Apparently, billionaire Elon Musk is channeling John F. Kennedy, who famously intoned, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
Musk, who wasn’t even born when Kennedy gave his inaugural address, has taken that advice to heart: He wants to speed up the work on widening the famously traffic-choked 405 Freeway.
As my colleague Martha Groves reported Thursday, Musk has already given $50,000 toward an effort to jump-start the 405 project, and says he’s willing to give more.
Musk said he is open to pay the cost of adding workers to the widening project "as a contribution to the city and my own happiness. If it can actually make a difference, I would gladly contribute funds and ideas. I've super had it."
Spoken like a true Angeleno -- a wealthy Westside-living Angeleno. When they’ve “super had it,” that means they mean business.
But Musk was just getting warmed up; try this “Les Miserables” soundbite on for size:
"The 405 … varies from bad to horrendous," he told the Los Angeles Times in an interview. "It just seems people in Los Angeles are being tortured by this.… I don't know why they aren't marching in the streets."
Honestly, just the other day I was thinking the same thing. But then I remembered I’d have to fight all that traffic and drive to the 405 barricades, and besides, the Lakers and Clippers are in the playoffs, and the weather’s getting warmer, and my favorite sushi place is just a few blocks from me, and really the only time I go the Westside is to get to the airport, which is south of the 405 construction madness. Plus, my job pays an annual salary that is considerably less than Musk makes in an hour.
So I guess I’ll pass on the barricade building. Unless Musk wants to pay for that too?
However, I don’t doubt that he’s frustrated. As Groves reported:
Musk quips that it's easier getting rockets into orbit than navigating his commute between home in Bel-Air and his Space Exploration Technologies factory in Hawthorne.
Which, for you non-Angelenos, is a distance of about 18 miles.
And who’s going to doubt the guy behind PayPal, the Tesla electric car company and SpaceX? I mean, he really is a kind of rocket scientist. So when he complains about traffic delays -- well, as the old E.F. Hutton ad used to say, “people listen.”
Of course, people might listen more if Musk were to pony up more than that $50,000, which, considering the project’s $1-billion budget, and the fact that it’s already $100 million over budget, is a drop in the concrete bucket. But hey, as Hallmark -- and moms everywhere -- remind us, it’s the thought that counts.
Really, though, I applaud Musk's goal, just not his method. Money isn't the problem here; it's a lack of outside-the-box thinking, or perhaps thoughtful project management, two areas you'd think Musk actually could help in.
Because focusing on the freeway is thinking too small. The Westside's curse is that, sensible zoning and infrastructure be damned, Musk and thousands and thousands of others have flocked there to live, and to play, and now they feel cheated because the streets are clogged with traffic.
Perhaps the project has been mismanaged. Perhaps it could be sped up. But there is at least one silver lining. In a story in The Times on Wednesday about Los Angeles regaining its No. 1 spot as the U.S. city with the worst traffic was this paragraph:
One bright spot in the report: A 13-mile segment of the northbound 405 between the 105 Freeway and Getty Center Drive dropped from the most-congested freeway in the country to the eighth most congested. The freeway now has carpool lanes.
So, when the 405 project is finally completed, Musk can speed up and down the 405 in the new carpool lanes in his electric Tesla.
Heck, maybe if he gives enough money, we could name that stretch after him. Call 'em “The Lanes, by Musk.”
Tres chic, don’t you think?