Caltrans’ strategic plan embraces multimodalism, sustainability

By Eric Sundquist

The nation’s largest state DOT, Caltrans, signaled a strong move toward multimodalism, sustainability, and customer focus in a new strategic management plan released last week.

The plan, which comprises a series of performance measures, represents a step away from traditional automobile infrastructure-centric views of DOT work. As Director Malcolm Dougherty notes in his introduction, this shift follows previous work to refocus the department’s mission.

Dougherty writes: “Our previous Mission statement: ‘Caltrans Improves Mobility Across California’ resonated with many in the Department. It was short and catchy, but it didn’t tell how we engage our stakeholders on issues important to all of us: safety, sustainability, integration, efficiency, and California’s economy and livability. Our new Mission statement reads: ‘Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated, and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.’”

While the plan understandably devotes attention to assets operated by the department—highways and intercity rail—it take greater responsibility than in the past for how those systems work with the overall transportation network and with development patterns that respond to that network. For example, for personal transportation it envisions tripling the mode share for transit, walk, and bike modes. However, this goal cannot be done on the state system alone, or even on local systems without taking land use into account. Likewise, it seeks to continue the reduction in per capita motor vehicle miles traveled.

Those targets are listed in the department’s new sustainability section, which also calls for several innovative new measures to be developed—on accessibility, livability, and prosperity. Such a suite of measures has the potential to help direct investment and policy in ways that provide more community-friendly transportation solutions.

As a largely internal-facing document, the strategic plan did not receive extensive media coverage, but at least two publications took note:

Streetsblog LA praised the plan, citing some of the measures mentioned above as well as a mode-specific fatality reduction goal. But it warned that reform of the state’s project selection processes will also be critical, especially because so much of California’s program is driven and funded by counties, which are not bound by Caltrans’ management plan.

Heavy Duty Trucking took note of a goal to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx), sounding an optimistic note. The article quotes a Cummins Inc. executive as saying truck powertrain manufacturers have “a long history of rising to the challenge.”

In the interest of full disclosure: As the plan mentions, SSTI is privileged to have provided advice and research assistance during the development of Caltrans’ new mission and the goals laid out in the new strategic plan.

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director of SSTI.