What Is The Right Road to Take?

Along with Donald Trump’s budget proposal comes news of significant cuts at the EPA, both in research funds and in regulations. An article in Governing Magazine uncovers an interesting debate regarding those cuts with respect to infrastructure funding: Is it right to gut environmental regulations that both delay and raise the cost of infrastructure funding in order to get more infrastructure faster? Quoting from the article:

President Trump has made no secret over the course of his campaign and early administration that he thinks it takes too long for infrastructure projects to get approved and built. A report from The Wall Street Journal last week indicated just how much he’d like to speed things up: The president wants states to start building within 90 days of getting federal money, compared with the years it can take for projects to start now.

The biggest hold-ups for most projects, though, come from federal — not state — regulations. State and county transportation officials say federal environmental, safety and workplace reviews can more than double the time it takes to complete a project.

But, they add, a GOP-controlled Congress and new administration provides the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate many of those long-standing environmental laws.

“We are not talking about trying to go out and gut the environmental process,” says Tim Hill, the administrator in charge of environmental services for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). “That’s not what states are about. They support clean air. They support clean water. They want to make good, common-sense decisions. But they want common-sense decisions in a process that allows flexibility.”

Of course, many environmental groups are wary of any major changes to landmark environmental laws, especially because Congress has already sped up many parts of the reviews in recent years.

“They already won,” says Scott Slesinger, the legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The problem isn’t and has never been [environmental reviews] that have caused the delays. It’s other stuff. It’s money. It’s local opposition. It’s supply-chain problems.”

This is something that can be clearly seen in California. Before the days of the EIR, roads could be built anywhere and everywhere, seemingly. Since the EIR process started, there are meetings and research and reports even to widen a road in place. The article talks about the many regulations and laws affecting infrastructure funding, from the Clean Water Act to the Endangered Species Act to the National Environmental Policy Act to the Buy American provisions. Quoting again from the article, regarding the NEPA:

The scope of the review depends on the size of the project. Projects that cost less than $5 million — which are the vast majority of transportation projects — are generally excluded from the impact study. Slightly larger projects, like a new intersection or highway on-ramp, require a more involved process called an “environmental assessment.” The biggest projects, like ones that require new rights of way, require a full environmental impact statement.

It’s the biggest projects that tend to get the most attention, and they’re the ones with the longest approval process. For projects approved in 2011, for example, the average time the NEPA process took was more than six years.

Congress responded to criticism about the lengthy reviews when it wrote its last two major surface transportation funding bills in 2012 and 2015. Federal lawmakers, for example, expanded the types of projects that were exempt from the reviews. They also allowed states to conduct their own NEPA reviews on behalf of the federal government, which California, Florida, Ohio, Texas and Utah have opted to do. Hill says Ohio saved $4.6 million in the first three months of doing the reviews itself.

So what do you think is the right answer? Do you think infrastructure trumps environmental quality. Literally?


California Highway Headlines for February 2017

It has been another rainy month for California. Great for our reservoirs. Great for the drought. Not so great for our road system. Here are some headlines from February (excluding things like mudslides and temporary storm damage):

  • OCTA Signs Design-Build Contract for I-405 Improvement Project. On January 31, 2017, OCTA’s CEO, Darrell Johnson, signed a $1.2 billion contract with OC 405 Partners for the design and construction of the I-405 Improvement Project. This is the largest contract in OCTA’s history. With this signature, OCTA has issued Notice to Proceed No. 1 to the design-build team, which marks the official beginning of the I-405 Improvement Project. In November, the OCTA Board of Directors selected OC 405 Partners to design and construct the I-405 Improvement Project. OC 405 Partners is a team of firms led by OHL USA, Inc. and Astaldi Construction Corporation.
  • Rising seas and pounding storms taking toll on Highway 37. Surveying flooding along Highway 37 in January, ecologist Fraser Shilling began doubting his projections for when climate change will cause severe, perhaps catastrophic impacts on the major North Bay thoroughfare. In an influential 2016 report used as a guide for the highway’s future, Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, had established a timetable of several decades for those impacts to be fully realized.
  • Highway 37 flood fix could happen this year. Caltrans is looking at an $8 million fix along Highway 37 in Novato to help stave off flooding that shut down the road after heavy storms. With renewed focus, the State Route 37 Policy Committee met Thursday at Novato City Hall to discuss flooding and short- and long-term solutions to fix the increasingly busy thoroughfare.

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California Highway Headlines for January 2017

Welcome to 2017 — a new year. Whether it will be a better year I can’t say, as we are in tumultuous times. But I have been collecting headlines about California. One note: This has been an exceptionally rainy month for California, and there have been many headlines about road closures due to weather-related road damage. I’m not including those in the list below, because they will quite likely be overtaken by events by the time I go to update my pages. Hopefully. But to give you an idea on some of the roads that are or have been closed due to the storms: Route 1, Route 17, Route 18, Route 23, Route 26, Route 27, Route 37, Route 41, Route 59, Route 74, I-80, Route 84, Route 118, Route 128, Route 158, Route 178, Route 182, Route 198, Route 269, Route 299, US 395. The preliminary damage total was $158 million.

