Boondoggle to “no build”

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, commonly known as Metro, intends to vote “no build” on a previously approved I-710 expansion project.

*This blog was written by PIRG transportation advocate Sam Little.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, commonly known as Metro, intends to vote “no build” on a previously approved I-710 expansion project. According to EPA, the project would have added two more lanes to a highway running through an area with “the worst air quality in the United States.”.

A “no-build” decision is the best-case scenario when a city or state proposes a highway boondoggle, such as the I-710 expansion. State and local governments waste billions of dollars worth of new and expanded highways that often do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges while diverting precious funding from infrastructure repairs and key transportation priorities. In 2016, PIRG advocated against another now-canceled widening project on the same highway.

The project ran into obstacles from the EPA, which ruled that it violated the Clean Air Act. Environmental advocates also wanted it stopped, and local opposition protested the removal of hundreds of homes. And now, Metro appears to be throwing in the towel on this $6 billion project and will instead prioritize the smaller, previously-approved projects already in the works, such as Shoemaker Bridge, ICM implementation, and sound walls. 

Here are three things to take away from this news:

  1. It is possible to say “no.”

A “no-build” decision is unusual. President Joe Biden recently signed a massive new infrastructure spending law to help states build a cleaner and more modern America. There is $68 billion for roads and highways in the fiscal year 2023 alone, and we continue to see proposals for boondoggles like this.

That is why it’s encouraging to see Metro choose “no build.” It signals that they recognized this project (and potentially ones like it) would do more harm than good. Hopefully, they will focus their efforts on repairing existing roads and investing in more rail, bus, and bike options.

  1. Local opposition can force action.

The headlines will read that EPA stopped this project by enforcing the Clean Air Act. However, local opposition brought attention to the issue. Their activism ensured EPA carried out its duties.

Our regulatory bodies carry power that communities do not. That does not mean communities are powerless, though. On the contrary, we can ensure they wield this power in our best interests through organizing.

As more funds flow from the federal government, we must keep this pressure on all decision-makers and those responsible for regulating them.

  1. The story is not over.

Metro’s most recent I-710 Task Force meeting highlights that they will move forward with Early Action Projects (EAPs) unaffected by the “no-build” decision. The list of EAPs varies. The bridge repairs, sound walls, and road restoration projects are essential investments in our roads. Others, like road widenings and on/off ramp extensions, are wasteful for similar reasons to the highway expansions.

These EAPs will cost $184 million. But, based on my napkin calculations, most of it will go to repair/restorations. That’s great, considering this replaces a $6 billion boondoggle.

So, was this a sincere admission from a major transit authority that highway expansion has more negative impacts than positive ones? Or was this a strategic move to replace a scrutinized, albatross project with many sneakier, more nimble ones that would achieve similar goals (more lanes)? It appears that Metro still has an appetite for expanding roads but may move forward in more measured ways.

Overall, this is a win for the communities along the I-710 corridor. It showed what can happen when grassroots interests and regulatory bodies align. Hopefully, it will be a sign of better things to come.

Image: Bart Jaillet on Unsplash.

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Matt Casale

Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

Matt oversees PIRG's toxics, transportation and zero waste campaigns and leads PIRG’s climate program to promote a cleaner, healthier future for all Americans. Matt lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, two daughters and chihuahua.

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