Thursday, February 10, 2005
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Good Intentions and the Roads They Make
By RAY HAYNES
(The writer represents the 66th Assembly District which includes portions of western Riverside County and northern San Diego County.)
In the 1930s, the government decided to take on the task of building all the roads on which we traveled. In the 1950s, Governor Pat Brown undertook the construction of a world class freeway system in California, and by the time he left office, California had planned for and begun construction on that system. Ronald Reagan continued the construction, and improved on Governor Pat Brown’s plan.
Then, like a Suburban in a sig-alert, California came to a grinding halt. In the 1970s, under the throes of the “progressive” leadership of Governor Jerry Brown and his leftist friends in the Legislature, the state began a new course. Freeways were passé; mass transit and government land use planning were the order of the day. Between 1974 and 1982, the years Jerry Brown was governor, California stopped improving its existing freeway system, and made it virtually impossible to plan for new freeways.
Our current system of freeways was built essentially between 1958 and 1974 (that is sixteen years). Today, it takes twenty years to fix or expand an existing freeway, or to build one mile of a new freeway. As a result, Californians experience hell on wheels every day on our freeways.
Freeways, no matter how many are built, will always be crowded at rush hour. In the 1970s, Jerry Brown and his environut friends used this fact to convince people that California should spend its gasoline tax money on mass transit. These same people argued that good government land use planning would also “create jobs close to homes” and “protect” our air and water and other natural resources. These concepts all intended to accomplish good things, and sounded good on paper. While good intentioned, however, they have literally paved the roads to hell we now all occupy twenty four hours a day.
California has a lot of government bureaucrats who “plan” to build freeways, but rarely ever get around to actually building them. The federal, state, and local governments sit around for three to five years to study where the freeways should go, another year to study how much the freeway will cost, and five to seven years to study how many rats, flies and weeds might be hurt if the freeway is built.
They prepare thousands of studies, reports, white papers, and informational documents about the freeways, and spend millions of dollars on all of these studies, using gas tax dollars to pay for them. They spend millions of dollars to hold lots of public hearings where lots of people who work for the government sit in front of microphones and drone on for hours using utterly incomprehensible language.
After all this effort and money, 12 years into the process, not a single freeway lane will have been built. These bureaucrats then spend millions of dollars and another five years trying to buy the property and design the freeways. Finally, after 15 to 17 years to study the freeway, it takes another two to four years to actually build the darn thing. Even simple repaving and re-striping projects, or widening interchanges on existing roads and freeways can take years of planning, reams of paperwork and a million dollars worth of studies.
Meanwhile, in Southern California, it costs commuters $15.265 billion in lost time and gasoline and 864 million lost hours in traffic as a result of congestion. Despite this fact, just recently, my constituents were told by some environuts that they should forget about another freeway to Orange County, and think about mass transit and start spending transportation dollars on getting “jobs.” While we do need more jobs, government has historically been much better at chasing off employers than attracting them.
I have absolutely no confidence in the planners’ abilities to put the right jobs in the right places, even if the government had the ability to magically create jobs. Orange County and Riverside County are working together on a historic joint effort to create a new corridor that will help people on both sides of the Orange Curtain, and we cannot afford to let the naysayers and utopians derail this process.
Between 1958 and 1974, over 20 new freeways were built in Southern California, and while traffic was never good, it was not horrendous. Since 1980, only seven were built, and four of those were built as toll roads, and people are now stuck in traffic almost 24 hours a day. Mass transit and planning has been tried for the last 30 years, and while these tactics are well intentioned, they have paved the road to California’s hell. We don’t need more planners, studies, or subways. We need more freeways.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company