Reports

California Transportation Commission Meets in Sacramento

Notes submitted by Bill Kerby, January 10, 2008

Commissioners were relieved when Executive Director John Barna corrected the minutes from the past meeting that stated “no members were present” to “no members were absent.”

Today, the newly elected chair of the California Transportation Commission, John Chalker of San Diego, efficiently led the commissioners and witnesses through a fifty-eight item agenda and gaveled the meeting to a close before two o’clock.

Caltrans Director Will Kempton reported that the Caltrans budget was “not as bad as it could have been.” He was pleased at the speed with which Caltrans employees and contractors worked in reopening the Newhall Tunnel, as noted by the Governor. Increased deaths of maintenance of way and other highway workers last year prompted a review of safety procedures, now underway, which may result in more lane closures and traffic delays for maintenance work.

CTC staff reported on Proposition 1B guidelines for ranking infrastructure projects on a performance-based method. Baseline agreements, the first of three parts to performance budgeting, will be followed by progress accountability and follow up audits. Quarterly reports to agencies and stakeholders are expected. Deputy Secretary James Bougart from the California Department Business, Transportation and Housing announced the formation of a performance based infrastructure group that will form private public partnerships. The mission and methods partnerships will contain elements found in British Columbia and Ontario Canada. Commissioner Zarian asked if there was a list of private providers, but Mr. Bougart replied that some capital fund managers are interested in such partnerships and once the CTC has ‘real authority’ to lead, private contractors will be contacted. Ultimately, the infrastructure group would issues requests for proposals on public projects. Over twenty years, California expects to spend $500 billion on infrastructure, formerly called public works.

A small controversy developed over draft guidelines for distributing $250 million of Proposition 1 B grade crossing funds. Bill Bronte, Chief, Division of Rail, testified that he was comfortable with the CTC staff analysis of these guidelines. Dan Levitt, representing the High Speed Rail Authority, asked for language in the draft requiring that any crossing project be along the high-speed rail corridor. Since HSR does not reach San Diego with the current plans, Chairman Chalker asked Mr. Levitt if any crossings would be eligible in the San Diego area and was told that some would be eligible. Commissioner Carl Guardino, successfully moved to eliminate HSR as a screening criterion, but agreed that possible future HSR usage be considered for any crossing project to avoid wasting project dollars. Given the listed 500 grade crossing projects by the California Public Utilities Commission, an agency that will direct spending on $150 million of the 1 B pool of funds, the commission thought it would be more appropriate to consider urgent need as a priority condition to select projects and then consider HSR in the design if a designated crossing might be along the HSR route. Approval of the grade crossing guidelines must occur by February 15, 2008, the day after the next CTC meeting.

A few passenger rail projects received state transportation improvement plan funds.

  • In San Francisco, Caltrain’s Downtown Extension to the Transbay Terminal begins Phase I to design and construction of the above ground portion of the building and below ground parts of the rail system. Additionally, there is funding for bus ramps, bus storage and a temporary bus terminal. When completed, the overall project extends Caltrain 1.3 miles from Fourth and King Streets underground to the new terminal downtown.
  • The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LAMTA) received $20.4 million for phase II of the Exposition Light Rail Corridor Project between Culver City and Santa Monica. In a last minute change made possible by accelerated state review, LAMTA’s David Yale announced that Caltrans had found an alternative source, so their allocation will revert to LAMTA for later use. Still, $800 million separates this $ 20 million allocation, covering environmental review document, from operational status.
  • A contract extension for Sacramento light rail received unanimous committee approval for double-tracking the light rail line in Sacramento County. This project will permit some express service.
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