LA drivers wonder whether expanding the 405 was worth it

By Bill Holloway

After years of construction headaches and a $1.6 billion investment, the Sepulveda Pass project, which expanded Interstate 405, the nation’s busiest highway, appears to have had a minimal impact on congestion. The project, which added carpool lanes, on- and off ramps, and three new earthquake resistant bridges on the 72-mile stretch of I-405 through Los Angeles, took six years to complete and cost $600 million more than the initial $1 billion estimate.

According to a study conducted by LA Metro, which compared conditions on the highway in 2009 and 2015, the peak travel period on the 405 decreased in duration from seven to five hours; the number of crashes has decreased by 15 percent; and the highway’s capacity has increased substantially, with northbound vehicle capacity climbing 15 percent and person capacity climbing 30 percent, thanks to the additional HOV lane. However, peak-period travel times have remained relatively flat and many residents remain ambivalent about the value of the project.

While the safety and capacity benefits of urban freeway projects like the Sepulveda Pass in LA or the Katy freeway expansion in Houston may sometimes justify their expense, drivers’ hopes that they will reduce travel times seem never to pan out.

Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.