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Friday, September 21, 2007


From the What are they nuts? department:

Road Builders and State's Finance Department Propose a Dense, Concreted-Over Future for California, Saying We Must Accomodate More Growth

"Needed by 2050: decked freeways, tunnels, tolls, trains"

By Rong-Gong Lin II and Jeffrey L. Rabin, Times Staff Writers
July 11, 2007,1,687520.story

Building the roads and transportation infrastructure needed to accommodate Southern California's surging population could cost more than $100 billion, according to planners, leaving the region's taxpayers with a tough choice ahead.

Local transportation agencies said the Southland's freeways and mass transit need drastic changes to accommodate what state officials project as a 60% increase in the region's population by 2050.

That would probably include adding upper decks to some Los Angeles County freeways, new rail lines and building freeways or toll roads in places like the Antelope Valley, Orange County and Riverside County.

"We are thinking here of a big system, equivalent to the interstate system," said Hasan Ikhrata, director of planning and policy for the Southern California Assn. of Governments, referring to the freeway building boom of the 1950s and 1960s that revolutionized American auto traffic.

The population forecast, released Monday by the state Department of Finance, predicted that California's population would swell to nearly 60 million by midcentury. Southern California's population would reach 31.6 million by 2050, up from 19.5 million in 2000.

Some demographers believe that the state will only reach those numbers if it provides adequate public infrastructure. Others worry that the growth will come even without more roads, making congestion worse.

"The Westsiders won't cross the 405. The west San Gabriel Valley people will stay in their little pocket," said Dowell Myers, USC professor of urban planning and demography. "We're going to live and work more in villages."

Politicians and transportation planners have been grappling for decades with how to make road improvements keep up with the rising population — and many admit that they have largely failed. The percentage of highways in the state deemed congested rose from 32% to 43% from 1992 to 2002, according to a California Department of Transportation study, which defines congestion as rush-hour traffic that moves at 35 mph or less.

In November, California voters approved a $19.9-billion transportation bond measure, hailed as a major milestone.

But the planning studies put the bill for keeping congestion in check at $140 billion in the next 30 years for six Southern California counties.

Paying for the improvements will be difficult. Many counties — including Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside — already have a sales tax for transportation projects.

Many say boosting the gas tax would be the most logical way to collect more revenue. But it is politically unpopular with prices at the pump so high. California and the federal government each impose a gasoline tax of 18 cents a gallon, a rate that has not changed since the early 1990s despite a sharp rise in gas prices. Because the tax has not been adjusted for inflation, California has struggled merely to maintain its existing roads.

And without more roads, "we will be in a serious congestion crisis from the Oregon border to Mexico," said Eric Haley, executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission.

One reason the potential fixes cost so much is that there is so much less raw land than there was in the 1950s. As a result, officials must go to great lengths to engineer new roadways:

• Several of the routes considered most crucial by traffic planners require tunneling under neighborhoods or mountains. These include extending the 710 Freeway through South Pasadena, creating a link under the Santa Ana Mountains from Riverside to Orange counties and boring a tunnel from the Los Angeles Basin through the San Gabriel Mountains into the Antelope Valley.

Los Angeles County has the most severe land crunch, so officials say the only way to significantly improve capacity is to double-deck freeways. A portion of the 110 Freeway in South L.A. is a model, allowing carpools and buses in special elevated lanes.

• Toll roads are gaining new attention because officials could use future revenues to borrow money to build the highways. Officials have talked about an expressway connecting the fast-growing high desert regions of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, and construction is almost completed on a 10-mile toll road east of San Diego.

• The surge in Riverside County's population — expected to leapfrog Orange and San Diego counties and become the No. 2 county in the state — also means the many assumptions about transportation need to be revised. Ikhrata said north-south roads that connect far-flung suburbs in the Inland Empire are needed, rather than the traditional east-west roads that connect those suburbs to Los Angeles.

Besides moving the growing number of commuters to work, government planners predict a 400% increase in cargo movement over the next 30 years, further taxing the freeway system and probably requiring truck-only toll lanes on heavily traveled routes such as the 710, 60, 5, 10 and 15 freeways.

