California Transportation Law
A guide to federal, state and regional requirements

By Jeremy March

  • Item# TL
  • ISBN: 0-923956-55-7
  • Copyright (c) 2000
  • Paperback
  • Price: $50.00
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The first complete collection of the most important laws and regulations affecting transportation planning in California. Includes ISTEA provisions, Title VI guidelines for urban mass transit, STIP Guidelines, provisions relating to air quality conformity, equal employment opportunity, civil rights laws, a checklist for mandatory requirements for public outreach, a glossary, an index, and more.

A Guide to federal, state and regional requirements
by Jeremy G. March

In addition to the information provided below you may also:

See the Front and Back Cover of The Book (Acrobat)
Read the Table of Contents (Acrobat)



Government Agencies Involved in Transportation Planning and Programming
Statewide Transportation Planning
Regional Transportation Planning
Federal and State Sources of Funding
The State Transportation Improvement Program: Federal and State Requirements
Regional-Level Transportation: The Federal TIP and the RTIP
Environmental Limitations and Requirements
Civil Rights Requirement


California Transportation Law is the first-ever collection, in one place, of the most important laws and regulations affecting transportation planning, programming, and funding in California. Serving as a convenient desk reference for those interested in California transportation law and how it applies to various modes of transportation, the book features descriptions, analyses, and citations of all the important statutes and regulations governing how state and regional agencies are obliged to carry out transportation planning functions.

Highlights of this all new edition:
  • How to use the Internet to find whatever you need, including statutory, legislative, and regulatory materials
  • An easy-to-follow guide to the language used in statutes, bills, and regulations
  • A checklist of mandatory federal and state requirements for public outreach during regional transportation planning and programming
  • A subject index, glossary, and list of acronyms

Topics include:
  • An overview and analysis of all important federal and state statutes and regulations that affect statewide and regional transportation planning, programming, and funding, including citations for all relevant sections of the statutes and regulations
  • Transportation law provisions to help determine which agency is entitled to which funds from what state account in order to build a transportation project
  • State Transportation Improvement Guidelines issued by the California Transportation Commission
  • Provisions of the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act (ISTEA)
  • Major federal statutory and regulatory provisions concerning air quality conformity
  • Regional transportation plan guidelines
  • Environmental limitations and requirements, including those pertaining to air quality and environmental review
  • Title VI guidelines for urban mass transit
  • Equal employment opportunity guidelines
  • Summary of civil rights laws relating to transportation planning and programming


Jeremy G. March is an attorney and legislative analyst in Los Angeles. His specialties are transportation, environmental, and land use law. Between 1993 and 1999 he served as Deputy Legal Counsel for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the nation's largest metropolitan planning organization. Mr. March currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Public Law Section of the California State Bar. He holds a Master's degree in Urban Planning from the University of Southern California, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in public administration at USC.


Why a book on transportation law? More than 14,000 sections of federal and state law and administrative regulations affect transportation in the state of California. These laws govern the distribution of more than $10 billion annually throughout our state. They have an impact on anyone who drives, flies, sails, bicycles, or rides a subway or train, as well as anyone who simply breathes air, can hear the noise from freeways, or who lives somewhere that might one day be in the path of a proposed road or under the flight path of a proposed airport.

Yet, as I am writing this, there is no book devoted exclusively or even primarily to discussing and analyzing the transportation laws affecting this state. Very few people outside of legislators, consultants, planners, or lawyers who specialize in transportation have even heard of most of these laws, let alone are familiar with their requirements. As a result, when a question of transportation law arises (for example, which agency is entitled to what funds from what state account to build a project), many people must scramble through the rather badly-organized laws and regulations, written over the last thirty years by various people with conflicting aims and scattered across many different volumes, manuals, and publications.1

This was the situation in which I found myself seven years ago when I began working as an attorney for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which is the metropolitan planning organization for six counties in Southern California. Before taking this position, my areas of specialty had been land use law and the California Environmental Quality Act. On my first day my first task was to comb through federal law and write a detailed memo defining a metropolitan planning organization, listing all of its responsibilities under federal statutory and regulatory law. The memo was due the following morning. I was told that management hoped I would find this assignment challenging. I definitely found it challenging—not only to my intellect, but to my sanity. Until that moment I had never heard of an MPO and had no idea where to find the answer. Other attorneys and planners at SCAG and in other transportation-related agencies, as well as citizens trying to understand how transportation plans and programs will affect them or how they should be constructed, are often confronted with similarly confusing questions and deadlines.2 This book is for meant for them.


When I first thought about writing the book, I decided that it should consist of organized, detailed, and readable analyses of all 14,000 sections of transportation law affecting California. I had to scrap this idea when I realized that the handy, one-volume reference guide I wanted to give my colleagues would turn into a monstrosity ten or so volumes long. And during the two or three years it took to put the book together, transportation law would change considerably, forcing the rewrite of large sections (during the course of which the law might change yet again). It soon became obvious that it was not possible to write about everything: the line had to be drawn somewhere. I then began to consider which of the 14,000 sections are most important.

