Just as the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris, and the Statue of Liberty is the symbol of New York, it can be said that the freeway is an internationally recognized symbol of California. The California transportation system was not too long ago the envy of the world, yet there is today a serious question as to whether or not our state is in a leadership position with respect to the provision of mobility to its citizens.
Forty years ago, Governor Pat Brown and most members of the state legislature believed that transportation infrastructure investments were fundamental to economic growth and that large commitments of public funds for the construction of a transportation network would pay ample dividends over many decades in the form of growth in population, commerce, tourism, and tax revenues. These views enjoyed broad public support. The aggressiveness with which leaders in the fifties built a state highway system can today be criticized by environmentalists and preservationists, but it was monumental and their projections of growth and change have over time been proven to have been largely correct. The shared sense of direction and commitment that characterized our state during the freeway building days, and the partnership between federal and state governments that funded our highway system is long since gone. In place of unity and commitment transportation policy making is today characterized by timidity and indecision. With our state highway program stalled, California’s public transit program is also falling far short of what is needed to provide mobility to a growing number of inner-city transit dependent people. As we look forward to a new century, we must question whether our transportation program is sufficient to serve the population growth we expect or to sustain the economic growth that we hope for.