Bay Bridge

January 30, 2014

Independent review calls Caltrans ‘out of date’ and cites ‘culture of fear’

An independent review of the California Department of Transportation, released Thursday, called for sweeping reforms of the department to improve mobility in the face of environmental challenges and a decline in the number of miles driven by Californians.

An independent review of the California Department of Transportation, released Thursday, called for sweeping reforms of the department to improve mobility in the face of environmental challenges and a decline in the number of miles driven by Californians.

Gov. Jerry Brown had ordered the $270,000 review – conducted by the State Smart Transportation Initiative at the University of Wisconsin, Madison – last May.

Joel Rogers, an author of the report, said in a news conference that his group found long-standing problems in Caltrans operations, including “a mission, vision and set of goals that are not well aligned” with current needs, such as legislation that mandates improved mobility while reducing traffic demand and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Caltrans “is still acting too much as your highway department, not your mobility department,” Rogers said.

Rogers called Caltrans management practices “out of date,” with no serious metrics to tie managers’ performance to accomplishing the department’s missions.

He also cited “a culture of fear” within Caltrans when it comes to deviating from standard policies – a theme often mentioned by critics of the department.

Brian Kelly, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, which includes Caltrans, agreed that culture change would be key to getting better results from Caltrans, including a new emphasis on keeping highways in good repair.

“It’s not OK to have highways ranked 48th nationally in terms of pavement condition” yet still prioritize new construction, he said. “ ‘Fix it first’ makes sense,” given current resources, he said.

The critique of Caltrans management and programs, while sometimes stinging, made no mention of the cost overruns, delays and construction errors on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which has dominated much of the debate about the department’s work for the last few years.

Kelly said he would favor greater openness in the operations of bridge project managers, including the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, an executive interagency group whose meetings were held in private.

Given the benefits of better communications with the public on the $6.4 billion project, Kelly said, the exemption to the state’s open-meetings law did not serve the project well.

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