May 8, 2024 - News

Bay Area could get new funds for freeway lid projects

Photo of cars coming out of a tunnel as construction continues on the land over the tunnel/expressway

Construction for the Presidio Tunnel Tops project in 2017. Photo: Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Attempts to stitch back together communities of color that were torn apart by freeways could get a serious boost under a new bill in the California Legislature.

Why it matters: Communities have for years pursued freeway lids — decks over the interstate that enable park or commercial development to reverse decades-old damage — only to hit a wall over price.

  • San Diego Assemblymember David Alvarez's AB 2945 would fund the projects from property tax revenue in the immediately surrounding area.

How it works: The legislation would allow communities to form new agencies, with state approval, that could issue bonds to help build those lids and other projects that rectify damage from freeway construction.

  • They'd then collect any growth in property taxes above their baseline starting point, within a half mile of the project area, to repay those bonds.
  • That essentially re-creates the state's redevelopment program that former Gov. Jerry Brown killed in 2011 while facing a budget crunch.

Zoom in: San Francisco isn't a stranger to infrastructure reuse projects.

What they're saying: The bill "brings two things together: undoing harm done to lower-income communities that were displaced and divided by freeways, and re-creating redevelopment, which has left cities with less funding to improve communities since the state dissolved it," said Alvarez, who developed asthma as a child growing up in one of California's most polluted neighborhoods in part due to freeways that dissected it.

Yes, but: "These projects are very, very expensive," Alvarez said. "There will never be enough federal grants, state grants or city funding to pay for them."

State of play: A March study by UC Davis Health researchers found that people who live near major roadways in California continue to face increased risk of health conditions in their respiratory, cardiovascular and reproductive systems.

  • Despite the state's clean energy efforts, it hasn't "moved the needle" as much in targeting point source pollution, California Air Resources Board member Dean Florez told Axios.
  • The effects end up disproportionately impacting communities of color and low-income people, Florez noted. That includes parts of the Bay created from redlining and other exclusionary policies.

The big picture: California and the federal government both have been putting more money toward redressing the harm of interstate construction.

  • Caltrans has allocated a total of $149 million for three projects, including one that would strengthen connections between local neighborhoods in South San Francisco historically divided by freeways and railroad tracks.

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