Monday, May 5, 2014

Report asks, Is Caltrans Obsolete or Irrelevant?

Is Caltrans Obsolete or Irrelevant? This was asked by the Brown Commission Report, parts of which are published below.

 By, Paul Encimer of Greenfuse

After the Caltrans bolts on the Bay Bridge threatened tragic consequences, Gov. Brown went to an independent commission made up of a team assembled by
Caltrans Seismic Retrofit US 101 Trinidad Ca.
the State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI), a foundation and government funded effort, managed out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has a mission of improving the productivity, sustainability, and accountability of state transportation policy and practice. This team included academics, SSTI staff, independent transportation experts, a California lawyer and businessman, and former chief executives of other state transportation departments. It was released on January 28th of 2014. Following are excerpts from SSTI Executive Summary: (from The Brown Commission Report)

Caltrans was organized to build a network of trunk highways linking cities. In metro areas, local traffic began to overwhelm these highways, leading to massive construction. Eventually the highway system was largely built-out, and system operation and maintenance became more critical to Caltrans' job. Yet the department continues to be oriented toward projects- both for new capacity and reconstruction of the existing system.

As early as 1972, when Caltrans was formed out of the Department of Highways, there were calls for more multi-modialsm and less reliance on auto-mobility. More recent passage of state planning goals in AB 857 (2002) and transportation greenhouse gas reduction strategies SB 375 (2998), Signal a need for Caltrans to support reductions in auto travel via low transportation demand land use patterns. 

Californians are driving less, a trend that creates optimism for achieving state planning and policy goals and that should allow for less spending on highway capacity. Other expectations that have developed since the interstate building era include concerns for economic and environmental justice, livability, and economic development. New technologies in planning and operations, and expectations of mode choice have all complicated Caltrans' world. 

Caltrans often has not had to adapt to these changes. When the state vested more funding decisions at the local level, for example, decision makers seem not to have thought much about how Caltrans would have to change to be a partner rather than a master builder. Sustainability initiatives  frequently have worked around, not through, Caltrans. The legislature has required many reports from Caltrans, but these have failed to drive fundamental change in the department which remains oriented toward projects. 

Partly because of its own actions or lack thereof, but also because of how it has been treated by stakeholders, Caltrans today is significantly out of step with the best practice in the transportation field and with the state of California's policy expectations. It is in need of modernization-both in the way it sees its job and how it approaches that job- and of a culture change that will foster needed adaptation and innovation. 

When this review began, Caltrans was moving toward adopting a new five yeear strategic plan that would include a mission, vision and goals.  Critically, the draft plan avoided the word "sustainability" or any similar concept, when one of Caltrans' most important tasks is to understand what sustainability means to a state DOT and to operationalize it in goals, measures, and actions. For example, the department has not come to grips with the reality of induced traffic and the relationship between transportation and land use.

As it remains oriented toward project development, Caltrans has not developed the resources needed in the modern, post interstate building use, Smart Mobility 2010, the department has almost completely ignored the report and failed to implement its important recommendations for practice. 

Caltrans' analytic capacity on these issues has fallen behind that of local and regional partners. though it now controls a mature system, Caltrans continues to view it on a project by project basis. Consequently, systemic and operational issues have not received enough attention. 

System planning documents, such as the California Inter-regional Blueprint, may have sound guidance, but these often do not effectively guide investment of policy, as they garner little interest among the project oriented department.

Operational needs, such as maintenance of its infrastructure, are not fully adapted to the multi- stakeholder environment in which it finds itself. It participates in some partner driven initiatives, such as the nationally significant integrated corridor management (ICM) program in San Diego, but rarely leads on these and tends to view off-system activities as irrelevant. 

Goods movement systems are too inflexible and do not do enough to mainstream facilities for non-SOV (single-occupancy) vehicle travel into project development. The agency and department should support, or propose if no bill is forthcoming, legislation to end the archaic practice of imposing state rules on local streets for bicycle facilities. 

