Alan Hirsch Responds to Caltrans Revelations in POLITICO Article

Hirsch speaks to Supervisor Don Saylor in 2019 on Caltrans project

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – For months now, Alan Hirsch has almost been the lone voice in the wilderness crying out that there is something wrong with the plans to expand the freeway.  His efforts have been met with largely silence and discouragement from various leaders in the community.

But as the story in POLITICO this week demonstrates, he may not have been wrong.

When he spoke to the Vanguard on Wednesday, Hirsch expressed disappointment and frustration that what has been billed as a pavement rehab project on the causeway is also being used as a down payment for a widening project.

Moreover, he criticized a lack of transparency and public engagement from the Yolo Transportation District, stating that their focus is on advocating for the widening of the managed lane rather than considering the best project for the public good.

“It’s worse than I could have imagined,” he said.  “I had some inkling at the pavement rehab project, but 250 million pavement rehab problem.  I thought there were two separate projects and there wasn’t much overlap. But clearly this woman who’s inside knows overlap. This is a technical detail, so clearly they’re doing a down payment on the widening with the rehab project.”

He said that’s why Caltrans has been ambiguous about what the rehab project is.

“That’s why they haven’t been forthright,” he said.  “I’ve been to the Yolo Transportation District meetings and they talk nothing about this project.”

He went further, “I think, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had some inkling of this too. And they kept their mouth shut because their job is to make things go.”

He charged, “The Yolo Transportation District is no longer looking for the public good. They’re not looking for the best project. They’re looking to advocate the widening of the managed lane. They’re committed to a solution already before the EIR is out.”

He reiterated, “It’s worse than I thought” noting that Caltrans “has long justified. I-80 widening under the folklore that a wider freeway will end congestion—which decades of research science and experience shows is not true for long.”

The key question is whether any of this will make any difference now that it’s clear that critics like Hirsch had a point.

“I’m not just crying wolf,” he said.  He thinks that the community could wake up.  Previously he had been pushed back at, with some noting that no one is up and arms and sending letters on this.

He said, “The question is if will Yolo Transportation District board—particularly Davis reps Josh Chapman and Lucas Frerichs—have the courage to rethink their position regarding the widening for cars based on this new information. … It should be a concern they seemed to have taken a position on I-80 before the draft environmental studies were even out.”

Hirsch added “this internal struggle at Caltrans explains why the draft EIR which was promised to city council, out by end of June, still is not out over 12 weeks later.”

Hirsch argued a lot of this is greenwashing what is basically an unsustainable lane widening project.

He explained, “Note that Yolo TD confuses the public by advocating a good policy—congestion pricing via managed toll lanes with an environmentally damaging policy, adding new lane with more car capacity—and detrimental GHG effects. This might be called greenwashing as Caltrans own studies show one does not mitigate the other.

“But hiding a widening plan under the congestion pricing is a sort of greenwashing an environmentally damaging plan,” he added.

He continued, “Shouldn’t public policy decisions like this be made in the open and not behind closed doors within the bureaucracy of Caltrans?”

Moreover, he quipped, “to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.  To get a Caltrans army of 14,000 freeway engineers to change their strategy on freeways is like the Pentagon trying to change it course on the Viet Nam War 60 years ago.”

The key question now is whether this revelation changes anything.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. johncooper

    Hirsch says “to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. “  Well 1-80 congestion “is” a nail. Swinging a pillow at it will simply do no good. 

  2. Alan Hirsch

    If you think congestion is a nail, you may work for Caltrans.

    Other people playing with a full deck see the problem more wholistically and come up other solutions.

    We have test the widening solution with ten Billion of dollars test and the results in climate change and continued congestion suggest speak for itself.

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