There’s no question that for the past year, the California Department of Transportation has played a major role in working to right the state’s construction employment downturn during the economic recession.


Caltrans’ positive relationship with contractors and its new stimulus leadership position has prompted the editorial staff of California Construction Magazine to name it the Owner of the Year 2009.

When Randell Iwasaki took over as director of the department earlier this year, the beginnings of the Recovery Act funds were appearing nationally. Acting in consort with the governor’s office, California now leads the nation having more than $2 billion in Recovery Act funding federally obligated to 675 highway and local street transportation projects statewide. Of these, 222 projects worth nearly $1.39 billion have already been awarded. California was the first state in the nation to obligate $1 billion of Recovery Act transportation funding – doing so a full two months ahead of the federal June 30, 2009 deadline.

Iwasaki manages the day-to-day operation of the department, including an operating budget of $14 billion and almost 23,000 employees.

And now that the state’s fiscal position is improving, more bond money for transportation projects is being appropriated, including activating Proposition 1B bond funds.

Caltrans has been gearing up for opening bids to not only the big, stimulus- and bond-funded highway and bridge projects, but also its annual highway maintenance program, which uses about $200 million annually.

Caltrans is rearranging statewide personnel to handle what is expected to be an unprecedented number of contract awards, says Richard “Rick” Land, Caltrans’ chief engineer and deputy director for project delivery.

“We could be advertising 25 projects a week and maybe up to 40 on the busier periods,” says the 28-year Caltrans veteran. “We need to get the right resources ready to handle this.”