UPDATE, MAY 26: The Metro Board of Directors today voted to approve the proposed budget.
Here’s the earlier blog post on the proposed highways budget:
Metro’s proposed $8.8 billion budget for the next fiscal year – which begins July 1 – is being considered by our agency’s Board of Directors at its meeting at 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 26. You can watch the livestream of the meeting here; it will also be archived for those who want to watch the meeting later.
The budget proposal includes $634 million for our highway program in fiscal year 2023 – about seven percent of the overall budget. We’ve received some questions about how we spend our highway funds – and why an agency known for its transit services is spending money on roads.
Why does Metro spend on highways?
Many people aren’t aware that Metro is the transportation funding and planning agency for L.A. County. This includes not just public transit, but all forms of mobility, including local roads and highways.
This means we help fund highway improvements with funds that come to Metro from the four and a half-cent sales taxes approved by L.A. County voters in 1980, 1990, 2008 and 2016, respectively. In every case, voters approved ballot-measure funding plans that dedicated some funding to highway projects. Most recently, 67 percent of voters supported the 2008 sales tax known as Measure R. In 2016, 71 percent of voters supported Measure M.
All the freeway projects in the FY23 budget are either targeting notorious safety hotspots and traffic chokepoints, complete streets, or adding HOV and/or ExpressLanes. As directed by Metro’s Board of Directors, we’ve shifted the focus of our highway program toward projects that can be used by buses, carpoolers, bicycles and pedestrians, or projects that help older and existing roads work better.
How does funding for our highway program compare to our proposed spending on transit?
Metro’s proposed budget includes $2.3 billion for transit expansion, almost $2.2 billion for transit operations, $506 million for modernizing transit and keeping it in a state of good repair, about $1.9 billion in funding for cities and other transit agencies in L.A. County and $273 million for regional rail.
That comes to almost $7.2 billion for transit versus $634 million in funding for highway projects.
Does highway funding include money for transit improvements?
Yes. Complete street improvements on roads near freeways are part of most highway projects, and help make streets more hospitable, safer and more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists. The budget also includes $225 million in local street projects in cities across LA County, which include pedestrian and bike improvements.
Our Highway Program budget also supports the development of new bus lanes to speed up our bus system and make buses more reliable and less prone to getting stuck in traffic.
What are some of our highway projects accomplishing?
- Closing gaps in or expanding the HOV and ExpressLanes systems are essential to improving transit and ridesharing opportunities for commuters, carpoolers, vanpools, commuter buses and regional transit. For example, the I-5 North HOV Lane expansion project that broke ground last year between SR-134 and Castaic will add much-needed carpool lane capacity through a major bottleneck between the San Fernando Valley and North County cities.
- Other projects we’re funding will: improve safety and traffic flow on the 57/60 interchange; add an HOV lane to the I-5 in the San Fernando Valley; add an HOV Lane and truck lanes to the 5 between the 14 and Castaic in the North County; modernize the 5 in Southeastern L.A. County, and; make a series of safety improvements on SR-138 in the Antelope Valley. These projects have strong local support, which has helped Metro secure state and federal funding to go along with local dollars. These projects will make roads safer by reducing accidents — often between trucks and vehicles – and will reduce unnecessary weaving, delays, and idling that results in more air pollution.
- Investment in the I-105 ExpressLanes will increase the number of people that can move along the freeway by better managing traffic. ExpressLanes will also generate local funds that we’ll pump back into mobility improvements for communities along the 105. The state of California has invested $150 million in grant funding in recognition of this important project.
- Other highway projects include freeway operational and safety improvements on SR-91 and I-605, all done within existing freeway corridors — meaning there is no need for relocations.
- Additionally, the Highway budget also includes funding ($20 million) for soundwall construction to help reduce noise in impacted and often disadvantaged communities.
Do highway projects result in wider roads?
Most of our projects do add lanes. But we use a targeted approach so that most of our projects do not require property relocations.
For example, we add auxiliary (merging) lanes to the right side of freeways to help improve traffic flow and safety at old interchanges in which merging traffic and exiting traffic conflict. These improvements are necessary because most freeways in L.A. County were not built to handle today’s traffic levels.
But how will Metro get people out of cars if they keep funding roads?
We absolutely want to provide a wider menu of options to getting around so everyone isn’t so reliant on driving.
The stark reality is that L.A. County is a huge place, covering 4,753 square miles with more than 10 million people making it the most populous county in the U.S. Our local roads and freeways – for better and for worse – provide the bulk of our county’s mobility and help power our local economy. Prior to the pandemic, more than 80 percent of L.A. County workers drove to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and there’s no reason to think that number has changed much.
As we continue building a modern transit system for the future as quickly as possible, we can’t ignore our existing infrastructure. We are focused on the HOV/Expresslanes system and on addressing safety and operational hotspots.