Saturday, July 9, 2016

CalSTA Blog / OC Register: Improving Caltrans requires new revenue and reasonable reforms

Brian P.  Kelly
The following is an editorial submitted to the Orange County Register by California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian P. Kelly on June 30. To view the original post, click here.

Recently in these pages, some have had a lot to say about the state Department of Transportation.
But there is a lot that hasn’t been said that I believe your readers should know about the efforts that have been taken to improve Caltrans during this administration.
In May 2013, I commissioned the first comprehensive review of Caltrans in the last 20 years. The State Smart Transportation Initiative undertook a thorough assessment of the department and provided recommendations for improving performance – recommendations the department is implementing today.
In 2014, Caltrans and California State Transportation Agency executive teams crafted a new mission, vision and goals to modernize the department’s direction and emphasize performance and efficiency.
Last year, Caltrans adopted a five-year Strategic Management Plan that uses real performance measures for the department and provides for transparent reporting on how it is doing.
Already the department is being praised for the changes it is making. Caltrans is working more collaboratively with local governments on road design issues and with industry leaders on material specifications. The California Asphalt Pavement Association, in its 2016 industry newsletter, wrote that Caltrans is in the process of “making a genuine effort to get better.”
In August 2015, this administration put forth a comprehensive transportation funding package calling for both new revenue and reasonable reforms. Our proposal includes:
  • Streamlined environmental processes to deliver projects more efficiently;
  • Greater flexibility in staffing at Caltrans to meet new workload;
  • A more innovative procurement authority so Caltrans can execute projects more quickly and deliver results sooner;
  • Specific performance measures to hold the department accountable to the Legislature and the public;
Recent criticisms also took issue with Caltrans’ staffing numbers.
Here is what you weren’t told: Staffing is down at Caltrans. The staffing program to deliver projects, known as Capital Outlay Support, is at a 20-year low. Over the last eight years, the COS program has dropped approximately 3,400 positions. The program has been reduced each year of the Gov. Jerry Brown administration.
The Legislature has raised questions about Caltrans’ staffing methodology. Having worked in the Legislature for 17 years, I take those questions seriously.
That’s why, in January, I asked the California Transportation Commission to conduct a thorough review of staffing – with both parties from the Legislature, the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office included in that review.
Recently, the CTC acknowledged the progress Caltrans has made since 2013.
The CTC will continue this work to ensure department staffing is sufficient to deliver projects that benefit all Californians and that Caltrans is held accountable to the Legislature. Staff size should not be determined by ideology, but by analysis and actual workload.
Some would also have you believe that a few bad actors define the department. That is wrong.
Caltrans routinely takes disciplinary action, including termination, against employees who act in a manner inconsistent with the department’s values and expectations. With respect to the Bay Bridge, I remind you, it was this administration that replaced the two top managers on that 20-year-old project.
There is still work to do at Caltrans. That is why the Brown administration is seeking new funding in combination with meaningful reforms. To build the transportation system we need, however, the state must increase its investment, just as 22 other states have done since 2012.
Both Govs. Ronald Reagan and George Deukmejian understood the necessity of increasing reasonable user fees for transportation infrastructure. That’s why they took action to approve them.
We need that kind of leadership today if the state is going to have the world-class transportation system it needs and it deserves.



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