IGR Unit Helps Mitigate Local Development Impacts
Planning Division works with cities, developers to create more efficient transportation corridors.
When the public hears that another large retail, commercial or residential development is going up in a particular area, they will sometimes ask how Caltrans could allow it to happen, considering how many more vehicles it will place onto affected freeways.
The truth is the Department does not have the authority to halt private development occurring off State right-of-way. What it does have, however, is the standing to demand, require and negotiate traffic mitigation measures to counteract potential impacts.
That job falls to the Planning Division’s Intergovernmental Review (IGR) unit, which works with local jurisdictions throughout their decision-making process to ensure compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), adopted in 1970.
IGR’s job is to ensure that local planning and development includes provision of transportation choices, such as transit, rail, air service, walking and biking. As owner/operator of the State Highway System, Caltrans has a stewardship responsibility that is mandated by the Legislature. By advocating community designs and managing transportation corridors that promote efficient and sustainable land use, the Department protects the public’s interests.
The District 7 IGR unit is headed up by Dianna Watson, who supervises a group of five that includes an entry level planner, an associate level planner and three engineers. “We can’t say ‘don’t build’ but we make sure that impacts make it into the environmental document,” she said. “Our process involves looking for projects that the developer can contribute to so that if they are creating an impact, they have to fix it—we ask them to pay their fair share towards mitigation.”
The IGR unit also drafts the mitigation agreement, which can include “other potential credits” (towards other local projects) the developer can use. Then, it’s up to the lead agency to implement mitigation.
Recent mitigation efforts include the collection of private funds by the city of Santa Clarita and Los Angeles County to widen the SR-126 bridge over I-5; contribution by the Playa Vista development project in the Westchester area to widening Lincoln Boulevard (SR-1); private funds collected by the city of Carson to redesign the I-405 Avalon Boulevard interchange; installation of a traffic signal at the eastbound I-210 exit to Baldwin Avenue by the Santa Anita Westfield Mall in the city of Arcadia; installation of new traffic signals at the westbound I-10 off-ramp to Puente Avenue by the Walmart Store; and the city of Baldwin Park’s contribution of $250,000 to the construction of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on SR-60 from I-605 to SR-57 to mitigate for its extension of the Puente Hills Landfill.
The IGR group works to get transportation mitigation commitments during the environmental phase of local development projects. When developments are actually built and are required to comply with physical improvements, Caltrans Office of Permits takes over. When mitigation improvements require a Project Study Report, the Office of Project Studies takes over. If development proposals are not approved by the local city, then obviously any mitigation commitments are not implemented. While that can happen, it would be it would be very unusual, Watson said. “For the most part, we really work hard with the local agencies towards the best possible outcome.”
Through the CEQA process, local jurisdictions are required to notify Caltrans of their development plans to obtain our input. Typically, when IGR receives them, it makes copies and circulates the information to the divisions that might have input, coordinating mostly with Freeway Operations and Traffic Investigations.
For instance, the Traffic Impact Analysis prepared for the Santa Anita Westfield Mall expansion and the Traffic Study prepared for the proposed NBC Universal Vision project were reviewed by Freeway Operations. Traffic Investigations reviewed a Traffic Impact Study (TIS) for a proposed new Sports Complex for Claremont Colleges to be located adjacent to Foothill Boulevard in the city of Claremont. IGR will request a TIS for the proposed NFL Stadium in Downtown Los Angeles.
Currently, the unit is looking at six major projects in which it will provide information to Caltrans Legal and the Planning Deputy. Each unit member generally is working on 11 smaller projects at one time.
“We’re developing relationships with the lead agencies so they will involve us as early as possible,” Watson said, adding that the unit tries to get ahead of the process by contacting a city as soon as it becomes aware of a proposed development.
“We like to do early collaboration with local agencies,” she said. “Bringing them onboard as soon as possible is in everyone’s best interests.”