As I soon learned, which laws are most important depends on who you are. I was working for an MPO, and many of its mandates came from the "Metropolitan Planning" sections of the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act or ISTEA,3 so I had come to think of these sections as particularly important. A planner for a county transportation commission in our region, whose job involved finding sources of state funds for various local projects, thought that I should naturally focus on funding issues. My boss at the time, who helped litigate an affirmative action case on behalf of people displaced from their homes by construction of the Century Freeway in Southern California, thought that the book should discuss in detail civil rights laws relating to transportation. A friend of mine who is a police officer felt that the statutes setting forth penalties for drunk drivers were more important than all of the above, since "no one gets killed by a poor transportation plan." Other suggestions were more creative: A lobbyist for another transportation agency concerned with rail projects wanted me to write "an underground classic like Eraserhead." 4

Thus, there seems to be no universally-accepted standard for judging which transportation laws and regulations are most important. The question then shifted from "which laws are most important" to "who will find this book particularly useful." I realized that I wanted to help the kind of people with whom I've been working these last several years. For the most part, they are people—whether lawyers, transportation planners, elected officials, community activists, or just plain citizens—affected by or who need to interpret federal and state laws and regulations concerning transportation planning and programming ("programming" meaning allocation of state and federal funds). Suddenly, I understood the book's proper scope. Many others, of course, are influenced by a host of important transportation laws: Police must understand Vehicle Code and Penal Code provisions concerning speeding and dangerous driving; truck drivers are affected by Department of Transportation regulations dealing with the transport of hazardous materials; bus and subway drivers may be interested in regulations involving drug testing, and so forth. But I am less familiar with these laws or with the types of questions that people might typically ask. Someday someone should write books for these people about these areas of law, if they have not been written already.

So, to be of maximum use to my intended audience, I have tried to include the following topics and materials:
  • An overview of the major federal, state, regional, and local agencies engaging in or that otherwise have an impact on transportation planning and programming in California
  • A summary of the major federal and state statutory, regulatory, and guideline requirements affecting the following areas of transportation law:
    • Statewide transportation planning
    • Regional transportation planning
    • Federal sources of and programs for funding of transportation plans and projects
    • State accounts and other sources of funding for transportation plans and projects
    • Federal and state laws and regulations involving the programming of these funds
    • Environmental limitations and requirements imposed on transportation planning and programming, including those pertaining to air quality and to environmental review
  • Less detailed summaries of major civil rights requirements applicable to transportation programming and planning
  • Appendices setting forth the text of major federal and state statutes, regulations, and guidelines affecting transportation planning and programming
  • Other appendices containing incidental, but hopefully useful information about finding legal information (concerning transportation as well as other subjects) on the Internet, and a guide to reading (and writing) statutory and regulatory language

Readers should keep in mind that the discussions herein do not represent the end of the research, but rather the beginning. Planners reading what I have to say about the metropolitan planning requirements of ISTEA, or environmentalists examining the discussion of air quality law, for example, must then discuss among themselves (and, if at all possible, with their lawyers) how these laws apply to the situations directly facing them.

Discussion and citation of regulations and requirements is a gray area. The time frame during which I wrote this book was problematical, since both federal and state transportation law were in a state of flux. SB 45, a California bill, which substantially changed the transportation planning and programming process, was signed into law in late 1997, and a clean-up bill (SB 837), consisting of mostly technical but a few substantive amendments, was drafted and signed during this same period. Similarly, the "Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century"(or "TEA-21"), which was signed into law in May 1998, made substantial changes to federal transportation planning and programming law. But each of these is included in the book.5

It should be noted, however, that many important requirements applicable to state and federal transportation planning and programming law are contained in a series of administrative regulations (found mostly in Title 21 of the Code of California Regulations and Titles 23, 40, and 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations). At this writing, these regulations have not yet been amended to reflect the changes made by SB 45, SB 837, and TEA-21. While the administrative regulations are legally binding (i.e., planners and others must comply with the regulations as written), as a general rule, in case of a conflict, the statutes (passed by elected legislators) take precedence over the regulations (written by unelected bureaucrats). The question thus arises as to which regulations still have the force of law.

A second general principle of legal interpretation holds that two inconsistent requirements should be construed in such a way that both of them can be followed. Acting on this principle, I have discussed most of the regulatory requirements in this book, but the ones that appear to conflict with the new state and federal statutes are in italics. You should check with your attorney (or with the appropriate state or federal agency) before attempting to comply with, refusing to comply with, or enforcing these italicized regulatory requirements.

1. The advent of the worldwide web, which contains in electronic format the full text of many bodies of law, has helped somewhat, but it is still difficult to tell if or when one has found all statutes and regulations which apply to a question of transportation law. Step-by-step instructions for searching for federal and state statutes and bills and for federal regulations are set forth in Appendix I.

2. For some reason, people asking questions about transportation law almost always need the answer "right away." Hopefully, this book will make it possible to provide faster (if not instantaneous) answers to at least some of their questions.

3. 23 U.S.C. 101 et seq. The metropolitan planning requirements, which were recently amended, can be found at 23 U.S.C. section 134.

4. An extremely unpleasant but fascinating 1970's cult film the plot of which, while almost indescribable, certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with transportation law. Nonetheless, I recommend it highly.

5. Note that a series of "clean-up" bills adjusting TEA-21 are now being drafted. This book does not reflect changes made to federal law by these bills. Once the "dust has settled," (i.e., the U.S. Congress finishes making its technical corrections to TEA-21), future editions of this book will reflect the final changes.