L.A. Metro spent $1.6 billion to widen the 405 freeway from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside. Now the New York Times has to fill paragraphs exploring the obvious: was it a waste of money?
Well, here are the initial results on what was supposed to have been a project with multi-decade benefits for congestion relief:
Peak afternoon traffic time has indeed decreased to five hours from seven hours’ duration (yes, you read that right) and overall traffic capacity has increased. But congestion is as bad — even worse — during the busiest rush hours of 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., according to a study by the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
To be fair to the project’s proponents, it also added a carpool lane and seismic retrofits for overpasses, both of which will be useful going forward.
But the idea that widening a highway relieves congestion? We should have put that one to bed a long time ago. Increasing capacity just induces more demand, as this UC Davis brief documents [PDF].
If the goal is to reduce congestion, local governments should implement congestion pricing to discourage solo and optional trips. If the goal is to expand capacity, they should look into bus-only lanes, new bike infrastructure, and new transit capacity. Congestion pricing can meanwhile help to fund some of those options.
Otherwise, consider $1.6 billion investments like this one to be a giant waste of money.