Caltrans Encroachment Permit Process Discussion

At the August 5, 2021 Infrastructure Committee meeting, Sergio Ruiz, Amjad Naseer, and Ajay Sehgal of Caltrans District 4 were in attendance to answer questions and discuss the Caltrans encroachment permit process with the BPAC Infrastructure Committee and OakDOT staff. Notes are below.

Discussion

  • Since it can be a long time (usually decades) between when Oakland streets get attention, the designs are usually very outdated, not in line with Oakland’s traffic safety and climate goals and serving levels of car traffic that no longer exist.
    This means that design changes often involve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure upgrades. The higher level of scrutiny for proposed changes compared to the status quo then favors car traffic over bike/walk traffic, and has negative impacts on public safety.
  • Three categories of issues raised:
    • 1) Projects that are delayed and/or delivered in multiple segments as a result of needing Caltrans approval for encroachment permit (example: Paving/bike lanes on Park Blvd from McKinley to MacArthur delayed & separated from rest of project for Caltrans permit)
    • 2) Projects that have design elements rejected by Caltrans permit process, where they intersect with Caltrans right of way (example: Bike lane widening on West St from 35th to 36th Streets through 580 underpass was rejected, despite the widening still happening on the other 30 blocks of the corridor)
    • 3) Cities that avoid making any changes in the Caltrans right of way altogether so as to avoid the encroachment permit process, even if it results in more hazardous bike/walk conditions and out of date designs
  • Caltrans staff were asked to respond to these three categories with any feedback or proposals for solutions:
    • 1) Project delays: Caltrans staff suggested that city staff need to reach out to Caltrans more proactively any time the city initiates a project that they know will intersect with a Caltrans facility
      • Oakland staff member asked about whether a maintenance agreement update that was required for a recent project was due to the bike/walk infrastructure proposed. Caltrans staff indicated that it was required because the previous maintenance agreement referred to the old striping plan. As such, a new agreement was required, referencing the new striping.
    • 2) Design rejections: Caltrans staff indicated that they abide by Caltrans design standards for any work done within the Caltrans right of way, even if it means that this segment of work differs from the design for all the surrounding city streets.
      • With regard to West Street, an Oakland staff member indicated that there was confusion about whether the underpass was Caltrans right of way – Oakland staff felt it wasn’t but Caltrans disagreed – City will be following up after the current project to try to still get bike lane widening approved separately.
      • Caltrans staff indicated that Caltrans has legal liability for the design of any infrastructure within their right of way, and could be at risk if Caltrans design standards are not implemented without exceptions being adequately documented, even if they’re not the ones paying for, designing, and constructing the project.
      • Committee members suggested that Caltrans should either provide a process by which cities can assume liability and therefore avoid the encroachment permit process altogether for basic bike/walk upgrades, or the state legislature should introduce a law to give cities priority over Caltrans in designing infrastructure that primarily serves local traffic.
    • 3) Cities proactively avoiding changes: Caltrans staff didn’t respond to this concern directly, but did indicate that they abide by a specific deadline for responding to any encroachment permit requests (though these responses can still result in rejections).
      • An Oakland staff member asked if training opportunities are available on the encroachment permit process, especially in video form which staff could take advantage of any time.
        • Caltrans staff indicated that a presentation could be scheduled, but video content will not be made available for training purposes.
      • Committee member noted that sometimes city staff might use the encroachment permit process as an excuse for not making bike/walk infrastructure changes, indicating that it would slow down the project delivery. In other cases projects that do go through the Caltrans encroachment permit process result in outdated & dangerous bike/walk infrastructure designs. What is Caltrans doing to push cities to deliver better bike/walk infrastructure via this process, even beyond what is proposed by a city?
        • Caltrans typically does not push cities to do more than what they are proposing via the encroachment permit process.
      • Committee member asked if there is a way for Caltrans to notify bike/walk groups and advocates when an encroachment permit goes to them for approval, to help ensure this process doesn’t happen without community oversight on design needs.
      • Caltrans staff referred to Caltrans District 4 Complete Streets Coordinator Sergio Ruiz to coordinate on these communication needs
  • Opportunities for follow-up:
    • Change maintenance agreements w Caltrans to refer simply to “striping” as opposed to a specific design plan. This way the agreement does not need to be updated every time the striping design is changed.
    • Coordinate with state advocacy orgs like the California Bicycle Coalition on possible legislative updates to enable cities to assume liability for street segments that intersect with Caltrans right of way, and therefore apply basic design updates without the need for an encroachment permit and Caltrans approval.
    • Work with Caltrans on providing training opportunities for city staff on navigating the encroachment permit process.
    • Require that cities refer to which bike/walk groups they have coordinated with on project design, when encroachment permits are requested. Streets with existing bikeways, or ones proposed in an existing bike plan, should consistently incorporate local stakeholder coordination and input.

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