Over the last few weeks, we’ve been receiving questions about the I-605 Corridor Improvement Project. In particular, many of the questions concern whether properties would need to be acquired and demolished to build the project.
Before going any further, we want to be abundantly clear: Metro has made no decisions about this project, which is still in the early planning stages. Nor have any decisions been made about property acquisitions. The project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report (DEIS/R) will be released in early 2021 and will provide the communities along this corridor with information about the project’s benefits and impacts — as well as ways to potentially avoid or mitigate those impacts.
This is a study, not a planned course of action, that offers several alternatives, including the option not to build some or all the improvements proposed and studied for this corridor. The goal is to develop and provide recommendations for improvements that will relieve congestion and improve traffic safety along the corridor.
In 2008 and 2016, Metro asked Los Angeles County voters to consider sales tax measures to fund a list of transit, road and other mobility improvements. Both of these ballot measures — known as Measure R and Measure M, respectively — included funding for projects to improve traffic flow on the 605 in the congested stretch between the 10 and the 105 freeways. The project list for Measure M was developed based on considerable feedback from local governments.
The draft environmental document will include a list of four possible project alternatives. One alternative is the “no build” option, which means we do nothing. The other three would add one lane to the freeway in each direction and an auxiliary lane in some places (mostly at interchanges to help traffic enter and exit the freeway). The document also recommends various configurations of the other lanes as regular lanes, carpool lanes or ExpressLanes. In the latter option, tolls are charged similar to the current ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways to help improve travel times.
Why even contemplate increasing the freeway’s capacity? The I-605 opened in 1971 and has had few improvements since. The number of vehicles has grown over time and are expected to continue to increase. The 605 interchanges with the 10, 60, 5, 91 and 105 are known chokepoints and we think it may be possible to improve traffic flow at these locations.
Another question we’ve seen raised: why is Metro, known best for its bus and rail service, spending any funds on freeways and roads? And why can’t that money simply be moved to fund more transit or other ways of getting around that don’t involve driving?
The answer is:
•As the transportation planning, engineering, and implementing agency for Los Angeles County, Metro has always helped fund and build freeway projects while working with Caltrans, the agency that owns and operates the freeway system in California.
•In this case, Metro likely needs hundreds of millions of dollars to build improvements along the 605 corridor. Nonetheless, as we often do, we’re preparing the environmental studies to determine the project’s potential benefits, impacts and costs for public review and a decision by the Metro Board. This way we’re prepared should funding become available and there is support for the project.
•Most people in L.A. get around by driving — in recent years more than 85 percent of commuters in L.A. County traveled by car. More than 70 percent of those trips are by solo motorists and we know that’s a huge reason our traffic is chronically bad. While we are working to shift more people to transit as an alternative to driving, the reality is that the demand for driving is not going anywhere and will almost certainly remain a big part of our daily travel.
•Los Angeles County voters approved two ballot measures that include some initial funding for this project. The ordinances have safeguards to ensure that we spend funds how we told voters we would. There are mechanisms to move funds around — but the hurdles are very high.
Some will argue that any freeway widening will only result in more traffic and worsening air quality. We believe the project is worthy of study to see if there are ways we can make the freeway operate better and to improve safety. Again, we emphasize the planning of this project is a multi-year process and there is still time for plenty of public and stakeholder engagement. More information, along with ways to provide feedback, can be found at http://metro.net/i-605-cip.