Club Urges $20-Billion Expansion of Freeways

Times Urban Affairs Writer

The state's leading highway support group Monday called for a $20.5-billion revival of Southern California's freeway building program to protect the mobility of commuters and other motorists to the year 2000 and beyond.

This amount would build an additional 400 miles of freeways, including most of those that were abandoned or shelved in the freeway revolts of the late 1960s and 1970s, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. Club officials said the expanded freeway system would serve an expected turn-of-the-century population of 19 million, up 3 million from today.

Launching a campaign to inject new life into Southern California's once-vaunted freeway construction program, Auto Club President Harry V. Cheshire Jr. described freeways as one of the region's most critical issues. He said there "absolutely must be some improvement if we're going to continue to enjoy mobility."

The freeway plan, based on a study by the club of the region's transportation needs, was outlined at a Los Angeles news conference. In emphasizing motorists' needs, the officials skirted the multitude of practical and political problems that freeway advocates have encountered in recent years.

With an admitted goal of drumming up public support for a bigger, better freeway system, club engineers responsible for the study said traffic congestion is increasing so rapidly that it threatens the region's mobility, life styles and economy.

"We're rapidly becoming one city of Southern California--a region 250 miles long by 50 miles wide," said David D. Grayson, the Auto Club's engineering and technical services director. "The region now has 10 million drivers. It will have 15 million by the year 2000. And 50% of their travel is on the freeway system, although it represents only a fraction of the region's street and road network."

He said daily trips on the system have increased from 50 million in 1980 to 56 million now, and will climb to 65 million by the year 2000.

"The quality of our travel will be seriously restricted," he said. "Freeway travel speeds, for example, will drop from an average 37 miles an hour to 17 miles an hour."

For purposes of the freeway study, the club included 13 Southern California counties from San Luis Obispo and Tulare south to the Mexican border.

Grayson said the study found that Los Angeles, contrary to popular belief, is not the nation's freeway capital.

Rather, a comparison of freeway mileage and population of 20 large U.S. cities showed Los Angeles ranked 17th in terms of miles of freeway per 1 million of population. Dallas led the list, and only New York, Philadelphia and Chicago trailed Los Angeles.

The Auto Club identified 20 freeways involving 26 projects for priority action under the proposed $20-billion-plus development program.

The projects included completing the Glendale Freeway between Glendale Boulevard and the Santa Monica Freeway in central Los Angeles, at a cost of $460 million, and finishing the Long Beach Freeway, at a cost of $480 million, north of Valley Boulevard. The Auto Club list also included such projects as the Beach Boulevard, Costa Mesa/Newport Beach and Orange freeways in Orange County, and a freeway in the South Bay area.

The study also said there was an urgent need to make the existing freeway system perform better, much as it did during the 1984 Olympic Games.

"That was a wonderful experiment," Grayson said. "The freeways carried more people than ever before. It showed us that we know how to make the freeways work better. They can flow freely."

The Auto Club's study called for more ramp metering, better handling of vehicular breakdowns, more bus service and, of course, greater ride-sharing incentives. All were part of the successful performance of the regional freeway system during the Olympics.

In an effort to portray the new freeway projects as affordable, Grayson said the cost would amount to about $2 per motorist per week for 15 years. He conceded that financing the new projects, at a rate of about $1.5 billion a year, would be a monumental task, adding that funds nevertheless would come from such traditional sources as highway-user taxes. He also urged tapping non-traditional sources, including local taxes and bond issues.

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