Federal Money Stimulates the Economy and Invigorates Caltrans Local Assistance Office
An Update on Local Assistance Efforts in the Era of the ARRA
Say the word “stimulus” these days and one thinks of federal monies pouring into an industry --- banking and finance, automobile, and of course, transportation. Say “stimulus” to a certain group of 34 people on the 12th floor of the Caltrans District 7 building and they immediately recall a busy summer ’09 workload when federal stimulus money roused them into non-stop action and production.
Now, eight months after President Barack Obama announced the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and other governmental agencies around the nation are announcing daily where the money is headed. The ARRA made available significant new funding for transportation infrastructure. As a result, one assignment given to DOTs, similar to that of District 7’s Office of Local Assistance (part of the Division of Planning, Public Transportation and Local Assistance) is to certify, authorize, delegate and distribute federal funds to local communities for transportation projects within a 120-day deadline.
Under the Recovery Act, states were given four months to obligate half of their federal stimulus transportation funding to projects - which California completed more than two months ahead of a federal deadline. The Golden State was also the first in the nation to obligate $1 billion in stimulus funding to improve its highways, local streets, public transit and airports.
"From day one, Caltrans’ focus has been and continues to be ensuring that California gets the maximum benefit from federal stimulus funding," said Caltrans Director Randy Iwasaki. "With the help of billions in stimulus dollars, we're putting people to work and building better roads, bridges, and transit for Californians."
Local Assistance staff quickly learned the federal rules, regulations and requirements of Section 1511 of the ARRA, which spells out the legal compliance guidelines for their work. Before March, 2009, Local Assistance staff had never heard of Section 1511; it did not exist.
To date, District 7 Office of Local Assistance has allocated $378 million in federal funds for 228 transportation projects in all 110 local communities in the District. Funding allotted for each state was based on a formula derived from population numbers.
The overall mission of the Office of Local Assistance, under the direction of Kirk Cessna, office chief, is to help local and regional agencies achieve timely delivery of local transportation projects in cities within Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. In accordance with state and federal requirements, they help process project funding applications and other documentation, and serve as the primary contact for local agencies, who are then reimbursed for their transportation projects through Caltrans.
“Normally, on any given year, the goals are usually the same…the staff certifies 250 projects totaling close to $350 million annually. However, this year, in the era of the federal ARRA, the staff’s workload doubled but the timeframe to complete the assignment decreased to just four months,” said Cessna. “We had strong support from our District 7 deputies who empowered us to do whatever it took to get the job done. Staff rose to the occasion.”
Cessna, an avid trail hiker, would agree that his hiking boots were an asset for his many trips up the 12th floor staircase to the 13th floor ‘Executive Row.’ When applications came pouring in during the rush, he would meet regularly to update Doug Failing, District 7 Director; Raja Mitwasi, Chief Deputy Director; and James McCarthy, Deputy Director for Planning, Public Transportation and Local Assistance.
“Doug, Raja and Jim provided myself and the staff with encouragement, support and all the tools necessary to succeed,” says Cessna.
With State-mandated furloughs also beginning in February, taking away three workdays per month, staff discovered that teamwork was the way to get through the paperwork and more than doubled workload. Assigning staff a geographical area within the District helped them to focus on one area and identify those local improvements that will best enhance the entire transportation system.
“We really came together under the pressure. For instance, when someone was making a trip to the copy machine, we would call out to one another ‘Who needs a copy of this?’ Says Morris Zarbi, transportation civil engineer in the Office of Local Assistance. “Such small efforts made a difference on the time savings and camaraderie.” Zarbi’s work included packaging 22 of the 228 Local Assistance projects.
“We had to be more pro-active and aggressive to get a package put together. We needed each other and a close working relationship with the local agencies,” says Mazen Dabboussi, transportation civil engineer, who packaged 24 of the total projects.
Just two weeks ago, in mid-September, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that California leads the nation with over $2 billion in federal obligations for Highway Transportation Recovery Act Funding, federally obligated to 620 highway transportation infrastructure projects statewide. Caltrans has certified 834 Caltrans projects and regional agency highway projects to receive ARRA funding. Figures from September 30 show that California has obligated $3.03 billion of the State’s $3.64 billion of ARRA funds allocated towards projects.
The billions have increased, as did the projects.
“The numbers change daily to reflect that all cities in Ventura County and Los Angeles County are benefiting from ARRA funds,” says Cessna. “Most all local agencies are happy with their awarded funds and 99% of all local agencies in District 7 have used their monies.”
Focused on pumping Recovery funding into the California economy quickly, effectively and responsibly, California has obligated more Recovery Act funding federally designated for highway transportation infrastructure than any other state in the nation.
Local projects chosen to receive funding were shovel-ready, had environmental clearance, requiring minimal or no environmental review and no right of way parcel acquisitions. Many of the projects involve pavement rehabilitation on local streets, sidewalk and grading improvements, safety and Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements, landscaping and bicycle lanes.
Some of the transportation infrastructure projects in District 7 include:
ï‚· $14.3 million for several street rehabilitate projects including damaged curbs and gutters in the City of Long Beach.
ï‚· $470,000 for a project to upgrade roadway grates near or along bike paths, lanes and routes, as well as near transit hubs, to improve bicycle access, safety and promote cycling as a viable form of transportation in Los Angeles.
ï‚· $950,000 in landscape improvements adjacent to Ballona Creek Bikeway near Overland Avenue pedestrian bridge and Ocean Drive in Culver City.
ï‚· $1.9 million investment to replace 13 buses in the cities of Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Moorpark in Ventura County.
ï‚· $5 million allocation for interchange improvements at U.S-101/Rice Avenue in Ventura County.
To view a list of the regional transportation projects allocated in District 7 by the Office of Local Assistance, visit the Caltrans District 7 website.