Last month the Texas Transportation Institute reported that, once again, greater Los Angeles is the nation’s congestion capital. A major cause of our unbearable gridlock is the failure of the idea that “if we don’t build it, they won’t come.” That’s been the region’s principal approach to dealing with the freeway system for the past two decades, during which traffic volume has continued to grow but the freeway system’s capacity has been largely stagnant. The missing link in the 710 freeway is the most egregious example of this failure to provide needed capacity.
Traffic modeling by Caltrans and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) shows dramatic improvements in traffic flow from adding this link. Traffic that now clogs I-5 and the 605 would be spread out over a third north-south freeway corridor, relieving congestion not only there but on numerous surface streets where these trips are made now.
The 710 tunnel would provide the largest single amount of congestion relief of anything in the region’s long-range transportation plan.
I understand the decades of opposition by people in South Pasadena, who did not want their community cut in half by a noisy freeway. That’s why the tunnel alternative was first proposed by the Reason Foundation more than a decade ago. Large-diameter traffic tunnels are in operation in Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Paris, and Sydney, and a half a dozen are under construction in China. Yes, large tunnels cost several billion dollars, and that’s why most such tunnels are financed primarily by toll revenues. Today’s fully electronic open-road tolling means that users of the 710 tunnel could pay as they drive, without the need to slow down. And if the tolls are variable—as on the 91 Express Lanes in Orange County—the tunnel could be kept uncongested at all times.
All projections show that the large majority of LA commuters will continue to be traveling by car in 2030 and 2035. While expanding transit options is also important, we need to face the reality that ensuring good auto-mobility is an essential ingredient in this region’s economic vitality and quality of life.