State bill seeks to ban freeway extensions in underserved communities


A Los Angeles County state lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would block freeway expansion in underserved communities in California.

MP Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) said her bill would ban the state from funding or authorizing highway projects in areas with high pollution and poverty and where residents have suffered negative effects on their health by living near highways.

She said heads of state should consider important evidence of racial and health disparities caused by highway construction as well as research showing that highway widenings often fail to solve traffic jams because they lead to more of car trips.

“If we have the data and we have the research and we ignore it, that’s when it starts to get criminal when you’re in a position of power,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the push for the legislation, which she plans to introduce early next year, was a recent Times investigation that documented the effects of highway construction over the past three decades. The Times found that more than 200,000 people nationwide were displaced as a result of federal highway projects during this time, and that some of the country’s largest recent highway expansions have forced residents of black neighborhoods and Latinos at disproportionate rates.

For years, Garcia has fought efforts to widen the 710 freeway through the predominantly Latino communities of southeastern LA County. Health problems resulting from air pollution along the existing 710 Corridor have led some to label the area a “cancer aisle”.

Less than five years ago, his brother’s real estate brokerage business moved to accommodate an expansion from Interstate 5 to Santa Fe Springs, as part of a series of I-5 expansions. in Los Angeles and Orange counties in recent decades that have forced 850 families into predominantly Latino neighborhoods.

The Times report, she said, showed that what is happening in her area remains of widespread concern.

“It gave me some hope that we can push for more meaningful legislation,” Garcia said.

The California bill she plans to introduce would come as federal transportation officials say they are taking action to ensure hundreds of billions of dollars in highway funding from the new bipartisan infrastructure law of 1,000 billions of dollars do not exacerbate the damage caused by highways.

Biden administration officials, most prominent US Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, have repeatedly referred to the often racist history of highway construction since the middle of the last century. In one notorious example, Miami’s freeway builders paved the core of the city’s black community in the 1960s, forcing tens of thousands of people out of their homes rather than routing Interstate 95 through a highway. abandoned railroad tracks nearby.

Speaking to the Sacramento Press Club on Thursday, Buttigieg called the Times’ findings on freeway travel over the past decades “of great concern, and something we need to pay attention to so these dollars are always doing good, not bad. wrong”.

Buttigieg said the department is strengthening its civil rights division to investigate allegations that planned highway expansions are racially discriminatory. Buttigieg also touted a billion dollar program newly authorized in infrastructure law to reconnect neighborhoods already separated by freeways, even though that amount is far less than the federal dollars available for freeway expansion.

“We need to make sure that every penny of federal money that comes out here is paid on fair terms and in an inclusive manner,” he said.

Besides Garcia’s bill, other laws could emerge to restrict the construction and relocation of freeways in California. State Senator Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) told The Times she plans to draft a bill and push for funding in next year’s state budget to compensate more people forced to leave highways and make improvements, such as planting trees or beautifying viaducts, in neighborhoods divided by them.

The state should no longer widen highways, she said.

“We should be looking for alternative modes of transportation that can get commuters from point A to point B in a way that keeps the air clean and preserves communities,” Kamlager said.

Toks Omishakin, director of the California Department of Transportation, told The Times that further freeway expansions in the state should be seen as an “absolute final option,” and LA transportation officials say they have suspended their separate efforts to expand the 710 and 605. freeways – in part because the plans would displace hundreds of families in Latino neighborhoods.

Garcia said she was convinced further state action was needed. LA officials continue to debate the future of the two freeway extensions, and in recent years Caltrans has relocated residents to widen National Route 71 through Pomona. She said she feared residents of southeastern LA County would be overwhelmed by more powerful interests that promote the construction of freeways.

“It’s always been everything is more important than this community,” she says. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s a working class, immigrant, Latino community. It seems often accepted in California that people are disposable. “

Times writer Chris Megerian in Washington contributed to this report.


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