Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

'Moving Dollars' puts California's transportation spending in focus

By Ethan Elkind

California 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?

Moving Dollars Cover

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.

    Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet .