California launches major transportation-reform effort

By Eric Sundquist

California’s State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and Department of Transportation (Caltrans) have launched a thorough-going reform to modernize practice at Caltrans.

The move follows the release of a CalSTA-sponsored report by SSTI. The report calls for an update of the department’s mission, vision, and goals; realignment of departmental resources to address those new goals; and a stronger performance-based approach to manage change and ongoing work.

“Two themes run through our findings and recommendations,” the report states. “One is that Caltrans, once a national leader among state transportation agencies, has fallen out of step with current ‘best practice’ in transportation practice and the express aims of California state policy. The other is that the department’s culture not only has not come to grips with new realities, but also frequently runs on process rather than outcomes. In other words, Caltrans is in need of both modernization and organizational culture change.”

CalSTA and Caltrans leaders pledged to implement the report’s recommendations. “We asked for an honest assessment because we are committed to modernizing Caltrans and improving transportation for all Californians,” Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly said. “This report describes significant challenges that built up for decades at Caltrans and we are committed to facing those challenges proactively and taking action to deliver a modern transportation system that Californians deserve.”

“We see this as a tremendous opportunity to reassess our priorities and improve our performance,” Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said. “We have some internal reforms already underway so we can hit the ground running.”

The California report was SSTI’s fifth and most far-reaching report on practice at particular state DOTs. SSTI is continuing to work with CalSTA and Caltrans on implementation of the report’s recommendations.