The passage of LA County Measure M brings major improvements to public transit, but could it also result in more pollution in disadvantaged communities? The Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at USC used GIS data analysis to develop a map overlaying Measure M proposed highway expansion projects and disadvantaged communities, and it’s concerning how much they align.
Measure M was passed in 2016 as a Los Angeles County transportation ballot measure. It implements a sales tax directed at reducing traffic congestion and air pollution in the county. The estimated $860 million a year generated from this measure is planned to fund improvements for all modes of transportation, including a series of highway expansion projects, most of which fall within .5 miles of disadvantaged communities. These highway expansion projects are as follows:
Disadvantaged communities in this map are defined as scoring in the top 25% on CalEnviroScreen, which is a statewide tool developed to identify under-resourced and historically marginalized communities that are subject to above average pollution.
Research shows that highway expansion is bad for surrounding communities’ health. Proximity to freeways is associated with negative health outcomes for people of all ages, as it leads to increased intake of air pollution from traffic, not to mention increased stress and less conducive walking and biking conditions with more cars on the roads and noise pollution. Health consequences linked to freeway closeness include respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable, as there are more cases of pregnancy and developmental complications like lower birth weights and smaller lungs for those who live near freeways.
The map above reflects the disproportionate burden of Measure M proposed highway expansion projects on disadvantaged communities that are already exposed to disproportionate air pollution burden. This inequity isn’t new. LA County Department of Public Health’s 2015 Community Health Assessment found that communities with higher incomes are more likely to live longer and be diagnosed with less chronic diseases than those with smaller incomes. Furthermore, race is a large factor in health outcomes. The assessment notes that Black children have the highest rate of asthma at 25%, followed be a large drop in Latino and White children at 8% and 7%, respectively.
Disadvantaged communities face more pollution and health issues compared to other populations, and these expansion projects threaten to widen those gaps. The passage of LA County Measure M will likely increase sustainability efforts county wide, but the benefits may be mostly realized by higher-income communities.
That said, many of the proposed highway expansion projects have not yet received final approval, and are still subject to public comment closer to the construction date. If any of these projects concern you, keep an eye out for an opportunity to voice your opinion.
Start a conversation in the comment section below on how your community may be impacted and/or ways you plan to participate in the public approval process!