Advocacy Committee Guest Post: Road to Nowhere

By: Julie Caruso

In 1993, California freeway officials built what they said would be the last of the great Southern California freeways: the 105. In the end, the 105’s construction violated environmental laws, displaced 25,000 people, and left noise and pollution in its wake. Moreover, as a result of decades of delays, the project came in at $2.2 billion—the most expensive roadway ever built in the United States.

Once again

, the California Department of Transportation is beginning to build another freeway in the Southland, 63-mile-long artery in the high desert that will connect the communities of Palmdale and Lancaster to San Bernardino County communities of Apple Valley and Victorville. Land to build this freeway will be paid for with the $274 million dollars generated by Measure R, a sales tax increase that LA County voters approved in 2016 in order to fund transportation projects over the next 40 years. Developers eyeing the new freeway say they want to build up the surrounding areas for profit, and not necessarily to reduce commute times. This suggests something that

many studies

that have indicated—that you cannot develop your way out of congestion, as it is the roads themselves causing the traffic problem.  In contrast to Los Angeles’s “grow-your-roadways-out-of-congestion” stance, cities like Paris, San Francisco, and Seoul have found that removing or limiting access to arterial highways does not actually worsen traffic, and certainly has a positive effect regarding pollution.

Then there’s the question of funding fantasies versus reality. In his recent State of the Union speech, Donald Trump claimed that

his infrastructure plan

"will spur the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history."  In fact, the administration plans to fund only a fraction of such major infrastructure improvement projects with federal resources, instead shifting most of the financial burden onto states and local governments. This is a huge departure from how federal funding for transportation and infrastructure programs has traditionally been allocated.

Speaking of infrastructure, congestion, and tax-related funding, enter: Amazon. The online commerce company is searching for its second headquarters,

and Los Angeles is on a short-list of 20 cities

. Many of these cities are promising incentives to Amazon if chosen, including significant tax breaks. While Amazon promises to bring benefits such as 50,000 jobs and $5 billion dollars of investment to the next city it decides to call home, it is important to consider that 50,000 employees could create a surge of people on the roads, not to mention a substantial local increase in trucking and shipping activities. These could have significant adverse impacts on that city’s roads, infrastructure, and traffic.

If a city such as Los Angeles gives Amazon a big tax break while incurring a large stress on its infrastructure, and at time when the federal government wants to shift the burden of infrastructure improvement away from its own financial resources and towards those of cities and states, how attractive is it to have the 'Zon in your backyard? Cue the winner's curse.

For additional information about Measure R, see:

For more information about the High Desert Corridor, including the board members and state officials involved, see: