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Statement: “And what do commuters gain after spending $3.4 billion? It will take seven minutes longer to travel from La Jolla Village Drive to Oceanside during rush hour. For $4.5 billion, drivers will save one minute and carpools will save 10 minutes,” State Sen. Christine Kehoe wrote in a letter to the Union-Tribune published Feb. 27.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: Last month, Kehoe proposed legislation that would make it harder for state transportation officials to expand freeways near the coast. The issue reignited a simmering local debate over adding lanes to Interstate 5.

Caltrans has proposed four plans to expand the interstate between La Jolla and Oceanside, each aiming to reduce traffic congestion as population grows. Kehoe opposes the plan, preferring growth that focuses more on mass transit.

Among other new restrictions, her legislation would require Caltrans to wait for mass transit expansions like commuter rail to be completed before expanding freeways. She argues that the I-5 expansion would come at too great of a cost, both financial and environmental.

A day after Kehoe introduced the legislation, the Union-Tribune’s editorial board rejected its merit. The newspaper called mass transit vital to the region but said it cannot supplant an expanded interstate in the foreseeable future.

“Without improvements, today’s freeway commute time of 38 minutes from La Jolla to Oceanside is expected to reach 70 minutes by 2030,” the newspaper wrote.

Kehoe responded in a letter the following week, citing similar statistics to cast doubt on Caltrans’ proposals.

“And what do commuters gain after spending $3.4 billion? It will take seven minutes longer to travel from La Jolla Village Drive to Oceanside during rush hour. For $4.5 billion, drivers will save one minute and carpools will save 10 minutes,” she wrote.

Both the Union-Tribune and Kehoe accurately cited estimates from Caltrans that go to the heart of their disagreement. The newspaper pushed for action before congestion dramatically rises. Kehoe says the proposed options aren’t worth the price and wants alternatives.

The graphic below compares the statistics and Caltrans’ four proposed plans. The Union-Tribune compared commute times between 2006 and 2030 if nothing is done. Kehoe compared commute times between 2006 and 2030 if Caltrans’ proposals move forward.

Although Kehoe accurately cited the figures from Caltrans, her comparisons carry two important nuances.

First, Kehoe highlighted the cost of the least expensive and most expensive of the four plans. But as far as travel time goes, the minutes saved from the $4.5 billion plan could be had for $700 million less.

By citing that $4.5 billion plan, Kehoe used the highest estimate to augment her argument that consumers aren’t getting enough bang for their buck.

And Kehoe compared commute times in 2006 and commute times 20 years from now without acknowledging the projected changes in population and traffic growth, which the estimates account for. Caltrans estimates the average daily traffic volume in the corridor will increase by 100,000 vehicles to about 300,000 in 2030. The projects would allow more vehicles to move through the area without a dramatic increase in travel times.

Our definition for Mostly True says the statement must be accurate but contain an important nuance to consider. In this case, we found two.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

What claim should we Fact Check next? Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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