UC ITS White Papers on CA Transportation Plan

March 7, 2022

The UC Institute of Transportation Studies (UC ITS) is excited to announce a collection of white papers that explores the California Transportation Plan and potential impacts, and addresses improvements and recommendations.

“This was an impressive effort across UC ITS,” says principal investigator UC Berkeley Professor Emerita Elizabeth Deakin. “The breadth and depth we were able to provide was truly a team effort.”

The papers were contracted by the California Strategic Growth Council (SGC) in response to Assembly Bill 285, the California Transportation Plan (Friedman, 2019). Researchers at UC Berkeley ITS, UC Davis ITS, UCLA ITS, and Berkeley Law joined forces to prepare the series of white papers to provide the evidentiary basis for the project. In addition, researchers from UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, and UC Riverside provided review support.

The collection of papers investigates:

•How is transportation shaped by the technology it uses and the institutions developed to deliver transportation services? What are the issues when policies and priorities change?

•How do the California transportation plan and other key statewide transportation plans shape the state’s transportation systems? How does new technology figure in the plans? What do stakeholders think about the plans?

•How do metropolitan planning organization (MPO) plans and their Sustainable Communities Strategies shape transportation in California? How are plans translated into projects?

•How does California’s approach to transportation finance affect goal attainment?

•What are the legal issues in pursuing new priorities in transportation?

Key Findings:

Researchers noted that for over a century, transportation planning has focused on building streets and highways to facilitate motor vehicle travel. Public investments in transit and pedestrian and bike facilities have been a far smaller fraction of overall spending. Today, with an extensive network of streets and highways, a majority of transportation funding is being spent on keeping streets and highways in good repair. Programs emphasizing the creation of a balanced, multimodal transportation system have been added over the years, but available funding for these travel options is small in comparison to highway spending and is chronically oversubscribed. The programs for innovative climate-and equity-focused investments listed in AB 285 account for only two percent of transportation expenditures.

Over the past 50 years, increasing attention has been given to the broader social, economic, and environmental impacts of transportation, and California has established ambitious statewide goals for climate, equity, environment, safety, infrastructure, and the economy. Nevertheless, the state is in danger of missing its targets.  

One reason is that the complex ecosystem of state, regional, and local organizations responsible for transportation planning makes it difficult to hold specific institutions responsible for action. The California Transportation Plan combines interregional plans for passenger and freight with the regional plans developed by the state’s 18 MPOs. In turn, the regional plans incorporate county plans, many of which are based on voter approved transportation sales taxes.  While this approach gives localities and their constituents considerable say about investments, it also makes it difficult to hold any one agency responsible for achieving shared goals. For example, the MPOs have been given key responsibilities for developing Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCSs) but they lack the authority to require implementation of most of the transportation and land use measures included in the SCSs.

Another reason for the gap between the state’s ambitions and its achievements to date is that transportation projects can take decades to move from conception to construction, and once projects are in the development pipeline, they rarely are reconsidered. As a result, some of the projects being implemented, developed in earlier times and with a narrower set of objectives, are likely to have adverse community and environmental impacts and to delay attainment of state goals. In addition, new technologies and modern operation and design strategies are not always incorporated into legacy projects, missing opportunities for cost-effective solutions.

The good news is that there are ways forward that can better align transportation spending with the full set of state goals. Many transportation programs are sufficiently flexible to permit decision-makers to prioritize projects that meet state goals and to reconsider projects that may have negative impacts. The state has taken steps in this direction with its Climate Action Plan for Transportation Investment (CAPTI). Several of the state’s MPOs are effectively using discretionary funds to incentivize local actions that comport with state goals.  New federal infrastructure funds also can be spent in ways that assure that climate and equity goals can be met along with economic development, safety and maintenance and repair objectives.

“Additional steps that would make a difference include improving the consistency of data reporting and data access across the state, and investing in performance monitoring and program evaluations, so that we can identify the strategies that are effective and those that are not,” says Deakin. “Other tasks include taking a new look at transportation governance – the roles and responsibilities we assign to various agencies in the state – and figuring out how to realign planning processes to achieve the integrated, multi-modal, climate-friendly and socially equitable transportation system we all want.”

Read about the white papers:

A Brief History of Transportation Policies and Institutions

Elizabeth Deakin - University of California, Berkeley

Summary: A Brief History of Transportation Policy and Institutions presents the development of transportation systems in the United States, with particular attention to California. The review includes key technological advances in transportation and the institutions that were developed to implement them. The paper also discusses the problem of organizational inertia and the issues associated with changing organizational culture to better reflect the problems of the day.

Review of Statewide Transportation Plans for California

PART 1: Chun Ho Chow and Elizabeth Deakin - University of California, Berkeley

PART 2: Daisy Son and Elizabeth Deakin - University of California, Berkeley

PART 3: Elizabeth Deakin - University of California, Berkeley

Summary: This paper, in three parts, reviews the most recently adopted California Transportation Plan (CTP 2050) and other key transportation plans adopted by state agencies. (Part 1), discusses the special attention given to new technologies in the CTP (Part 2) and presents the findings from over 80 interviews with stakeholders across California who were asked to weigh in on the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s transportation plans and planning practices (Part 3). The state plans’ prospects for delivering an integrated transportation system that meets state goals are assessed, and ways to strengthen the plans and their efficacy are outlined.

MPO Planning and Implementation of State Policy Goals

PART 1: Elisa Barbour, Emil Rodriguez, Noah Thoron, and Susan Handy - Institute of Transportation Studies University of California, Davis

PART 2: Amy Lee and Susan Handy - Institute of Transportation Studies University of California, Davis

Summary: MPO Planning and Implementation of State Policy Goals provides an overview of California metropolitan planning organizations’ regional transportation plans and sustainable communities strategies and evaluates their strengths and limitations (Part 1) and looks at the relationship between MPO plans and what is actually funded through transportation improvement programs (Part 2).

Examination of Key Transportation Funding Programs in California and Their Context

John Gahbauer, Juan Matute, Talia S. Coutin, Alejandra Rios Gutierrez, Nataly Rios Gutierrez - Institute of Transportation Studies, UCLA

Summary: Examination of Key Transportation Funding Programs in California and Their Context assesses the congruence between funding programs and state goals for transportation. Particular attention is given to major funding sources, such the State Highway Operation and Protection Program, and programs designed to promote key state goals, including the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program, the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program, the Transformative Climate Communities program, and the Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant program.

Flexibility in California Transportation Funding Programs and Implications for More Climate-Aligned Spending

Katie Segal, Ethan Elkind, Ted Lamm - University of California, Berkeley School of Law

Summary: Flexibility in California Transportation Funding Programs and Implications for More Climate-Aligned Spending examines key features of the legislative authority for transportation planning and finance in California, including local option sales taxes for transportation, and assesses the amount of flexibility that current laws and practices allow for reprioritizing projects as problems and priorities change.

Evaluation of California State and Regional Transportation Plans and Their Prospects for Attaining State Goals: SUMMARY AND SYNTHESIS

Elizabeth Deakin, Chun Ho Chow, Daisy Son – UC Berkeley

Susan Handy, Elisa Barbour, Amy Lee, Emil Rodriguez – UC Davis

John Gahbauer, Talia Coutin, Juan Matute, Alejandra Rios Gutierrez, Nataly Rios Gutierrez – UCLA

Katie Segal, Ethan Elkind, Ted Lamm – Berkeley Law

Summary: This report explains the purpose of the series, background information, research methods, summaries of the five white papers, key findings in the series, recommendations, and additional recommendations on plans, funding, and legal issues.