A San Diego County state senator has an idea on how to help balance the state budget: Basically, eliminate Caltrans.

The legislation by Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, is short on details — he says its an invitation to Gov. Jerry Brown to work with him and other Republicans on a final bill to wipe out Caltrans waste.

But Anderson said in a statement that his general idea is for federal and state highway funding “to flow directly to cities, counties and local transportation agencies, which could partner with construction firms to actually get roads built and repaired without having to navigate the tentacles of a state bureaucracy.”

The idea is intriguing to Tom O’Kane, deputy director of the Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works Department. But first, he said, “show me the money.”

“From an operations standpoint, it sounds that it could be promising,” O’Kane said, noting other states have similar procedures.

But his concern is that the Legislature might start out providing enough money for local governments to maintain state highways but over time might shift some of that funding to other programs, leaving local agencies in the lurch.

While O’Kane said he’s not sure about outright abolishing Caltrans, he wouldn’t mind ending some aspects of Caltrans, such as its requirement that it “sign off on everything” for local road and bridge projects where state or federal money is involved. He said such oversight can delay projects by months or years and add unnecessary costs. Let local agencies deal directly with the feds, he said.

In unveiling his bill earlier this month, Anderson said “we should not be afraid to dismantle programs that have grossly underperformed.”

He said Caltrans’ budget has doubled to $12.8 billion over the last 10 years but “new highway construction has virtually flat-lined during the same period.” He said Caltrans’ culture has gone from “a nation-leading ‘can-do’ attitude to an embarrassing ‘probably-not’ mentality.”

He said the average yearly pay of Caltrans’ 20,000 employees is $100,000, including salaries and benefits.

Anderson’s legislation apparently was prompted in part by a report this month by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office that said Caltrans’ Capital Outlay Support program is “overstaffed and lacks strong management” and recommended that 1,500 of the 10,359 jobs there be eliminated if Caltrans can’t justify the staffing.

The report said the job cuts would save about $200 million in state and federal funds that could be used for construction projects. The Capital Outlay Support program handles environmental, design and construction oversight for highway projects.

In response to Anderson’s bill, Caltrans issued a statement that it’s always looking to improve “how we do business” and strives to save taxpayer dollars.

But it said Anderson’s “assertion about the status of new highway construction in recent years is simply not true. Caltrans is currently administering one of the largest construction programs in history with more than $24 billion in 3,500 ongoing projects.”

Caltrans also said it has “more than 1,000 projects worth $50 billion in the pipeline for future construction work. This is all during a time when our staffing levels are the lowest they’ve been since 2004.”

“Eliminating Caltrans would result in an ineffective and scattered patchwork of local projects, hamper the movement of goods and people, and ultimately hurt our economic competitiveness,” it said.

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  1. Steve Klausner

    Yes to eliminating Caltrans AND convert all HOV lanes into toll roads.

    March 21st, 2011 7:22 am

  2. lumaland

    Eliminating Caltrans, over time, will result in lees funding for local transportation projects, MORE, not less, bureaucratic oversight a,d so many ore fingers in the pie. Contractors hiring minimum wage, no benefit unskilled laborers will take the place of experienced engineers and inspectors, so the consultanst can line their pockets with taxpayer money to increase profit. The locals and counties get stuck holding the bag when failures occur. CT must maintain oversight at a minimum.

    March 21st, 2011 7:35 am

  3. Independant

    Why do conservatives insist on throwing the baby out with the bath water? All state offices need to trim the fat, eliminating current infrastructure is naive and short sighted. How about a REALISTIC solution rather than bombastic posturing with zero substance?

    March 21st, 2011 7:44 am

  4. RW

    It’s about time someone looked at this over-stuffed cash cow. The other day I saw no less than 8 Caltrans trucks and other equipment with 9 or more workers standing around as 2 Caltrans staff worked on patching a 10 foot section of road. Why everyone had to drive their own truck to such a minor job God only knows. The amount of waist in our State is outrages and Caltrans would one of many good places to start making BIG cuts.

