TPR Interviews California Transportation Commission Chair Hilary Norton

In this TPR interview, Hilary Norton, newly appointed chair of the California Transportation Commission, reflects on the ‘phenomenal sea change’ driving state investments in transportation infrastructure and in advance of the 2020 national election. Citing Governor Newsom’s “all of the above” approach, Norton shares her priorities for the CTC and enthusiasm for creative projects that maximize benefits—and generate revenues—to support a more active and equitable vision for transportation in California. 

Hilary, it’s a privilege to recognize both your appointment last year by Governor Newsom to the California Transportation Commission and your elevation recently to chair of the commission. What are Governor Newsom’s marching instructions?

The day I was appointed last year was also the day the Governor issued the Executive Order on Climate Change, N-19-19. As we’ve worked on how to support smart growth, address climate change, and look at opportunities to create mobility solutions that offer triple benefits—whether they address housing and transportation or create additional jobs that help bolster our economy—what I have really admired about Governor Newsom, and the reason why this is the first time I applied to be on a state commission, is because I love his focus on ‘all of the above.’ It’s all possible and it’s all crucial in California, the fifth-largest economy in the world. And that was before COVID-19.

The Governor also recently released a new Executive Order on Climate Change, shining a spotlight on the importance of walking, biking, and micromobility solutions to reduce GHG emissions and Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).

I think he’s expecting an agenda that is going to take all of my background—in the nonprofit world, the business world, and the elected office world—and put that to work on ‘all of the above.’ How do we make this all work when so many Californians are in need and we have an economy to revive? In a word: collaboration. We have to work together to address the critical needs of Californians, and especially those who have historically have been left out, marginalized, and overlooked.

The Governor also recently appointed Michelle Martinez to replace Lucy Dunn on the Transportation Commission. It clearly appears from these appointments that the commission is experiencing a sea change in leadership. What does that mean for future policy and state transportation funding priorities?

Commissioner Martinez and I have spoken many times and met in person at the Gerald Desmond Bridge tour. I look forward to her first CTC meeting in October and her perspective as a bike advocate.

From my 13 months on the CTC, I am now the “oldest” of five appointees on an 11-member body. In September 2019, Governor Newsom also appointed my friend Tamika Butler, who has moved on to do fantastic work leading the national conversation on equity and mobility. This spring, Governor Newsom also appointed Lee Ann Eager and Rocco Davis, and Speaker Rendon appointed Joe Lyou, adding to the body of CTC Commissioners who have been longtime advocates for transit and active transportation.

It’s remarkable that in the last two years, we have a new Secretary of Transportation, David Kim, a new Undersecretary of Transportation, Ellissa Konove, a new director of Caltrans, Toks Omishakin, a new Executive Director of the CTC, Mitch Weiss, and five new commissioners out of 11—that is a phenomenal sea change in terms of what envisioning the future of transportation will be and its ability to have multiple benefits—and that’s before we talk about Kate Gordon and the work she’s doing with OPR. It’s an exciting time to be a public policy person because so many people are eager to collaborate and are invested in the concept of California as a nation-state doing things differently and setting an example for the rest of the country.

My friend, Commissioner Lucy Dunn, will be missed on the CTC. Her experience and perspective on housing and transportation, and her stalwart support in the fight against Prop 6—which proposed to repeal SB1— were crucial for the CTC. And former CTC Chairman Paul Van Konynenburg was a terrific advocate for rural communities and freight.

The changes coming reflect the California of the future— a state that uses all its assets, including mobility and transportation infrastructure assets, to address our most critical issues of climate, equity, and economic development.

Your tenure on the commission overlaps the onset of the COVID-19 virus, which has put a strain on every institution and most especially on the financial capability of all our public institutions at the federal, state, and local levels. How are the pandemic’s impacts reflected in the policies and investments being made and considered by the commission?

The CTC takes seriously that SB1 funds are real money out of real people’s pockets.

The CTC and staff spends countless hours ensuring that we fund the best projects with the little money we have compared to the huge needs of California.

Something I’m particularly proud of – based on a lot of work with advocates, and in coordination with Caltrans and CalSTA – is that we will be conducting equity listening sessions that will be statewide and convening an Equity Roundtable. We’re talking about where the need is, not only in a physical infrastructure sense, but in the human infrastructure sense. Where have the inequities been? Where were gaps created because freeways were built in a certain place? What are we doing about safety and equity of use of transportation assets? What are we doing about goods movement and the benefits and impacts of it on communities and the economy? It all interacts.

Now with the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, we also have to think about our best capability for leveraging federal funds and encouraging new federal stimulus or relief funding for transportation, particularly for our hard-hit transit agencies. We also need to continue to demonstrate that we are good stewards of our state funds. Through that example, we can encourage more counties to pass self-help measures to leverage scarce funding and support more mobility investments to meet an ever-growing need.

For the complete interview, go to /www.planningreport.com/2020/10/08/ctc-chair-hilary-norton-reflects-sea-change-state-transportation-priorities-advance

The Planning Report 

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