LA: Congestion Capitol of the Country

AND WHAT’S BEING DONE ABOUT IT - Well, it’s not as if we should be surprised, but the 2011 Congested Corridors Report, published by the Texas Transportation Institute of Texas A&M University, is “the first nationwide effort to identify reliability problems” at specific highway stretches, and it shows that LA leads the pack in congested corridors.

Using the most modern data gathering techniques, this report isn’t drawing much in the way of new conclusions, but it does renew the need to assess the key stretches of our freeways that are not only getting longer but are less predictable for those who have to drive them.  328 of the worst corridors account for only 6% of the nation’s total freeway lane-miles and 10% of the traffic volume, but also account for 36% of the country’s urban freeway congestion.

Trucks as well as ordinary commuters have the same mobility problem: only 8% of the national truck traffic and yet up to 33% of urban freeway truck delay exists in those corridors.  Clearly, the economic and environmental impacts (to say nothing about the quality of life impacts) are not to be underestimated.

Furthermore, travel time lengthening and unreliability are worse around bridges, tunnels and toll facilities because of the lack of alternate routes, and because even small incidents can cause large delays.  

I imagine that key intersections and geographic obstacles such as the 110/10 interchange in Downtown LA, or the Sepulveda Pass between the Westside and San Fernando Valley should be included as well, because it makes geographically close neighbors seem as far away as LA and Orange County, or LA and Santa Barbara.  

And not surprisingly, the City of LA “enjoys” the distinction of having 7 out of 10 of the worst congested corridors (particularly the I-110 near Downtown, the I-10 from Downtown to the Westside, and the I-405 between LAX and the San Fernando Valley) with respect to both general congestion and truck congestion.

This phenomenon has led to such a balkanization of our City that too few of us give a hoot about Downtown (it’s as inaccessible as the planet Mars, so why go there, or invest there?).  This phenomenon probably influenced the unsuccessful San Fernando Valley effort to secede from the rest of the City of Los Angeles, because the latter probably comes across as a “distant” and “foreign” entity taxing and tyrannizing the local neighborhoods of the former.

What were the conclusions of the 2011 Congested Corridors Report?  Also no surprise:  building roads, building or expanding transit facilities, aggressive crash removal, improving commuter information, telecommuting, flexible work hours, and create denser development patterns with a greater ability for people to walk, bike or take transit between work and their homes.

My brief review of the report did not show other ideas such as having large commercial trucks banned from freeways during rush hour, and to encourage commercial traffic from the ports by rail and to have trucks loaded more during nonpeak hours, but I suspect this falls into the category of flexible hours and expanding transit facilities.

I also suspect that most readers are thinking something to the effect of “tell me something I don’t know, but what do we do about it other than move to another city or county or state?”

To which I would counter that this city, county and even state (well, perhaps not the latter) already is doing a lot about it, although perhaps our political leaders’ shortcomings have eclipsed their ability to fix the mobility problems detailed in the 2011 Congested Corridors Report.

For those of us on the Westside, it’s to be reminded that we’re widening and upgrading the 405 freeway as much as possibly can be done, we’ve widened Overland Ave. from a secondary road to a main arterial, and we’re building not one but two rail lines (Expo Light Rail and Wilshire Subway), for which a grand total of $10 billion or more has been spent with federal, state and local funds within a 10-15 year period.  Maybe it’s not enough, but the Westside can’t really say it’s been ignored.

So it’s “back to the future” with respect to revisiting the paradigms that’ll give us new options to help with mobility…and yes, the City and County of LA are doing more than we give them credit for (but still need a few good political smacks to make sure our leaders stay focused on fixing the problems):

1) The subway and light rail network that we’re building in earnest can and should effectively be considered a “freeway widening” when actual road widening isn’t economically or physically feasible.  The Expo Line is equivalent to a widening of 1-2 lanes each way on the 10 freeway, the Wilshire Subway replaces the original conception of a freeway for that corridor, and a putative Lincoln and Sepulveda couplet of rail lines would be equivalent of a widening of the 405 freeway.

2) Don’t ignore projects such as the Alameda Corridor East which, when built, would finish the job of the original north-south Alameda Corridor to have commercial freight traffic move via rail through the ports and proceed first to Downtown and then east to the Inland Empire … which means the trucks should start their long hauls out there (and only when they’re needed).

3) Freeway widening still has a role to play, despite the expensive and destructive impacts it has on communities.  For example, widening the I-5 not just to the I-605 in eastern LA County isn’t good enough, because the next step can and should be the widening to the I-710 freeway.  And someday, the City of LA is going to have to consider having its own version of Boston’s Big Dig and widen the I-10 freeway Downtown from its current 1950’s status.

4) There are not one, but three main commercial corridors/regions that call for densification, in Los Angeles, and although two of them are being addressed with the Downtown Light Rail Connector and the Wilshire Subway, the City is going to have to wrap its brain around a LAX People Mover that not only enhances a MetroRail/LAX rail connection but commercial and tourist mobility and economic betterment for the Century Blvd. Corridor near LAX.

5) Developers can, will and already are being asked to pay more to pay for the transportation/infrastructure impacts their projects have in our city and county, but clearly we’re not where we should be with respect to proper mitigation requirements.

So we’ve redefined the problems at a time when we’re already in the process of addressing these problems (albeit decades behind in that effort).  With the right civic attitudes and political leadership, the City of LA definitely CAN save itself.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

Tags: Los Angeles, congestion, traffic congestion, freeway congestion, traffic corridors, congested corridors, Congested Corridors Report

Vol 9 Issue 92
Pub: Nov 18, 2011