What is a CMA (Congestion Management Agency) ?

Prop. 111, passed by California voters in 1990, doubled the state gas tax and directed revenue to the state Congestion Management Program. It specified among other things that each county designate a county-wide body, i.e. a Congestion Management Agency (CMA) to put programs in place to keep traffic levels manageable. Whereas state gas tax revenue had historically been used to fund highways, the idea behind Prop. 111 was that the additional revenues would fund road, bicycle, pedestrian, and public transit projects in addition to highways to help manage congestion, i.e. they would be used for multi-modal purposes. The CMA was charged with helping to coordinate land use, air quality and transportation planning among the local jurisdictions and to prepare a Congestion Management Program to spend these funds. Among the duties they still carry out today is to monitor levels of congestion on major roads and analyze the impacts that a proposed development will have on future traffic congestion.

The creation of such a plan required creating a governing body that is representative of the local elected councils and agencies. The accepted method of ensuring this representation is to appoint elected officials from these entities to the governing board. In many cases an existing county-wide transportation agency that was already programming transportation funds from a variety of sources became the CMA after Prop. 111 passed.

In practice many CMAs only grudgingly became multi-modal agencies, and many continued to emphasize road and highway improvements to “manage congestion”. CMAs did not have direct authority over land use — only local city councils, and the county (over its unincorporated lands) had that power — and while in theory they could deny funds to a local government whose plans were not in compliance with the coordinated land use, air quality and transportation plans, they found it difficult to enforce such. Local decisionmakers serving on these boards often engaged in mutual back-scratching so that each jurisdiction could receive funds for their pet projects. Eventually state laws were changed to weaken the enforcement power of the CMAs.

While Prop. 111 requirements for the establishment of CMAs were overturned by subsequent California state legislation, in practice it is necessary for urbanized counties to have such a governing body in place in order to program state and federal transportation funds. Additionally, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC, the Bay Area’s federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization) has required the preparation of a countywide transportation plan, and also a prioritized expenditure plan, to include in its regional transportation plan in order to meet federal requirements.

Through the continued establishment of a CMA, the county is able to receive state

transportation funds, federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds and other funds

that are apportioned to Urbanized Areas. It is also able to enjoy certain benefits as well

as comply with the additional requirements of being a designated federal Transportation

Management Area.


Barbour, Elisa. Metropolitan Growth Planning in California. Public Policy Institute of  California, 2002, p. 75-76.

San Francisco CMP Nov. 2007, p. 9

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