P.S. Please keep in mind the slant and who wrote this.
Untangling California's transportation system
By Thomas V. McKernan Jr.
March 1, 2001
California's Legislature has been justifiably occupied with the state's
crippling energy crisis for the past couple of months. But in focusing so
much energy on electricity, we cannot lose sight of another critical problem
that will be facing the state for years to come -- increasing traffic
congestion that threatens the state's mobility, economic vitality, and
quality of life.
The looming transportation crisis we face took years to develop and will
take time, commitment and creativity to fix. Now and in the future,
allocating resources for transportation must be seen as a vital social and
economic need, similar to education, health care and criminal justice.
Since 1980, the number of total roadway miles has increased by 10 percent.
But the number of vehicle miles traveled has increased by 100 percent. In
Southern California, 95 percent of all commute trips are taken by car.
Nearly 100 percent of all goods are delivered to market by truck. Our
state's population continues to grow by 600,000 a year.
Congestion on California's roads and freeways is 65 percent higher than the
national average. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, 84 percent of the
freeways are classified as congested. L.A. drivers are delayed in traffic an
average of 82 hours -- more than two full working weeks -- and waste an
average of 120 gallons of fuel a year.
The quality of our roads is deteriorating and public transit is not living
up to its potential. There are more vehicles than ever, traveling more and
more miles on roads that are not being maintained or expanded to handle the
More capacity is needed. But building more roads or expanding the number of
lanes are not the only answers. We also need to identify and adopt
innovative ways to more efficiently move people and goods.
In 2000, the Legislature made transportation a top priority. Nearly $7
billion will be allocated over the next five years toward a multifaceted
strategy for improving California's transportation systems.
Democrats and Republicans agreed on the need for funding and finding ways to
improve infrastructure planning and development processes. But the
legislation signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis is only a down payment.
Estimates indicate that we'll need a staggering amount -- nearly $100
billion over the next decade -- to avert a transportation collapse.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is working on ways to improve and
update our transportation systems. We are particularly concerned with
recognizing the crucial role of the private passenger vehicle, but also
seeking creative approaches for public transportation to provide high
quality, affordable, flexible and efficient alternatives to driving.
We are looking at traffic flows through local communities because gridlock
may start at the first red light you hit after leaving home. We hope our
research and ideas will be valuable in shaping California's transportation
One thing is certain -- hard decisions need to be made regarding revenue
resources. While the state will need to continue to invest in
transportation, we must first take a close look at how existing
transportation dollars are spent. Some expenditure plans need to be
re-evaluated, and the taxes used to support the system need to be rethought.
We worked with legislators and Davis last year to better utilize motorist
taxes for transportation purposes. As a result, more of the taxes paid by
motorists, including all of the sales and excise tax on gasoline, will now
go directly for transportation -- something that had not been true in the
We believe that these kinds of decisions are crucial. Meeting our mobility
needs must remain on the front burner of the legislative agenda, not only
because our members are telling us that congestion is getting worse, but
also because finding workable solutions benefits everyone.
In many ways the current electrical crisis has been a wake-up call for all
Californians. We need to do a better job of long-term planning for
infrastructure needs. We have a very clear road map of what to expect in the
future of transportation. Unless we take action, we could congest ourselves
McKernan is president and chief executive officer of the Automobile Club of
Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.