Assemblymember Cristina Garcia Planning Legislation to Stop Freeway Expansion in Underserved Communities
Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported that State Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) is planning to introduce legislation to end freeway expansion in low-income communities already suffering from freeway harms. According to the Times, the bill would “prohibit the state from funding or permitting highway projects in areas with high rates of pollution and poverty and where residents have suffered negative health effects from living near freeways.” Per the Times, “Garcia stated state leaders should consider the significant evidence of racial and health disparities caused by highway construction as well as research showing that freeway widenings frequently fail to resolve traffic congestion because they induce more car trips.”
Garcia cited recent L.A. Times research on the continued harm of freeway widening as an impetus for the proposed legislation.
L.A. Metro and Caltrans are planning several major freeway expansions in Garcia’s predominantly low-income and Latino southeast Los Angeles County district:
- 710 Freeway Widening: The Times piece states that Garcia has, for years, fought efforts to widen the 710 Freeway, a notorious mega-project that has been pushed by Caltrans and Metro for decades. The agencies’ $6 billion plan had been to add two additional general purpose lanes, tearing out hundreds of properties in the way, and adding more pollution to what is already called a diesel death zone. This year, after the EPA determined that Metro’s widening plans didn’t comply with federal clean air law, the Metro board suspended the project, but pro-freeway forces are already pushing to revive it.
- 5 Freeway Widening: At the center of Garcia’s district is the city of Downey, where Metro is currently planning to demolish homes to widen about three miles of the 5 Freeway. Metro slightly reined in an earlier plan that would have taken out 250+homes, but still plans to demolish 156-182 homes. The Times noted that Garcia’s brother’s workplace was one of hundreds of businesses homes displaced by Metro’s $1.9 billion 5 Freeway expansion, currently under construction.
- 605 Freeway Widening: The 5 Freeway widening is part of Metro’s $4+billion planned 605 Freeway widening project, which would impact more than 1,100 parcels.
- Additional smaller freeway widening projects: In addition to Caltrans and Metro’s mega-projects, there are other freeway widenings planned in Garcia’s district. For example, Caltrans and Metro are planning to widen about a mile of the 91 Freeway near the 710; that $95 million widening is part of a Metro project termed “605 Hot Spots” where Metro is preparing to widen the 605 Freeway by widening ramps, interchanges, etc. that lead to it. The 710 Freeway widening has a similar “early action program.”
(1/2) Equity needs to be a word accompanied w/action prioritizing our most vulnerable communities including #SELA. That's what this legislation plans to do.@metrolosangeles @CaltransDist7 @CAgovernor @laurafriedman43 @SenGonzalez_33 https://t.co/20hvoU6krX
— Cristina Garcia (@AsmGarcia) December 12, 2021
Garcia has worked to make her district safer for walking, including securing a $5 million budget set-aside for a new pedestrian walkway at Florence Avenue to help Bell Gardens residents get across the 710 Freeway to access improvements planned along the lower Los Angeles River.
(2/2) Did you know this entrance is very busy & we have to pass 4 freeway on/off ramps & dodge cars & trucks to access the river from Bell Gardens? @bellgardenscity
— Cristina Garcia (@AsmGarcia) August 21, 2021
Garcia plans to introduce the new freeway bill in January 2022. Read the Times coverage, which puts the legislation in the context of past and ongoing freeway widening harms, as well as recent changes at the federal and state levels.