Two States Cancel Highway Expansions After Years of Planning

A view of the 710 freeway in Long Beach, California.

A view of the 710 freeway in Long Beach, California. Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Connect with state & local government leaders
 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Advocates in favor of scrapping highway projects hope that increased public pressure and scrutiny from the Biden administration will halt others.

It’s not common for transportation agencies to walk away from highway expansions after years of planning, but it has happened in two major metropolitan areas last month. Advocates hope that increased public pressure and scrutiny from the Biden administration could halt other build-outs as well.

Officials have canceled or paused plans to expand freeways in Los Angeles and Denver, as political leaders have re-examined long-held assumptions about the financial price and societal costs of bigger roads through urban areas.

Los Angeles County officials scrapped plans to widen an 18-mile stretch of highway that connects the busiest port complex in the country to east Los Angeles and several other freeways in the area. It’s a major victory for local activists, who argued that the increased traffic would add air pollution and other problems to nearby residents, who are predominantly Black and Hispanic. Federal environmental regulators were already scrutinizing the expansion plans for potential violations of the Clean Air Act.

“We are no longer going to widen the freeway,” said Janice Hahn, the county supervisor who sponsored the motion, said at a meeting. “We are no longer going to wipe out homes and neighborhoods for a freeway project.”

The vote was unanimous, effectively halting a project that had been in the works for nearly two decades. The supervisors now plan to use the $750 million allocated for the highway project for other purposes.

“We should use the funding … on smarter ways to improve air quality, reduce congestion, improve mobility and address safety concerns for everyone living and traveling along this corridor,” Hahn said.

Another Canceled Project

The Los Angeles project cancellation came after Colorado officials put on hold their plan to widen Interstate 25 through central Denver, saying they could no longer afford the project. State and regional authorities wanted to expand the highway to address the chronic traffic jams that clog existing lanes, and to improve safety from traffic crashes and low-clearance bridges.

Matt Inzeo, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said the agency was shifting priorities. It recently purchased a freight rail yard near the highway.

“We are exploring a significant relocation of the rail lines through the is area just south of the central business district,” he wrote in an email message. “Because the rail work will be such a big job in and of itself, and because we don’t have funds in hand to tack on a major interstate project as well, we are focusing on the rail work for the next several years.”

On top of budget concerns that officials cited for pushing the project off their priority list, Colorado transportation agencies now must consider how new projects would affect greenhouse gas pollution. The requirement is part of a new state law passed last year.

Inzeo said the new greenhouse gas rules did not play a part in the department's decision, but it could come into play later on. “It will be relevant if and when we consider capacity changes on I-25. That isn’t a ripe consideration right now,” he explained.

Area activists pointed to the new law earlier this spring when outlining their opposition to the expansion of I-25.

“It’s long past time that Colorado invests in projects that align with its commitments to address climate change, air quality and equity,” wrote members of the Denver Streets Partnership.

“Colorado leaders can no longer pretend it’s possible to have it both ways—you cannot continue to fund highway widenings that induce demand for driving while spending a marginal amount on multimodal projects. Colorado must stop highway expansion projects and instead must significantly increase investment in projects and programs that increase transportation options,” they argued.

Strong Towns, a group that opposes highway expansions, said in a blog post that the Colorado decision was “a great step towards prosperity in building a strong town when a city just says ‘no’ to damaging road expansions and turns their funds instead toward creating more walkable cities with various transportation options.”

“Highway expansion has been the primary solution for many DOTs when faced with solving congestion issues. Strong Towns has been advocating that this never works, and only creates more traffic congestion while leading the community into debt,” the group explained.

Colorado, though, is still moving ahead with other highway widening projects, including the widening of Interstate 70 through north Denver.

Changes Bring Scrutiny

Activists claimed a victory in Oregon, if only temporarily, when the Federal Highway Administration revoked its initial environmental approval for a plan to widen Interstate 5 through Portland. The project would widen the roadway through Albina, a historically Black neighborhood, but cover stretches of the below-grade highway with caps that could help reconnect the community. The proposed caps would allow buildings to be constructed over the highway.

Gov. Kate Brown helped negotiate the inclusion of caps in the project, after significant community opposition. But the changes were substantial enough that federal officials determined that the Oregon Department of Transportation must update its environmental assessment. The state agency also has to revise findings that its project is in line with local plans.

Still, Rose Gerber, an ODOT spokesperson, said those updates were “anticipated” and said the project is still on track for construction to start next year.

A local group of opponents, called No More Freeways, which has sued ODOT over the project, claimed that the state agency “retreated” from its initial plans to avoid legal scrutiny.

“Community 2, ODOT 0,” Chris Smith, a co-founder of No More Freeways, said in a statement. “Elected officials should take note that No More Freeways and our partners will continue to use the tools at our disposal to demonstrate how ODOT’s proposed freeway expansions are legally incompatible with any coherent, desirable vision of a region with cleaner air, reduced traffic congestion and fewer carbon emissions.”

This story has been updated to include comments from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.