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Here's the Bonkers, $700-Billion Libertarian Plan to Fix Los Angeles Traffic

The future of transportation in Los Angeles is getting a lot of much-deserved attention lately, as the sustainability of the city's model has city planners looking at major changes in the way LA gets around town. Mobility Plan 2035, the city's long-term transportation plan seeks to finally get many Angelenos out of their cars with workable public transportation and an improved network of bike lanes. Not everyone agrees that that's the way to go, though. The Libertarian Reason Foundation says bikes and buses are not the solution to traffic congestion—making more room for cars is. They have proposed a $700-billion plan to build an extensive network of new tunnels and expressways that they say would help free up some of the city's most congested areas of traffic.

That $700-billion pricetag is pretty steep (In comparison, the LA-to-San Francisco high-speed rail is only supposed to cost $67.8 billion), but don't worry. Reason says only $352 billion will come from taxpayers—the rest would come from a dramatic increase in toll roads. In fact, under their plan, every expressway in town would have its high-occupancy vehicle lane replaced by a tolled express lane (like the ones already on stretches of the 10 and the 110), which would help to pay for six megaprojects throughout the Southland.

Moreover, Reason proposes a system of managed arterials (roads that bypass streetlights altogether via tolled overpasses and underpasses) on surface roads, effectively allowing people to pay to never see a red light again. With more than half of the funding coming from express lane tolls, and the extensive use of tolling for use of the completed tunnels, it appears Reason wants to create a system of VIP driving. Express tunnels would be available for those who can pay, and crumbling surface roads would have to suffice for the rest.

About these tunnels: talk about a minefield of potential delays, cost overruns, sour public opinion, and government intervention. Just ask Boston if they want to go through another Big Dig, let alone six of them at once. It can take years just to find a route that satisfies environmental and seismic concerns. Then there are the NIMBYS. No project of this magnitude could possible avoid stirring up that sleeping beast. That's not even to mention the hurdles anyone would have to jump over to start digging through state park land, as several of these projects propose.

They're cute plans, but only a fool would run this bureaucratic marathon for a transit plan that looks backwards to cars instead of forwards to mass transit and fossil-fuel-free options.

Here are Reason's tunnel proposals:

710 Extension Tunnel

Talk about lofty goals right out of the gate, Reason plans on doing the impossible—finally closing that damn gap in the 710 Freeway. Four and a half miles separate the end of the 710 Freeway and the 210 in Pasadena, and Reason aims to connect the two. Good luck. That's been a thorn in the side of Caltrans since 1965.

They want to close that gap with two 50-foot tunnels, one double-decker for cars and another separate tunnel for trucks. Reason estimates traffic of 179,000 vehicles per day if no toll is collected, and 119,000 vehicles per day at a $2.00 toll. Total cost of the project would be $6.3 billion. Tolls would bring in $7.4 billion in revenue over 40 years.

Cross Mountain Tunnel

No less ambitious than solving the 710 gap debacle would be this plan to tunnel from LA's westside up north to the San Fernando Valley. There are three proposed routes, all of them linking the 10 Freeway with the 101 as it crosses the valley. The ideal route Reason offers would travel from Santa Monica, underneath Topanga State Park, to Tarzana. If they have trouble tunneling through a state park land (spoiler alert: they will), there are two alternatives—one tunnels under the 405 (more 405 construction, although this is at least a feasible plan under consideration) and the other under Laurel Canyon. If built, a six-lane tunnel would carry an estimated 109,000 cars per day to and from the valley, producing $9.7 billion in revenue over 40 years.

Downtown Bypass Tunnel

This tunnel would link the 110 near USC with the entrance to SR-2 (Sunset Boulevard) just north of Echo Park. Six lanes of underground traffic would carry 151,000 cars per day at a toll of $1.00 a mile. Over 40 years, the tunnel would bring in about $13.6 billion.

Glendale to Palmdale Tunnel

The Reason Group sees big things in Palmdale's future. They're expecting a massive increase in traffic north of the San Gabriel Mountains, so that will definitely need a tunnel. This one would link SR-14 near Palmdale with SR-2 just north of Glendale. Twin tubes, both 47 feet in diameter, would house a six-lane, double-decker expressway for light cars and a two-lane expressway for trucks, respectively. At a toll of $0.90 per mile, an estimated 53,137 cars would make the 21.1 mile trek each day, says Reason, and over 40 years the tunnel would bring in $28.4 billion in revenue.

It should be noted this planned tunnel is just a few short miles away from the proposed high-speed rail tunnel now under review by the United States Forest Service. The region may be experiencing tunnel fatigue by the end of that drama, so Palmdale commuters may be out of luck.

High Desert Corridor

Unfortunately, there are no plans for tunnels in the High Desert. Reason instead proposes a boring old surface expressway (yawn) to connect the 37 miles of land between Palmdale and the I-15 in Victorville. At a cost of $9.8 billion, a six-lane tollway would be constructed across the two cities, with tolls set at about $0.45 a mile. An estimated 53,985 cars would travel on the road daily, bringing in a total revenue of $22.2 billion over 40 years.

Riverside to Orange County Corridor

There are two options Reason proposes for linking Riverside County to Orange County, and thankfully one of them is a tunnel. The non-tunnel option (boo!) would simply be two elevated toll lanes that travel parallel to SR-91 from SR-241 near Yorba Linda to I-15 in Corona. Thankfully, Reason is pushing for the other option ... the tunnel option.

A tunnel would travel from the I-15, just south of El Cerrito, underneath the hills, and link up with SR-241 near Irvine. Inside the tunnel would be a tube 48 feet in diameter housing a double-decker, four-lane, tolled expressway. An estimated 48,200 cars would make the 14-mile trip each day at a toll of $0.70 per mile, says Reason, bringing in a total revenue of $11.7 billion over 40 years.

· Increasing Mobility in Southern California: A New Approach [Reason Group Report]
· Here's the Big Plan to Make it Way Easier to Get Around Los Angeles Over the Next 20 Years [Curbed LA]