State advocates for sustainable transportation scored an important victory for the climate, our health, and social equity last month by making meaningful changes to California’s largest transportation funding program.
TransForm brought together over a dozen organizations within the ClimatePlan network to advocate for strengthening the State Highway Operations and Protection Program, or SHOPP. As a result of this collaborative effort, this $4+ billion program will better incorporate the goals of the Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure. Referred to as CAPTI, it’s the state’s framework for sustainable transportation investments.
Not only will the SHOPP guidelines advance more equitable investments, they will provide more accessible information on the transportation projects it is funding.
The initial SHOPP guidelines had a lot of room for improvement. The first draft weakly stated “Caltrans shall take CAPTI strategies as well as the Caltrans Equity Statement into consideration in the development and implementation” of the plan that feeds into SHOPP. [Emphasis added.]
Furthermore, advocates were shut out from necessary information. This included not having the proposed investments released in a spreadsheet or other format permitting easy analysis. Active transportation advocates were especially frustrated, noting how so-called “complete streets” guidelines were required, but virtually excluded from publicly available documents. Several ClimatePlan members — including NRDC, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Cal Walks, CalBike, AARP, and American Lung Association of CA — came together to propose improvements. With TransForm coordinating, we developed a joint letter suggesting a range of changes.
The response exceeded our expectations. California Transportation Commission (CTC) and Caltrans staff agreed to key upgrades that will significantly improve the data and accessibility of SHOPP Project Workbook.
Some of these changes were implemented within weeks, which is truly the speed of light in an institution as large as Caltrans. Now, advocates can look up specific types of project activities, such as whether projects include a new bike/ped overpass, and can also filter for specific SHOPP years (see graphic).
This will also allow data to be released quickly to the public, at the same time it is passed on to agencies.
In response to our request to avoid ambiguous value-based terms like “upgrade the bridge” and instead use specific and objective language, such as “widen the bridge”, Caltrans agreed to “assign an editor to review and ensure the use of consistent, meaningful, and descriptive language across all projects.” It’s wordy, but it’s a win.
In the long run, the biggest accomplishment may be the stronger language they added, requiring that the environmental, health, and equity goals of CAPTI are incorporated into SHOPP’s investments. However, advocates still need to watchdog this program in the coming months. That is especially important since the guidelines improvement does not change how funding gets decided. CTC also added a disclaimer that CAPTI will only be integrated to “the maximum extent feasible while meeting the legal, statutory, and operational requirements of the State Highway System” — forgiving terminology permissive of many process and policy failures by the state.
This joint campaign showed the power of a diverse coalition speaking with a unified voice. ClimatePlan continues to be a vital place for advocates to work together. Yet so much more needs to be done, not just watchdogging the inclusion of CAPTI’s health and equity goals, but also helping local and regional advocates take advantage of newly available data to ensure project planning is changing on the ground. While we’re excited by the victory, the work isn’t over — support the next steps by investing in our work towards a more equitable, sustainable future.