    March 21st, 2011 7:44 am

  5. Robert Tanner

    I can understand Caltrans’ concern about maintaining a uniform State standard for projects, but Caltrans’ design standards are becoming, in my honest opinion, as obsolete as a 1972 Ford Pinto with an eight-track tape player.
    This is especially true in its standard signalized intersection design. Present Caltrans design calls for full-protected left-turn signals whether conditions really call for them or not. This has resulted in heavy traffic congestion, environmental pollution and Green House Gases from long lines of dead-stopped idling vehicles. To that, add excessive delay, waste of expensive fuel, disruption of public transit bus schedules, and increased collisions from red-light runners.
    Cities, like Santa Rosa who have followed Caltrans designs, are having problems from red-light runners who are tired of waiting nearly two minutes at red lights. I won’t do business in Santa Rosa for this reason as I value my time and fuel and do not want to waste them on waiting for too-long red lights. I also value my life.
    There are better designs out there, but Caltrans has been too slow to adopt them, forcing local traffic engineers to stick with their outdated 1950s concepts, lest their city or county be sued for collisions.
    Roundabouts and All-Way STOP Signs are far safer and are much friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists, encouraging these modes of travel. Our own state edition of the FHWA traffic manual recommends these in leu of signals.
    If signals must be retained, the new Flashing Yellow Arrow permissive left-turn signal is a better design than the old five-light display with its round green and contradicting sign ‘Left Turn YIELD on Green’. The new Flashing Arrow signal can keep its left-turn arrow RED when a pedestrian pushes a button on a WALK signal and is crossing in the path of a turning vehicle.
    I would keep Caltrans, but it needs to update its designs.

    March 21st, 2011 7:47 am

  6. Who cares

    I work with Ghilotti constructin and work with Caltrans all the time. Last year while working night in livermoore paving hwy 580 the Caltrans inspector was actully slepping on the job. Yes he was sleeping in his truck when he was suppose to be keeping his eye’s on us. I had to find him to ask him somerthing and I had to walk about a mile from our job to find him and when I did I had to knock on his window to wake him up. I could’nt believe it my self! This kind of stuff happens all the time while working with Caltrans.

    March 21st, 2011 7:50 am

  7. Carlo

    Oh yes. With all the glorious foresight that Petaluma has had in regard to its own road repair, let’s do it. What do YOU think the odds are of all that road money ending up somewhere else? Furthermore, Sen. Joel Anderson should visit other state transportation systems such as Texas (TxDOT) to see how effective CALTRANS actually is.

    March 21st, 2011 7:51 am


    Should Caltrans be abolished? Short answer, absolutely not! An engineer would understand this, a bureaucrat would not.
    Everyone traveling upon the public ways of California owes a debt of gratitude to Caltrans. Caltrans is in the forefront of bridge engineering, especially asesmic [earthquake] design.
    Local governments are not capable of doing the job Caltrans does for us. To abolish Caltrans is to put the traveling public are significant risk for grievous injury or death. This is not hyperbole this is experience speaking.
    Richard Canini California licensed Civil Engineer. Former County of Sonoma Bridge Engineer.

    March 21st, 2011 7:54 am

  9. Scout

    The perpetual ignorance of the Press Democrats pushing of privitatzation astounds those of us who can and do read. Look back at our economic meltdown and see the results of our disintegration and the P.D.’s consistent alliance with those who have stolen the American dream. Again shame on the Press Democrat.

    March 21st, 2011 7:58 am

  10. Justin

    Also last year while working on the bridge on hwy 128? you know the bridge the crosses the Russian River going to River Rock Cosino there were about 15 different caltrans employees working on that job all they did was talk about their personall lives they were wasting our tax dollars. Oh and they all had thier own state issued vehicles and cell phones. What a joke and a big waste of money. We worked 7 days a week and 12 hour days out there and believe me if you would have seen all the waste with caltrans you would have been making complaints. They were paying someone just to count fish that were going thru the project, believe me they spent a lot of thier time talking on the phone and not doing thier job. Caltrans is californias biggest waste of time and money for the most part!

