May 22, 2014
Traffic streams through the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 Freeway that connects the Westside to the San Fernando Valley.
And so, after four years and more than a billion dollars of work on the
405 Freeway, after marathon weekend closures of lanes (Carmageddons I
and II and Jamzilla), after obstacle courses of orange cones and
K-rails, after widening three bridges and carving into the side of a
canyon, the newly expanded carpool lane will debut Friday morning. There
will now be one contiguous high-occupancy vehicle lane on the
northbound 405 from Orange County to the 5 Freeway. Combined with the
existing southbound HOV lane, the 405 Freeway will have the two longest
continuous carpool lanes on the planet. Well, in the nation, for sure.
The good news is that Metro is ahead of schedule; earlier this year
officials predicted the carpool lane wouldn't be completed until summer.
The bad news is that, alas, the job is not entirely finished. Crews
will still be doing landscaping, electrical work and, yes,
intermittently closing lanes and ramps. Metro and the contractor —
Kiewit — should keep in mind that everyone who travels the 405 is
suffering construction fatigue and anything that closes a lane or a ramp
is one more inconvenience in a four-year series of them. They should
work on getting out of the Sepulveda Pass, like, yesterday.
Still, the main purpose of this project was to create a new lane of
traffic on the 405 between the Santa Monica and Ventura freeways and
turn the far left lane into a carpool-only lane. That's done. So now
comes the real test: Will traffic be less congested?
In some ways, traffic flow has already improved. Some onramps and
offramps were widened and lengthened and untangled. So there are fewer
cars backed up on surface streets to get onto the freeway and fewer cars
queued up on the freeway to exit it.
Caltrans estimates that carpoolers save one minute per mile in the
HOV lane during peak hours. Since the project just added 10 more miles
of HOV lane, that alone should save carpoolers 10 minutes. In addition,
carpoolers moving to the HOV lane improve the flow of traffic in the
argue that the freeway, with its increased capacity, will simply
attract more drivers who would otherwise take surface streets or stay
home or take a bus, and that many of them might not be ride-sharers.
That doesn't mean the project was pointless; there is a value to
providing more options for more people who need to get to schools, jobs,
But there is a finite amount of widening
that the freeways and the region can sustain. In the long run, the
better way to cope with increasing traffic — and the environmental
problems caused by fuel emissions — is to get more people out of their
cars. That's a matter of improving public transit and creating
incentives for people to use it. The day a subway train spans the length
of the 405 will be the day people get off the 405.