Last week, the California State Transportation agency released an external review of Caltrans that paints the agency as stagnant and backwards. It offers a refreshingly candid and detailed critique, and more importantly points to a host of critical reforms, starting with a proposed one-month quick start to establish a new mission, vision and goals for the agency. The report recommends the direction come “from the top down and outside in”, to avoid the long-standing status quo at Caltrans where bottoms-up planning via staff just leads to “the culture endorsing itself”.
Additionally the report finds that Caltrans has not adapted its mission and goals to support statewide objectives that include reducing carbon emissions, promoting smarter land-use, and providing multimodal transportation choices. Instead the agency has continued its focus on “improving” auto-mobility by age-old investments in widening highways and roads. The result of this policy has been intense traffic congestion, poor air quality, and cemented the transportation sector as the number one emitter of greenhouse gases. Just as importantly, it has left many Californians without the transportation choices they need to access jobs, educational opportunities, healthcare, and other destinations that are critical for improving economic competitiveness and improving quality of life. To be sure Caltrans will not change overnight but it has been firmly put on notice.