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San Mateo County Again Claims Adding Lanes Reduces Pollution and Congestion

What's it going to take to get traffic engineers and politicians to stop lying about widening?

4:19 PM PST on December 12, 2023

Highway 101. Photo: TransForm

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The San Mateo County Transportation Authority released a statement Monday celebrating that their board had approved "$135.9 million for Projects to Reduce Traffic Congestion and Improve Safety on San Mateo County Highways."

“We are excited to approve this funding,” said TA Board Chair Rico E. Medina in the statement about last Thursday's vote. “It’s a testament to our commitment to the county and our multi-modal strategy. The safety of our highways and improving transit accessibility for all continue to be our priority.”

More like it's a commitment to continue wasting money on pointless road widenings. "'Reduce congestion and improve safety' despite their own consultants saying that widenings don't work?" wrote Mike Swire, Peninsula advocate and a member of the SMCTA Citizen Advisory Committee, in an email to Streetsblog about the press release.

A few of the projects that were approved and their price tags:

  • City of Redwood City, US 101/Woodside Road (SR 84) Interchange: $78,861,000
  • SMCTA and C/CAG, US 101/SR 92 Area Improvements: $18,338,000
  • SMCTA and C/CAG US 101 Managed Lanes Project North of I-380: $21,500,000

As Streetsblog has covered before, with Swire's assistance, SMCTA continues to sell road widenings under other names. And they continue to claim that these widenings, notably of 101, are actually transit and/or environmental projects because they're adding a carpool lane or a ramp improvement or an "auxiliary lane." In a previous post, Swire highlighted how Monique Fuhrman, Deputy Policy Program Manager with HNTB, which worked on a previous round of 101 widening, even admitted that traffic levels were already "getting back to the way we were before."

Only three of the dozen or so projects that were approved are for cyclists and pedestrians. These include:

  • City of Menlo Park, Willow Road Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Improvements: $3,750,000
  • Town of Colma/SSF, El Camino Real Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvement Project: $2,295,000
  • City of Millbrae, El Camino Real Corridor Multi-Modal Project: $1,530,000

These projects are welcome, of course. But, once again, a major transportation agency is funneling the vast majority of its funds and project resources to making more space for cars. "Look at the money. The big bucks go to car-focused projects," said Swire. He added that some of the funds go to preliminary work towards widening 101 north of 380, a project he's been fighting and one which will ultimately cost "hundreds of millions."

Often so-called improvements for cycling aren't really that anyway: they're just a way to greenwash another environmentally destructive project.

Either way, it's infuriating to once again see a California transportation agency repeating the lie that widening a road will "reduce traffic congestion and improve safety." But it seems to be their only justification for these expenditures in a time of record temperatures and traffic violence.


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