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May 15, 2020 4:15 PM, EDT

California Agency Approves $17.4 Billion for Highway Projects

California state Route 1 near Big SurCalifornia state Route 1 near Big Sur. (bluejayphoto/Getty Images)

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The California Transportation Commission recently approved $17.4 billion to support about 900 projects outlined in the State Highway Operation and Protection Program.

The commission, which is an independent public agency in charge of allocating state and federal transportation funds for highway, rail, transit and aeronautic purposes, approved the funding at its meeting May 13.

Known as the SHOPP, the funding program supports “fix-it first” efforts, such as repair and preservation projects, and safety and operational improvements on the state highway system. The funding is meant to support projects over the course of four years.

California Transportation Commission Chair Paul Van Konynenburg

Van Konynenburg

“The projects in the SHOPP will make roads and bridges safer for California drivers,” Commission Chair Paul Van Konynenburg said. “They will save drivers money by fixing the potholes that can damage vehicles.”

According to a notice issued by the commission, about two-thirds of the projects are for pavement and bridge work. The remaining funds will address safety improvements, storm damages and other infrastructure needs.

The SHOPP is bolstered by federal and state funds, including the Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Account, which was created as a way to address deferred maintenance needs by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

The legislation, also known as Senate Bill 1, raised the tax for diesel by 20 cents to 36 cents per gallon and for gasoline by 12 cents to 41.7 cents per gallon. SB 1 also requires the California Department of Transportation to meet certain performance metrics by 2027. Such metrics include ensuring that 98% of the pavement on the state highway system be in good or fair condition and that at least 500 additional highway bridges get fixed.

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The commission’s meeting was conducted via teleconference, in accordance with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order to limit in-person gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. According to its notice, the group indicated it will try to complete work earlier than planned as a way to take advantage of the reduced traffic on the roads and provide jobs.

The commission and Caltrans plan to work together in the coming months to estimate the pandemic’s impact on revenue sources and their ability to fund the projects in the SHOPP. Dozens of statewide stay-at-home orders established because of the pandemic have resulted in a decrease in vehicle travel that has hurt transportation revenue sources, particularly fuel taxes and tolls. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials projects the pandemic to reduce state transportation revenue by about 30% (approximately $50 billion) over the next 18 months.

“The commission recognizes the critical importance of these projects for fulfilling the promises made to Californians to fix their roads, and also for the state’s economy and its workforce as the state heads into a recession,” Van Konynenburg said.

In late March, the commission met via teleconference to approve $2.6 billion in funding for multimodal improvement projects. The funding, approved as part of the State Transportation Improvement Program, will sustain existing projects and support more than 30 new projects.

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