Improving Transportation Spending In California

Joint UCLA / UC Berkeley Law Report Released Today

Moving Dollars CoverCalifornia spends approximately $28 billion on transportation infrastructure each year.  But are we spending that money as cost-effectively as possible?  And given the major impact that transportation investments have on our land use patterns and the amount of driving we need to do, are we spending this money in ways that align with California’s environmental and energy goals?

The short answer is: no.  The majority of these dollars go to automobile-focused infrastructure, including for new road and highway expansion projects.  Yet at the same time, our existing infrastructure is crumbling and in dire need of maintenance and investment, while options for transit, biking and walking are routinely underfunded.  And while the state seeks to encourage more housing in walkable, transit-friendly communities to meet market demand, too often transportation funds are directed to outlying areas, encouraging more growth at the edge at the expense of the core.

Part of the problem is that the money is collected and spent at multiple levels of government.  Local governments raise almost half the transportation dollars in California and control almost three-quarters of it.  Federal and state dollars are also spent via multiple agencies with sometimes competing priorities.

To address the challenge, UC Berkeley and UCLA Schools of Law are today releasing the report Moving Dollars: Aligning Transportation Spending With California’s Environmental Goals. The report resulted from a one-day gathering of transportation experts, state officials, and transportation agency representatives. It is the fifteenth in the law schools’ Climate Change and Business Research Initiative, sponsored by Bank of America, which develops policies that help businesses prosper in an era of climate change.

The group identified the following priority solutions to overcome the challenges, recommending that state and regional leaders:

  • Establish rigorous performance standards for new transportation projects that ensure that they are cost-effective, reduce driving miles, and provide more transportation options, among other possible metrics;
  • Reform the transportation decision-making processes by developing a common transportation vision for state agencies, with incentives for local and regional agencies to follow it; and
  • Direct a greater percentage of transportation dollars to the maintenance of existing infrastructure (“fix it first”), including to make roadways safe and accessible for people who take transit, walk and bike.

I’ll be speaking about these and other recommendations this Saturday at the annual Planning and Conservation League Symposium at UC Davis Law, on a panel with California Assemblymember Richard Bloom, Pete Hathaway (Former Director of Transportation Planning, SACOG) and Kate White (Deputy Secretary, California Transportation Agency).  Hard copies of the report will be available, or feel free to download a digital copy at the links above.

Reader Comments

5 Replies to “Improving Transportation Spending In California”

  1. In light of the state’s burgeoning population and inadequate infrastructure, this is a worthy subject. I hope that your report and the symposium will at least touch upon the transportation dollars that are being spent now and will continue to be spent on the California High-Speed Rail Project and the trade offs between that project and other worthy transportation infrastructure investments. If you do address HSR, I, and I’m sure others, would appreciate your objective opinion concerning how it performs vis a vis your first group of metrics: “Establish rigorous performance standards for new transportation projects that ensure that they are cost-effective, reduce driving miles, and provide more transportation options, among other possible metrics.” While the voters did impose some performance standards when passing Proposition 1A, the High-Speed Rail Authority has not satisfied several prior to commencing construction (such as having all funding and environmental clearances for the ICS in hand prior to groundbreaking) and may not satisfy others when the Project is completed (such as achieving the 2 hour 40 minute trip time maximum). Another possible area of reform is to make state spending on transportation more transparent to the public and to establish mechanisms that will help ensure agencies control costs (which always seem to escalate well beyond initial estimates).

  2. Typically, government spending in California for projects such as transportation, is largely allocated to paying the salaries and expenses of government employees and their pensions and unions. Much of the transportation funding will go grants and funding for environmental groups, community organizers, academics and other such waste. As amply illustrated by previous comments, high speed rail is emblematic of the absolute corruption, incompetence and contempt which typifies the miserable wretched state of California.

    1. bqrq, you are uncharacteristically negative today. Enjoy your day, focus on your own needs, and don’t worry about us here in California. Many people here are enjoying ourselves. It makes us sad that you are feeling bitter enough to spend your time name-calling. You may have contempt for us, but we are neither miserable nor wretched, and I hope that you, our number-one commenter, are not either.

      1. Dear Professor Hecht;
        You make a good point, we should not worry, we should be happy (and positive). It was not very edifying to point out the misery that results from government corruption, But surely you would agree that there is much room for improvement in the pitiful conditions that afflict the quality of life for the large majority of people who live in California and do not enjoy it.

        Let’s hope that someday we could set aside our contempt and be more helpful. What a daunting task. How can anyone help California?

  3. Expanding High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes in and around urban centers where there is high traffic and ensuring that HOV lanes are congestion free and fast would reduce automobile use if there are viable public transportation options such as buses, vans etc. Inviting private bus companies to ply these routes could reduce automobile use and provide a cheaper and faster alternative. Tolls could be used to reduce congestion on the HOV lanes.

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About Ethan

Ethan Elkind

Ethan Elkind is the Director of the Climate Change and Business Program, with a joint appointment at UC Berkeley School of Law and UCLA School of Law. In this capacity, h…

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