Tea Party Group Rallies Against HOT Lanes in Inland Empire/San Bernardino

Rendering by ##http://www.thetransitcoalition.us/a_better_inland_empire/proj_hot.html##The Transit Coalition##
Rendering by ##http://www.thetransitcoalition.us/a_better_inland_empire/proj_hot.html##The Transit Coalition##

Even as the state begins backpedaling on the need to continually widen highways and increase traffic capacity, a political flareup in San Bernardino highlights just how hard it can be to advance sane transportation policy at a statewide level in a place as big as California.

Led by former candidate for Fontana City Council Tressy Capps and a YouTube video maker identified online and in person as “Grindal61,” a movement is growing to fight against two proposed highway expansion projects in the Inland Empire. One is a thirty-mile expansion project on the I-10. The other is a 35-mile one on the I-15.

No, these patriots are not manning the walls to protest the lunacy of expanding highways at the same time the state is trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are fighting because the San Bernardino Association of Governments (SANBAG), who oversees the projects, is considering making the new highway lanes variable toll lanes with the final price determined by the number of people in the car and the time of day. Last week, the group stormed a SANBAG meeting to voice their displeasure.

The benefits of using variable tolls to help fund a project and cover future maintenance costs is two-fold. First, by charging drivers who use the roads the cost of using the road, the rest of us aren’t paying taxes to maintain highways we never use. And by varying the toll price to make certain that a faster ride is guaranteed in the toll lane, the lane is basically congestion free forever, which reduces the impact of induced demand from added capacity.

While no decision has been made on whether or not to proceed with the construction or the tolling, “Toll Free IE” stormed recent public meetings and planted a flag against any consideration of even studying tolling. Earlier this week, the group forced an item supporting State Senate Bill 941 to be pulled from the agenda. S.B. 941 would allow SANBAG to operate toll facilities on the I-10 and I-15 with the consent of the neighboring counties, in this case Riverside and Los Angeles County.

Even as they rail against the proposed HOT Lanes, the group makes clear they have no issue with new highway projects–just ones that have a toll attached to them. In fact, any project that is designed to lessen automobile dependency is an infringement that cannot be tolerated.

“We know exactly what you are trying to do,” Grindal61 thundered at the end of an epic rant in front of SANBAG. “This is not about access, this is about getting us all out of our cars. Shame on all of you.”

Consider the irony: the rise of the Tea Party against toll lane projects could be a good sign for progressive transportation projects. Without the funds generated by tolls, it is unlikely that SANBAG could afford either of these new freeway projects, which would add over 130 lane miles to the already sprawling Inland Empire. Raising a political movement against toll lanes may just be the tipping point needed to stop highway expansion throughout the state.

The case against more freeways was made recently in the Victorville Daily Press, by editor Steve Hunt. Hunt, who is hardly a booster for progressive transportation, makes the point that the highway expansions are for traffic that is projected to be created by future developments, not current traffic. He favors a no-build option over adding costly freeways now for traffic that may never come.

Now if it were me, I’d choose the no-build option. I’d wait to see how many more people move up to the High Desert, how much worse traffic gets after the Devore Interchange Project is complete and then rely on our elected leaders to demand our fair share of all transportation-related tax money to pay for further expansion and/or improvements. After all, isn’t that what we pay our elected leaders to do, advocate on our behalf?

Given the historical error of assuming traffic growth is never ending, Hunt may be right. And if those two highways are not expanded as a result of the actions of Toll Free IE, we may all have reason to thank the Tea Party for fulfilling its core mission. After all, I can think of few things that better exemplify wasteful government spending than a highway expansion project in the sprawling Inland Empire.

  • keenplanner

    Typically, the Teabaggers want everything but don’t want to pay for it. IMHO, all the lanes should be tolled. We could then afford proper road maintenance.

  • calwatch

    On the other hand, these Community Advisory Groups seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time on branding and brochures. http://www.i10corridorproject.org/document/page/85-472-sanbag-1015_cag-meeting-minutes_ev-mar18_draft-final.pdf When I served on the Metro Expresslanes CAG we were focused primarily on policy and outreach issues, not on how a logo looked. Although I hate the specter of spewing greenhouse gases to drive to San Bernardino County to try to make an unworkable project better, I am tempted to join just to see if we can steer this to a more transit friendly direction, and see if there is an actual need for this project or if it is just going to address maybe 15 hours of congestion out of a 168 hour week.

    I do love how Agenda 21 is thrown out there, as if the SANBAGs of the world are competent enough to turn us into human batteries like that Glenn Beck book. Quite frankly I wish Agenda 21 was realer than it is, because maybe we would be able to stop climate change.

    • I attended one CAG meeting for these projects and the process was explained to me to be something that sounds substantially similar to what you describe for the Metro CAG. I was unable to stay for the entire meeting, but they seemed to be at least pretending to report on how outreach was going at that time. It wasn’t exactly phenomenal, but they were doing it. If you want to assist, it might be a good idea soon because the project actually stands to benefit LA too.

      As for the projects themselves, the need is questionable. At its heyday, traffic counts on I-10 were north of 200k. The Great Recession easily knocked five to ten percent off of that, but I believe they have been creeping up again. Additionally, there are plans in various stages at all the cities out here that would add in the neighborhood of 300k residents to the I-10 and I-15 corridors and I’d expect a decent portion of them to use them, at least in the short term.

      There are some transit projects in the works already. On the immediate horizon, the Downtown San Bernardino Transit Center is now under construction and should be fully operational within 16 months. The Redlands Passenger Rail and train service to the Coachella Valley are both in various stages of planning and design. Additionally, Omnitrans is slowly but surely pushing forward with the West Valley Connector, which itself is a mash-up of three of their planned BRT routes. Of course, the Gold Line Foothill Extension Phase II is supposed to end in Montclair, a move that I myself find unnecessary due to its extreme proximity to Claremont. Instead of sabotaging all the rail projects in the county, SANBAG could instead use the money and buy a DMU (tomorrow!) to shuttle people back and forth between the two for years before the Gold Line ever broke ground. Finally, the Transit Coalition has a rosy vision for the entire IE.

      With all that being said, the HOV/HOT lanes can be useful for transit as long as they include the dedicated entrances at key interchanges to allow direct access and avoid some of the surrounding congestion.

  • calwatch

    For the I-15 project, we’re literally trying to solve a problem that happens Thursday and Friday afternoons, and long weekends. Typical traffic on both freeways, according to Google Maps historical traffic view, is “green” on all weekday mornings at 7 AM. Some spot widening might be warranted near the I-15/I-215 interchange but we shouldn’t be building roads to handle the peak for less than 10% of the day.

  • SFNative74

    Expanding a freeway is “about getting us all out of our cars”?? Wow – mental retard is right.

  • Daniel Brotherston

    These teabaggers as usual are mental retards. Their official, and declared policy, or, more accurately “their lord’s word”, literally supports tolling. Tolling is not taxing, and tolling would lower taxes. The fact they object to HOT lanes, and prefer tax supported socialist highways is utterly mental. Its a miracle these people can dress themselves.

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