Why we need to modernize the California Transportation Commission

Joshua Stark Headshot

California Transportation Commission

Two important transportation issues come to a head this August at the Capitol: Assembly Speaker John Peréz’s bill, AB 1290, and, the Administration’s attempts to create a single funding pot for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects. At the heart of both issues is the California Transportation Commission (CTC).

Never heard of the CTC? You’re not alone. While most Californians are familiar with Caltrans, whose orange cones are visible on highways and billboards statewide, the CTC plays a more administrative – but no less critical – role in determining what our state’s transportation system looks like. The CTC is made up of appointees who are together responsible for a number of state-level transportation decisions, including prioritizing inter-regional projects and approving regional funding requests.

The questions of “Who serves on the CTC?” and “What does the CTC do?” are important ones – and they may become even more important in the months ahead.

A Shifting Landscape for State Transportation

The CTC has been brought into the spotlight in part by a recent reshuffling of transportation agencies in Sacramento. The CTC now sits beside Caltrans and the High Speed Rail Authority in the newly formed cabinet-level Transportation Agency. (It’s so new it doesn’t even have a website yet!) The reorganization provides an opportunity to reexamine how these agencies relate to one another. After years of conducting its business without a lot of notice from advocates, who have instead directed state reform efforts at Caltrans and the Legislature, the unification of state-level transportation agencies is causing many to take a second look at the CTC and its role in shaping our transportation system.

Additionally, the Governor has proposed a new Active Transportation Program (ATP) that would put the CTC directly in charge of funding bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects. The ATP would create a single pot of funds for such varied programs as Safe Routes to Schools, the Bicycle Transportation Account, Recreational Trails, and the Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program. Money would be allocated by the CTC through some sort of competitive grant program, the specifics of which we have yet to see.

California suffers from a slow-moving transportation crisis at the same time that its citizens, for a variety of reasons, are becoming more active. Fifteen percent of travel in California is on foot or on a bike, and one-third of our school children walk or bike to school. And yet, our infrastructure often puts our own people at risk of life and limb. Twenty-seven percent of all traffic victims are cyclists and pedestrians, nearly twice the national average. These deaths are largely avoidable, and under the Governor’s plan, the CTC would be responsible for allocating the funding needed to save lives.

Modernizing the California Transportation Commission

The Assembly Speaker’s bill AB 1290 seeks to “modernize” the CTC by adding members and requiring that regions and the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) report to the CTC on transportation and land-use planning, with an eye toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

AB 1290 would add five new members to the CTC: three nonvoting ex officio members and two new voting members. The bill would require that, when the Governor and the Legislature appoint new members, there is an emphasis on increasing expertise in sustainability.

TransForm has worked with NRDC and a number of allies to support AB 1290. It is a sensible way to help bring the CTC up to speed with the state’s priorities around greenhouse gas reduction, and provide more expertise in integrating transportation and land use. AB 1290 would send a signal that our state government is willing to reshape our transportation system to protect air quality, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and improve our children’s safety.

AB 1290 will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, August 12th. Click here to download our AB 1290 factsheet for more details on the bill.

Take Action Now

If your organization is interested in supporting this bill, please contact Joshua Stark, TransForm’s State Policy Director.


About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.