California seeks to limit freeway expansion, citing racism and the environment

Car-centric California is on track to ban construction of new freeway lanes across most of the state, instead diverting billions of tax dollars to green projects to meet environmental goals. race and climate equality.

A bill passed by the Assembly’s Transportation Committee this week targets areas that have lower living standards on the Healthy Places Index, which measures standards such as health care, housing and education. Only the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and most coastal communities scored high.

Bill author Cristina Garcia, a Democrat from Los Angeles, says the creation of new freeways is racist because it displaces low-income residents from their homes. Those residents have to live in those areas because that’s what they can afford, Garcia said at the committee hearing on Monday.

The bill appears to target Los Angeles, where 3 million vehicles a day travel the freeways.

AB 1778’s analysis says it “addresses inequality through environmental justice” because highways were mapped through black and brown communities after World War II. Minorities are exposed to more air pollution from vehicles than white Californians, with Los Angeles County 250% higher than the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It is outrageous and seems criminal to use state resources to suffocate and displace communities like mine when data and research clearly show that this practice is just another example of the systemic racism that is standardized in our policies and practices,” Garcia said in the analysis.

“Freeway expansion projects are sold as a way to reduce congestion, but research shows us that they increase congestion by encouraging more driving, thereby increasing harmful emissions,” she said. “The data also shows that these projects also tend to displace low-income communities of color that already have insecure housing.”

Although the bill passed 8 to 3 in the party direction, it was not supported by two Democratic members of the committee who abstained. Their constituents have benefited from the state’s largest ongoing freeway widening project that began at the Long Beach border and will end in southern Orange County.

The $2 billion widening of I-405 began in 2018 and will take another two years. It was funded primarily by a half-cent sales tax increase approved by Orange County voters and will create 16 new miles of lanes on one of the most congested highways in the nation.


State taxes contributed $90 million to the project, and two committee members from that region questioned whether it would be completed if the bill became law. Garcia was unaware of those details when questioned by Democrat Tom Daly, whose district benefits.

His constituents, who are part of the minority group identified in the bill, also overwhelmingly supported improvements to another highway. Daly said the state already had a pollution control law, then asked, “What’s the specifics for people who were promised something and reneged on it?”

“I don’t know if they were promised anything,” Garcia replied.

Republican Laurie Davies, representing an area near the Orange and San Diego counties border, wondered what would happen to local taxes already collected for construction.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” she said. “My district that I represent, we don’t have a zone for rail. It’s not like in big cities.

More than $30 billion is spent each year in federal, state and local taxes on California’s transportation system, including the controversial 51-cent gas tax. While the gas tax is supposed to be earmarked for freeway maintenance, not expansion, California voters have consistently embraced increases for freeway and on-ramp expansion.


Several projects in Los Angeles have been dragging on for decades as congestion continues to worsen. Besides a two-hour drive to cover 30 miles of Los Angeles, cars are routinely stuck on side streets waiting for several stoplight rotations before entering ramps.