Letter: Effectiveness, Social Justice & the Freeway Widening

image courtesy of CalTrans

By Social Justice Committee, Congregation Bet Haverim

The Congregation Bet Haverim Social Justice Committee submits this letter for the Tuesday January 9th Davis Council meeting discussion on the widening of I-80 freeway.

Our group meets to act out our Jewish faith thru social action: Tikun Olam.

We have been discussing the pro and con of adding capacity to the i-80 freeway since September 2023.  We encouraged and financially supported the organizing of the I-80 Teach In by the Davis Futures Forum/Cool Davis to hear both side of this complex issue as no government entity seems to provide such a forum for the community to weigh the tradeoffs.

At the Teach-In we heard from YoloTD Executive Director Autum Bernstein as well from University of Davis Urban Studies and Transportation Faculty.

After hearing both sides,  this  letter expresses our concern about this major project, its ineffectiveness,  and its social justice implications.

Roy Kaplan,
Congregation Bet Haverim Social Justice Committee

Mayor Josh Chapman and Members of the Davis City Council
Davis City Hall
23 Russell Blvd
Davis, CA 95616

Mayor Chapman:

We oppose the I-80 widening project for economic, social justice and climate change reasons.

Research conclusively shows that freeway widening, like what is proposed for I-80, will not fix congestion for long.

At the December 7th I-80 Teach-In at the Davis Community Church, UC Davis Professor Susan Handy, head of the National Center for Sustainable Transportation, described research accepted by Caltrans and tested in the courts. This conclusive research shows that the congestion relief from freeway widenings lasts 10 years at best and often as few as 2 years before the freeway will recongest. This is due to the phenomenon of induced traffic: wider roads encourage people in the short term to drive more, and in the longer term to make decisions to buy homes further from their jobs and have second homes in Tahoe. The resulting increase in driving fills the added freeway capacity. Professor Handy said the only solution to improving mobility in the corridor is to establish a first-class transit system, which the Yolo County Transportation District (aka Yolobus) as well as others have neglected for years, forcing people to drive. The evidence of this neglect is manifest:

  • It costs $18 to take the train from Davis to Sacramento round trip.
  • There is virtually no bus service from Davis to Dixon.
  • It is often twice as fast to bicycle to Vacaville than to take public transit.

The I-80 widening project will move us in the wrong direction in addressing climate change.

Even Caltrans’ numbers show that this project would add over 180 million more miles traveled (VMT) a year and the related GHG. This number equals adding over 12,000 more cars to the road, an increase in VMT independent of population growth per academic research. This outcome is contrary to the city, county, and state’s Climate Adaption Plans which require us to make policy decisions to reduce driving, in addition to shifting to battery electric cars to meet climate goals.

Adding freeway capacity puts pressure on Davis’s housing availability. 

When you make it easier to drive further for work, more people will choose to live in Davis for its excellent schools even if their jobs are far out-of-town. (e.g., cannery homes were advertised in the Bay Area). This affects the demand for local housing, putting more people in competition with staff and faculty who work at UC Davis or hold service jobs in Davis. Yet, Caltrans denies there is any land use/housing impact of the freeway widening in its draft environmental impact report.

Chart Source: The American Exception: When it comes to climate footprints, rich people in the United States are in a class of their own NY Times 2/28/23: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/28/climate/climate-change-carbon-footprint-america.html

Caltrans climate mitigation plan relies on the unfair assumption that the poor and working class will use free bus passes to take transit so others can drive.

Caltrans mitigation includes a plan to pay the poor and working class in Davis and Yolo County to drive less by providing free bus passes and adding bus service that is then used as “carbon offset” so others outside of Yolo County can drive more on the wider freeway. We reject the false logic of “carbon offsets” that will not reduce our state’s carbon footprint but will continue to privilege the travel for richest among us with their already dramatically higher carbon footprints. A transit trip typically takes 2-3 times longer than driving.

The toll lanes continue to increase social inequity by allowing the richest among us to opt out of changes needed to address climate change. 

We take great exception to the project’s design to make the new lanes” toll.” We particularly take exception to any policy that effectively preferences families or groups going to Tahoe to avoid paying tolls without any public policy justification. Adding new toll lanes advantages the wealthier recreational drivers on discretionary trips, giving them access to the additional road capacity even as induced demand will over time recongest the other lanes. This strategy is like school vouchers for private schools, allowing the rich to opt out of the commons, which for this project means the richest 25% of drivers can buy their way out of congestion so they no longer have an interest in building first-class public transit between the Bay Area and Sacramento.

We urge the Davis City Council to reject any plan to widen the freeway for auto travel as it denies of the urgency to:

  • address climate change,
  • provide improved public transit in the I-80 corridor,
  • reduce the social inequity that allows the rich with the highest carbon footprint to benefit while the poor and working class suffer the brunt of the impact as they are more likely to be working outside (e.g., construction/landscape/farm workers), and
  • improve mobility for everyone equally in a long-term sustainable way.

We also urge the Davis City Council to direct its representative on the Yolo County Transportation District Board (Josh Chapman) to vote against any alternative that includes adding automobile capacity as contrary to the common good.


Roy Kaplan, Chair
Congregation Bet Haverim Social Justice Committee

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts


    1. Matt Williams

      Walter, how is it false?

      How is it hypocritical?

      Instead of just throwing out an insult, please explain  why you believe the insult is warranted. 

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for