In the age of globalization, trade, and e-commerce, one of the most important indicators of a region’s economic future is the quality of transportation infrastructure that connects producers and distributors to the wider world of consumers and markets. In Southern California, the 5 freeway, L.A.’s Golden State Freeway, is just that economic lifeline.

As one of the nation’s most trafficked routes, the 5 serves as a conduit for travel among population centers in Orange County, southeast Los Angeles County, and jobs-rich downtown Los Angeles, and as an essential link that provides manufacturing, distribution, and other key sectors in the Gateway Cities region access to a broader market.

Unfortunately, the freeway’s ability to continue serving its economically vital function is at risk.

At the crux of the issue is a seven-mile segment that runs between the 605 and 710 freeways. As anyone who has driven north from Orange County, or south from downtown can tell you, this segment has become a major chokepoint. While other freeways have been widened and updated, this critical thoroughfare somehow still has been overlooked. With the number of vehicles using this section of the 5 expected to nearly double by 2030, this increasingly untenable status quo poses a serious threat to the future economic security of the region.

Costly delays

A recent study from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute suggests that traffic delays cost Angelenos an extra 80 hours in the car and $1,711 every year. Businesses are often hit hardest by these costs – more congestion means fewer trips and less income for truck drivers and makes goods movement throughout the region challenging and inefficient. Moreover, 44 percent of businesses polled in a recent survey cited congestion as a top reason they would consider leaving Los Angeles County. As travel delays continue to grow, we fear that businesses and skilled workers might choose to move to other, less congested parts of the country.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has acknowledged the severity of this problem. However, as part of a proposed November ballot measure to extend a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects throughout the county, the project to widen this segment of the I-5 from eight to 10 lanes is scheduled to begin in 2041. This is too little and far too late.

This critical transit route’s woefully inadequate capacity requires urgent relief and immediate action. MTA must make this project a priority and begin widening this segment of the freeway in 2020.

This accelerated time line provides greater continuity on the thoroughfare, as the segment of the 5 between the 605 and the Orange County border is undergoing a widening project of its own. Waiting until 2041 would minimize the impact of those efforts and deny commuters and goods movers seamless travel along the 5. Improving only one section of a transit route is simply not enough.

We have seen the impact that previous transit bonds have had in L.A. communities and look forward to working together to ensure that MTA’s $120 billion effort to fund transit projects across the county meets the Gateway Cities’ infrastructure needs. The expansion of the 5 freeway is the most pressing of those needs, and we urge the MTA to act swiftly to address the route’s troubling issues, and to secure a brighter and more prosperous transit future for our region.

Eddie D. Tafoya is chief executive and executive director of the Commerce Industrial Council Chamber of Commerce, Kathie Fink is chief executive of the Santa Fe Springs Chamber of Commerce, Richard Trujillo is president of the La Mirada Chamber of Commerce, Julia Emerson is president of the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, and Michael Calvert is executive director of the Downey Chamber of Commerce.

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