May 15, 1988
California Department of Transportation
P.O. Box 7310
San Francisco, California 94120
I would like to offer the following comments on your Proposed Negative Declaration on the I-680 project (from Route 580 to Rudgear Road):
1. I am incorporating, by reference, my 1/20/88 & 3/26/88 letters regarding the Willow Pass-to-Marina Vista section of this project, most of which also applies to the current section. Copies are enclosed.
2. The Proposed Negative Declaration (PND) contains numerous violations of state (CEQA) and federal (Clean Air Act) law, so much so that it constitutes "abuse of discretion", as specified under CEQA. In other words, Caltrans has ignored the law so blatantly, as to give grounds for removing it from the position of Lead Agency on this project and giving the lead to a less biased (toward freeway building) agency, such as the MTC. The purpose of CEQA is to make sure that planning documents are created in a complete and unbiased way, so that the responsible agencies of government will have all the information they need in order to choose the transportation alternative that is best for all concerned. Caltrans biases its environmental documents heavily in favor of building more and bigger freeways, completely ignoring alternatives that would provide the same (or even more) elimination of congestion while being cheaper, more effective in the long run, and certainly much less damaging to our health and the environment. This ignoring of other alternatives is certainly understandable, since Caltrans doesn't receive any money unless it is planning and building roads, but it very clearly violates the law (CEQA) and deprives the public (who pay their salaries) of real solutions.
Even Caltrans freely admits that freeway widening does not solve the problem of congestion. They have frequently been quoted as saying that, e.g., 17 lanes would be required to handle all of the traffic expected by the year 2000, and that there is no place to build that many lanes, nor the money to do it. What actually happens, as can be seen wherever freeways are built or widened, but especially in Los Angeles, is that the freeway induces growth (e.g., VERY few people would live in central Contra Costa County, without the freeways), fills up to capacity again, and then is a much BIGGER congestion and pollution problem than it was to begin with. In other words, freeway widening is not only not a long-term solution, it is NOT A SOLUTION AT ALL! IT IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF A SOLUTION!
A very cheap solution, which has been promoted by Art Weber, is to simply revoke the driver's licenses of the worst drivers. This would remove a significant proportion of vehicles from the road, cut down on death and injury on the highway (which has been on the increase), make driving safer and more pleasant, generate more customers for public transit (which badly needs them), and reduce congestion and air pollution. All at practically no cost! It would not even generate much opposition, since I am sure that most drivers would be happy to have fewer cars on the road, especially those which have caused accidents. A similar program operates in Japan, where drunk drivers lose their licence for a year.
Another relatively cheap solution is public transit, which can move many more people faster, cheaper, and with far less air pollution than the private automobile. For example, the Board of Supervisors of Contra Costa County sponsored the San Ramon Branchline/I-680 Corridor Transportation Study, which recommended either light rail or buses in that corridor - the same area served by I680. Although Caltrans was on both the Policy Steering and the Technical Advisory Committees for that study, they neglected to mention it in their PND, and in all other environmental documents on the I680 project. This is a serious fault, since CEQA requires considering all "reasonably foreseeable" projects together. It is also a serious oversight since the 46' median that I680 now contains is the perfect size for use by public transit (e.g., it is the size of the I85 median in Santa Clara County that Caltrans has designed for "future mass transportation"). If is used for 2 more freeway lanes, ITS AVAILABILITY FOR LIGHT RAIL WILL BE LOST FOREVER. Since some residents have objected to putting light rail in the Southern Pacific corridor, which runs parallel to I680, the center of I680 is a much better solution. Then the SP corridor can be used for a bikeway, which would be quiet enough to make good use of that space.
Since most of the congestion being addressed by the I680 project is commute-time congestion, it would be very appropriately handled by mass transit, since most people don't need to use their car during work.
