As noted here a few days back, the California Transportation Commission voted earlier this week to allocate billions more from the recent highway bond to urban projects, including the widening of the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass.
Unfortunately, to do this, the CTC robbed the rural Peter to pay for the urban Paul’s freeway widening, and the folks in Mendocino, San Luis Obispo, and Fontana are *pissed*. Mendocino, which lost funding for the Willits bypass on Highway 101, had this to say, from the Ukiah Daily Record:
“This is clearly a blatant display of power politics disguised as a competitive process. There’s not any other way of saying it,” Dow said, adding that the nine governor-appointed commissioners, not one of whom lives north of the Golden Gate Bridge, acted as if their function was “to bring home the bacon to whatever community they came from,” rather than address the entire state’s needs.
As elfling pointed out last week here at Calitics:
I lived in Los Angeles for most of my life. The traffic in Willits easily compares to the worst of LA. At some times of day the town is in total gridlock. It’s a safety issue, since there are no alternate routes, and logging trucks and semis compete with people driving to Safeway or ambulances trying to get to the hospital.
If you are driving between San Francisco and Eureka, I suggest allocating 30 minutes to travel the 5 miles through Greater Willits.
Steve Lopez, at the LA Times’ Bottleneck Blog, also describes how Fontana feels the shaft:
Said S.B. supervisor Josie Gonzales: “I think it’s definitely a sign of big government versus small government. As the Inland Empire is becoming a force, we are competing one on one with Los Angeles for the same funds. We are a metropolis in the making, and we are trying not to experience the same problems as Los Angeles.”
Who else lost out? Lopez again tallies the casualties:
San Luis Obispo County watched in vain as $58 million to widen a bridge on Highway 101 across the Santa Maria River evaporated.
This bridge is OLD, and narrow, and a bottleneck between Santa Maria, one of the state’s fastest growing cities, and San Luis Obispo’s South County, cities like Nipomo and Arroyo Grande.
A recommendation that Imperial County get $29 million to build a freeway bypass in Brawley was rejected.
Imperial County, one of the state’s poorest, as well as its most heavily Latino, could have used this as a way to spur economic development and to better connect the El Centro-Calexico-Mexicali region north to the Coachella Valley.
Now I’m not saying that the urban areas couldn’t use the money, or that freeways are the best method of rural transportation (although as elfling notes, the Willits bottleneck IS a huge safety problem as well as an inconvenience). But it does seem unfortunate that urban areas won out over deserving rural projects.
I don’t believe the answer is for us to get involved in a fundamentally neoliberal argument of trying to determine who wins and who loses. We need to find ways to rebuild our infrastructure that don’t force urban and rural areas to fight it out.
Further, this suggests to me that the state and the metro areas need to work more closely on crafting solutions for moving people that don’t rely on freeways. You can only widen the 405 or the 101 so much, before you have a freeway too wide to be functional (and nevermind the inevitable homeowner revolts such a project would cause).
It doesn’t have to look like a dream map of SoCal mass transit – although that’d be nice – but to avoid these unfortunate fights, either we “grow the pie” or we find other ways to move people.
Of course, in the end, it comes back to things out of the control of cities and metro areas. The state needs to sort out its financial priorities, and with a federal government wasting nearly $500 billion on stupid wars, money that could otherwise have been used to build both the Willits Bypass and the subway to the sea, along with a whole bunch of other progressive land use projects.