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Widening of crowded highways: Bigger is not better

Tackling the ongoing traffic nightmare that has frustrated Southern California commuters for decades is a problem appealing to drivers across the nation. But a recent New York Times investigation Congestion testing suggests that highway widening may not be the answer to improving traffic flow.

While the story focuses on Los Angeles’ famously congested freeway — Interstate 710 between downtown LA and Long Beach — it also looks at traffic issues in New Jersey and Houston.

The conclusion is that, while adding lanes may ease initial congestion, the so-called remedy “could also encourage people to drive more. A few years after the highway was widened, research Showstraffic — and greenhouse gases emissions come with it – often come back.

Houston’s Katy Freeway is a world-renowned example of this — within five years of its massive 26-lane expansion, congestion has gotten worse than before.

Despite massive amounts of federal funds set aside over the next few years to widen the highway through the support of President Biden infrastructure package, The Times found that some competitors think the money should be better spent elsewhere. in one report last year by the Department of Transportation, the agency said it would seek to prioritize funding the safety of pedestrians, motorcyclists and others outside of cars over paying for the opening wide — and based on NHTSA’s latest data shows an increase in pedestrian and motorcyclist deathsThat sounds like a good plan.

After $60 million was spent on design and planning over two decades, the Route 710 extension was canceled last May. “We don’t see expansion as a strategy for LA,” said James de la Loza, director of planning for the Los Angeles County transportation agency.

The Times story, titled “Highway widening doesn’t solve traffic problems,” also looks at emissions issues, air quality issues, and alternative means of public transportation. position. In part of the story The Times assessed a $10.7 billion project planned to expand part of the New Jersey Highway, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, New Jersey’s transportation commissioner, said she supports the plan.

“Congestion is not safe,” said Ms. Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “I am not in favor of widening roads just for the sake of widening.”

But historically, when passengers realized that traffic was improving somewhere, they changed their existing routes. Then the backups change with increased traffic.

Sure, there’s always another option for those who work remotely or have public transport: Drive less.

As Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop noted at the end of the Times article – Jersey City has some of the worst air quality in the nation – “There are many other types of transportation that people value instead of just cars.”

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