When it comes to how to move humans around in congested Southern California, planning is in the air. There's the plan for a $68 billion bullet train (with the final price tag expected to be far higher). There's Elon Musk's plan for a Hyperloop. And there's Mayor Eric Garcetti's controversial Mobility Plan to build more bike and bus lanes.
All of these plans aim to get people out of the automobile, in theory allowing L.A. to grow in a denser, more sustainable way.
But what if we just went ahead and built more roads, especially loads and loads of tunnels crisscrossing the mountains and other obstacles? That, essentially, is what a new study from the Reason Foundation is proposing.
That's right, a libertarian think tank is proposing a $700 billion public works program. Up is down, black is white, dogs and cats, etc.
But the idea here is very much to allow Angelenos to keep their precious cars — at least for a price.
The study suggests widening and streamlining big interchanges like the dreaded 110/10 loopy nightmare, and it would add express toll lanes to every key freeway plus toll-lane bypasses to major intersections.
For example, you come to a busy intersection, and you are given the option of avoiding it by paying 15 to 25 cents to take an underground tunnel or bridge under or over the intersection. Like so:
But the most bonkers part of the plan is to create six underground expressways — toll lane–only freeways — tunnels that would cut across mountain ranges and bore under the city itself.
These tunnels would mostly try to fill in the “missing links” of L.A.'s freeway system, like the unbuilt 710 extension to the 210 in Pasadena, or the missing section of the 2 freeway, which poops out on a surface street on the edge of Echo Park: Here's the tunnel plan:
These would basically be underground freeways for those willing to pay money for the privilege of not sitting in traffic like a mindless zombie. They'd look a bit like like this:
“We know there are some bold ideas in this plan,” says Baruch Feigenbaum, the study's author. “But we also know that the L.A. region has a terrible congestion problem. So if the city really wants to fix its traffic issues, there’s gonna be things that aren’t popular with everyone.”
The plan would cost more than $700 billion, but not to worry: Half of that could be self-funded by revenue (or expected revenue) from those toll lanes.
The other half? Taxpayer money. So yes, the plan proposes spending $350 billion — enough to build three L.A.-to–San Francisco bullet trains — of sales tax and gas tax revenue on a public works project.
Ayn Rand is rolling over in her grave.
The plan offers no money for light rail. It does promote funding a bus-line expansion. And importantly, buses would be allowed to use the toll lanes for free.
“We’re proponents of improving L.A.’s bus network,” Feigenbaum says.
And what about the city's Mobility Plan? What about adding bike lanes? What about trying to encourage Angelenos to get out of the car and use alternative modes of transportation?
“That would be a great idea,” Feigenbaum says. “The problem is it doesn’t really work. We’ve been trying that in many different places. I’m all for encouraging folks to bike if it works for them. But people live and work in multiple locations. I think they're overestimating the effect that that can have in a city like L.A.”