So here are some longer-impact headlines:

  • Westside Parkway in Bakersfield, CA. Here is a link to a site with photos and information about the new construction on the Westside Parkway in Bakersfield, CA.
  • Median barrier on Golden Gate Bridge repaired as system marks two years. Crews repaired the Golden Gate Bridge’s movable median barrier Tuesday after it sustained damage sometime the day before from a passing vehicle on the Marin side of the span. Two lanes were closed for about an hour on either side of the barrier during the repair, which occurred at about 10:30 a.m. Golden Gate Bridge crews noticed the damage to the unit at 1:30 p.m. Monday during a lane configuration change.
  • Horgan: Resolve to avoid Highway 92 if you can. New Year’s resolutions are easily broken. But here’s one that has real immediacy for those on the Peninsula: Avoid Highway 92 if you can. It has become, for all intents and purposes, our horrible “Highway From Hell.” Specifically, stay away from it during weekday commute hours east of Interstate 280. Of course, that’s easier said then done.

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Changes to California Highways (The Website) – Sept to Dec 2016

First and foremost, the numbers at the start of the update are 39,653 songs on the iPod, with approx 383 on the “5 or Less” list and about 7200 on the “10 or Less” list. This is because updating the highway pages is a chance to play down the music lists. We know what is important. Alas, I added some music during the process, and ended up at 39707 songs total. 5 or less playlist at 407. 10 or less playlist at 7168.

We’re at the end of 2016. Updates were a lot less frequent this year — perhaps every four months, which is far too far apart. The end of 2016 has seen the election of Donald Trump, promises of Infrastructure Funding that may be like sugar plums, the passage of Measure M here in Southern California which will fund massive transit and less massive transportation improvements. What will the future bring? It is anyone’s guess, but most people are glad that we’re looking at 2016 in the rear view mirror.

Updates were made to the following highways, based on my reading of the papers (which are posted to the roadgeeking category at the “Observations Along The Road” and to the California Highways Facebook group) as well as any backed up email changes. I also reviewed the the AAroads forum. This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(1), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail) from Mike Ballard (sdmichael @ AARoads)(2), Ryan Carrigan(3), Coatamundi @ AARoads(4), Mike Cussen(5), pderocco @ AARoads(6), DTComposer @ AARoads(7), Andy Fields (Andy3175 @ AARoads)(8), Neal Parish(9), Sparker @ AARoads(10), Michael Regan(11), Max Rockatansky(12), Joe Rouse (jrouse @ AARoads)(13), Joel Windmiller (14): Route 1(1,7), Route 4(1), I-5(1,2,10), I-8(1), I-10(1), Route 11(1), Route 12(11), I-15(1,2), Route 17(1,9), Route 20(13), Route 24(9), Route 25(12), Route 29(1), LRN 33(12), Route 36(1), Route 39(1,10), Former US 40(9), Route 41(14,12), Route 46(12), Former US 50(9), Route 58(6), Route 65(1), US 66(1), Route 67(1), Route 71(1), Route 75(1), Route 76(1), I-80(1,4,13), Route 84(1), Route 85(1), Route 86(8), Route 91(1), Route 99(1,14), US 101(1,4,13,8), Route 108(1), Route 113(11), LRN 120(12), Route 125(1), LRN 125(12), Route 126(1), Route 138(1), Route 146(12), Route 156(1), Route 163(1), Route 180(14), I-215(1), Route 237(1), Route 241(8), Route 246(1), I-280(1), Route 299(1), Former US 399(12), Route 371(1), I-405(1), Former US 466(12), I-580(1), Route 710(1), I-805(1), Route 905(1), and Santa Clara County Route G4(1). In terms of link lists, the history links were updated(3). Also updated was the page with links to historical maps of relevance to California Highways(9,12). I’ll note there were some particular good background information posts on AAroads — I’ve hopefully been able to capture that information so it isn’t lost into the void (with attribution, of course). I’ll also note that reading AAroads reminded me of my philosphy on this website, and why it is so important: I focus on the history and actual routings. I don’t view it as my place to speculate on numberings, control cities, or opinions on what should be or what Caltrans got right and wrong. That way leads to Dyspepsia, which I understand is a city on an underserved state route somewhere.

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California Highway Headlines for December 2016

Another year has come to an end. 2016 has been a tumultuous year, with seemingly a larger share of significant deaths (although perhaps it wasn’t 2016’s fault), a transformative election (from California’s point of view, not transformative in a good way), and significantly decreased funding for highway repairs and improvement (although there were some bright notes at the end of the year). Here are the headlines from the last month of the year:

  • New freeway connectors help reduce border congestion. Construction crews just wrapped up a year-long project that will help reduce congestion at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. Three freeway connectors that link SR 905 and SR 11 to the northbound South Bay Expressway opened to traffic today.
  • Richmond-San Rafael bridge corridor work to be topic of open houses. A pair of open houses on access improvement work planned for the portion of Interstate 580 along the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge corridor will be held next week in Richmond and San Rafael. The Richmond open house is 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 8 in the council chamber at City Hall, 450 Civic Center Plaza. The San Rafael meeting is 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 9 at San Rafael City Hall, 1400 Fifth Ave.
  • Caltrans outlines Riverside, San Bernardino District 8 freeway projects in next 5 years. A list and a map showing 20 Southwest Riverside County Caltrans District 8 freeway projects either underway or planned for the next five years now available from the district offices in San Bernardino were handed out at a Riverside County District 3 Municipal Advisory Council meeting in Anza Nov. 9. The information is available on request from residents in Riverside and San Bernardino County. Caltrans District 8 is a part of the state transportation agency’s efforts to be more transparent with their projects. The district offices are located at 464 W. 4th Street in San Bernardino or and can be reached by calling (909) 383-4646.

