Sometimes I catch a ride from a friend or take an Amtrak bus, and am on freeways in the Sacramento area, which most of the time I never see. I wonder why there are so many lanes for so few cars, so much expanse of empty concrete and expensive bridges. Of course I know the answer, the freeways have been built for two rush hours, morning and afternoon, on five days a week, perhaps 13 hours per week out of 168 hours in the week. Oh, and the Friday up to the snow or Tahoe and Sunday back home, that weekly migration of bay area people. The rest of the time they are largely empty.
Yet freeways take up a huge amount of space, have a huge carbon footprint for construction and maintenance even before fuel consumption comes into play, spew pollution into neighborhoods, and suck up the largest portion of our transportation funds. As an example of cost, the nine miles of the six-lane Capitol City Freeway (Business I-80) from Interstate 80 to Highway 50 is 54 lane-miles. Though the cost to construct a lane-mile varies widely, from $2M to $80 million, lets take a very conservative number of $5M and say that this section of freeway cost a quarter of a billion dollars. And this is not even an expensive highway, with its simple interchanges. Pretty amazing, huh? What else could we have done with that money?