Regional Institutions for Transportation Sustainability and Economic Development: The Case of Southern California

Regional Institutions for Transportation Sustainability and Economic Development: The Case of Southern California

Mark A. Pisano, Richard F. Callahan
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7396-8.ch004
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The lessons described in this chapter outline the mechanisms for cooperation through building new institutional designs for governance to build transportation construction projects. The scale of these projects included billions of federal, state, and local dollars invested in the 1970 through current day. Funding of transportation projects in Southern California during the period 1975 through 2010 addressed a range of challenges to economic growth. The chapter proceeds in four parts: one, a discussion of the environmental context; two, description of the institutional design for governance that developed; three, an overview of the projects developed and economic impact; four, applying the lessons learned to the emerging challenges of fiscal constraints, demographic change, and institutional re-design for transportation funding.
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Lessons learned from past successes in funding transportation construction are increasingly valuable given the current state of crisis in infrastructure funding. For example, the issuance of tax-exempt municipal bonds fell by 10 percent in 2017 (London Financial Times, 2018). The state of the current crisis is sharply illustrated in the State of California where per capita expenditures for highway in 2010 are nearly 40 percent less than in 1970, while the vehicle miles traveled in the same time frame increased by nearly 90 percent (SCAG, 2008; 69).

Figure 1.

California population, travel, and highway expenditure trends

Source: Southern California Association of Governments. 2008. Comprehensive Regional Plan. Los Angeles, CA: SCAG., Page 69.

The range of contemporary infrastructure and transportation challenges can be addressed by drawing on the strategic lessons learned to advance economic development from the region served by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Six million people called this region home in 1950, dispersed throughout the seven-county, multiple-centered region. The population grew to nearly 12 million residents by 1975, almost doubling into an urban form many called “sprawl.” For those who lived in the region, it was region of multiple small town centers. Even in Los Angeles, the largest city, people identified with the section of the city where they lived. The population growth occurred after the dismantling of a regional “Red-Car” rail system that was removed to make way for freeway construction as part of the relentless dynamics of growth at any cost.

Rather than frame any specific infrastructure project solely as a transportation project, SCAG, as the formal metropolitan planning organization (MPO), linked transportation infrastructure to growing the regional economy. The story that unfolds is one of moving people and moving goods to move the economy. The Los Angeles regional case study demonstrates institutional design as the catalyst for infrastructure building (Callahan, 2007). This case shows the success in attracting federal, state, and local funding to improve and address the globalization of trade (Callahan, Pisano, and Lindor, 2010), improve air quality (Mazmanian, 2010), reduce the need for freeways (Edelman, 2000), and develop all aspects of a sustainable future for a Los Angeles region with “the famous traffic, air quality and sprawl problems” (Elkind, 2014, 5).

This chapter describes how this region altered its transportation, growth, and economic base, along with an environmental strategy, to mitigate the environmental challenges facing the region. The outcome has been a regional economy essential to the state of California as the 5th largest GNP in the world if ranked as a separate nation. One measure of the institutional success has an over 60 percent increase in the growth of personal income since 1972, despite the constraint of no increase in the amount of gas tax available for infrastructure building and the pressure of steady population growth coupled with doubling of the vehicle miles traveled (SCAG, 2008;78)

This chapter focuses on the years 1975 through 2010. In that timeframe, funding of transportation projects in Southern California addressed a range of challenges to economic growth. Researching the SCAG region through case study methodology provides an opportunity for in-depth explanation the “how” of an issue chosen because of national significance (Yin, 2009; 9). For governance research, case studies provide needed texture that derives from field research (Heinrich, Hill and Lynn, 2004; 13), with the opportunity to identify the significant intervening variables (George and Bennett, 2005; 20-21). The case study approach adds to a wide range of research “conducted following a neoclassical approach using various forms of aggregated production function” with inconsistent findings across varied time frames and geography (Chen and Haynes, 2015).

This chapter explores the infrastructure response to those challenges in the following four sections: one, a discussion of the historical context; two, a description of the institutional design for governance; three, an overview of the projects that addressed problems of economic development in the region; and four, a discussion of the future challenges.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Economic Development: The financial performance in a specified geographic region, affecting wages, housing, businesses, goods movement, including a range of metrics on individual and aggregate changes over time.

Cross-Sectoral: Involving two or more of the following sectors: the public, private, and nonprofit.

Governance: The exercise of public authority through public agencies and partners.

Fiscal Sustainability: The availability of budget and other financial resources over time.

Demographics: The study of populations and subpopulations over time.

Strategy: Aligning the internal operations of an organization or the design of institutions with the external demands and changes in the environment.

Institution Design: The rules in a society for governance of each of the public, private and nonprofit sectors, for the exercise of public authority, for the oversight of markets, for the organizational structures and partnerships initiating, overseeing, and implementing public policy.

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