In the early 1980s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a report on traffic lighting.
The report concluded that “no one is sure what can be done to improve traffic safety,” but one idea was to have lighted intersections with a “clear signal that the light is flashing and has a green or red tone.”
The report recommended that “vehicles traveling at high speed should turn onto red light and then turn left or right.”
This suggestion was adopted by the California State Transportation Agency, which eventually implemented traffic light changes in its state.
But it wasn’t until 1993 that California began to institute a traffic signal that used the color red.
That changed things.
By then, there was no federal regulation of traffic lights, so states like California were free to implement their own traffic signals.
The result was that the red traffic light system in California had the appearance of a white flashing light.
As a result, the red light signal system became a major headache for motorists.
Many drivers complained that they couldn’t see the light because of the glare.
In a state with so many intersections with so much red traffic, a bright green signal wasn’t going to solve the problem.
The problem went beyond traffic lights.
The red light system also led to increased costs.
In the mid-1980s, a report by the Federal Highway Administration found that traffic signals were causing “significant costs” to the federal government and that “increased costs resulting from the adoption of traffic light design and installation requirements may result in decreased funding for highway construction projects.”
That report also warned that the new red light regulations could “cause serious traffic and environmental problems in the future.”
As a consequence, in 1993 the California legislature passed a bill to increase the state’s annual minimum wage by $1.35 per hour.
That was the beginning of the $2.50-an-hour increase that California was supposed to receive over the next few years.
The increase didn’t happen.
Instead, the state was required to spend $200 million on new traffic light systems in order to cover the new minimum wage.
The new laws also created an incentive for California to increase its minimum wage, so it didn’t seem like the minimum wage would go up until 2021.
Meanwhile, the costs of implementing a new traffic signal system were rising.
The California Department of Transportation estimated that implementing the new traffic lights would cost $3.7 billion over the first decade.
That number was rising every year.
As the state and federal governments continued to increase their budgets for highway projects, the traffic signal program was in serious trouble.
The federal Highway Trust Fund, the rainy day fund that the federal Highway Administration funds, was depleted and was about to run out in 2022.
Congress eventually passed a law in 1998 called the Interstate Highway Safety Act to prevent states from going over their emergency funding limits and keep their state highways in good repair.
In order to meet the new requirements, Congress also increased the federal minimum wage and required states to spend at least $3 billion on traffic signal upgrades.
In fact, by the end of 2019, California had spent more than $2 billion to implement traffic signal improvements.
That money was supposed help the state pay for a $1 billion infrastructure upgrade for the Golden State’s Interstate 5 freeway.
But the Highway Trust fund is so small that states could not spend that money on new lights, road projects, or other transportation projects.
As part of the agreement, the Highway Agency agreed to make a significant payment to California, in addition to the $1-billion payment it had already made.
The Highway Agency made the payments to California in exchange for maintaining its highway system.
But what happens if California doesn’t meet the state minimum wage?
The highway agency could impose fines on California for not meeting its requirements.
So the Highway Administration asked the California Public Utilities Commission to put in place a new revenue stream.
The agency proposed that California would pay for the state highway program through a “transportation improvement fee.”
This fee would be paid by a fee levied on Californians to make up the difference between the state wage and the “transport improvement fee” paid by the Highway Authority.
The Transportation Improvement Fee is a new system that the state pays for road construction and maintenance.
When the Highway Act was passed, it gave California a one-year window to make the transportation improvement fee payment.
But by the time the Highway Board met in 2018, the transportation fund had depleted to a point that it could no longer cover the transportation program’s obligations.
So, the agency asked the Public Utilities Board to write a new law that would allow the agency to pay for California’s transportation program.
The Public Utilities Act, however, does not provide any mechanism to allow the state to make those payments without violating the Highway Fund’s emergency appropriation limit.
So California’s request for a transportation improvement revenue stream fell through.
It was now up to the Highway Administrator to write the law that allowed the agency the ability to make payments to the transportation account without violating its emergency appropriation.