Now that Gov. Jerry Brown has revised the state’s budget deficit from $9 billion to around $16 billion for fiscal 2012-2013, ideas for where to make cuts – or not – are flooding in. In his latest proposal, the governor is even suggesting making cuts at Caltrans, which is facing the end of Prop 1B bond money and federal stimulus and Highway Trust funds.

As the California Construction Trucking Association of Upland says, that’s the end of the good ole days of $13-billion-a-year highway funding that has occurred for the last six years. In fact, the CCTA says Caltrans’ spending in the next fiscal year will drop 50%.

According to the American Council of Engineering Cos. of California, both the bipartisan Legislative Analysts Office (LAO) and the State Auditor have previously recommended that the state can make meaningful savings at Caltrans – money that the state could put to better use in actually rebuilding its crumbling infrastructure. The LAO, for example, has concluded that Caltrans is way overstaffed and recommended cutting Caltrans staff by 1,500 positions for a savings of approximately $200 million per year. That proposed reduction would be more than 4.5 times the size of the governor’s proposal.

Caltrans currently has around 22,000 employees.

The ACECC says that Caltrans management itself has also recognized that the department needs to shift more of its engineering work to the private sector in order to better manage project and personnel workload. Management last year asked to be able to contract up to 20% of its workload to the private sector instead of the 10% historically contracted out. Gov. Brown’s proposal will result in Caltrans being able to contract out just 11% of its work, according to the ACECC.  

Caltrans today is actually an anomaly, says Paul Meyer, executive director at ACECC. “Nationwide, state departments of transportation use private engineering firms on average for more than 50% of their workload,” he says. DOTs realize, he adds, that with a private firm after a project is satisfactorily finished, the state has no further financial obligations, such as public employee pensions and lifetime health care.

In addition, the LAO and State Auditor have also pointed to systemic inefficiencies in Caltrans’ operations. Until addressed with meaningful reforms, these will continue to hamper the department’s ability to accurately account for project costs and limit its efficient operation, the ACECC says.

Meanwhile, the California Transportation Commission is taking up the challenge of raising public awareness with its first “Needs Report” since 1999. The 191-page report covers roads, highways, bridges, airports, seaports, railways, border crossings, and public transit infrastructure, warning that further decay and a deterioration of these transportation systems “may take many years to recover.” The reality is that, in the aftermath of the “Great Recession,” the public has lost its focus on big picture issues like the transportation system, says the CTC.   

“California’s transportation system is the largest and most complex in the nation. Historical investments in freeways, roads, bridges, rail systems, airports, public transit, and other transportation infrastructure have fueled the state’s phenomenal economic growth in recent decades. But times have changed,” the CTC notes.

“Today, California’s transportation system is in jeopardy,” the report continues. “Investments to preserve transportation systems simply have not kept pace with the demands on them, and this underfunding – decade after decade – has led to the decay of one of the state’s greatest assets.”

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for more information on the CTC Report.