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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Public Perceptions, Fiscal Realities, and Freeway Planning: The California Case


Focusing on plans and planning debates can obscure the critical role that public finance plays in shaping planning outcomes. This paper explores the important role of finance by examining the relationship between freeway finance and freeway planning in California since 1959. Popular perception holds that a groundswell of public opposition led politicians to abandon ambitions freeway plans in the 1970s. In California, this antifreeway movement is said to have culminated in 1975 when the state formally renounced the 1959 Freeway Plan and adopted a new “multi-modal” stance. A careful review of freeway finance, however, reveals that the freeway program was in serious decline nearly a decade before the adoption of a new state transportation policy, because California had simply run out of money to pay for an increasingly expensive freeway program.

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