Leveraging California’s Transportation Investments to Achieve Triple Bottom Line Return

At all levels of government the transportation infrastructure sector comprises one of the largest arenas of public spending.  In California, state transportation dollars are estimated to grow more than $20 billion in 2018-19, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office 2018-19 Budget Report.  This is in part due to the recent passage of SB 1 (Beall), the Road Repair and Accountability Act, which increases our transportation funding by $54 billion over the next decade for “fix it first” highway and road projects, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, public transit, and other uses. With many new transportation projects underway in California, and more on the horizon, now is the time to leverage these massive investments to achieve triple bottom line returns and maximize positive mobility, safety, and economic outcomes throughout the state.

Transportation plays a powerful role in shaping access to opportunity and creating healthy, socially vibrant communities. The type and location of projects that our state and regional transportation agencies choose to fund directly determine whether communities are able to access critical amenities and resources and breathe clean air, which impacts the health and productivity of all residents.

With the passage of SB 1, California has taken an important step to provide much needed resources for public transit and active transportation, and target planning dollars to our communities of highest need.  California should build on this momentum by further aligning state transportation programs with equitable investment goals and prioritizing the mobility and safety needs of low-income people of color living in neighborhoods that lack adequate transit service and basic pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. State investments should also be mandating strong public participation requirements to ensure that resources are supporting projects that provide meaningful, effective transportation solutions to community identified priorities, and to ensure that displacement, increased traffic pollution, and other harmful impacts, are avoided.  This is especially important as SB 1 contains a harmful provision that exempts diesel trucks from stronger air quality regulations, allowing them to continue polluting in communities already overburdened by poor air quality.

New investments in transportation infrastructure also provide an opportunity to bring important economic benefits  to disinvested communities in the form of workforce development, well-paying jobs and contracting opportunities. As low-income communities and people of color continue to struggle with persistent poverty and high levels of unemployment, the state can and should do more to target transportation jobs and careers to individuals facing multiple barriers to employment. SB 1 includes an annual investment of $5 million for pre-apprenticeship programs that focus on the recruitment of people of color and disadvantaged youth, which will support their preparation and pathway into apprenticeships and other credential attainment programs.  While this is a critical on-ramp to good paying jobs in the construction industry, the real economic impact of these workforce investments won’t be fully realized unless we ensure that these same communities are connected to the employment opportunities that are created from building, operating, and maintaining our transportation system. This is critical for strengthening our families and neighborhoods, and boosting regional economies through the increased purchasing power of women and men who secure and maintain employment.  It also comes at a time when we need California to assert leadership and commitment toward equitable employment outcomes and protect against the current federal administration’s decision to eliminate the Department of Transportation Local Hire Pilot program in 2017.

To increase job access in the transportation sector for those that need it the most, the state should prioritize projects that employ effective strategies for recruiting, training, and hiring local, low-income, underemployed, and underrepresented youth and adults such as community workforce agreements, project labor agreements with targeted hire commitments, and partnerships with community based training programs. An additional component that a targeted hire policy should address is the widespread racial discrimination and implicit biases in hiring that exists throughout our institutions. Based on the demographic breakdown of many jurisdictions, specific populations, including the African American community, are often underrepresented in industries such as construction, even when workers have successfully completed their training programs. Therefore, these policies must include criteria and/or a status for underrepresented workers to ensure that the workers who are recruited and hired reflect the workforces of our regions.  Lastly, in order to foster strong accountability and ongoing monitoring of these policies, they should require a minimum of 30 percent of the work hours to be performed by individuals with barriers to employment, and robust project reporting data on worker demographic information and job quality.

California has an opportunity to lead the nation in advancing a more equitable public infrastructure system that ensures everyone has the resources and supports they need to contribute and thrive.  By taking advantage of our state’s enormous transportation arena to achieve multiple benefits in all communities, we can secure a future of shared prosperity.

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Erika Rincón
Erika Rincón