Caltrans, SANDAG Kick Off I-5 North County Expansion
Local, state and federal transportation officials Friday held a press event marking the start of construction on eight miles of new carpool lanes on Interstate-5 in Carlsbad and Encinitas.
The project, which officially starts construction next week, is part of the larger North Coast Corridor program to add 13 miles of carpool lanes, seven miles of bike and pedestrian paths and 1.5 miles of rail corridor double tracking in North County. The first work on the program began in 2016.
Caltrans Director Laurie Berman said the agency "is building a modern, multi-modal and responsible system to provide choices to commuters, visitors and businesses to the region." Most of the state's $250 million contribution to the project comes from SB 1, the law passed in Sacramento last year that raised the gas tax and vehicle fees.
Voters on Tuesday will decide whether to repeal the gas tax and vehicle fee increase via Proposition 6. Berman said the latest carpool lane portion of the project would likely not lose any funding should the measure pass, but that the larger North Coast Corridor program would be delayed. The freeway expansion in Carlsbad and Encinitas is scheduled for completion in 2022.
The project's website, which is maintained by the regional transportation agency SANDAG, says the new express lanes "will ensure a reliable, congestion-free travel option throughout the corridor." Asked whether she agreed the project would ensure congestion-free travel, Berman laughed.
"Look, express lanes will certainly move people more quickly," she said. "Our goal is to provide choices and to provide greater reliability, and so that's what we're hoping to do with the express lanes."
The I-5 expansion in North County faced intense opposition from environmentalists several years ago as it was being debated at SANDAG. Opponents argued that past expansions of freeways have failed to reduce traffic congestion, instead only encouraging more people to drive on them. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as "induced demand."
In 2015 Caltrans itself put on its website a policy paper from UC Davis' National Center for Sustainable Transportation detailing the evidence behind induced demand. The paper says the data show projects to add capacity to freeways result in more vehicle trips and more greenhouse gas emissions.
Berman declined to acknowledge the research supporting induced demand, but she admitted that the current traffic congestion on I-5 can push commuters to cut back on driving.
"There's probably a lot of people that aren't driving the 5 right now because they're not taking trips they don't have to take because it's so difficult," she said. "As we add on, will they take more trips? I don't know, I'm hoping they'll take the train more because we're also double tracking the train tracks."
Sophie Wolfram, director of programs for the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, said the new freeway lanes would undermine local and state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from cars and trucks.
"We just cannot afford for decision-makers to keep ignoring the fact that expanding the amount of space we dedicate to cars not only fails to speed up traffic but also accelerates the breakdown of ecosystems that support life on earth," she said.