Productive regions offer mobility for people and goods, but Southern California’s productivity is seriously threatened by reduced mobility. Without fundamental policy change, congestion and the lack of quality transit service threaten to strangle the region’s economy. The ability to move goods and services efficiently, combined with the need to provide a high quality of life for employees and their families, should put improving mobility at the top of Southern California’s priorities. The consequences of ignoring this growing problem will be severe.
The Los Angeles region, contributing the most congestion to Southern California, has been the nation’s most congested metropolitan area for decades. The cost of congestion-as measured in wasted time and fuel-is estimated at $13.3 billion per year, or $1,711 per commuter annually. Average annual hours of delay per traveler have increased from 52 in 1985 to 80 in 2014. The travel time index (the ratio of travel time during peak periods to the same trip off-peak) increased from 1.31 to 1.43 during the same period. As population and employment in the region continue to grow, these numbers will get even worse unless new measures to reduce congestion are implemented.
While the region continues to spend significant resources on new rail lines, Southern California residents are taking fewer transit trips per capita today than 20 years ago. Transit-dependent residents must rely on a smaller bus network that fails to adequately serve their needs.
This study examines Southern California’s mobility challenges in detail. While the Southern California Association of Governments’ (SCAG) Long Range Transportation Plan includes some new capacity, it does not allocate nearly enough resources to improving mobility. The region’s planned transportation approach of investing heavily in fixed-rail transit and land-use changes to reduce the extent of driving can benefit the region but the approach will not significantly reduce traffic congestion or improve transit service in Southern California. The current plan would lead to only a modest increase in transit’s market share, while overall congestion would continue to increase. While non-automobile alternatives-including a larger and better-designed bus network, sidewalks for walking and a bike network for commuting-definitely have an important role to play, they alone cannot reduce congestion.
The new approach we recommend is a comprehensive plan to improve mobility. It reduces congestion by dealing with both major sources: recurrent and non-recurrent. For non- recurrent congestion, which is caused by incidents (accidents, work zones, weather, etc.), Southern California should expand efforts under way, such as quicker identification of, response to, and clearance of incidents. On arterial streets, improvements in traffic signal coordination and access management will also help.
For the remainder of congestion that occurs seven days a week in Southern California for up to 16 hours a day, some roadway system expansion is needed because demand greatly exceeds roadway capacity. Doing so in a smarter and more sustainable way can reap the greatest benefits. While rebuilding some of the most congested interchange bottlenecks is a part of the plan, the most important component is using variable (time-of-day, demand- sensitive) pricing on all new expressway lanes to keep them free from congestion, similar to the SR 91 and I-10 express lanes.
We also recommend adding electronically priced bridges and/or tunnels on selected arterials to permit vehicles to bypass traffic signals at major intersections. These bridges/tunnels, combined with intelligent transportation system (ITS) features and access management, would give arterial users the option of faster, less-congested travel on these busy highways. Creating a network of these express lanes and electronic toll lanes is a cost-effective way to improve the entire roadway network.
It is crucial to improve the transit network as well. Our express lane network allows buses to travel in the lanes free of charge, and our managed arterial network allows buses to use the tolled grade separations for free. Using these premium features will decrease the travel times and increase the reliability of BRT (bus rapid transit) and express bus. We also provide details on how to build on the success of the region’s express bus network and L.A. Metro’s BRT-lite system. Combined with local bus, express bus and the existing rail options, the region can create a bus-based transit system with the quality and coverage a rail-based system cannot provide.
These approaches will also provide commuters with more choices. If they need the flexibility of the automobile, they can use the general purpose lanes for free or pay to use the free-flowing express lanes. If they want to take transit, they can choose fast, reliable region-wide bus rapid transit and express bus. This approach assures commuters and other travelers of faster and more-reliable travel choices within a financially feasible and sustainable system.
