In the 38-page document released in late January, Caltrans lists its progress on 15 self-set goals, addressing safety, sustainability, maintenance, and other transportation needs between 2011 and 2013. Of those goals, Caltrans meets four.
Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger said the report was created to give the public increased accessibility and understanding of Caltrans' performance in several areas.
”We think that it's important for people to know what we're doing, because it works better for us when they do,” Dinger said. “We're accountable to the taxpayers, and we take that very seriously. We'd love to get some more feedback from the public.”
Gary Graham Hughes is ready to oblige.
The executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center said he cannot take Caltrans at its word, citing the contested Richardson Grove Improvement Project on U.S. Highway 101 as indicative of the agency's handiwork.
”Caltrans is out of step with the times and has not responded adequately on the concerns of the public on repeat instances across the state,” Hughes said. “The public cannot trust Caltrans to follow through on their promises.”
The Richardson Grove project, which would widen over a mile of the highway to allow standard-sized shipping trucks to travel through Richardson Grove State Park, was challenged in 2012 by Hughes' organization along with the Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and four local residents. They argued that the project's environmental impact statement did not provide enough information on potential impacts on the grove's old-growth redwood trees, but the Humboldt County Superior Court ruled in Caltrans' favor.
After the organizations appealed the decision, the California Court of Appeals reversed the 2012 decision in January and ruled that Caltrans must reevaluate the project's impact statement and its potential impacts on the redwoods.
Caltrans District One spokesman Scott Burger emailed a statement regarding the department's next move with the project.
”Caltrans is still evaluating the court's ruling and potential next steps at this time, but our intention is to move forward with the great care we have taken, and will continue to take, in protecting the majestic redwoods for this vital transportation project,” the statement read.
Dinger said Caltrans is very aware of the environment, especially the drought. In response to the dry conditions, Caltrans is reducing water use in several ways, such as cutting its water use in half across its nearly 30,000 acres of land, delaying landscaping projects and forgoing department vehicle washing. Also, 700 electronic highway signs throughout the state will periodically show drought awareness messages.
”As the state's biggest department, we've got to be the ones to set the example,” Dinger said.
While more court battles may await the agency in days to come, perhaps the biggest challenge Caltrans faces in the near future is loss of revenue from base fuel excise tax - collected from each gallon of gas sold in the state - due to the economy, fuel-efficient vehicles and alternative transportation.
The $344 million revenue reduction will not make staying up to date with sustainable transportation systems any easier, a mission Dinger said was imperative.
”It's not just (systems) that serve cars, but those that serve all forms of transportation as well as facilities for pedestrians,” he said. “We need to stay with the times, as these are really changing the face of transportation.”
The online edition of The Mile Marker report can be found at dot.ca.gov/ctjournal/ 2014-1/TheMileMarker_Jan2014.html