Looking Ahead. New Caltrans officials must grapple with the controversial proposed rebid of the East Bay bridge main span. (Photo courtesy of Caltrans)

Saying it is "time for change" at the California Dept. of Transportation, the agency’s newly appointed chief engineer pledges to cut red tape, increase communication, promote new seismic codes and consider alternative project delivery methods.

Richard D. Land, a 27-year Caltrans veteran from the structural division, joins Will Kempton, the Caltrans director appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) last November and Randell Iwasaki, his deputy director. They are among the agency’s new leaders who must tackle such weighty issues as the $5.1-billion Bay Bridge delay, the use of more private-public partnerships and streamlining Caltrans operations (ENR 12/20/04 p.24).

Looking Ahead. Land vows improvements. (Photo courtesy of DMJM+Harris)

Six weeks into his new post, Land spoke to some 100 consultants, designers and engineers Feb. 23 at a reception hosted by the Los Angeles chapter of the Women’s Transportation Seminar.

He acknowledged that "changing the culture" at Caltrans to make it more responsive to contractors and other agencies will be challenging. James Okazaki, assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation, noted that design requests from the region were often denied by the Sacramento central office without it taking into account the needs of that specific region. "We must understand the local situation," said Land. "I appreciate you saying that," responded Okazaki.

Bruce Toro, a senior vice president with Los Angeles-based DMJM+Harris, says Okazaki hit a key issue. "Right now all bids go to state headquarters before being put out," he notes. "That slows things down by four to six months. If they could decentralize that element and have the local [Caltrans] districts take responsibility, then I think it would save a pretty good bit of time."

A To-Do List for New Caltrans Leaders
Fulfill rebid of $6-billion Bay Bridge span.
Foster better communication between Caltrans and local agencies.
Implement probability-based load and resistance design codes for bridges.
Help Caltrans engineers and contractors transition smoothly back to English system from metric system.
Foster successful use of design-build, design sequencing and other methods.


Responding to questions about the troubled Bay Bridge project’s main span, he reflected the official agency stance on replacing the self-anchored suspension span design with a causeway extension. "What it came down to for the administration was safety," he said. "That means getting something across the bay as soon as possible. We believe that a skyway extension is the shortest, fastest way, and we think we can save about half a billion dollars doing it."

The Associated General Contractors’ California chapter is optimistic. "Caltrans has had a tendency to fight rather than partner with contractors," says Tom Holsman, CEO of the chapter. "Kempton already has stated he’s excited about the opportunity to take that task on." Adds Vice President Tony Grasso: "He will support the effort to make the agency leaner and meaner."