From a revenue perspective, tolling-a major part of our plan-contributes significant resources to the biggest projects. Tolling would help build approximately 710 lane-miles of new expressway capacity, 3,475 new/converted lane-miles of express lanes and truck toll lanes, and 559 new managed grade separations. The tolled facilities will generate approximately $362 billion in toll revenue over the infrastructure’s life cycle, providing more than 100% of the total revenue needed to build and operate the tolled components (new expressways/tunnels, express toll lanes and components, managed arterials and components), while providing a contingency in case costs are higher than forecast or revenue is lower.
This study identifies many infrastructure improvements. Table ES1 below lists our plan’s major capital components and their anticipated costs. Figure ES1 presents a full map of our plan.
Costs of Reason Foundation’s Plan for Southern California Region Congestion Relief
- New surface expressways/tunnels $97.2 Billion
- Expressway interchanges reconfiguration $4.1B
- Arterial/local road capital $74B
- Arterial interchange reconstruction $15.6B
- Express toll lanes $105.0B
- Express toll lane interchanges $24.0B
- Managed arterials widening(s) $16.5B
- Managed arterials optional tolled grade separations $33.7B
- Managed arterials new alignments $2.9B
- Toll contingency $32.5B
- Transit capital/bus $42.7B
- Roadway operations and maintenance $90.5B
- Transit operations and maintenance $102.4B
- Intelligent transportation systems $10B
- Active transportation $7.7B
- Transportation demand management $5.2B
- Debt service $50.1B
- Total $714.1B
Adjusted for inflation, our plan requires $352 billion in taxpayer resources while SCAG’s plan needs $606 billion. As a result our plan can be constructed with current resources; no tax increase is needed. SCAG’s plan needs to find an additional $254 billion over 25 years. Our plan to use tolling supports more improvements than SCAG’s plan, even with a tax increase.
To reduce the risks inherent in our tolling projects (express lanes, managed arterials, new toll expressways/tunnels), we recommend that they be carried out under long-term concession agreements in which the private sector partners would bear the risks of cost overruns and revenue shortfalls. Public private partnerships (P3s) of this scale are being successfully employed in Colorado, Florida, Texas, Virginia and around the world.
Implementing this approach would generate significant economic benefits. Reduced travel times allow employers to recruit from a larger area and employees to seek jobs within a larger area, better matching skills with needs. The direct result of increase in quantity and quality of employment makes an urban area’s economy more productive.
Individual motorists would benefit every day, as future trip times would shorten. With a network of uncongested express toll lanes on the entire expressway system, everyone with a transponder would have the peace of mind of knowing that he or she had a time-saving option available whenever it was crucial to get somewhere on time.
As noted, the network of uncongested express toll lanes and managed arterials can facilitate a large expansion of transit services. The region’s transit providers would gain the virtual equivalent of a network of exclusive busways, since the priced lanes would permit reliable, free-flowing bus operations at all times. Yet unlike rail transit projects, for which funding is constrained, the infrastructure cost of this busway system would be paid for by motorists. This would give the region new options for corridors where it has become increasingly difficult to fund planned new rail lines. Also helpful would be development of a region-wide mobility center to coordinate bus routes and demand-response service for the elderly and disabled, as well as for residents of low-density areas, to create a seamless transportation network.
Southern California has come to a crossroads in transportation policy. Continuing down the status-quo path will lead to a future with an incomplete rail transit system and an undersized highway system, resulting in much worse congestion than today. The path suggested in this study accepts the reality that cars will continue to dominate personal transportation, trucks will remain the backbone of goods movement, and buses will be the mainstay of transit systems. It therefore would expand the multimodal highway infrastructure in smart, new ways to cope with those realities. This path promises a future of significantly less congestion than today, and of new mobility options-for motorists, for transit users, and for goods movement.
“Congestion results from poor policy choices and a failure to separate solutions that are effective from those that are not,” said former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
We hope Southern California will make wise policy choices for greatly increased mobility.