Is there life beyond congestion? In November 2018 SamTrans will ask us to vote for a new one-half percent sales tax increase in San Mateo County. The money will fund an expansion of Highway 101 and various other highway and transit projects. We must vote NO on this long-failed and destructive strategy, and push for an all-transit tax instead, one that does not continue to build traffic congestion and starve transit and active transportation improvements for funding.
These days it seems like congestion is a way of life – Highway 101 is in rigor mortis during peak hours and heavily traveled the rest of the time. And yet, 40 years ago it was an idyllic four-lane highway with forested sides of pine trees and flowered shrubs running down the median. What happened to bring us wall-to-wall asphalt chocked in fumes? We face the stark reality that billions of tax dollars have been wasted on making congestion worse.
Even the Environmental Impact Report of the proposed $534 million widening of Highway 101, heavily biased to favor expansion, admits that at certain times the project will make congestion worse! In reality no congestion relief will materialize at all, and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has acknowledged that highway widening simply doesn’t work. San Mateo County has been “building congestion” for decades by widening highways while starving public transit improvements for funding. Wider highways and multi-lane roadways have made walking and bicycling a rarity rather than a commonplace mode of transportation, further contributing to worsening congestion. Just ten years ago almost $400 million was spent to build the auxiliary lanes on Highway 101, which connect on and off ramps with continuous lanes to provide an increase in vehicle capacity.
The bungling bureaucrats at SamTrans/Caltrain/SMCTA need to look in the mirror. Publicly acknowledging that the auxiliary lane widening project from ten years ago completely failed would be a first step. Analyzing how other counties and regions like Seattle have successfully absorbed a growing population without adding traffic would be a welcome second step. By asking for yet another sales tax hike to widen highways, county officials are admitting that all their past attempts at relieving congestion have failed.
One argument we’ve heard for highway expansion is that “something is better than nothing.” This is hopeless and ignorant. It gives up on a vision of clean air, climate action, fiduciary government, and successful public transit systems that have been implemented worldwide. We cannot just do the same something that has failed for decades; we must instead do something that will actually work to make things better. We need to reduce the number of automobiles and provide credible alternatives to driving.
Enough is enough. Vote NO on November 6, 2018 and tell Samtrans to stop making the same stupid mistake over and over again.