    March 21st, 2011 8:01 am

  11. Fix The Roads

    Another bureacracy that needs to fall. It has been obvious for years. One need look no further than the Bay Bridge, the 101 on going and going projects in Santa Rosa to see Caltrans is not working. Cost overruns, projects that take forever are two very good examples of why it needs to go.

    Government is naturally inefficient, but Caltrans takes it to a new level. Put it out of its misery and soon.

    March 21st, 2011 8:15 am

  12. Justin

    This is where you tax dollars go!

    March 21st, 2011 8:36 am

  13. cyclist

    Just a bunch of hooplah that the elected official like to make it sounds like they are doing something and get their name mentioned. Nothing will be done anyway so why bother ranting. To cut cost Caltrans need to reduce the labor cost of the person that hold up the shovel at every construction sites. Having they invented the self standing shovel yet?

    March 21st, 2011 8:39 am

  14. gary

    California has some of the worst highways in the nation…. So it makes sense to keep funding Caltrans?????

    March 21st, 2011 9:02 am

  15. Richard Steward

    Yes Caltrans should be abolished and the road work they should be doing be contracted out to local contractors in each local area. As a person who worked with caltrans I was fed up with lazy work ethic the employees enjoyed and the over supervision provided by out of the country engineers, especially from India that prolonged every project while doing nothing for safety and quality.

    March 21st, 2011 9:25 am

  16. surfon

    Sonoma is letting thier roads revert to gravel and they want to take over our freeways? I’ll stick with caltrans.

    March 21st, 2011 9:34 am

  17. Carleen

    I knew some cal trans workers and yes they sleep on the job.
    I have also seen several just hanging around bsing while others are doing the work.
    And the best one is when you don’t see them just the trucks thats when they are smoking weed and not the kind that grows on the side of the freeways.
    I think Calif needs to look at this better put some hard nose expectaions on these guys.
    The highways here are discusting come summertime.
    Yes if it is broken fix it dammit!

    March 21st, 2011 9:39 am

  18. SNAFU

    What will the North County inmates do if they abolish Caltrans? Plus, Caltrans doesn’t pay these inmates to work for them thus saving the state millions of dollars for free slave labor.

    March 21st, 2011 9:57 am

  19. fafield

    Over the last twenty years, businesses transformed their operations by asking themselves four fundamental questions about any product or service the business produced:

    1) Are we best in class at producing this product or service?
    2) If not, who is best in class and what attributes do their products have with respect to cost, quality, etc.?
    3) If we are not best in class, do we have a plan to get there or do we plan to exit from this business?
    4) If this product or service is part of our supply chain, should we continue to produce it ourselves (are we best in class?) or should we source if from someone else and focus our energies on our core competencies?

    I argue that these same principles should apply to government services at all level (Federal, State, County, Local). Yet no where in the debate about budgets and costs have I heard one iota of such thinking. Certainly not from the bureaucracy, not from the politicians and not from the news media who should be prompting constructively critical debate.

    Only by focusing on such facts and discussion will we get to the end state we must attain. Only by ahearing to this kind of analysis can we ever get past the hot wind from politicians who love to talk yet never solve problems.

    March 21st, 2011 10:16 am

  20. Sara

    So we have to choose between a bloated state-level department or corrupt local government?

    I don’t trust Santa Rosa’s elected officials to distribute this money and get the projects we need done, at all. If they had their way, all paved roads would lead to downtown. Up in the hills, the roads would be well maintained while the rest of us get to drive the ones which there’s insufficient money to maintain.

    And you think the workers would be more diligent than the worse of the CALTRANS people? HA! Workers are the same everywhere: getting screwed so happy to screw the boss in return. Better oversight is all that’s needed.

