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Ray Haynes

More Intractable Problems? — Our Freeways are Overcrowded

I once attended a seminar regarding the continuing problems of our overburdened transportation system, and how sitting in traffic made people miserable. When I talked about a fix, one of the attendees, who represented an environmental organization, said (and this is an very close to an exact quote) “if we fix the freeways, more people will come to California.” My response was “so the answer to our traffic issues is to make people as miserable as possible, so that no one else will come here and be miserable?

And that is the issue with the environuts in this state. In their minds, people are bad, and the goal is to get rid of as many of them as possible. Don’t let them go to state parks, don’t let them have an affordable place to live, make gasoline as expensive as possible through unreasonable environmental controls on the extraction and production of fuel. If they still buy the fuel and use their cars, make that use a miserable experience, to discourage further use. Make water so expensive to obtain that people don’t buy or use it. Cram people into small living units, into smelly, nasty transportation systems like buses and trains, make their life so miserable that they leave the state.

And its working. For the first time since 1940, California lost a congressional seat in the last reapportionment performed by Congress. Growth has slowed dramatically, but houses are too expensive, water is too expensive, electricity is too expensive, freeways are still overcrowded, and gasoline cost more here than anywhere else in the country.

I’ve talked about how to relieve some of these problems. Today, I want to talk freeways and transportation. As with the other problems, the solutions are simple, but the political forces that control the Democrat majority in the Legislature don’t want to relieve the misery experienced by the people of the state of California on those crowded freeways, so the Democrats do nothing.

So what is the solution? Build more freeways. 40 years of focusing on “public transportation,” that is, buses and trains, has failed. People want the freedom their cars afford. If government insists on being the sole provider of transportation infrastructure, then that government needs to meet the needs of the people of the state. God knows it collect enough taxes to pay for what we need. Those in charge of the government just refuse to use those taxes to build the freeways.

We have already talked about how the taxes for freeway construction are reaching 50 cents per gallon. But did you know that over ninety per cent of our current freeway infrastructure was built in the twenty years between 1955 and 1975? Today, it takes twenty three years to build one mile of freeway, because government has imposed so many controls and restrictions, far beyond that necessary to protect people and the environment, that it is nearly impossible to get a freeway built.

This is the typical process for building that freeway. First step, someone thinks “Hey we need a new freeway between [here and here] because traffic is so bad.” Others agree, and say “Let’s look at the feasibility of that project.” That process takes about two years. Second step, bureaucrats draw a line on a map showing where the new freeway is going to go. That process takes about a year. Third, bureaucrats and politicians hold public meetings with “stakeholders” about the line on the map to obtain a consensus. This process takes about two years. If no consensus is achieved, the process goes back to step two. If there is a consensus, the fourth step begins, in which the politicians and bureaucrats study how to pay for the line on the map. This process takes two to three years (mind you we’re at about 6 years now). If they can’t find a funding source, the project goes back to step one. If they find the money, the fifth step begins. This is the longest step, the environmental studies, where they study every little plant, weed, bug, rat, piece of dirt, molecule of air and water, person, community, city, or other government agency that will be disturbed by the freeway (but not how the current set up is disturbing people). This study usually takes about 8 to 10 years. Now that this process is completed, the sixth step starts. We are now about 15 to 18 years in the process, so costs have increased, other bureaucrats and politicians (who have taken over for those who have been advanced or retired) study how to pay for the increased costs. Another three years. Assuming the project gets this far, the last 3 to 5 years is spent acquiring the property, and building the freeway. Twenty three to twenty five years later.

We spend billions of dollars for people at all levels of government to sit around and think about building the freeway (by studying it day in and day out for years), but not very much of that money for actually building the freeway, which is why the escalating gas tax we pay seems to have no impact on improving our freeways.

We built 90 percent of our freeways with a gas tax at 4 cents per gallon. It then got raised to 9 cents per gallon, and freeway construction slowed. When we raised it to 18 cents per gallon in 1990, construction nearly stopped, and it has stayed stopped when we raised it again to about 36 cents per gallon (for the gallon tax alone (today). There has been an inverse relationship between increased taxes and government performance for over 50 years.

Build the freeways, relieve the miserable conditions under which people live NOW. It’s simple, it just takes a political will to fix the freeways, and let those who worry about weeds, bugs and rats go home and be miserable about all the rotten things they think we are doing to those weeds, bugs and rats, instead of you and me being miserable because we have to drive to work to feed our families. I can live with that.