UC/UCLA report: Changes needed to align transportation spending and policy goals

By Robbie Webber

A new report outlines steps that federal, state, and local decision makers can take to bring California’s transportation spending in line with its environmental and energy goals. The paper, from UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment, came out of a one-day session in October 2014 that involved leaders from business, academic, and policy sectors, including high-level staff from the California DOT (Caltrans) and the California State Transportation Agency.

Many of the suggested changes in spending and policy have been embraced by Caltrans and CalSTA. Others are long-term goals for the state.

The report outlines three key barriers to improved transportation spending:

1) Counterproductive policies at multiple levels of government that prevent transportation dollars from being spent in the most environmentally and economically effective manner;

2) Uncoordinated decision making at multiple levels of government that creates competing visions and priorities for transportation spending; and

3) Misaligned funding and financing policies and practices at various levels of government that result in a lack of continued support for projects that are consistent with state environmental priorities.

It also outlined some solutions to overcome these barriers:

  • State-developed project performance standards to ensure that all new transportation projects meet various metrics that align with state environmental and energy priorities, such as reduced vehicle miles traveled and enhanced mobility options (e.g., walking, biking, transit, and car- and bike-sharing);
  • A 55 percent voter-approval threshold for local transportation funding measures to ensure meritorious transportation projects that reduce vehicle miles traveled are easier to fund with local dollars, compared to the current 2/3 requirement;
  • A greater percentage of transportation dollars at all levels directed to the repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure, including for “complete streets” options to make roadways safe for pedestrians, bikers, and transit riders, before funding new projects; and
  • Improved transparency and decision making in allocating transportation funds across the state to ensure alignment with state environmental and energy goals.

The report goes on to list laws and policy suggestions for decision makers at the federal, state, and local levels. It says that recommended changes could improve the state’s physical and economic health, as well as support environmental and energy goals.

The full report can be found here.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.