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California Highway Headlines for November 2016

userpic=rough-roadIt’s been a rough month, with a crazy election, loads of talk about infrastructure possibilities, the passage of Measure M here in Southern California. But I’ve still been accumulating headlines, so enjoy. I hope to do a page update during my “shutdown break” between the Jolly Fat Guy holiday and the Jolly Drunk Guys holiday.

  • Highway 99 lane expansion in Stockton. Caltrans may be celebrating a 4-mile expansion on Highway 99 in Stockton, but drivers will be the ones celebrating with less traffic and a faster travel time. “It’s been a difficult project, but great to have it done,” said Caltrans Director Malcom Dougherty. “(Hwy. 99 will) make it less congested and safer for people traveling in and out of Stockton.” The expansion goes from the Crosstown Freeway near Hwy. 4 to Arch Road in Stockton.
  • In-depth: Are I-580 express lanes easing traffic?. It is the topic that everyone in the Bay Area talks about (actually complains about)–traffic. Drivers spend hours on the road, just trying to get from one place to another, even when the destination is not that far away. Caltrans launched several new projects this year to try and get things moving. On Interstate 580, officials said you can get there faster if you pay the price.
  • Crumbling roads in SF, Oakland ranked worst in nation. To experience America’s crumbling infrastructure firsthand, look no farther than San Francisco and Oakland — ranked this week by a transportation research group as being home to the worst roads of any large urban region in the country. The Bay Area cities and their surrounding neighborhoods topped the list for having poor roadways for the second consecutive year, according to a study conducted by the Washington, D.C., group Trip.

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California Highway Headlines for October 2016

userpic=roadgeekingOctober. The start of the last quarter of the calendar year. By now, you’re sick of the election coverage, so let’s turn instead to something more interesting in the news — highway headlines!

  • How toll-lane network could cover five counties. As the 91 widening nears completion, Riverside County transportation officials are gearing up for their next major freeway expansion – adding toll lanes on Interstate 15. The Riverside County Transportation Commission recently marked two big milestones with the long-planned project to add two toll lanes in each direction on a 14.6-mile stretch of the 15 from Cajalco Road in Corona to Highway 60 at the San Bernardino County line.
  • Audio: California gives LA control over freeway-facing billboards: What’s next?. A state ban on billboards near freeways was recently lifted for a busy section of the 110 Freeway downtown, placing authority over roadside visual clutter in the hands of the Los Angeles City Council. Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1373 into law on Friday. The bill, by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, removes Caltrans authority over new standard and digital billboards for the east side of the 110 Freeway from Interstate 10 north to 8th Street.
  • Roadshow: Montague Expressway carpool lane gap to be filled. Q There’s a stretch on Montague Expressway in Milpitas without a carpool lane. When will that be fixed?

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September Headlines about California Highways

userpic=roadgeekingNow that the September updates are past, it is time to start collecting headlines again. Here are the headlines about California Highways for September:

  • Work to Widen SR-91 Moves Into Full Gear, New Bridges Part of Project. Work is ongoing on a $1.4 billion project to widen State Route 91 from the Riverside County line in Corona to Pierce Street just past Interstate 15 interchange in Riverside. The stretch of freeway from Anaheim to Riverside ranks as among the nation’s worst commutes because of heavy traffic. Also, SR-91 is approaching 50 years old and the traffic demands now placed on it far exceed its original design from the early 1960s.
  • Cajon Pass Commuter: No plans to reconnect SR 39 to SR 2. As I mentioned last week, a reader prompted me to contact Caltrans about whether or not Highway 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains might be a future possible alternate route for Cajon Pass commuters in the event of the closure of Interstate 15.
  • Metering lights may help untangle 101 snarls. There’s a tired sports cliché that goes something like, “You can’t stop him; you can only hope to contain him.” That’s pretty much the situation when it comes to gridlock on Highway 101 in Marin County. It’s not improving anytime soon — those cars aren’t going anywhere — so the only thing left to do is try to manage it and make it somewhat less miserable.
  • Dignitaries celebrate $16.7 million in Highway 29 improvements in St. Helena. Local dignitaries and Caltrans representatives gathered in St. Helena Thursday morning for a ceremonial ribbon cutting celebrating improvements to Highway 29. The project included a new center turn lane to make left turns safer, wider shoulders, new railroad crossings, new underground utility lines to replace unsightly power poles, a long-planned traffic signal at Grayson Avenue, and safety improvements for cyclists.

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