Contaminated Properties

Contaminated Property Acquisition Policy

It is Caltrans policy to avoid acquisition of contaminated properties, to have responsible parties accept responsibility for remediation when acquisition of contaminated property cannot be avoided, and to obtain reimbursement from responsible parties when Caltrans must conduct remediation and/or monitoring. All properties, including those acquired by an implementing agency, shall be investigated for contamination before being considered for incorporation into the State right of way. Property containing or potentially containing contamination shall only be acquired or accepted if the benefits and risks are documented, available risk reduction mechanisms are employed, and a policy exception is approved by Department management using criteria established by the Caltrans Chief Engineer. Download the Contaminated Property Acquisition Directive - PD-02-R1 (PDF) (226 KB; 07/2020).

Exception to Policy

In exceptional situations where it is determined that the benefits of acquiring contaminated property outweigh the risks and the property must be acquired in order for a project to proceed, acquisition of contaminated property may occur only after approval by the Caltrans District Director. When contamination risks exceed the Headquarters Chief Engineer's criteria, the Headquarters Chief Engineer must approve the exception. Approval may occur only after an adequate site investigation of the property has been conducted, the cost of the remediation has been considered in the appraisal and acquisition process, and potential impacts to the project and to the State are adequately understood. In these cases, every effort must be made to avoid acceptance of legal liability and responsibility for the cost of cleanup.

Cortese List

The "Cortese List" (required by Government Code Section 65962.5) contains information about contaminated properties. The list must be checked as part of the initial screening for all projects. A property's presence on the list has bearing on the local permitting process as well as on compliance with CEQA. For example a CE can NOT be prepared for a project that will involve a property that is on the list.

The list is composed of 5 databases maintained by different state boards and departments. All 5 databases must be examined to determine whether a property is actually on the "list". The California Environmental Protection Agency is the primary entity responsible for the "Cortese List" and has a webpage which contains links to each of the databases as well as background and history information about the "Cortese List" statute.

Historical Topographic Maps

Historical topographic maps are useful to examine when performing an Initial Site Assessment because they often show land use changes through time. The United States Geological Survey has digitized the historical topographic maps in their collection and made them available online. The maps may be accessed and saved as pdf files for free. Your location of interest can be chosen by marking a point on the reference map. The University of Texas Libraries also provide free access to historical topographic maps. Their site has a Topographic Map Index for each state which can help you identify the name of the map sheet that you are looking for. Each of these sites has slightly different collections so you may get better temporal coverage by visiting both.

To access these maps visit the USGS and the University of Texas at:

Management of Hazardous Materials on Special Funded and Jointly Funded Projects

Many transportation projects are developed and constructed through a partnership between Caltrans and a local jurisdiction or transportation agency. Cooperative agreements are the contractual vehicle used to document the relationship between Caltrans and its local partners. Caltrans has policy regarding the management of hazardous materials and contamination in these partnership situations. The cooperative agreement standard language formats and pre-approved forms relating to hazardous materials and contamination are consistent with this policy. To access the text of the policy see: