About Martin Wachs (Edit profile)

Martin Wachs is Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering and City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, and former Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and of the University of California Transportation Center. He is also former Chair of the Department of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. He retired as senior principal researcher and director of the Transportation, Space and Technology Program at the RAND Corporation (mwachs@ucla.edu).

Investing in Transportation and Preserving Fragile Environments

Martin Wachs and Jaimee Lederman

In the early 1970s, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) owned large tracts of environmentally sensitive land near Beach Lake in the Sacramento River Valley. The land, acquired in anticipation of future projects but deemed no longer necessary, was to be declared surplus property and sold according to department protocol. One enterprising staff member, however, was thinking differently. He urged Caltrans to hold on to the land and use it for environmental mitigation credit to offset damage from future transportation projects in other areas. In an unusual move, the agency adopted his creative proposal, and the experiment paid off handsomely. In the following decades, the land fulfilled mitigation requirements for 49 separate projects in 14 counties with documented cost savings to Caltrans of over $25 million.

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Carmageddon in Los Angeles: The Sizzle and the Fizzle

Brian D. Taylor and Martin Wachs

“Carmageddon” refers to the horrific traffic jams predicted when a bridge reconstruction project in Los Angeles required closing 10 miles of the Interstate 405 freeway on two weekends. The closed freeway through the Sepulveda Pass between West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley is one of the most heavily traveled arteries in the world, with more than half a million vehicles passing through on a typical summer weekend. Traffic from the closures was predicted to back up for miles and spill onto local streets, severely congesting some parts of Los Angeles. Download the PDF.

THE ACCESS ALMANAC: Planning for High Speed Rail

Martin Wachs

California is contentiously debating whether or not to build a high speed rail system and, if so, how to build it and where to start. This debate reveals enormous differences among Californians. Surprisingly, it also suggests that planning studies and technical analyses increase, rather than resolve, our differences.

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Transportation, Jobs, and Economic Growth

Martin Wachs

American politicians are bitterly divided on many matters of public policy, yet they seem to agree that spending on transportation programs creates jobs and thus constitutes a path out of the nation's long and deep recession. Infrastructure investments are prescribed to stimulate the economy in the short term by creating construction employment, and to foster longer-term economic growth by making the transportation system more efficient and reliable. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, rural and urban elected officials—all seek funding for roads and transit projects in their districts, asserting repeatedly that these expenditures will create jobs. President Obama vigorously sought to create jobs through transportation spending in the recent economic stimulus package. This seemed familiar: in 1991, when signing the historic Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), President George H.W. Bush stated that the value of the bill "is summed up by three words: jobs, jobs, jobs."

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A Legacy of Skepticism: Remembering Melvin Webber

Martin Wachs

A month before his passing I had the pleasure of meeting Mel Webber for lunch, as I had done many times before, at his favorite table in the corner of the bar at the Faculty Club on the Berkeley campus. Over his left shoulder was the large window through which the landmark campanile clock was clearly visible in the bright blue sky over the deep green of the trees that line Strawberry Creek. Mel was like no other person I knew well. After decades of warm friendship he still surprised me at every meeting by asking questions I never anticipated. This visit was no different. He took out a small notebook and a worn, stubby pencil, and placed them on the table. He ordered a modest, healthful lunch and when the waiter departed he leaned forward and in a voice made husky by his illness he asked me to tell him what he had contributed to the world. His life was ending, he said in a tone not so different than the one he used when he had ordered his sandwich, and he wanted to know how his friends would remember him. He picked up the pencil, opened the notebook to a blank page, and awaited my reply. Overwhelmed by the question and thoroughly intimidated by the realization that it was deeply important to a man who had given me so much, I did my best to reply sincerely.

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Transit and Contracts: What’s Best for Drivers?

Songju Kim and Martin Wachs

Throughout its history, most public transit has been provided by private companies. During the second half of the twentieth century, however, things changed. Transit came gradually into public ownership as revenues from fares no longer covered costs and operators faced bankruptcy. Local, state, and federal subsidies kept transit afloat in most metropolitan areas. In reaction to steadily increasing subsidies and rising operating costs, many said transit services should be contracted out to private operators. Margaret Thatcher had made great strides toward privatizing transit in Britain, and there were calls for adopting similar strategies in the US. Proponents argued that private operation would be more efficient and less costly, while opponents said that private operators would save money simply by paying workers less than public operators and providing inferior benefits. Actual data were hard to come by, and both sides used dueling studies to prove opposite conclusions based on competing ideological commitments rather than actual data. It is still not completely clear whether privately operated transit service is more efficient than publicly run services.

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Editorial: Earmarking Threatens University Research

Martin Wachs and Ann Brach

Earmarking occurs when Congress allocates funds to specific recipients for specific purposes. Legislators have long designated funds for highway and transit projects in their home districts, fulfilling commitments made to their constituents. But funds spent for strictly political reasons can divert financial support from potentially productive projects, bypassing formal evaluation processes, economic, social, and environmental appraisal of alternatives, and citizen involvement and debate.