Solving the persistent traffic nightmare that has plagued Southern California commuters for decades is a problem that has fascinated drivers across the country. But a recent New York Times investigation into congestion found that widening freeways may not be the answer to improving traffic flow.

While the story focuses on Los Angeles’ famously clogged freeway — Interstate 710 between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach — it also focuses on traffic problems in New Jersey and Houston.

The conclusion is that while adding lanes initially relieves congestion, this so-called remedy “could also encourage people to drive more. Studies have shown that after a few years of highway widening, traffic — and consequent greenhouse gas emissions — Usually recovers.”

Houston’s Katy Freeway is a world-famous example — within five years of a massive expansion of as many as 26 lanes, congestion got worse than before.

While substantial federal funding will be allocated for highway expansion in the coming years through an infrastructure package backed by President Biden, The New York Times found that some opponents believe the money is better spent elsewhere. In a DOT report last year, the agency said it would seek to prioritize funding for the safety of pedestrians, motorcyclists and others outside of vehicles over paying for road widening — and pedestrians, according to the latest NHTSA data. and increased deaths of motorcyclists, it sounds like a good plan.

The 710 expansion was canceled last May after spending $60 million on design and planning for 20 years. The newspaper quoted James de la Loza, chief planning officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Transportation, as saying, “We don’t see a strategy to widen Los Angeles.”

The Times report, titled “Widening motorways won’t solve traffic problems”, also explores emissions, air quality issues and public transport alternatives. New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said in a report evaluating a $10.7 billion plan to expand parts of the New Jersey Turnpike that she supports the plan.

“Congestion is not safe,” Ms Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “I’m not advocating widening roads for the sake of widening roads.”

But historically, when commuters realize that traffic has improved somewhere, they’ve changed routes. The backup then changes as traffic increases.

Of course, for those who work remotely or use public transportation, there’s always another option: drive less.

As Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop noted at the end of his Times article—Jersey City has the worst air quality in the country—“there are other types of mobility, not just cars.”

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