    Shake up Caltrans out of complacency, go through it with the anti-excessive spending knife, and make them aware motorists are watching.

    But of course we can’t do this, it would mean some politicians somewhere are doing THEIR jobs! We can’t have that! Better to shove off all responsibility to the lesser levels so a larger amount of our money can be wasted by more fingers in the pie. The local-wealthy gain more control of the spending of tax money with their spheres of influence. Guess we have to give them something to replace the redevelopment money scam! Thanks!

    March 21st, 2011 10:20 am

  21. Silent But Deadly

    Why don’t any of these spineless Republicans ever propose to eliminate CHP? They waste as much money, if not more.

    If their line of reasoning holds, shouldn’t local police and sheriff departments be able to cover the highways in their local jurisdictions?

    March 21st, 2011 10:37 am

  22. paul

    Although I agree in principle and heart, the only likely result would be greater graft, corruption, mismanagement of funds, “misplacement” and loss of funds, fiefdoms of poor to bad roads, loss of tourism, troublesome commuting and traffic delays, and a general malaise as the public realizes that they have been efffed again, this time by the local boys, not the state. It is also likely that the state would shortly divert the funds.

    I don’t know why we keep trying to convert the world to democracy when this is what we offer.

    March 21st, 2011 10:55 am

  23. hdman

    if caltrans is so great, make them private, see how long they would last. i’ve been in the industry over 40 yrs. and if i operated like they do, i wouldn’t make a year. in fact, for the last 20 years, i’d be embarrassed to be seen working for them.
    total and complete waste of taxpayers $.
    no oversite means sleeping on the job, shovel props.

    March 21st, 2011 11:24 am

  24. Jamal

    Why trust the private sector over the government?

    1. You can fire a private company. You can’t fire the government.

    2. Government by definition is violent. They put a gun to your head and force you to buy their products. Private sector companies don’t do that.

    Silent But Deadly, I’m a Republican and I propose to eliminate the CHP and replace it with localized private traffic enforcement companies. I also propose to privatize the California prison system and release all non-violent offenders from the political gulag that our police state has created.

    March 21st, 2011 11:27 am

  25. Happytimes

    Sure- let’s let the city manager of Bell handle the money! This is the dumbest idea I’ve seen a long time. And how much money will it cost us to buy new maintenance equipment, to lease new office space and to hire all the engineers that used to work for Caltrans? This stuff doesn’t happen on its own, it takes employees and that means we need to hire them at county and city rates. No thank you, state employee salaries are actually cheaper so let’s just clean out the obvious bums and avoid the dumb publicity stunts.

    March 21st, 2011 11:45 am

  26. OldAsDirt

    Piecemeal solutions to problems result in overlap, redundancy and more administration. Look to school districts for an example. Caltrans wastes lots of money (look at the number of 101 projects in RP over the last 15 years) by making small projects out of what should be strategic work. That’s often as much to blame on infrastructure inattention by elected officials as Caltrans packaging of sellable projects.

    Caltrans should determine upgrade or replacement cost for every mile of their turf, interleaving new projects into area maintenance work. Legislators should budget or defer the work, and be accountable for the incremental cost and safety risk of delay. Infrastructure needs higher priority than it has today.

    March 21st, 2011 3:11 pm

  27. DirtyAndOld

    Caltrans will never be abolished; how would the pork be delivered? Seriously, there are other reasons why abolishing it would be dumb (not that intelligence and an interest in understanding reality are necessary in politicians, but anyway…), including:

    * The Feds insist on a single state agency to run their money thru. That’s Caltrans. The Feds won’t deal directly with the locals when it comes to money. Perhaps that’s smart of them?
    * If you want a System of highways (or even non-commuter passenger trains, which as something that can’t make money but is wanted is a classic item to dump on the govt e.g. Amtrak or Caltrans) you need common standards applied statewide. That’s Caltrans. Leaving it to the locals would result in chaos (if the money didn’t just disappear). However, every road doesn’t need to be a state highway, and it’s very likely that there are too many state highways right now.
    * Your transportation priorities now are set at the local (county) and regional (MTC) level. By state low, the regional planning agencies like MTC and (in rural areas) the county control 75% of the available money. The other 25% is supposed to be for state-run trains and “interregional” roads – but those still have to be approved by the MTCs of the world in urban areas because of Federal planning and air quality rules.

