Director's Message

Portrait of Caltrans Director, Toks Omishakin
Toks Omishakin

Caltrans Director

At Caltrans, the drive to improve the safety of the state travel network never ceases. Whether it’s filling a pothole, creating a new bicycle/pedestrian route or delivering a multimillion-dollar highway project, our first priority is ensuring the well-being of those who rely on our transportation system.

Our commitment to safety is shared by a wide and diverse group of state public safety agencies, the federal government, transportation-related industries, and safety advocates. Earlier this year, our consortium finalized a five-year California Strategic Highway Safety Plan to counter the rising trend of traffic-related deaths and serious injuries along all public roadways in California dating back to the 2000s.

Although the statewide safety strategy is a strong one and has been shown to make some progress, Caltrans and its partners acknowledged and agreed that recent events and information called for a bolder direction.

We’ve collectively decided that four new safety principles — integrate equity, implement a “Safe System” approach, double down on what works, and accelerate advanced technology — will form the backbone of a reinvigorated plan.

At the top of the list is a commitment that equity be integrated into every decision going forward at Caltrans, particularly those involving safety, and that the Department will attempt to remedy previous transportation system decisions that negatively impacted vulnerable communities.

In addition, the safety group approved inclusion of a “Safe System” approach to road design that is more forgiving of mistakes and aims to keep impacts on the human body at tolerable levels, a “doubling down” on the use of safety countermeasures proven to reduce crashes, and a pledge to promote and employ technological advances to enhance transportation safety.

It also was agreed that particular emphasis be placed on “challenge” areas of highway safety that are identified in the safety plan. Caltrans’ design, engineering and maintenance expertise will play a large role in helping solve vexing safety problems.

A story in this issue of the Mile Marker gives more details on our safety plan “pivot.”

 
 

The safety of our employees also is of paramount importance, especially in this time of COVID-19.

When the virus first took hold, we took immediate steps to protect our 20,000-plus employees. We paused non-emergency field operations so that we could develop and support safety precautions. Practically overnight, we mostly emptied our offices and embraced teleworking to the fullest extent possible.

To safeguard those who work so hard to maintain our roads, we hired cleaning companies to disinfect more than 350 Caltrans shop facilities throughout the state, and are strictly enforcing safe sanitation practices to limit the spread of disease.

To further protect employees, we suspended litter removal efforts for much of the spring. That pause also extended to Caltrans’ Adopt-A-Highway volunteer program and other litter collection crews. Trash pickup programs resumed in June.

We also took administrative action to help those who had to use our roads during this time of crisis. We issued temporary permits to food truck operators to set up at state safety roadside rest areas, preparing hot meals and other fare for truckers and motorists when most nearby restaurants were forced to close their doors. At the same time, Caltrans temporarily raised the maximum weight limit on trucks carrying essential goods in the state when they were most needed. Those special allowances have now expired now that most supply chains have been restored, and more food options are available for travelers.

Our hats are off, but masks on, for all our employees who have stepped up to the challenge of these times.

Again, please read the complete story on Caltrans’ COVID-19 response in this issue.

 
 

Lastly, I’d like to quickly tell you that we’re in the final stages of drafting a new strategic plan to guide Caltrans for the next four years and beyond.

We’ve spent many hours in robust discussion about what our priorities should be, our goals, and how to achieve the desired results. Accompanying the strategic plan will be a series of performance measures, and targets to be reached at the end of the four-year plan.

As with the safety plan that I spoke of before, the principle of equity has risen to the top as a core value that Caltrans must embody and build toward. We recognize that decisions made in previous times have divided disadvantaged communities or denied those residents a chance to share in the economic fortunes realized by their neighbors. Our strategic plan will set a corrective course, backed up by performance benchmarks to ensure our promises about equity are translating into positive action.

We will unveil the entire strategic plan shortly and circulate it for comment.