Modernizing Caltrans' mission and redirection resources will only pay off if the department can effectively implement these changes, even though such a system was envisioned in a widely read report from two decades ago. 

One reason for Caltrans' rigidity, both with respect to projects and to its ability to change, is a culture of risk aversion and even fear. Staff frequently cited liability as a concern, but other DOTs have been able to innovate without exposing themselves. 

Caltrans and CalState Transportation Agency should develop mission, vision, and goal statements that re fully consistent with state planning and policy goals. These statements should explain conceptually what Caltrans' role is in sustainability, livability, and equitable economic development. 

One source for these statements is the department's own 2040 long range plan. Another is the recent Smart Mobility report, which has largely been ignored. Critically, if the word "mobility" (whether described as smart or not) remains as a central focus in the department's mission, it needs a clear definition in light of new expectations of Caltrans. 

Whatever the aims of management might be, currently too many in the department understand the word mobility to mean "moving cars faster."

To jumpstart this effort, we recommend that the secretary and director accept responsibility for Crafting these statements in concert with a set of key senior staff of their choosing. To demonstrate the commitment to collaboration, we suggest that these statements be produced in draft and shared with key transportation and elected officials selected by the secretary before finalization. 

Once CalSTA and Caltrans have developed the new statements, they must go to the district directors and other key staff to work out the details and implementation. The process we describe is different from the bottom up aproach that has characterized strategic planning in the department, which resulted in the culture endorsing itself. Strategic direction must come from top down and outside in. 

Following the release of new mission, vision, and goals, Caltrans and CalSTA should use those statements, as well as the recommendations in this report to organize teams to develop implementation action and performance measures. 

Caltrans and CalSTA should work to ensure the success of CEQA reform rulemaking set up by SB 743(2013). SB 743  could do more to advance state planning goals than anything else Caltrans has done. 

The statue's assignment of the SB 743 rule making to another department, however, is evidence of the general lack of confidence in Caltrans' ability to accomplish this trans formative change. And that lack of confidence may be well-founded, as our interviews disclosed substantial resistance to change, with Caltrans staff, for example, arguing to extend the new rules only to the minimum area required, while the statue would permit statewide application. 

Caltrans and CalSTA should modernize state transportation design guidance. A complete overhaul should move quickly. 

This report (and Smart Mobility 2010 and the 2040 plan) provide a stunning critique of what's been called The Last Soviet Republic. Watching local, state and federal agency after local, state and federal agency groveling before Caltrans Willits' atrocity makes this report a potential game changer. Draining 90 acres of irreplaceable Willit's wetlands for a giant interchange of no help to Willits' congestion problem. All based on traffic studies from decades ago. 

Natalynne DeLapp of EPIC has her own report: "Caltrans implementation of the bypass has been a circus of permit violations, spiced with the destruction of a cultural site, and clouded by an underfunded and unproven mitigation plan."

The SSTI report is in tune with the state court of appeal's recent ruling, to the effect that the Richardson Grove boondoggle seriously threatens mammoth ancient redwood trees.  "Incredibly," states Natalynne, "instead of designing alternatives and doing an in-depth environmental review that better reflect the desires of Californians and the environmental realities of our times, Caltrans wastes time and taxpayer money disregarding the intent of the courts by arrogantly steamroolling forward with the project. 

"This bully behavior confirms the independent review conclusion that Caltrans is obvious to the concerns of the public while unabashedly promoting environmentally damaging projects." 

Has the tide turned? Will the North Coast boondoggle projects finally get their comeuppance? 

Cobbled together by Paul Encimer from this 
  which was published in the April 2014 #159 issue of Greenfuse a free monthly newspaper that can be found at establishments around Northern California
The link isn't working. (Sorry about that, I will try to get one that works) this is exactly as is was in the paper. And it was confirmed when I got permission to republish this.
Here is another link directly to the official report, all 71 pages. 

Here is the updated link

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