Interview with California Transportation Commission (CTC) Executive Director, Susan Bransen, regarding SB 1 progress
The California Transportation Commission is responsible for allocating and overseeing funding for transportation infrastructure in the state. This includes primary responsibility for SB 1 funding.
John Hakel, Southern California Partnership for Jobs Executive Director, met with Ms. Bransen to learn how and how well SB 1 funding and projects are doing.
Q: What has been accomplished to date using SB 1 funds?
CTC has already invested more than $10 billion in SB 1 funding for transportation projects that will improve safety, mobility, environmental sustainability, economic vitality, and the quality of life in California. When combined with other state and federal funds, the Commission has dedicated a record $25 billion in multi-year transportation investments since SB 1 was enacted.
The Commission leveraged SB 1 funds with other state and federal funds to provide for the following:
- $18 billion for nearly 1,200 safety, operational, rehabilitation and maintenance projects on the state highway system programmed in the 2018 State Highway Operation and Protection Program.
- $1 billion for 9 projects designed to reduce congestion in highly-traveled and highly-congested corridors programmed in the Solutions for Congested Corridors Program.
- $1.34 billion for infrastructure improvements on federally designated trade corridors and along other corridors that have a high volume of freight movement programmed in the Trade Corridor Enhancement Program.
- $560 million to projects in counties, cities, districts, and regional transportation agencies where voters have approved, or enacted fees or taxes solely dedicated to transportation improvements programmed in the Local Partnership Program.
- $473 million to more than 280 projects to increase biking, walking and provide for safe routes to schools programmed in the Active Transportation Program.
- $386 million for 4,096 projects planned in FY 2017-18, and $1.1 billion for 2,295 projects planned in FY 2018-19 for the Local Streets and Roads Program. This program provides funds to all 58 counties and 480 cities in California for basic road maintenance, rehabilitation, and critical safety projects on local streets.
SB 1 revenue also stabilized funding for state highway, intercity rail, regional highway, transit and active transportation improvements in the State Transportation Improvement Program. Stabilizing funding for this program allowed the Commission to restore many projects that were cut or delayed in 2016 resulting from a $1.5 billion shortfall.
Totals reflect funding that the Commission has programmed between April 30, 2017 and Jan. 31, 2019
Q: What are the biggest challenges in implementing SB 1?
After decades of funding shortfalls to maintain, preserve and repair existing infrastructure and improve the system to meet continued demand, there remain thousands of projects across California in need of funding. As an example, for three of the SB 1 competitive programs, the Commission received requests for twice the amount of funds available in the first programming cycle. Evaluating and recommending the projects to the Commission to consider for the first cycle of funding was difficult given that all projects nominated for funding were critically important. Thankfully, while it will take time to realize the revenues arising from SB 1, over time SB 1 provides the means for which the Commission is positioned to dedicate funding to address the shelf of unfunded projects. Projects not selected for funding during these initial programming cycles will have many more opportunities in the future to secure necessary funding.
Q: How do you prioritize allocating re types of projects, re geographical distribution?
It is very important to the Commission that the differing needs throughout California are addressed when transportation policy and funding decisions are made. Therefore, the highest priority is placed on public outreach and transparency to carry-out the Commission’s responsibilities. To better understand the unique aspects of rural, urban, suburban, and other needs, Commission meetings and workshops are held throughout the state. The Commission also holds at least two Town Hall meetings each year in the more rural areas of the state.
With regard to transportation programs and allocation of funds, the overarching priorities and processes for funding are set forth in statute. Statutory provisions for most transportation programs identify distribution requirements and project types eligible for funding that guide, to varying degrees, how funds are allocated. The Commission implements statutory requirements by developing guidelines that form the policy, standards, criteria and procedures for each program. During guideline development, public workshops are held throughout California with all interest stakeholders where robust discussions take place to address project types, geographical considerations, project evaluation criteria, and other aspects of program implementation and oversight. In total, the Commission held over 40 public workshops in addition to its regular business meetings to develop guidelines that ultimately led to the dedication of more than $25 billion in transportation funding.
