The planning program within the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is responsible for a range of activities including the preparation of initial plans for individual transportation projects, also called “project initiation documents” (PIDs). These initial project plans contain specific information, including the estimated cost, scope, and schedule of the project—information needed to decide if, how, and when to fund the project. Caltrans staff prepare most PIDs for potential state highway improvement and maintenance projects, as well as for many locally-funded projects.
In April, the Governor proposed to shift funding to local partners for the preparation of PIDs on the locally-funded projects on the state highway system. To do so, the budget requested $7.4 million in reimbursement authority to support 67 positions that would perform the preplanning work for these projects. The Assembly rejected the Governor’s proposal (therefore providing no funding from any source for this work), while the Senate adopted the proposal less $1,000 to allow the budget Conference Committee to consider the issue further.
Proposed Conference Compromise
We recommend a compromise that includes two parts. First, we recommend that the Legislature adopt trailer bill language requiring that Caltrans be reimbursed from local agencies for some PID workload , although only for projects that are not in a state or local program, and are not part of the state highway system. This proposal would not have a significant effect on rural counties because nearly all of the rural highway projects are included in the state’s programs. The state would also continue to pay for all the projects in the counties that have passed local sales tax measures to fund transportation improvements as long as the projects are included in the measures’ expenditure plans. In this way, local entities would only reimburse the state for PID workload related to projects that are not part of the state highway system, and are not contained in any locally-approved expenditure plan.
Second, we further recommend reducing the reimbursement amount proposed by the administration by about half, with a corresponding increase in the State Highway Account (SHA) appropriation. This enables the state to continue to fund locally requested work that is not subject to local reimbursement. Accordingly, we recommend the Legislature approve 30 positions and $3.5 million in reimbursement authority for the preparation of PIDs for local projects, and 37 positions and $3.9 million from the SHA (relative to the Senate version).