May is an interesting month for us at Caltrans; it brings a lot of anticipation for what is coming ahead this summer, especially with the Governors release of the revised draft budget.
But first, I would like to say that during April, we have experienced some sadness, great joy and some in-between.
On April 15 at Dodger Stadium, the District held its annual Highway Worker Memorial Day. I look forward to this day as I have the opportunity to visit with many field workers who I rarely get to see and meet others for the first time. Sadly, at this time, we gather to reflect on the ultimate sacrifices made by some of our workers while working on our roadways.
This has been a sad year for Caltrans overall. We lost three workers, bringing the statewide total to 170 people killed on the job. Thankfully, no new names were added to the list of 32 whom we have lost from District 7, though certainly we have had some close calls.
This year at Highway Worker Memorial Day, we had great participation from field staff, but I would have liked to see more participation from office staff. It is important that more staff attend this event.
It is important that all of our employees are safe in the work zone. We all can increase our efforts to ensure safety of our own staff and the motoring public as well. I call upon all office staff to renew their commitment to provide a safe working environment for all.
The great joy in April was that we saw a couple of important projects complete.
On April 4, we celebrated the opening of the first HOV lane on I-5 in Los Angeles County from SR-14 to SR-118, and on April 17 we held the ribbon cutting for additional lanes on Route 23 in Ventura County between U.S. 101 and SR-118 in Moorpark and Thousand Oaks.
Most of us got into this field because we wanted to do things to improve the system for our fellow Californians. These are two projects that are good examples of how our work impacts people right now and how a well-executed project can immediately make a huge difference to motorists and the quality of life.
The District is being recognized for making these roadways safer for the public as well as for our own workers. One example is the use of concrete barriers instead of double blocked-out metal beam barriers so that we can easily perform sweeping operations and clean up the road. This reduces the amount of time that Maintenance workers are outside of their vehicles. Adequate shoulders and maintenance pullouts were constructed for safety of our workers and the motoring public.
It is these types of improvements and the great job you do every day that helps us to be the leading agency that we are in the eyes of the public.
Another item to discuss is the recent news on congestion pricing that is soon to occur in our District. This news brings the inevitable reality of congestion pricing to our door.
On Friday April 25, a joint press conference was held with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; California Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary Dale Bonner; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Caltrans Director Will Kempton and MTA (Metro) Board Chair Pam OConnor to announced a $213.6 million grant awarded to Metro and Caltrans to implement a congestion pricing program.
Congestion pricing is the concept of charging a fee for the use of a transportation facility, such as a carpool lane, based on the level of traffic congestion which will vary at different times of day or night. The greater the congestion, the higher the cost to use the lane.
To better show how congestion pricing provides another alternative to managing traffic flow, we have an article written in this issue by Public Affairs Officer Judy Gish. We have built-out most of our system and simply do not have the room to add capacity to the freeway system. So making a system that works smarter and more efficiently is the key.
Congestion pricing is a concept and a process at which we will have to work hard to make a success. It brings us a lot of additional work and we have until December 31, 2010 to make the congestion pricing system operational. It is going to take all of us working together to make it happen in 2-1/2 years.
Next month, I will share more information about Governor Schwarzeneggers release of the draft State Budget, due in May, and what it will mean for District 7.
Caltrans is fortunate, as an agency, to be recognized for the work we are doing to develop construction projects that provide jobs and stimulate the economy which in turn, helps pull the state out of this financial situation.
At this time, it is very important that we all remain dedicated to the tasks at hand, come to work on time and while at work do the best job possible, be efficient and do all we can to maintain public trust.