Monday, July 11, 2011

The Approaching Carmageddon

For those who don't live in the LA area, no, I didn't make up that particular pun (and those in the LA area already know what I'm talking about).

This weekend, a 10-mile stretch of the I-405 Freeway on the west side of LA--the entirety of the freeway between the US-101 and the I-10--will be shut down for improvements.  The signs along the highways (apparently everywhere from Bakersfield to San Diego) say "EXPECT BIG DELAY."  I don't think anyone actually disputes that the improvements are needed, nor that the drive along that stretch will be much easier after they're done.  But the sacrifice needed to make those improvements, if only for a weekend, looks to be pretty painful.

It's no secret that LA traffic is already infamous for being among the worst in the nation (although, truth be told, I'd heard so many horror stories about it before coming to live around here that I actually found myself pleasantly surprised when I actually had to drive on these streets), but the closure of this long stretch of road--a stretch without many viable alternatives in the short-term--will almost certainly make "normal" traffic here look like Mayberry (perhaps after Deputy Fife caused an accident with the squad car).

Quite a few major tourist attractions (most notably the Getty museum) are having to be shut down entirely (the 405 really provides the only access), while others will no doubt see their business affected.  I'm fairly confident that the amount of difficult this situation is looking to create (to say nothing of the money it costs to make the improvements) is a large reason why the improvements haven't been made before now.  It also highlights, at least to me, the importance of why we should be making these improvements more often.  Making small incremental changes, but making them frequently, is almost always easier (and generally cheaper in the long run) than making a lot of changes all at one go.

Yet many of the problems in our roads, to say nothing of other infrastructure needs, are often considered a low priority, especially in time of economic decline.  Although there are a number of infrastructure projects being undertaken right now (largely due to hugely unpopular stimulus funds from the federal government), most people still see only the inconvenience (and the cost) and not the benefit.  I fear that this attitude is only getting worse, and that we don't really appreciate the benefits we've enjoyed over the past few decades--benefits that have been available to us only because others have been willing to undertake those sacrifices in the past.

So, yes, "Carmageddon" will no doubt be a difficult time.  Stay at home if you can, especially if you live on that side of town (I'm admittedly a good ways to the east, so it's probably a little too easy for me to be saying stuff like this, although I do expect traffic could get affected even that far out, if obviously not to the same degree).  But if the benefits do indeed play out as expected, I also hope that we'll have eyes to see them.

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