California's system for generating and distributing electricity — which has attracted little attention from the public and most policymakers in the past — became topic number one in December and January when extraordinary efforts by the state and federal governments were needed to keep the lights on. But the electricity concerns is only the latest in a series of recent efforts that focus on the state's infrastructure Transportation planners are wrestling with daunting growth projections for Southern California: another 7 million people in metropolitan Los Angeles by 2025, including 3 million in Los Angeles County alone. The Southern California Association of Governments released a draft transportation plan in December that painted a bleak picture for the region and all but begs for tax increases. One month later the Metropolitan Transportation Authority produced its Long Range Transportation Plan for Los Angeles County that emphasizes additional carpool lanes, bus service and other new transit options. Meanwhile, the California High Speed Rail Authority continues its work, with 15 town hall meeting scheduled across the state in February and March. At the state level, many people are anticipating the report from the Commission on Building for the 21st Century, commonly called the Governor's infrastructure commission. The report originally was due last December 1. But the group — which is headed by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary Maria Contreras-Sweet — asked for more time so it could take the most comprehensive look possible. The final report will urge better coordination of land-use planning processes and infrastructure planning, said commission Director Audrey Noda. Jobs-housing balance, brownfields redevelopment and infill development will all be addressed, said Noda, who expects the commission to complete the report this spring. Such a comprehensive approach would be new to the world of state-sponsored infrastructure planning in California. David Dowall, a professor of city and regional planning at University of California, Berkeley, hopes the commission will go even farther beyond conventional thinking. Last year, Dowall authored a report for the Public Policy Institute of California that insisted the state move toward infrastructure management and policymaking, and away from provision of facilities. In "California Infrastructure Policy for the 21st Century: Issues and Opportunities," Dowall argued for prioritizing projects based on how much consumers are willing to pay for services, shifting infrastructure responsibilities to private and nonprofit entities, and using long-term financing rather than pay-as-you-go mechanisms. Dowall has seen a draft of the 21st Century commission's report and said it contains many of the concepts he advocated. Some people realize the state cannot simply build itself out problems, he said. "At the same time," Dowall added, "I think there is a lot of resistance on the part of the governor's office and labor unions and some of the commissioners over the dreaded P word — privatization." Dowall and others are continuing their work through the PPIC and plan to release a detailed look at infrastructure planning and delivery this spring. In the area of transportation, SCAG's Draft Regional Transportation Plan — and statements by SCAG leaders — suggest that the jig is up in Southern California. The plan calls for a more efficient regional transit system, a high-speed train from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire, bigger airports and new highway lanes dedicated to truck traffic. "We've reached the point in time where we can't build ourselves out of trouble with new freeways. We just don't have the room to construct them," SCAG Spokesman Jeff Lustgarten said. According to SCAG, the region during the next 25 years will fall about $10 billion short of the amount needed to maintain the existing system and build short-term projects that are already programmed. So SCAG officials recommended generating another $40 billion by: o Increasing the gas tax by 5 cents in 2005 and a penny a year until 2025; o Extending sales tax overrides that will sunset in within 10 years in San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties; o Adopting a dedicated sales tax for the first time in Ventura County; o Imposing new taxes on alternative fuel vehicles o Continuing Gov. Davis's plan from last year of reallocating more state funds for local transportation projects. All of those measures entail inherent political risks, but they would provide $30 billion for long-term projects. "That, honestly, is not anywhere close to what we really need, but it's a step in the right direction," Lustgarten said. The MTA paints no prettier picture than does SCAG, although some of MTA's plans could be more financially realistic. While the MTA calls for building more carpool lanes on nearly every major freeway, it emphasizes an increase in transit alternatives, such as expanding "rapid-bus" service and adding Metrolink trains. The rapid-bus routes have fewer stops and buses have the ability to hold lights green. Recognizing that Californians are reluctant to give up the convenience of their cars, both SCAG and MTA discuss creating some sort of shuttle service that would take people from their homes directly to train stations or bus stops. Planners at SCAG would like to see something completely new for the region — a high-speed magnetic levitation transportation system, or "Maglev." SCAG hopes that federal officials choose the region for a demonstration project, although SCAG might pursue such a system even without extra federal funding, Lustgarten said. The 200-mph train would run from Los Angeles International Airport to downtown to Ontario Airport to a destination in the Inland Empire. Such a system would cost an estimated $6 billion, but it is enticing because it is inexpensive to maintain, Lustgarten said. Plus, because the trains create so little noise and air pollution, lines could be built with minimal setbacks. A more far-reaching high-speed rail plan is the hands of the High-Speed Rail Authority. Although two years ago Gov. Davis dismissed the concept as "Buck Rogers technology," the commission lives on and appears to receive more respect all the time. Engineers are studying routes that would link the Bay Area to Merced, Sacramento to San Diego via Bakersfield, Los Angeles and Orange County, and Los Angeles to San Diego via Riverside County. An environmental impact report is underway. A late-January announcement from the Authority said the town hall meetings are a way "to seek the opinions of the communities along the identified corridors regarding what transportation concerns they have, where stations are most needed, how the high-speed train system should connect and compliment existing modes of transportation and more." Contacts: David Dowall, University of California, Berkeley, (510) 642-2223. Audrey Noda, Commission on Building for the 21st Century, (916) 321-2892. Jeff Lustgarten, Southern California Association of Governments, (323) 466-3445. SCAG RTP website: High-Speed Rail Authority website: Public Policy Institute of California website: