Analysis concludes that current transportation policy in most US states will likely worsen GHG emission trends in US
US states are in a unique position to bring down transportation-related GHG emissions, given their primary role in setting statewide transportation policy and directing large amounts of transportation funding. However, most states use few of the available transportation policy tools to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector, and in most cases make decisions that will likely increase emissions, according to a new analysis released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Smart Growth America (SGA).
In the 50-state assessment, no state received a higher grade than “B-,” and most states scored lower than “D,” demonstrating a lack of alignment between transportation and climate policies, according to the analysis. Only three states—California, Maryland, and New Jersey—landed in the top tier of the scoring methodology, and 12 states fell into tier three, the lowest.
The report, “Getting Back on Track: Climate Change and State Transportation Policy,” examined 17 key policy options, and found that, for example, few states bother to adequately assess carbon emissions when deciding whether to allocate more funds to build new highways or maintain existing ones; or how much money it should devote to transit, if any at all. The report found many states miss opportunities to reduce transportation emissions, and, sometimes, likely increase emission rates.
Most states do not make any effort at all to connect transportation policy with climate change and energy goals, and some put in place systems that effectively sabotage these goals. In sum, current transportation policy in most states will likely worsen GHG emission trends in the United States.—“Getting Back on Track: Aligning State Transportation Policy with Climate Change Goals”
While conflicts between GHG reduction goals and transportation policies at the state level will hinder progress toward reducing emissions, aligning these policies will encourage it, the report concluded, stating that all 50 states can take individual action to better align their transportation policies with climate change goals. Suggested strategies to change the trajectory of climate change while improving travel choices for Americans include:
Balancing state transportation investments by using state and federal resources to support robust public transportation service, prioritize highway repair and safety over new capacity, support non-motorized transportation, and ensure state fuel taxes can support all transportation modes.
Efforts should shift from building highway networks to building other forms of transportation that are cleaner, more efficient, and in high demand. This requires policy changes that accommodates all transportation users, including transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians in rural, suburban, and urban communities. States should seek to bring greater balance to their transportation investment plans. This includes balancing highway maintenance with new capacity investment and highway investments with transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure investments to ensure high-quality, convenient, well-maintained transportation networks for local, regional, and interstate travel.
Balanced investment is a critical step toward improving the long-term prognosis for taming the transportation sector’s role in climate change, the report says.
Managing traffic through congestion pricing tools and incentivize low-carbon transportation options through comprehensive commuter programs.
Strategies such as tolling, parking cash-out, and demand-based parking fees are suggested ways to signal to drivers through prices the impacts of driving and driving alone. Based on this information, travelers can then make more informed decisions about when and how often to drive. States that promote alternatives to driving alone when commuting provide a service in addition to information about smarter, cleaner travel choices.
Linking transportation and land use in transportation plans, implement smart growth and growth management policies, and promote transit oriented development.
Transportation and land use decisions strongly influence one another. States can only maximize the benefits of transportation decisions with supportive land use policies, the report says. This relationship is essential not only for progress toward climate goals, but also for a generally successful and cost-effective transportation network.
Setting a course to reduce emissions by setting per capita transportation GHG or VMT reduction targets.
This involves reorienting transportation policy principles to allow greater support for cleaner transportation options, understanding how transportation decisions will affect emissions, and setting clear goals to reduce emissions through transportation infrastructure and management policy.
The report also asserts that changes to federal transportation policy are essential, and suggests the following federal policies to strengthen the country’s transportation network and reduce carbon emissions:
- Set specific GHG emissions reduction targets for the transportation sector.
- Establish GHG emission impacts from transportation plans and projects as a criterion for receiving federal aid.
- Update transportation financing and funding formulas to reward reductions in driving, VMT, and fuel consumption, instead of rewarding increases in these areas, as is the current practice.
- Prioritize cleaner transportation modes throughout all programs and policies.
- Dedicate revenue from GHG fees to fund clean transportation investment.