South San Francisco coalition goals to stop freeway enlargement | Native Information

A 9-mile stretch of Highway 101 north of the Interstate 380 interchange could soon be the next span of the thoroughfare to get carpool or toll lanes — but opposition to the potential expansion is already mounting.

Multiple portions of the highway, which spans much of the state, are slated to receive such lanes, which are designed to reduce traffic and encourage ride-sharing or use of shuttles or buses. While the lanes are often added by widening the freeway, a South San Francisco Coalition is leading a charge to see the lane added by converting an existing lane, citing environment and other harms associated with increasing overall capacity.

“We really need to be, not just for the local community but for the global community, doing everything we can to reduce traffic now,” said Jennifer Garstang, a member of Sustainable South City, the coalition taking up the issue. “It’s been pretty clearly demonstrated over the past 60 years that when you add more lanes to the freeway, even managed lanes, it will increase traffic.”

According to the coalition, freeway expansion induces demand by further enabling reliance on cars for transportation needs. The coalition, Garstang said, would like to instead see investment in public transit in addition to improving bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

The span in question, from the interchange to a mile north of the northern county line, is currently four lanes in either direction. The project, a collaboration between the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County and Caltrans is still in its early stages, and both options to add a lane and convert a lane are being considered. The agencies hope to finalize a design by 2025 and complete the project in 2027.

The lanes to be added, defined as “managed lanes,” would likely be implemented as high-occupancy toll lanes, or express lanes. Express lanes function as carpool lanes but also allow lone drivers to pay a fee for use.

The lanes would join with those currently being built south of the I-380 interchange to Whipple Avenue in Redwood City where an express lane is being added, and south of that, from Whipple Avenue to the southern county line where an existing carpool lane is being converted to an express lane. Those lanes are planned to be open early next year, and more lanes are planned to be converted further south.

Garstang said the elimination of a standard lane for a managed lane would help put downward pressure on motorists to adopt more environmentally friendly means of transportation. As an example of induced demand, she pointed to a Houston portion of Interstate 10, now built out to 26-lanes including frontage roads, which still draws gridlock traffic.

“If you expand roadway capacity, if you build more roads and make it easier to drive, more and more people are going to drive, and they’re going to drive more often,” she said. “Over time you see more infrastructure, more houses, more shops and destination points get built along the freeways and along the roadways because that’s the primary way people get from point A to point B, and of course that makes more traffic over time.”

Among other concerns, the coalition points to disproportionately low income and people of color who live near the freeway who are most impacted by air and noise pollution. Widening would also serve to further divide those communities from the rest of the city, Garstang said.

“You can see how the freeway splits us essentially up the middle,” she said. “The much more vulnerable communities … it’s through their communities. The wealthier neighborhoods don’t really have to think about it as much.”

And electric cars, according to the coalition, while better, still produce brake dust and microplastic from tire wear. They also produce emissions associated with the generation of the electricity they rely on, Garstang pointed out.

Garstang said support for the coalition’s initiative has been picking up, and the coalition will ask for the South San Francisco City Council’s backing in January, something she believes will be granted. Co-signers of a letter sent to the collaborating agencies include South San Francisco Council member James Coleman.

“It’s very exciting to see how much support there is for this right now,” Garstang said. “It’s extremely heartening and makes me very optimistic in our chances of actually succeeding.”

The proposal is currently in the environmental scoping phase. It will next undergo environmental review and project approval, expected in 2023.


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