“California at a Crossroads” New Report from NextGen Policy Calls for an End to California’s Traffic-Creating, Pave the Earth Approach to Transportation

For Immediate Release: Sep 26, 2023
Contact: Dustin Moon, dustin.moon@nextgenpolicy.org

SACRAMENTO – Today, NextGen Policy published a new report calling on California’s elected officials, executive branch leaders, and climate policy advocates to dramatically step up their commitment to address climate change and adopt a new approach for how the state plans for, manages, and funds its transportation infrastructure.

Since 2008, California has made multiple policy commitments to provide more transit and active transportation options, markedly increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads, and reduce the amount of driving Californians do in their daily lives. But despite clear mandates to reroute transportation policy toward a more climate friendly future, last century’s pave-the-earth approach is on cruise control in Sacramento. Actions by state and regional transportation authorities have only fueled the steady growth of traffic, congestion, and car dependence over the past 15 years.

California’s inaction on improving transportation options for its residents is now putting us in danger of missing our legally required greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of 40% by 2030 along with achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.

The good news is that solutions, outlined in this report, are available if elected officials and agency leadership can look past the false promises of status quo freeway-centric transportation planning. Smarter transportation policy will create more jobs per public dollar, improve quality of life, decrease pollution, and free Californians from hours upon hours stuck in traffic.

This report is the latest in a series of publications by NextGen’s Climate 100 project, which seeks to better align all parts of California’s budget with the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets. The transportation sector represents among the state’s largest budget outlays each year, and is long overdue for re-prioritization to become a net help in achieving these goals, rather than working against them.

Statement from NGP Senior Policy Advisor, David Weiskopf:
Car tailpipes cause more global warming pollution in California than the fossil fuels burned in every power plant and building in the state, combined. Electrifying vehicles is an important part of addressing this pollution, but it is not enough by itself. Nearly 95% of vehicles currently on the road in California are powered by gasoline, and most will be here for years to come. That means every new mile of new freeway lanes is another piece of fossil fuel infrastructure, no different from fossil power plants, oil pipelines, and coal export terminals. It’s time to unleash a bolder, better vision that will put taxpayer dollars to more efficient use while cutting pollution and reducing economic and racial inequities.

Statement from NGP Policy Advisor, Jamie Pew:
Californians are getting a raw deal on transportation: decades of taxpayer dollars spent on freeway widenings have only made traffic worse, as time spent behind the wheel creeps into every facet of our daily lives. On the flip side, we have a huge opportunity – rerouting transportation policy to provide Californians with a wider range of mobility options will not only put a sizable dent in our state’s affordability crisis, it will blow the roof off of what’s possible for mitigating climate change. This next frontier in the climate transition can deliver tremendous benefits to all Californians – but first we need to kick our addiction to “just one more lane.”

Statements from our partners:

Natural Resources Defense Council:
“NextGen’s research affirms CARB and other state agencies’ findings that hitting California’s climate goals is not possible without reducing car dependence,” said Zak Accuardi, a senior transportation advocate at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “While California has led the way on clean vehicle standards, we have fallen behind progressive peer states in prioritizing transportation infrastructure investments that expand clean and equitable mobility choices. California needs more spending to improve bus service, more streets that are safe for children and people with disabilities, and less spending on boondoggle highway expansion projects that divide communities and pave over ecosystems.”

“California’s greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are the highest in the nation. This report shows that all our efforts have simply not been enough to reverse the growth of congestion, pollution, and safety threats from cars. We still sorely need leadership to reverse these trends and to fund the transportation future we desperately need.” – Laura Tolkoff, Transportation Policy Director and Interim Chief of Policy, SPUR

Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability:
“California’s transportation policies at both the local and state level must promote public health and environmental justice by stopping highway expansions and closing loopholes that allow these expansions to sneak into local planning documents such as Sustainable Communities Strategies,” said Olivia Seideman, Climate Policy Coordinator at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “Not only do highway expansions increase personal VMT, they also facilitate industrial development, increase pollution and truck traffic, and exacerbate environmental injustices. In places like Matheny Tract in Tulare County and South Central Fresno, CalTrans continues to push forward interchange and lane expansions that will accelerate industrial development over community concerns about health and safety impacts. Instead, transportation investments should center community priorities, including bringing active transportation and non-traditional public transportation like zero-emission rideshare and vanpool programs to rural communities in California.”

Environmental Health Coalition:

“Low-income communities intuitively know that our transportation system is broken. They have been over-burdened for decades by the legacy of freeways decimating neighborhoods, heavy diesel truck pollution and now displacement from gentrification. That’s why in 2022, Environmental Health Coalition and our partners demanded the Air Resources Board increase the vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) reduction goal in the state’s Climate Change Scoping Plan. We will not achieve our climate goals without delivering massive investments in public transit that enable working families to thrive in California, regardless of where they live,” said Kyle Heiskala, Policy Co-Director at Environmental Health Coalition


The mission of NextGen Policy and NextGen California is to fight for progressive policy change to address environmental, social, racial, gender, and economic inequities in California through justice-centered legislative advocacy, grassroots partnerships, and democratic civic engagement.