3. In short, this project requires a full CEQA EIR, not just a "Negative Declaration". Your statement on p.39, "The proposal could not have a significant effect on the environment", is obviously false, to say the least. There is no possibility for a 33% (6 lanes to 8) increase in the capacity of a major freeway to have no significant effect on the environment. If that were the case, then the original freeway wouldn't have a significant effect on the environment, and Los Angeles would have much less smog ("About 55 percent of the smog comes from automobiles", The Toxic Cloud, Michael H. Brown, p. 192). All one has to do to verify the effect of freeways on smog is go (preferably walk) to the top of one of the hills in Contra Costa County; you can easily see the smog concentrated along the I680 and SR24 corridors. Caltrans, in order to deny this effect, assumes (buried deep in their air pollution modelling) that the same trips, of the same distance, will take place with or without the freeway widening. The facts don't support this: CONVENIENCE has an enormous effect on travel; this is obvious, and is also supported by research. Widening the freeway will increase the number of trips, and, conversely, not widening the freeway will decrease the number of trips taken.
4. CEQA contains very specific, easily understood tests for determining whether a project will have significant (negative) effects on the environment (and, hence, require an EIR, rather than a Negative Declaration). An EIR is MANDATORY, when:
a. The project will achieve short-term goals to the detriment of long-term environmental goals. This fits freeway widening perfectly, since it might provide a short-term decrease in pollution (due to speeding up traffic), but in the long term, the freeway will fill up to capacity (Caltrans admits this) and then will generate more pollution than ever (Caltrans fails to mention this).
b. The cumulative (negative) effects of all the related projects are greater than the sum of their individual impacts. This is also true of all freeway widenings, since the unwidened sections on either side of a given project serve to artificially constrain traffic (and hence air pollution) forecasts on the proposed project, whereas the overall project would have no such traffic constraints. That is why "An agency cannot avoid the EIR requirement by chopping one project into several smaller projects and issuing separate negative declarations" (Mandate Proceedings under the CEQA, CEB, 1987).
c. The project will have a substantial adverse effect on human beings: "automobiles are not only the major criteria source but a very significant source too of air toxics" (Brown, ibid). Cancer and birth defects (which are caused by toxics) and traffic accidents (caused by the drowsiness induced by CO: see The Automobile and the Regulation of its Effect on the Environment, by Frank P. Grad) are certainly a substantial adverse effect!
d. The project has the potential to substantially degrade the environment: freeways allow and generate urban sprawl (allow people to live farther from work), and hence give rise to more and longer trips and therefore more air pollution and more destruction of open space (in other words, "Losangelization"!). In contrast, mass transit in the I680 corridor would remove cars from the road, and thereby actually ENHANCE the environment!
5. An environmental document under CEQA (ND or EIR) MUST DISCUSS ALL FEASIBLE ALTERNATIVES, so that the people charged with deciding what to do can choose the alternative that best meets the community's needs, CONSISTENT WITH PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT: "CEQA was intended to be interpreted in such a manner as to afford the fullest possible protection to the environment" (CEQA: Law and Guidelines, 15003(f)). A project must not be approved, if there are feasible alternatives which provide greater protection to the environment (Op cit,15021(a)). That mass transit in the I680 corridor is feasible is proved by the aforementioned San Ramon Branchline/I-680 Corridor Transportation Study, and also by the fact that Caltrans has planned to put "future mass transportation" in the I85 median, which is the same size (46') as the I680 median. Other feasible alternatives are carpooling, staggered work hours, subsidized buses (e.g. the County Connection's Route 990), and even revoking the driver's licences of people who've been responsible for accidents and other moving violations. ALL are cheaper (if you accurately measure TOTAL COST) and less polluting than widening the freeway, and ALL require mention in the project's environmental document. In fact, if these cheap alternatives are instituted first, they may obviate the widening entirely! They may remove enough cars from the road that the freeway won't need to be widened at all. That's why it is premature and inappropriate to propose the project as presented by Caltrans.
6. A project must have an EIR if it is growth-inducing. Caltrans has admitted that the I680/SR24 widening and the I85 project are growth-inducing (see their respective EISs). It is reasonable to conclude that this project is also growth-inducing, especially since the I680 corridor was very sparsely populated before the freeway was constructed.
7. A project must have an EIR if it significantly increases noise. The 33% increase in traffic should increase nearby noise levels slightly less than 33% (because the widening is in the median, rather than on the outside), which simple physics would predict. A 100% increase would be a rise in 3 decibels ("A power gain of two is +3 db", Encyclopedia Americana,1985,p.587), so Caltrans's prediction of a 1-2 decibel rise confirms this. 33% certainly seems significant to me, particularly since noise levels are already at a health-damaging level (81 dBA, per the PND, p.29).
