Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
District Director Doug Failing addresses legislative representatives at a meeting on March 25.

Workshop Reaches Out to Legislative Staff
by  Kelly Markham
Issue Date: 04/2009

It was one of the largest gatherings of legislative staff at District 7 Headquarters in years.

On March 23, 30 representatives from state legislators’ offices turned out for an informative four-hour Legislative Workshop hosted by Deborah Robertson, Deputy District Director, External Affairs. The workshop provided an overview of the District, explained the function of various divisions, and offered guidance on how legislative offices can work effectively with Caltrans.

District 7 Director Douglas Failing welcomed participants, telling them he valued the opportunity for interaction. “The focus for us is getting the information out, and getting problems solved,” he said.

Failing discussed the District 7 budget, funding, and the importance of securing federal matching funds for eligible projects. “We have a lot to do, and we can’t afford not to use federal funds,” he said.

He also addressed the economic stimulus package, emphasizing the importance of working closely with cities to aggressively pursue allocations. Additionally, he discussed the District’s commitment to increasing small business contracting “We want to create lasting relationships, so our buyers will go back to these businesses again and again,” he said.

Raja Mitwasi, Chief Deputy District Director, provided an overview of District 7, explaining how divisions collaborate to plan, build, operate and maintain transportation projects. He noted that the District’s freeways and highways are currently functioning at 92% capacity.

“Today, our projects are much bigger than they used to be,” he said. “We expect to have $2 billion in projects under construction in the next 18 months.” He added that every $1 billion in projects creates 18,000 new jobs, helping to strengthen local economies.

Mitwasi’s remarks were followed by presentations by deputy district directors and other District 7 staff who explained the role of their divisions and specific projects in more detail.

Tad Teferi, Deputy Director, Program/Project Management, discussed the challenges affecting project delivery, the status of major projects currently underway, and how Caltrans works with communities and other transportation agencies to achieve important goals.

Supervising Transportation Engineer Abdi Saghafi reviewed the I-710 Tunnel Study now in the works, explaining the “route neutral” strategy and study objectives. A public document detailing study results is expected later this year.

Jim McCarthy, Deputy District Director, Planning, Public Transportation and Local Assistance, described his team’s role in articulating a future vision of transportation in District 7 while laying the groundwork for project development.

Office of Freeway Operations Chief Marco Ruano provided an overview of the Traffic Management Center, the High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lane Demonstration Project, and the Office of ITS (Intelligent Traffic Systems). “We can’t afford to build our way out of congestion, so we have to find ways to manage it,” he said.

Sameer Haddadeen, Supervising Transportation Engineer with the Office of Transportation Investigations, presented information about Caltrans signage, focusing on criteria for special signs, such as those designating educational and cultural institutions, services, tourist destinations, and victim memorials.

Office Chief for Maintenance Support Richard Gordon described the work of the Maintenance Division and its priorities—safety, preservation, and service—as well as the challenges of maintaining 1,200 miles of highways and freeways with just 900 workers.

Governmental Affairs Manager Otis Jackson described efforts to increase contracting with small businesses, noting an innovative program to educate business owners about Caltrans contracting through community colleges. He also distributed brochures describing what firms must do to become eligible for state contracts.

Throughout the workshop, participants were attentive and asked numerous questions about issues affecting their districts. All attendees received a bound District 7 Legislative Update, a customized map of Caltrans projects in their legislative district with accompanying descriptions, information on local assistance grant programs, and other handouts focusing on specific programs and projects.

“From now on, we’ll be holding this workshop twice each year,” said Deborah Robertson. “We always have a lot of information to give you, and by meeting frequently, we can have timely discussions on the issues.”

The next workshop will be held this fall.

Legislative representatives have an opportunity to ask questions on a wide variety of subjects at the workshop. In the back row, Right of Way Deputy Andrew Nierenburg (L) and Construction Deputy Roy Fisher wait to address the group. External Affairs Deputy Deborah Robertson, whose staff organized the event, speaks to the representatives about the necessity of good, ongoing communication between them and Caltrans.