COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: They want to pave paradise (and widen the freeway)

Remember when California was “the place where the future happens first”? Well, none of the proposed options for Caltrans’ Interstate 5 expansion project, from La Jolla to Oceanside, will get us anywhere first. On the contrary, they’ll keep us mired in an outmoded transportation system overly reliant on the internal combustion engine. Any project undertaken at this 21st century juncture needs to yield environmental benefits, and while Caltrans’ current proposals appear to address environmental concerns, in fact, they do not.
Up to 100 homes and business would have to be acquired; six lagoons would need to be disturbed; and 40-foot-high walls would be built along much of the freeway. The end result of this 40-year, $3 billion project would be a 14-lane mega-freeway showering us with yet more particulate matter and noise, while not measurably reducing our commute times.
While Caltrans’ concept of a “multi-modal” system is sound in theory, the specific options proposed all lack the vision necessary to prevent us from slipping further and further behind the rest of the world on transportation planning. The central problem is that one of the modes in this multi-modal system, the automobile, overshadows all of the others. Any plan that does not get people out of their cars, into public transportation and onto bicycles will just carry us further down the wrong road.
Caltrans thinks carpool (HOV) and gas bus lanes are the answer, and both certainly are better than the current flood of single occupancy traffic. However, continued reliance on the automobile and bus is not the answer, even with two per car. And the buses will be outmoded before the project is even completed. There’s no need to build extra lanes if we can get people out of their cars and onto trains and bikes.
The best of all options would be a light rail, or monorail, line running right down the middle of the freeway, fed by the Park and Ride lots, viable bike paths, and efficient local bus service. Alternately, existing trains could be modernized (made electric-powered, faster, and more frequent). Traditionally, the argument against such rail projects has been that they’re too expensive. This argument has always been shortsighted, as we put saving a few tax dollars above the health of our children, the beauty of our area, and the quality of our lives. In the present case, however, the proposed Caltrans project will cost $3 to $4 billion, which is almost certainly more than what such a rail project would cost.
So, the best of Caltrans’ proposed options is the “no build” option, as it would prevent our tax dollars from being squandered. But the “no build” option is only a temporary remedy. What we really need is a sustainable vision for future transportation. Let’s not add any lanes to Interstate 5 but instead use the resources for trains and bike paths. At present our bike paths are an embarrassment, as we dodge cars and thorns. However, with a relatively small amount of funding, they could be improved to the extent that people would feel safe using them. Let’s not forget that there are also real health benefits to cycling, the kind that both extend our lives and reduce our health insurance costs. If there were convenient and safe ways for people to cycle to the train and bus stations, they would do so.
California made a grave mistake after World War II when we opted for freeways over rail systems. Let’s now admit we blew it and take this opportunity to move into the future properly. If we accept Caltrans’ I-5 expansion plans, we’ll be playing transportation catch-up with the rest of the world for yet another generation.
Just say no to the new freeway expansion project proposed by Caltrans! This is one of those pivotal moments when we need to stand together against governmental folly. Caltrans has asked for citizen input. I suggest that we give it to them. Comments must be received by Oct. 7. Please use the address below.
Mail comments by Oct. 7 to:
Shay Lynn M. Harrison
Caltrans District 11, MS# 242
4050 Taylor St.
San Diego, CA 92110

Darius Degher is a Leucadia resident.

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