The proposed expansion of Interstate 5 is supposed to make the commute from La Jolla to Oceanside much easier, but I believe this plan is not the answer to meeting the traffic demands of the future. Rather it would be a costly endeavor that would harm the environment and be detrimental to the quality of life of residents living near the project. The good news is that this proposal is still in its drafting stages and concerned citizen have the power to change the outcome of this proposal.
Many San Diegans face traffic problems on a daily basis and with this trend continuing things will only get worse in the future. To meet future traffic demands, Caltrans and SANDAG have proposed a massive expansion of Interstate 5 from La Jolla to Oceanside, which includes building express lanes and increasing the number of lanes along a 30 mile stretch of freeway. The question at hand however is whether or not the proposed expansion is the really the best answer to the problem.
CALTRANS has plans to expand the freeway from eight to either 12 or 14 lanes, including four more carpool lanes. In 2002 the projected cost of the upgraded freeway project was estimated at $600 million. Today’s estimates put the cost at $3 to 4 billion, nearly 6 times as much as originally projected! Since the plan was originally proposed, organized opposition has taken shape. The criticism of the plan is based on the notion that the negative impact on our environment is too great to allow.
What about the environmental impacts?
There is a long list of environmental impacts that this project would effect, causing irreparable damage. For example, water quality will be impacted when water from additional freeway lanes spills over into the water supply. The increased amount of traffic would cause a tremendous amount of noise and air pollution. Building the extra lanes would intrude upon wildlife corridors, and potentially harm San Diego’s many lagoons. Also, by increasing the number of cars on the road we just make things tougher for California’s initiatives for greenhouse gas emission goals, including AB-32 and SB-375.
The environment is not the only thing that will be affected. Home owners and businesses alike would be greatly affected. Have you ever done construction on your home or noticed the noise from a neighbor’s project? We can all relate to what a nuisance it is to live in or near an area that is under construction. The three phases of this project are scheduled to take 40 years to complete. I will be 88 years old when it’s done. I wonder if I will still be driving.. This is something that our children will have to live through and pay for. To deal with the noise workers will need to build concrete tunnels or barriers that will make the San Diego’s coastline visually unappealing.
Commuters on I-5 may be looking forward to the additional lanes to reduce gridlock, but residents on either side of the freeway are determined to prevent any further expansion. People who are planning on buying homes in the area are reconsidering, which has a large impact on the real-estate market. A few weeks ago more than 600 residents packed a town hall meeting in Solana Beach to discuss I-5 freeway expansion concerns.
Learning from other’s mistakes
Los Angeles is a good case study for San Diego to learn from. The city suffers from endless traffic jams at all hours of the day. The lesson to be learned from their actions is building more freeways actually produces more congestion. So if the plan to expand I-5 is for congestion relief, but the evidences show us the contrary, then what is the proper solution to remedy the problem?
The city should not be looking for solutions that involve further dependence on fossil fuels, but rather solutions that do not have such a detrimental impact on the environment. One possibility is strengthening the presence of public transportation and making it a more efficient means to travel. Another good idea would be creating incentives for people to carpool or use alternative means of transport.
It’s interesting that public transit receives a lot of scrutiny, which is not so true for road expansion. Perhaps we should spend time looking at ways to increase public transportation.
What can you do about it?
The expansion plan is not a done deal yet. It is actually in its drafting stages, and still has a long process to go through. So the involvement of the people who are concerned about this plan can really make a difference.
A group called “Prevent Los Angeles Gridlock Usurping the Environment” or PLAGUE, argues that San Diego’s transportation problems cannot be solved by adding freeway lanes, and the extra noise and pollution will destroy the quality of life in beach communities. Sign their petition here.
This project has to be approved by a variety of organizations, both on the state and federal level. For example, since this project is going to have over 40 bridges and overpasses, the city will need permits from the California Coastal Commission and Army Corps of Engineers. Not only is it important to put pressure on these institutions but also organization that have financial ties to the project.
One way that you, as an individual can be proactive is to contact your local representative – that has voice at SANDAG. You can also make a difference by attending town hall meetings relating the issue.
To conclude, the expansion of the freeways is analogous to adding fuel to the fire, literally. Rather than spending money on freeways, the city planners should create alternatives to car traffic. Investing in more public transport would turn out to be much better in the future.