Transportation Needs Assessment Underway

The California Transportation Commission is conducting stakeholder meetings as they develop the 2025 Transportation Infrastructure Needs Assessment report. Association members have the opportunity to make their voices heard now.

By Arianna Smith 
Managing Editor 
Transit California 

The implementation of a 2022 law that affects state plans for nearly every mode of transportation is now underway; transit agencies, industry experts, and Association members have the opportunity to ensure their voices are heard about their needs in a series of stakeholder meetings. 

Senate Bill 1121, authored by Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), was signed into law by Governor Newsom last year. The Legislature approved it with no “NO” votes, and it enjoyed wide bipartisan support with both Democrats and Republicans voting in favor of the measure.   

The law requires the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to prepare a needs assessment report on the state’s transportation infrastructure needs for the next ten years. The assessment will include an analysis of expected costs to maintain, operate, and plan for future growth of the system, and it must be done in consultation with a variety of stakeholders, including transportation planning agencies, local governments, transit operators, the transportation industry, organized labor, and environmental and equity-based justice organizations. 

The CTC must complete and present the Interim Transportation Needs Assessment to the Legislature on or before January 1, 2024, and the Completed Transportation Needs Assessment must be presented before January 1, 2025. An updated report must be provided every 5 years. 

According to the 2022 Senate Floor Analysis, a transportation infrastructure needs assessment will provide a critical “identification of our current transportation systems and assets, an estimate of the future costs to both maintain and expand the system, the current and projected funding available, and a discussion of possible strategies to meet the needs.” 

Citing the need for the bill, Senator Lena Gonzalez said, “California’s transportation system, which includes roads, highways, transit, and bike and pedestrian facilities, is an essential part of our economic and societal infrastructure. Yet policymakers lack a comprehensive picture on the transportation funding needs, for both state and local facilities, and how those needs will be met. This bill addresses the problem by requiring the California Transportation Commission to do three things. First, develop a comprehensive assessment of how much we’ll need to maintain and construct that infrastructure. Second, estimate how much funding we expect to have. Third, if there’s a shortfall, recommend how to address it. With this information, policymakers, stakeholders and advocates can do a better job of planning for our future to create the transportation system that meets our needs.” Senator Gonzalez is the Chair of the California State Senate Transportation Committee. 

According to bill sponsor Transportation California, “Our industry views this forward thinking about Californian’s transportation system needs as climate challenges continue and resiliency needs increase, mobility systems innovate, and the base systems ages, as critical to setting the stage to meet our state’s future. We also strongly support the requirement for the Commission to forecast anticipated revenues that would be available to meet the identified needs of the system and the means to address any shortfalls if identified.” The measure was also formally supported by the California State Association of Counties and the Riverside Country Transportation Commission. 

Some longtime transit agency members may already be familiar with the concept, or even have participated in one of the state’s previous assessments. The CTC performed a needs assessment and produced a subsequent report in 2011 as the state and country was continuing to recover from the Great Recession of 2008; that report identified some of the same issues that the state’s transportation infrastructure continues to struggle with today, particularly aging infrastructure and cost constraints. That report summarized the challenges of the time: “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. Failing to adequately invest in the restoration of California's roads, highways, bridges, airports, seaports, railways, border crossings, and public transit infrastructure will lead to further decay and a deterioration of service from which it may take many years to recover. The future of the state's economy and our quality of life depend on a transportation system that is safe and reliable, and which moves people and goods efficiently.” The state had previously performed a needs assessment in 1999. 

Unlike previous assessments, for the first time in a statewide assessment, the new law requires the inclusion of costs to address climate change impacts. Along with other types of infrastructure, such as energy and communications, transportation infrastructure will need to provide for system resiliency as the state faces increases in climate change-related disasters and other impacts. 

The SB 1121 needs assessment is required to be consistent with the California Transportation Plan 2050, which was most recently updated in 2021 and which was prepared to comply with both federal and state statutes. In a letter to US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, then-California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) Secretary David S. Kim wrote, “The CTP 2050 is a policy framework that provides a common vision for the future of our transportation system. The CTP 2050 is a roadmap for making effective, equitable, transparent, and transformational transportation decisions in California. . . . We greatly appreciate your continued support and guidance as we strive to develop and coordinate the policies and programs of the state's transportation entities to achieve the state's equity, accessibility, safety, climate, and air quality objectives from its transportation system.”  

The CTC hosted the first two stakeholder meetings for SB 1121 in August 2023 and provided a presentation with important next-steps information, including the proposed outline for the interim report. The wide ranging assessment will include an update on several state plans, including the State Highway System Management Plan, the California State Rail Plan, and regional transportation plans. It will also include a report on the Local Streets and Roads Program, the impact of the pandemic on ridership and transit revenues, and the transition to ZEV transit fleets. 

The revenue projection portion of the assessment will include an analysis of the monetary gap between the needs of transportation projects and the actual available revenues. It will also discuss the longstanding issue of declining gas tax revenues, including how the ZEV market share will impact revenues collected, which is a primary source of funding for many transportation activities. 

Earlier this month, the CTC announced that they will release the draft interim report on November 9, 2023, which will kick off a 30-day comment period for stakeholders. The draft interim report will then be presented at the CTC’s December meeting on December 6-7. 

To keep apprised of the state of SB 1121 discussions, please visit the CTC’s SB 1121 website, which includes contact information, previous stakeholder meeting webinar recordings and presentations, and registration links for future meetings. The Association’s weekly Executive Director Report also provides ongoing updates to the 1121 meetings. 

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