The Loma Prietan - November/December 2011

Lanes to Nowhere

Highway 1 Expansion: Costs are Clear, Benefits aren’t

by Bill Collins

San Mateo County proposes widening this section of Highway 1 to save drivers 84 seconds per trip ⦠at a cost of $52 million. Photo: Bill Collins.
San Mateo County proposes widening this section of Highway 1 to save drivers 84 seconds per trip … at a cost of $52 million. Photo: Bill Collins.

The San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) continues its program of road expansion as if global warming were not occurring. Its current proposal is to widen a 1.3-mile stretch of Highway 1 in Pacifica from four lanes to six. The Chapter opposes this “Calera Creek” Highway 1 expansion.

Without the widening, warns the SMCTA, motorists will spend an additional 84 seconds on the road. To prevent this horror and make driving a better experience, the SMCTA proposes to spend over $52 million in sales tax revenue. Beyond the expense, the Calera Creek project would destroy wildlife habitat, businesses, and a residence, increase pollution and noise-especially from pile drivers during years of construction … and do little to reduce traffic backups. Neighbors along the highway would suffer for the convenience of motorists who choose to live farther from work.

When San Mateo County voters approved proposition A in 1989, implementing a sales tax dedicated to transportation projects, they were promised that it would fund more than highways and roads. There’s no rail service in Pacifica, so the primary alternatives to automobiles are buses, which usually run just once an hour. In its discussions of the Calera Creek project, the SMCTA has pooh-poohed quicker, cheaper, less destructive alternatives, such as carpooling, vans to BART, and more frequent buses. It dismissed most of these alternatives without bothering with a cost-benefit analysis.

California’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) requires the SMCTA to shift its funding bias to reduce single-passenger trips and thereby limit greenhouse gases. However, the advocates of construction are more powerful than those advocating carpooling incentives, buses, and bicycle lanes, so business continues as usual. Even though expanding Highway 1 from two lanes to four, then to six or more lanes would open up the San Mateo coast to more long-haul commuting, the SMCTA’s Environmental Impact Report claims that the project is not growth-inducing.

The SMCTA admits that its traffic projections show that eventually even six lanes won’t be enough, and it’ll be back for more. It appears that this project is an incremental step to extending the existing freeway, which ends a few miles to the north.

At a September 22 public hearing on the widening, the Chapter advocated for quicker, less harmful and less costly alternatives, and challenged the SMCTA’s claim (not backed by analysis) that better bus service would not increase ridership. Citizens have noted that there are no traffic delays on other four-lane sections of Highway 1, and have suggested adjusting traffic signals. These suggestions have been ignored.

Chapter member Bill Collins lives in Pacifica. He helped block construction of a toll road through San Onofre State Park.