Planning is just beginning for a toll road system for trucks that would cover the heavily traveled route from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the warehouses and logistics facilities of the Inland Empire, from which cargo is distributed across the United States.

"Do we have the political willingness to come out and say this is needed for the state? That, unfortunately, we are going to charge some people for it but it has to be done?" Ikhrata said. "Look, if we're really going to have 60 million people in California, you need these lanes and you need more. You need to accommodate growth, period, unless you're OK driving 5 mph."

Yet, major freeway expansion will be difficult. Any effort to greatly expand the capacity of urban freeways in Los Angeles is likely to run into a buzz saw of opposition from environmentalists and homeowners who don't want more auto traffic and exhaust in their backyards.

In Orange County, plans to build a 16-mile toll road through San Onofre State Beach has sparked opposition from environmentalists and surfers.

And decades of opposition from South Pasadena has stalled Caltrans from completing the missing link of the 710 Freeway, which would offer trucks on the Long Beach Freeway an alternate route to the Central Valley or the Inland Empire.

Now, Caltrans and the MTA are studying a multibillion-dollar tunnel, an idea that continues to run into opposition from some South Pasadenans.

The 710 Freeway fight underscores the debate across the region about how transportation agencies use the money they have.

In Los Angeles County, for example, a 1 cent per $1 sales tax goes mostly to pay for mass transit, operating buses and rail lines. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is building two lines, one to Culver City and the other to East L.A. And Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is pushing for a $5-billion subway along Wilshire Boulevard.

Other counties have focused more resources from their sales taxes on road expansion. But officials are quick to point out that those revenues only go so far.

"We already are struggling to meet the demand of the current population, and so adding to that is definitely going to be a big hurdle," said Cheryl Donahue, spokeswoman for San Bernardino Associated Governments.


60 million Californians by mid-century,1,3304797,full.story?ctrack=4&cset=true

Riverside will become the second most populous county behind Los Angeles and Latinos the dominant ethnic group, study says.

By Maria L. La Ganga and Sara Lin, Times Staff Writers
July 10, 2007

Over the next half-century, California's population will explode by nearly 75%, and Riverside will surpass its bigger neighbors to become the second most populous county after Los Angeles, according to state Department of Finance projections released Monday.

California will near the 60-million mark in 2050, the study found, raising questions about how the state will look and function and where all the people and their cars will go. Dueling visions pit the iconic California building block of ranch house, big yard and two-car garage against more dense, high-rise development.

But whether sprawl or skyscrapers win the day, the Golden State will probably be a far different and more complex place than it is today, as people live longer and Latinos become the dominant ethnic group, eclipsing all others combined.

Some critics forecast disaster if gridlock and environmental impacts are not averted. Others see a possible economic boon, particularly for retailers and service industries with an eye on the state as a burgeoning market.

"It's opportunity with baggage," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., in "a country masquerading as a state."

Other demographers argue that the huge population increase the state predicts will occur only if officials complete major improvements to roads and other public infrastructure. Without that investment, they say, some Californians would flee the state.

If the finance department's calculations hold, California's population will rise from 34.1 million in 2000 to 59.5 million at the mid-century point, about the same number of people as Italy has today.

And its projected growth rate in those 50 years will outstrip the national rate — nearly 75% compared with less than 50% projected by the federal government. That could translate to increased political clout in Washington, D.C.

Southern California's population is projected to grow at a rate of more than 60%, according to the new state figures, reaching 31.6 million by mid-century. That's an increase of 12.1 million over just seven counties.

L.A. County alone will top 13 million by 2050, an increase of almost 3.5 million residents. And Riverside County — long among the fastest-growing in the state — will triple in population to 4.7 million by mid-century.

Riverside County will add 3.1 million people, according to the new state figures, eclipsing Orange and San Diego to become the second most populous in the state. With less expensive housing than the coast, Riverside County has grown by more than 472,000 residents since 2000, according to state estimates.