It should be noted, however, that Caltrans noise "expert" Bill Shoemaker, in the 5/18/88 public hearing in San Ramon, said that it takes 10 decibels to cause a doubling of the noise level. Either he deliberately misled the 100+ people in the hearing, or he is not qualified to evaluate noise studies. At the very least, there exists a "disagreement among experts", which CEQA says is grounds for requiring an EIR.
As was pointed out in the public hearing, Caltrans plans to mitigate the noise only where they can get federal funding to do it. This does not satisfy CEQA, which is concerned with protecting the environment, not conserving local funds. CEQA considers noise significant, whether or not there are people there to hear it. It is so unpleasant for people, that we must presume the same effects on wildlife.
8. There are also significant negative aesthetic effects from the project: although Caltrans fails to mention this, I680 as a result of this project (replacing the median vegetation with cement and blocking a significant proportion of the view with 10-14' sound walls) will make it no longer a Scenic Highway (this is admitted in the I680/SR24 EIS). The significance of such changes is amply expressed in How to Kill a Golden State, by William Bronson.
9. On the first page of the PND is stated "The project will not significantly affect land use or area growth". Then why are developers and business people so unanimously in favor of the widening?
10. Also on the first page, you state "The project will have no significant effect on aesthetics". What about the loss of "Scenic Highway" status? Surely, with all the sound walls, I680 will no longer qualify, just as you admit in the I680/SR24 EIS on p. Summary-7: "The effect of the noise barriers on the designated Scenic Highway portion of the project is expected to reduce the visual quality below that required for Scenic Highway designation. The size of the larger retaining wall-noise barrier combinations ... and the shadows they would cast are cited as adverse impacts on adjacent homes." Why was this not mentioned in regard to this portion of I680? Perhaps this is not a "significant impact" in Caltrans' eyes, but it certainly is in mine, as I very much enjoy the current, unobstructed views, both east and west. On p.32 the PND admits: "the visual corridor and visual experience, for both the motorist and the residents, will be greatly different [worse] than currently exists."
11. On p.1 of the PND, you state "The purpose of this proposed project is to alleviate the congestion on the existing freeway system in order to provide for the movement of people and goods as safely and as conveniently as possible". If that is true, then why isn't mass transit considered as an option, since it is MUCH SAFER than private vehicular travel. It is also arguably more convenient, since it is much cheaper, allows one to relax or read en route, doesn't require finding parking, and doesn't waste our valuable waking hours in risking our life anxiously guiding thousands of pounds of metal over an intricate obstacle course dozens of miles long. This is to say nothing of the time spent in gas stations inhaling cancer-causing benzene, or driving through car washes. Examined rationally, driving must be seen as one of man's most INCONVENIENT activities!
12. Also on p.1, "The benefits of major transportation improvements proposed both north and south of this project as well as adjacent facilities would be largely negated without this widening." It would be hard to imagine a clearer admission of cumulative impacts! Thus, CEQA requires an EIR for the WHOLE project, including, as a minimum, all of the sections of I680. The same goes for p.11: "if southbound capacity is not increased south of Rudgear, most of the benefits of the widening through the 680/24 interchange would be negated."
13. On p.2 you discuss the "impacts of growth on the transportation system". What about the reverse? Wouldn't widening the freeway encourage or induce growth? If you look at previous widenings, you will see that every widening precedes a spurt of growth. I don't think that is a coincidence, but cause and effect. You admit as much in relation to OTHER projects (p.3: "transportation improvements proposed for the Brentwood to Livermore corridor may greatly influence future commute patterns"; you admitted that the I680/SR24 and I85 projects are growth-inducing). I see no reason (and you give none) why this project should be different.
14. On p.5, you admit that HOV lanes "often relieve overall congestion on the freeway". Then why not convert 2 of the EXISTING lanes to HOV? That this is a feasible alternative is proved by the fact that it was done on the Bay Bridge. This is certainly a much cheaper alternative than the widening, and should be considered explicitly in the PND.