    And what makes you think you have to eliminate an agency to fix a problem like too much bureaucracy. First you need to know where the problems came from. In the 1980s there was a big reorganization at Caltrans, based on one of the introspection exercises described above, that greatly simplified and flattened the organization. Things worked pretty well for a while. Then the normal process of big organizations (not just governments) gradually increased the bureaucracy again. The process starting in the 1990s of increasing the power of “control” agencies (whose only real job is to say NO) didn’t help: you need more people to generate the paper to keep those agencies happy, which doesn’t help the “agility” factor any.

    Another big reorg isn’t impossible. Ideally, as in the 1980s, it would reduce the number of supervisors and managers, increase the number of workers and specialists, and make contracting of common tasks easier. But to do it you need a legislature that thinks rather than salutes, and a Director with real chutzpah and backup from the Gov. I don’t think either of those is available right now.

    March 21st, 2011 7:50 pm

  28. John Hudson

    Given the mess Ghillotti has made of the freeway next to RP I would be willing to try anything. Nothing has been getting done. To the naked eye it appears to be virtually abandoned. I drive through at least four days a week. Nobody from Ghillotti was working there yesterday. One of the subcontractors had two men working on the new off ramp to 116 in Cotati. Those are the only two workers I have seen recently.

    March 22nd, 2011 7:02 am

  29. Safedriver

    CalTrans is made up of either crooks or idiots as is all government agencies.

    March 22nd, 2011 3:31 pm

  30. Dan

    Everyone knows about government bureaucracy and waste, and of course no one likes it. Privatization is about making money and as usual the hogs at the top get everything while the workers slave on.
    How many of you would work day and night during the winter driving a noisy snowplow in horrible storms to keep the roads open for low pay and no future? So many Caltrans employees killed by people who should not be driving: this is not easy, no one loves government, but privatization is always about greed. Look at the difference between the army serving meals and how much Kellogg Brown and Root charges, or look at the billions spent on Cheneys Halliburton. Despite the flaws, give Caltrans workers a break.

    March 23rd, 2011 7:41 am

  31. M

    I “worked” at Caltrans for almost two decades. What a corrupt agency it is and what a wasted “career” it was for me.

    March 29th, 2011 10:12 pm

  32. chris

    We need more people that understand the real nature of why this doesn’t make sense

    September 20th, 2011 10:06 am

  33. scapesheep

    One of the serious problems of Caltrans is wasting due to no rules and regulations. Neither SPA nor DPA was process grievance by law. Union is helping Caltrans employer not employee with the protection of PERB. For example in Design under Bill Reagan:
    1. Caltrans let employees came late and left early without charging time off.
    2. Caltrans did not provide duty statement over 5 years. Then the same duty was done by 3 different classifications . Higher level did lower level duty with higher level pay.
    3. Caltrans promoted employees who did not pass the exam not who passed exam. These people got more pay not more duty.
    4. Caltrans employee spent more time on driving then doing the duty and got overtime pay.
    5. Caltrans employee make simple to complicate in order to get overtime pay.

    April 18th, 2012 10:35 am

  34. shangdi


    May 3rd, 2012 11:50 am

  35. Jae

    The freeways in metro Los Angeles wouldn’t last a month without Caltrans. Too much weight, too many cars and heavy trucks beat the roadbed up. I know many Caltrans workers and they don’t sleep on the job and they get drug tested randomly. I wonder if any of the people commenting on here, even know half of what Caltrans even does.

    May 9th, 2013 8:14 pm

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