But many residents face agonizingly long commutes to work in other areas. And Monday, the state's growth projections raised some concerns in the Inland Empire.

Registered nurse Fifi Bo moved from Los Angeles to Corona nine years ago so she could buy a house and avoid urban congestion. But she'd consider moving even farther east now that Riverside County is grappling with its own crowding problems.

"But where am I going? People used to move to Victorville, but [housing prices in] Victorville already got high," the 36-year-old said as she fretted about traffic and smog and public services stretched thin. "We don't know where to go. Maybe Arizona."

John Husing, an economist who studies the Inland Empire, is betting that even in land-rich Riverside County, more vertical development is on the horizon. Part of the reason: a multi-species habitat conservation plan that went into effect in 2005, preserving 550,000 acres of green space that otherwise would have vanished.

"The difficult thing will be for anybody who likes where they live in Riverside County because it's rural," Husing said. "In 2050, you might still find rural out by Blythe, but other than that, forget rural."

Husing predicts that growth will be most dramatic beyond the city of Riverside as the patches of empty space around communities such as Palm Springs, Perris and Hemet begin to fill in with housing tracts. The Coachella Valley, for example, will become fully developed and seem like less of a distinct area outside of Riverside, he said. "It'll be desert urban, but it'll be urban. Think of Phoenix," he said.

Expect a lot of the new development in Riverside County to go up along the 215 Freeway between Perris and Murrieta, according to Riverside County Planning Director Ron Goldman. Thousands of homes have popped up in that area in the last decade, and Goldman said applications for that area indicate condominiums are next. The department is so busy that he's hiring 10 people who'll start in the next month.

"We have over 5,000 active development applications in processing right now," he said.

No matter how much local governments build in the way of public works and how many new jobs are attracted to the region — minimizing the need for long commutes — Husing figures that growth will still overwhelm the area's roads.

USC Professor Genevieve Giuliano, an expert on land use and transportation, would probably agree. Such massive growth, if it occurs, she said, will require huge investment in the state's highways, schools, and energy and sewer systems at a "very formidable cost."

If those things aren't built, Giuliano questioned whether the projected population increases will occur. "Sooner or later, the region will not be competitive and the growth is not going to happen," she said.

If major problems like traffic congestion and housing costs aren't addressed, Giuliano warned, the middle class is going to exit California, leaving behind very high-income and very low-income residents.

"It's a political question," said Martin Wachs, a transportation expert at the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica. "Do we have the will, the consensus, the willingness to pay? If we did, I think we could manage the growth."

The numbers released Monday underscore most demographers' view that the state's population is pushing east, from both Los Angeles and the Bay Area, to counties such as Riverside and San Bernardino as well as half a dozen or so smaller Central Valley counties.

Sutter County, for example, is expected to be the fastest-growing on a percentage basis between 2000 and 2050, jumping 255% to a population of 282,894 , the state said. Kern County is expected to see its population more than triple to 2.1 million by mid-century.

In Southern California, San Diego County is projected to grow by almost 1.7 million residents and Orange County by 1.1 million. Even Ventura County — where voters have imposed some limits on urban sprawl — will see its population jump 62% to more than 1.2 million if the projections hold.

The Department of Finance releases long-term population projections every three years. Between the last two reports, number crunchers have taken a more detailed look at California's statistics and taken into account the likelihood that people will live longer, said chief demographer Mary Heim.

The result?

The latest numbers figure the state will be much more crowded than earlier estimates (by nearly 5 million) and that it will take a bit longer than previously thought for Latinos to become the majority of California's population: 2042, not 2038.

The figures show that the majority of California's growth will be in the Latino population, said Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at USC, adding that "68% of the growth this decade will be Latino, 75% next and 80% after that."

That should be a wake-up call for voting Californians, Myers said, pointing out a critical disparity. Though the state's growth is young and Latino, the majority of voters will be older and white — at least for the next decade.

"The future of the state is Latino growth," Myers said. "We'd sure better invest in them and get them up to speed…. Older white voters don't see it that way. They don't realize that someone has to replace them in the work force, pay for their benefits and buy their house."

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