It's unfortunate, but buried within the legislative package of infrastructure projects that the Legislature passed last week, and that otherwise includes important goals such as affordable housing and education, will be a big chunk of change that will go to freeway building, particularly for increasing the ability to expand the movement of goods that flows through -- and pollutes -- the Southern California region. Translated: more freeway lanes or even a double decker of that most notorious of Southern California freeways, the 710.
It's ironic, or perhaps fitting, that passage of this infrastructure package is coming shortly before the 50th anniversary of the biggest public works project the world had ever seen at the time, according to then President Dwight Eisenhower. June 29, 1956 will mark the anniversary of the Federal-Aid Highway Act that created our interstate highway system; legislation that ultimately transformed the country, producing freeways that cut through cities, establishing funding mechanisms that perpetuated freeway building and disguised their environmental and health costs further induced sprawl, and failed to address and provide for the costs of dislocation. After its passage, California jumped on the bandwagon in the late 1950s and early 1960s, determined to become its own mini-freeway nation, with plans, as Ethan Rarick's new book on Pat Brown notes, to construct as many as 12,000 freeway miles, while spending as much as one fourth of the state's entire annual budget over a 20 year period.
Like the interstate highway legislation from fifty years ago, the new proposed spending on freeway improvements for the movement of goods out of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will create new and disguised environmental, health, and community burdens and will basically ignore the intense opposition of communities whose places are most directly impacted by any such expansion. There is a rush to judgment on this issue, bound in part by electoral rather than community considerations. In the late 1950s, such community opposition was ignored until the damage was done. The lessons of 1956 suggest that in this aspect of the big funding package we don't need another huge investment in making goods cheaper for Wal-Mart while creating sacrifice zones in communities that line the freeway in this country, as well as those communities impacted by the huge port expansion in China that provides another dimension to this freeway expansion package.