15. On p.7 you imply that faster commuting is the only advantage of car pooling, busing, etc.: "It is assumed that a modal shift would occur as long as there is a worthwhile travel time advantage, whether real or perceived." This is naive; I have just listed numerous other advantages. But you bring up a good point: the perceived time advantage of driving is indeed illusory, as I pointed out above. Therefore, EDUCATION in the realities of commuting is ANOTHER cheap, feasible alternative to freeway widening.
16. On p.10, you state that "specific legislation prohibits HOV facilities on Federal-aid Highways in unincorporated areas of Alameda County". Then you go on to say that this doesn't apply to this project, since the Alameda portion is "within the city limits of Dublin". This is a good example of Caltrans' frequent practice of including IRRELEVANT facts, while omitting the important RELEVANT ones (e.g., why the Clean Air Act and the SIP REQUIRE HOV lanes).
17. On p.11, you say "Peak hour congestion would occur by the year 1995". This proves my earlier point, that this project is a short-term "solution" with greater long-term negative effects (air pollution, noise, etc.).
18. On p.19, you state that "there are no known hazardous materials ... within the the project". What all about the hazardous chemicals released by the vehicles? See The Toxic Cloud, The Automobile and the Regulation of its Effect on the Environment, and Vanishing Air. Benzene, benzo-a-pyrene, and asbestos (from brake linings) are just 3 of the carcinogenic chemicals released by gasoline-powered engines.
19. Many of the answers on pp.21-24 should have been "yes": (5) The internal combustion engine does use fuel wastefully, compared to other forms of transportation. (6) The increased roadway capacity will increase the rate of use of the natural resource, oil. (14) The increased traffic will, when the freeway is again congested, result in increased air pollution, Caltrans' faulty modeling (invalid traffic forecasts that ABAG and MTC disagree with) notwithstanding. (17) Road fumes are indeed objectionable. (18) Increasing air pollution is indeed in violation of the Clean Air Act and the SIP, whose purpose is to DECREASE it. (19) Adjacent noise levels will indeed increase in some areas (at least those not protected by sound walls). (20) There, Federal, State, AND local noise criteria will be exceeded, as the PND admits. (21) 14' noise walls will produce glare that is significant to me and most people, if not to Caltrans (of course, they don't live next to them!). (33-4) The project will certainly affect the growth rate: it is common knowledge that transportation is the major concern in this area, which means that it is affecting people's lifestyles and choice of where to build and live. If it didn't affect them, why would they be so concerned? (35) Destroying the only feasible mass transit corridor (the freeway median) will definitely affect minorities and the elderly, who depend on transit. Mass transit is the only equitable form of transportation. (39) Noise certainly affects property values; why else would the public (as evidenced in the 5/18/88 public hearing) be so eager to get sound walls? (43) Developers unanimously support the widening, because it allows them to sell more homes, and this generates more traffic. (44) Rides for Bay Area Commuters, in the public hearing, asked for Park-and-Ride lots: the project is ALREADY generating a demand for new parking. The PND also admits this, verbatim, on p.31: "there will be a greater demand for new parking"! (47) Freeway widening obviously supports large commercial or residential development: just look at the support the project is getting from developers! (50) Sound walls, no matter how "beautified", are still cement, and hence offensive, in comparison to natural views - particularly after they have become covered with road dust, as they soon will. (53-56) were covered earlier.
20. On p.27, the PND fails to point out that the short-term HC and CO reduction from increased speeds will be wiped out, and then reversed, as the freeway again fills to and beyond its capacity (as the PND earlier admitted would happen by 1995). If the freeway is again congested by 1995, it is not believable that 15 years later, in 2010, CO will still be within the Clean Air Act standards. This analysis should be done by an unbiased agency - one that doesn't stand to earn millions of dollars if a freeway widening alternative is chosen. Indeed, ABAG and the MTC, not Caltrans, are the experts in traffic forecasts, and they strongly disagree with Caltrans.
21. It is also unbelievable that a project that will, in the long run, increase air pollution, can be in conformity (as the PND says on p.28) with a SIP whose purpose is to REDUCE air pollution. This is sleight of hand.
22. The noise analysis is also flawed. CEQA says that increases in adjacent noise levels are a significant impact; it doesn't restrict this to areas where people live. Because there are unmitigated areas, therefore, this project will have a significant negative effect on the environment, and an EIR is required.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.