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San Mateo County

San Mateo County Continues 101 Widening

Despite all the evidence that induced demand is making things worse, the SMCTA will just keep digging its own hole

Photo by Caltrans of another recent widening project, the 101 ‘express lanes’

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The San Mateo County Transportation Authority, in a unanimous vote during its regular meeting Thursday, October 5, overruled its own citizen advisory committee and opened the door to continue widening Highway 101 in the northern part of the county. "Widening highways will make people sick, especially people of color. Childhood asthma and traffic violence disproportionately impact low-income and diverse communities, many of whom live adjacent to the 101," commented Mike Swire, Peninsula advocate and a member of the SMCTA Citizen Advisory Committee, shortly before the vote. Swire and everyone else who spoke at the meeting urged the SMCTA to take widening off the table, to no avail.

Streetsblog readers will recall that the county and Caltrans completed widening a section of 101 south of South San Francisco last spring. Despite that work, traffic speeds quickly returned to pre-widening levels. Caltrans even received an environmental award because the widening was part of an express lane project. This follows an almost universal pattern of transportation agencies arguing for road widening to reduce traffic, only to find they make traffic worse, a fact which they then ignore or even use to justify more widening.

After the failure of the earlier phase of widening 101, advocates are trying to block its continuation north of Interstate 380 into South San Francisco. "I am a San Mateo resident and wish to express my strong objections to expending $300M towards highway widening of 101," wrote advocate and co-lead of Move San Mateo Max Mautner, in an email to the SMCTA board. "This has already been done in the city of San Mateo which effectively torpedoed pedestrian/bike bridge projects across 101 by massively increasing project costs for connecting residents’ mobility by any means other than car. I would be horrified if the county continued to do the same to communities further north."

Advocates were clear that they are fine with converting lanes on the eight-lane freeway into managed lanes and transit lanes, just not with adding lanes. Nevertheless, the SMCTA refused to stipulate that ban. From Streetsblog's view, this further underscores the need for state mandates against widening. Clearly, Caltrans and the county agencies they collaborate with can't be trusted to follow the basic science of induced demand or even listen to the citizen advisory committees they're required to convene - apparently just for show.

And it's not as if there are no credible, environmentally friendly alternative uses for the money the state and county keeps spending on widening. It could be used to extend Caltrain across the Dumbarton bridge. It could be used for a truly first-class network of off-street bike paths across the Peninsula. The county could work on restoring some of the rail network that once served the western part of the county. There's almost no end of productive things the government could do to improve mobility on the Peninsula. Instead, they continue to advocate for and build projects that support the car-petroleum-asphalt-industrial complex.

"Unfortunately, the Board voted unanimously to approve Item 5e (the Resolution of support and authorization for SMCTA potentially funding the US 101 Managed Lanes Project North of I-380) without removing the highway widening option," wrote Swire in an email to Streetsblog. "All public commenters had requested that SMCTA remove the widening option."

Be sure to sign the petition urging the county to stop widening 101. Perhaps public officials will come to their senses somewhere down the line.

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