California’s Transportation Spending Continues to Flow in the Wrong Direction, but it can Become a Powerful Tool in the Climate Fight

One of the largest investments the state of California makes every year – over $30 billion annually – is toward the expansion and maintenance of our transportation system. The transportation sector accounts for over half of the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The funding California allocates to its transportation infrastructure has an enormous impact on the state’s climate, equity, and public health goals – for better or for worse.

That is why NextGen Policy is working to ensure that the way we spend our transportation dollars benefits all Californians and our planet, instead of locking in a dangerous and discriminatory status quo. Already this year, the state has achieved some major milestones that improve the way we plan and budget for transportation, and this year’s legislative session provides an unprecedented opportunity for our state to begin better aligning our infrastructure spending with our climate and equity commitments:


The California Transportation Assessment Report

The Strategic Growth Council (SGC) recently issued the California Transportation Assessment Report, which was required under Assemblymember Laura Friedman’s 2019 bill AB 285. This bill requires the SGC to make recommendations about how to align transportation funding with the state’s emissions reduction targets. Their recommendations are reflected in the California Transportation Assessment Report which the Council released this past February.

The SGC evaluation revealed that we are way off track — many transportation funding programs either do not include or do not prioritize statewide climate goals. As a result, California continues to perpetuate the same dead-end transportation infrastructure funding approaches that create endless traffic, long commutes, and unsustainable growth patterns.

NextGen, along with a coalition of transportation and equity advocacy organizations, sent a letter to Governor Newsom which provided our recommendations on how to better align transportation funding with our state’s climate goals. Specifically, we called on the state to:

  • Require implementing agencies to update the process by which projects are reviewed, prioritized, and funded. We urge the state to re-evaluate and reallocate the funding for projects that are sure to increase emissions and degrade environmental and public health.
  • Employ strategies that reduce vehicle miles traveled and support sustainable growth such as expanding funding to transit, public transportation, and transportation demand management.

One place we could see these recommendations come to fruition is in the California Department of Transportation’s upcoming spending guideline revisions to the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP).


SHOPP Guidelines

The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) prepares a four-year spending plan called the “SHOPP” (State Highway Operation and Protection Program) that decides the best use of dollars to maintain the state’s highway system. 

Their initial guidelines released in March failed to meaningfully integrate core elements of the Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure (CAPTI) and the CalTrans Equity Statement — documents CalTrans has already adopted which highlight the need for improved equity and public health strategies to meet California’s emissions reduction goals. But if these strategies live only in aspirational documents and not in spending plans, they are meaningless.

NextGen California has joined a large group of advocates that are engaging with CalTrans and CTC staff to provide recommendations that would make the SHOPP more equitable, accessible, and aligned with our statewide climate goals. And while we continue to wait for the amended version of the SHOPP guidelines to be released, we have had promising conversations with CTC and CalTrans staff about the incorporation of CAPTI and equity strategies into the guidelines. It is our hope and expectation that the final SHOPP guidelines will be updated to include:

  • Stronger statements of intent to incorporate the planning documents mentioned previously to the maximum extent feasible.
  • Review and commitment to the use of consistent, meaningful, and descriptive language across all projects to avoid ambiguous interpretations for implementation.
  • Improve accessibility, formatting, and distribution strategies to make accessing and engaging with planning materials easier for advocates and the general public.


AB 2438 (Friedman)

Advocates are using the regulatory process to ensure the state takes its own recommendations into account, however, project funding across the state continues to ingrain harmful land use, housing, and transportation patterns. Committing our transportation spending to meet the state’s climate and public health goals should not take years of effort by advocates tracking and bird-dogging obscure regulatory proceedings. These processes should be required to do so from the outset. 

A bill that recently passed the state Assembly, and is now pending before the Senate, would do just that: AB 2438 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, would ensure that California’s transportation planning and funding align with existing regional and state climate and sustainability plans. It does this by requiring state and local transportation projects — including those within the SHOPP — to align with the California Transportation Plan and the Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure. 

AB 2438’s success in the Assembly was hard-fought; the opposition deployed scare tactics and distortions of the bill’s provisions in order to sow confusion and convince members to abstain or vote “no.” 

AB 2438 will ensure public dollars are spent on transportation projects that actually reduce emissions, improve air quality, and provide additional clean, efficient, and safe transportation options to the public. The bill does not (as opponents would have you believe) prevent the building of new housing and roads — it simply requires that transportation infrastructure funding takes into account existing policy guideposts in our state’s efforts to reduce air pollution and improve public health. 

California cannot afford to invest in projects that will continue to increase emissions and endanger vulnerable communities, which is why NextGen is proud to support AB 2438.   


Next Steps

California is not on track to meet its statewide climate goals, and a big part of the problem is the gap in funding for climate-friendly, equitable transportation projects. As the Transportation Assessment Report and SHOPP Guidelines demonstrate, we need stronger measures (like AB 2438) to overcome entrenched patterns and powerful political opposition.

We are hopeful the SHOPP, AB 285, and AB 2438 will be great avenues for transportation advocates to engage with legislators and agency staff on ways to create a more

prosperous, equitable and cleaner future. Our state must re-evaluate and adapt its policies to better protect all Californians from climate disaster, help us meet our climate targets, foster equity and prosperity, and build more resilient communities. It is time for us to head in the right direction.

 Join Climate100 to get updates on these important efforts and learn how you can get involved.

  1. Legislative Analyst’s Office, The 2021-22 California Spending Plan: Transportation (October 2021), Accessed:
  2. UC ITS, Driving California’s Transportation Emissions to Zero (April 2021), 36-37, Accessed:

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