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The Crazy $700 Billion Plan To Fix SoCal Traffic: Tunnels!

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If the Expo Line can't solve our traffic problems, then these $700 billion worth of tunnels and toll roads will!That's what the libertarian Reason Foundation says in a plan, released Tuesday, that thumbs its nose at those granola-flavored, green-minded plans (like Mobility Plan 2035) that improve infrastructure for light rail and bikes.

"Continuing down the status-quo path will lead to a future with an incomplete rail transit system and an undersized highway system, resulting in much worse congestion than today," writes Baruch Feigenbaum, transportation analyst with the Reason Foundation. "The path suggested in this study accepts the reality that cars will continue to dominate personal transportation, trucks will remain the backbone of goods movement, and buses will be the mainstay of transit systems."

The Southern California Mobility Plan, as it is called, proposes a network of expressways and tunnels across SoCal that will help drivers drive over or under the most congested parts of the region. Carpool lanes would be replaced with toll express lanes similar to the ones on the 10 freeway and State Route 91, and six mega-projects (five of which would be massive tunnels) would create direct routes between regions in need of connections, including:

  • A tunnel connecting the Westside and the Valley, from the 10 freeway up to the 101 freeway, going underneath either the Santa Monica Mountains, the 405 freeway, or Laurel Canyon.
  • A tunnel bypass through downtown, linking the 110 freeway near Exposition Park to State Route 2 in Echo Park.
  • A tunnel bridging the 5-mile gap between the 710 and 210 freeways in Pasadena.
  • A tunnel between Palmdale and Glendale, running right through the San Gabriel Mountains.
  • A tunnel connecting Orange and Riverside counties, running from Irvine to Corona via the Santa Ana Mountains
  • A 37-mile expressway in the High Desert between Palmdale and Victorville

And while proposing a massive, $714 billion public works project seems to fly in the face of the ethos of a libertarian thinktank, less than half of that (about $352 billion, by their estimation) will come from the pockets of taxpayers—the rest will be taken care of from tolls generated from the new express lanes that Curbed LA called "a system of VIP driving."

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"The plan is probably the most cost-effective way to both double down on private automobiles and reduce traffic congestion for those willing and able to pay the toll," Juan Matute, associate director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, told KPCC.

Of course it goes without saying that while massive tunnels and sparkling new expressways sound like a welcome relief to sitting on the 10 freeway at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday, the project is mostly pie in the sky. Never mind the massive cost—which is at least ten times the over-budget, delayed, and much-maligned California high-speed rail—but inevitable bureaucratic red tape, delays and NIMBYism that would come with the projects would make it all an impossibility and turn it into our own version of Boston's Big Dig.

One can already point to similar projects in Southern California that have already been met with enough opposition and snafus, including the Purple Line extension into Beverly Hills (ugh) and the previously mentioned high-speed rail. Heck, that freeway gap in Pasadena Reason proposes tunneling through has been a problem since 1965.

As Hasan Ikhrati, executive director for the Southern California Association of Governments, told KPCC: "This is just simply a nice idea, but it's not going to work."