Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How's NCDOT doing in reducing emissions? Er ...

It's distressing to see North Carolina ranks a dismal 37 in a new report assessing whether state transportation policies support reduced motor-vehicle emissions, which cause pollution as well as affecting global climate change.

The report, released Tuesday, is "Getting Back on Track: Aligning State Transportation Policy with Climate Change Goals," from two environmentally oriented nonpartisan, nonprofits, the National Resources Defence Council and Smart Growth America. It focuses on transportation because it's the second largest emitter of climate-changing pollutants after power plants.

Although every president starting with George H.W. Bush has called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the report notes, nationwide emission rates have gone up 27 percent from 1990 to 2007. While more efficient vehicles and cleaner fuels could mean large GHG emissions reductions in coming years, the report says, a projected 50 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 2030 will undermine those savings. "Without bringing down transportation emissions, it will be impossible to achieve the reductions scientists have deemed necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change," the report says.

It looked at which states have adopted transportation policies and goals to help reduce GHG. No state got a higher grade than B-, most scored lower than D. Most states, it found, make decisions that will likely increase emissions.

The federal government did not get off unscathed. The report points out that while the feds require a 50 percent local match for public transit projects, highway and bridge projects usually get 80 percent federal money, with only a 20 percent local match. Also, a large proportion of federal aid funding is divvied up according to formulas based on VMT, fuel consumption and highway lane miles. States that work to reduce VMT and fuel consumption would be penalized when it comes to getting federal money.

California, Maryland and New Jersey topped the state rankings. All of North Carolina's neighbors scored better: South Carolina was No. 28, Virginia 12, Tennessee 25. At a telephone news conference Tuesday, NCDOT's Jim Westmoreland, the deputy secretary for transit, defended the state, saying, "We're a definite work in progress." He noted that projections are for VMT in North Carolina to double by 2030. That will make it even more important to promote mass transit and other travel modes. Westmoreland noted the state's high-speed passenger rail investments, and gave a shout-out to Charlotte's successful light rail line.

And he pointed out that the N.C. Board of Transportation in July 2009 adopted a Complete Streets Policy, which means it considers pedestrians and bicycles as well as motor vehicles in designing new projects.

All to the good. Let us hope the next such survey finds North Carolina pushing into the top 10, instead of trailing our fellow Carolina to the South.
Photo credit: 2002 Observer file photo of Charlotte skyline, by John D. Simmons