What you see here is a picture of Highway 1 in Santa Cruz County, at the Morrissey Avenue Exit, heading toward Watsonville as of 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. That's just a few days ago. The traffic was barely moving.
Had you been at this same spot at 4 p.m. on June 10, 2011, three years ago, you would have seen virtually the same thing.
That shouldn't be surprising, right? Same time, same place, same highway; what else would you expect?
Well, you might expect something else if you knew that between 2011 and this year, the Santa Cruz County Transportation Commission has spent at least $16 million to add "auxiliary lanes" to Highway 1, in exactly this location, with the idea being that this expenditure would improve traffic flow. What this picture illustrates is how the highway is operating today, with those auxiliary lanes. The project is now complete.
Remember, the idea was that these new auxiliary traffic lanes would relieve traffic congestion. How do you think we are doing with that?
Local environmental advocates, and specifically a group called Campaign For Sensible Transportation, strongly opposed the proposed highway-widening project, before the Transportation Commission made its final, $16 million commitment.
One of the points made by highway widening opponents was that a phenomenon called "induced demand" would result in new cars entering the highway when the project was done, using up any new capacity provided by the project. This is not some weird and wacky environmentalist theory, either. The reality of "induced demand" is well recognized by traffic planning professionals.
So, do you want to widen the highway? You can spend a lot of money. You can cause a lot of air pollution. You can increase the amount of gasoline consumed. But if you want to relieve traffic congestion, highway widening is not going to be your best route to success.
The phenomenon of induced demand means that the post-widening traffic congestion will be just the same as traffic congestion before the widening, but with more cars caught in the jam.
In other words, the Highway 1 Auxiliary Lanes project is working exactly as predicted!