driving or change their route to work. Some may also choose to go further away.

“It’s a very basic economic principle that if you lower the price of a good, people will consume more of it,” said Susan Handy, professor of environmental science and policy at the University of California, Davis. “That’s essentially what we’re doing when we expand the freeway.”

accreditation Driven traffic has been around since the 1960s, but in 2009 studyThe researchers confirmed what transportation experts had observed for years: In a metropolitan area, when roadway capacity increases by 1 percent, after a few years the number of cars on the road also increases by 1 percent.

For years, critics of the Route 710 plan expressed concern that the widened highway would lead to more greenhouse gas emissions and the bulldozing of its surrounding communities.

In late 2020, the EPA ruled that the widening plan violated the federal Clean Air Act, and officials halted the project. Then last spring, Caltrans canceled the project altogether. Mr Tavares said it was “probably the most significant” cancellation in the agency’s history.

Caltrans is considering options to address traffic on the Interstate, including moving freight over the rail line.

“In the past Caltrans focused primarily on dealing with congestion,” Mr. Tavares said. “We’ve pivoted since then, done a complete 180.”

State transportation agencies said they have increased their focus on providing people with options other than driving and plan to invest the money in projects that will benefit the communities around Route 710. Options include improving air filtration in schools, providing better access to green spaces, and investing in a zero-emissions truck program.

yet still are plans to expand Other State Highways. “One size does not fit all transportation, and California certainly is not one size,” Mr. Tavares said.

Jersey City, NJ

On an unseasonably warm day last November, dozens of residents of northern New Jersey gathered in the shade of a highway overpass in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from New York. In a densely populated state with vast transit infrastructure, many in attendance wondered why officials were planning to widen the highway.

“If we want to be a leading state, look at what Colorado is doing to end its highway expansion. Look at Los Angeles,” said Jimmy Lee, president of Safe Streets Jesse.

New Jersey transportation officials plan to reconstruct and expand the sections of the New Jersey Turnpike leading to the Holland Tunnel to four lanes. In addition to carrying traffic into Manhattan, the turnpike, like Route 710 in Los Angeles, is an artery that is heavily trafficked by freight trucks carrying goods between ports and warehouses in the area.

The project, which will cost an estimated $10.7 billion, includes reconstruction Elevated Roadways and Bridge over Newark Bay On 66 year old Hwy.

Diane Gutierrez-Scasetti, commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Transportation, said the project was long overdue. An influx of new residential buildings and commercial warehouses into the area has filled the highway with more vehicles. The expansion is needed, she said, to make the highway safe and ensure ports, vital pieces of New Jersey’s economy, remain viable.

“Congestion is not safe,” said Ms. Gutierrez-Scecetti. “I don’t advocate widening roads just for the sake of widening.”

The project is supported by New Jersey’s governor, Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat who sets ambitious climate goals for the state, and local labor leaders. Mark Longo, director of an organization representing heavy equipment operators, said the expansion is “the most important road project for New Jersey’s economic future.”

Critics of the plan say that congestion can be addressed in other ways, including investing in public transport. Officials in Hoboken and Jersey City, which surround the highway and have some of the worst air quality in the country, have condemned the plan.

“There are other types of mobility that people value instead of just cars,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

Houston

For critics of widening projects, a prime example of induced demand is the Katy Freeway in Houston, one of the world’s widest highways with 26 lanes.

Shortly after KT’s final expansion in 2008, the project was lauded as a success. But within five years, peak hour travel times on the freeway were longer than before,

Matt Turner, economics professor at Brown University and co-author of a 2009 study on congestion, said adding lanes is a good solution if the goal is to get more cars on the road. But most highway expansion projects, including those underway in Texas, cite reducing traffic as a primary goal.

“If you keep adding lanes because you want to reduce traffic congestion, you really have to be determined to learn from history,” Dr Turner said.

Texas Department of Transportation officials said the Katy expansion provided the capacity needed to keep up with projected population growth in the Houston area.

“The expansion of roads does not lead to more congestion,” transport officials said in a statement. Rather, he said, it “helps manage new travel demand.”

The Texas Constitution mandates that majority Part of the transport fund goes to improving the highway system. Over the next year, the state plans to spend about 86 percent of its budget on highway projects.

One of them is a $9 billion plan to reallocate and widen a portion of Interstate 45 that intersects with the Katy Freeway. Transportation officials said the project would improve safety, reduce congestion and address roadside flooding.

Route 45 plan, Dr. There is another project that is being sold as decongesting, Handy said. “But what’s particularly troubling about that project is the destruction of neighborhoods it will cause.”

The Texas Department of Transportation estimates that more than 1,000 people and 300 businesses in surrounding neighborhoods, where the majority of residents are black and Hispanic, will be displaced by the expansion.

At the same time, officials with Houston’s public transportation agency are pulling together funding from bonds and federal grants. an additional way To address congestion and growth: 500 miles of public transportation improvements.

Additional production by Stephen Rees.

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