Q: SB 1 also included a number of reforms to increase accountability. What is the Commission doing to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent as promised?
SB 1 states that “it is the intent of the Legislature that the Department of Transportation and local governments are held accountable for the efficient investment of public funds to maintain the public highways, streets, and roads, and are accountable to the people through performance goals that are tracked and reported.”
In March 2018, the Commission adopted SB 1 Accountability and Transparency Guidelines, which detail specific requirements to hold Caltrans and local governments accountable for delivering projects as promised including extensive program monitoring and public reporting.
In addition to these accountability requirements, for programs and projects meeting specific thresholds, the Commission requires baseline agreements with project sponsors for increased public transparency and accountability. These agreements formalize the agreed upon project scope, expected performance benefits, delivery schedule, budget, and funding plan. Essentially, these agreements establish front-end, in progress and follow up accountability measures for regular reporting of project implementation including expenditure of funds to increase assurance that tax dollars are spent by the project applicant as originally promised.
SB 1 also requires the following 10-year performance targets to be achieved by Caltrans as the recipient of funding for the state highway system:
- Not less than 98% of pavement on the state highway system be in good or fair condition;
- Not less than 90% level of service achieved for maintenance of potholes, spalls, and cracks;
- Not less than 90% of culverts in good or fair condition;
- Not less than 90% of the transportation management system units in good condition; and
- Fix not less than an additional 500 bridges.
In March 2018, the Commission adopted annual benchmarks to measure Caltrans’ progress toward achieving these performance targets and in December found that Caltrans is making progress towards achieving the 10-year performance targets established by SB 1.
Q: Generally, what funding do you oversee besides SB 1?
The Commission is responsible for programming, allocating and reporting on much of the federal and state transportation funding in California. Overall the Commission has responsibility for billions in federal and state funding annually for purposes of programming, allocating, monitoring and/or reporting. A few examples beyond the SB 1 funds that fall within the Commission’s purview include allocating federal funds for congestion mitigation and air quality to Caltrans, programming and allocating state funds for enhanced mobility of elderly and disabled persons, and programming and allocating state funds for general aviation airport improvements. Voter-approved, one-time programs, that the Commission continues to play a key role primarily with respect to accountability and reporting include:
- Proposition 1A (Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, passed in 2008) provided $950 million under the Commission purview for capital improvements to rail systems that provide connectivity to the high-speed rail system, or that provide capacity enhancements and safety improvements.
- Proposition 1B (Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality and Port Security Bond Act of 2006) provided $12 billion under the Commission purview for programs to relieve congestion, facilitate goods movement, improve air quality, and enhance the safety of the state’s transportation system.
- Proposition 116 (Clean Air and Transportation Improvement Act of 1990) provided approximately $2 billion under the Commission purview primarily for passenger rail capital projects.
Q: What’s next for SB 1 implementation in 2019?
The Commission is gearing up for the second round of funding for three competitive SB 1 programs: the Local Partnership, the Solutions for Congested Corridors and the Trade Corridor Enhancement Programs. In March, we will begin a series of public workshops to update guidelines for each program. We are looking forward to working with transportation stakeholders and the public to reflect on and address lessons learned from our first round of funding and strengthen our accountability requirements.
Susan Bransen serves as the California Transportation Commission’s Executive Director, reporting to the thirteen-member Commission. She is responsible for directing the affairs of the Commission including responsibility for programming and allocating billions in transportation funding annually for the construction of highway, passenger rail, transit and active transportation improvements throughout California. Ms. Bransen also serves as a liaison on behalf of the Commission with the Legislature and the California State Transportation Agency Secretary in formulating and evaluating policies, plans, and funding for California’s transportation programs. As the primary advisor to the Commission, she has a major role in affecting the outcome of all policies and actions adopted by the Commission.