Double-decker freeways, privatized toll roads, carpool lanes and high-speed rail are among proposed solutions for California’s looming congestion crisis, now threatened by a $140-billion transportation funding shortfall. If such projects are to be built, state officials say they must tap private funds through methods such as tolling or public-private partnerships.

California’s population of 34 million is projected to grow 60% by 2050, state officials said in a report released July 9. Travel on state roads already has increased 97% between 1980 and 2000, or about 10 times faster than new lane additions, reports The Road Information Program (TRIP), a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group.

“We have quite a few problems with congestion. You can’t be thinking a lane here and there. It has to be massive in the way of the Interstate [highway] system,” says Hasan Ikhrata, director of planning and policy for the six-county Southern California Association of Governments.

Most of California’s highway system, built in the 1960s and 1970s, has exceeded its design life. State transportation funds still rely largely on an 18¢-per-gallon fuel tax that hasn’t changed since the 1990s. “The excise tax barely covers state road maintenance and rehabilitation costs. None of it goes to congestion or capacity relief,” says Mark Watts, executive director of Transportation California, an industry advocacy group. 

Proposition 42, passed in 2002, provides $30 billion over 20 years, but nearly $2.5 billion has been diverted to the state budget deficit (ENR 10/18/02 p.10). Propositions 1A and 1B, passed in November, provide stop-gap relief by earmarking fuel-tax revenue for transportation and raising $19.9 billion.

The state legislature is considering two bills that would create a framework for exploring long-term transportation needs. It must address a severe land crunch in places like Los Angeles County as well as rising prices of raw building materials.

“The government isn’t going to come with $140 billion,” says Ikhrata. “These measures have to be done with private funding.”