MOORLACH UPDATE — Seven Solutions for Caltrans — August 15, 2016

I’m currently reading "Adolf Sutro — A Biography," by Robert E. Stewart, Jr. and M. F. Stewart (Howell-North, Copyright 1962).

It includes a fun account by Mark Twain, "Traveling With Adolph Sutro," which I found online as a reprint in The Works of Mark Twain; Early Tales & Sketches, Vol. 1 1851-1864, (Univ. of California Press, 1979), pp. 418-19. I’ve edited it down a little, and I should preface it by saying that photos of Adolph Sutro show a large forehead (a way of saying he was partially bald).

Eight left Virginia yesterday and came down to Dayton with Mr. Sutro. Time 30 minutes – distance 8 or 9 miles. There is nothing very slow about that kind of travel. We found Dayton the same old place but taking up a good deal more room than it did the last time I saw it, and looking more brisk and lively with its increase of business, and more handsome on account of the beautiful dressed stone buildings with which it is being embellished of late.

We . . . trotted briskly across Ball Robert’s bridge. I remarked that Ball Robert’s bridge was a good one and a credit to that bald gentleman. I said it in a fine burst of humor and more on account of the joke than anything else, but Sutro is insensible to the more delicate touches of American wit, and the effort was entirely lost on him. I don’t think Sutro minds a joke of mild character any more than a dead man would. However, I repeated it once or twice without producing any visible effect, and finally derived what comfort I could by laughing at it myself.

Mr. Sutro being a confirmed business man, replied in a practical and businesslike way. He said the bridge was a good one, and so were all public blessings of a similar nature when entrusted to the hands of private individuals. He said if the county had built the bridge it would have cost an extravagant sum of money, and would have been eternally out of repair. He also said the only way to get public work well and properly done was to let it out by contract.

"For instance," says he, "they have fooled away two or three years trying to capture Richmond, whereas if they had let the job by contract to some sensible business man, the thing would have been accomplished and forgotten long ago." It was a novel and original idea and I forgot my joke for the next half hour in speculating upon its feasibility….

Outsourcing still seems like a novel idea, nearly one-hundred and fifty years later. At least for Caltrans. So, what can we do about improving California’s need for improved roads? The Orange County Business Journal allows me to share a few thoughts in the submittal below.

For a primer on the issues facing Caltrans, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Road to November — June 8, 2016 June 8, 2016June 8, 2016 John Moorlach.

7-Step Fix for ‘Mismanaged’ Caltrans

By Sen. JohnMoorlach,State Senator, 37th District

California has chosen costly high-speed rail over road repairs.

It has chosen to pay $500 million per year for unnecessary Caltrans staffing over making Caltrans the best department of transportation in the nation.

There’s no question that Caltrans is bloated and mismanaged and is not held accountable.

But what to do with a mismanaged Caltrans?

Especially before the state of California dares to ask you for another gas tax increase, more car taxes, and/or higher vehicle license fees from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

First, we ask Gov. Jerry Brown to better manage the staffing of Caltrans. In May 2014, the Legislative Analyst’s Office determined that Caltrans had 3,500 too many architects and engineers at a cost of $500 million per year.

Instead of employing unneeded staffers, these funds should go directly to our roads.

As it is, only 20 cents out of every transportation tax dollar that you pay actually hits the pavement.

Second, we ask the governor to reduce the size of Caltrans even more by outsourcing services. An average state transportation agency outsources 50% of its architects and engineers. Arizona and Florida outsource more than 80%. Caltrans outsources only 10%.

If the governor is concerned about economic cycles, then let’s address it by being nimble during downturns. It is easier to terminate or postpone contracts than it is to lay off a portion of the state’s work force. Fortunately, 54% of the staff at Caltrans are at or near retirement age, so a hiring freeze would be a great strategy to implement, and reductions could be easily achieved through attrition.

Third, we ask the last 38 counties to self-fund their road repairs. Currently, 20 counties are taxing themselves to improve transit and highway systems. Why should those 20 counties be asked to incur yet more tax hikes to assist those counties that did not make roads a priority? Since the voters in those 20 counties voted themselves a tax increase to fix their roads, those in the other counties should follow suit. In Orange County, this strategy has made a stark impact on freeways and roads. Take Interstate 5 north sometime, and you will know when you’ve hit the Los Angeles County line.

Fourth, we ask the governor and his secretary of transportation to reorganize the Caltrans management structure. Its district decision-making model is shameful and tone deaf. Believe me, I observed it firsthand as an Orange County supervisor. Orange County residents were ready to pay $1.3 billion to modify 17 freeway overpasses for an Interstate 405 expansion, allowing for the addition of four lanes on a very congested segment of thoroughfare.

Unfortunately, Caltrans insisted on building toll roads on those potential new lanes. They announced this long before related improvements, such as the West County Connector Project from Interstate 405 to Interstate 605, were completed. Now, long before the groundbreaking to add the four lanes with self-help tax dollars, Caltrans has infuriated and frustrated the residents of Orange County with an insistence of more taxes on top of voluntary taxes.

Fifth, ask the governor to delegate some transportation construction to the counties. If a county’s department of transportation can manage road repairs more efficiently, then cut out Caltrans and direct those funds to that county’s department. The net result will be that more money will be available for roads. Why hasn’t this been done already? Because the public employee unions fear the potential resulting layoffs.

Sixth, ask the governor to notch up his rainy-day fund concept by requiring that reserves be set aside every year in anticipation of future road maintenance and replacement. Road repairs should not be a shock to our department of transportation. So why hasn’t it taken the common-sense approach of setting funds aside? Could it be that staff salary increases and pension plan contributions have taken a higher priority?

Over the past 14 years, while gas taxes were rising, transportation spending has remained virtually flat. This means that the state has redirected transportation tax revenues. The governor should redirect them back toward current and future infrastructure costs.

The seventh and final request: Ask the governor to cease and desist on building high-speed rail. By the time this $80 billion-plus boondoggle is completed, the ticket prices will be so high that flying will still be significantly cheaper. How can the taxpayers be badgered into paying more for road repairs when California is wasting billions on a project that less than 2% of the population will ever use? This misconnect has to stop.

California’s leadership should be sincere in its pursuit of better roads.

Fix Caltrans.

Taxpayers should expect no less.


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