Behind every silver lining

Behind every silver lining

There's good news in the U.S. transportation system's ability to reduce pollution and recycle materials, but when it comes to expansion and repair of U.S. highways, substantial funding is going to projects that don't improve productivity.

A recent report by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) (www.artba.org) reveals how motor vehicle emissions have dropped since 1970 despite a substantial increase in vehicle miles. Carbon monoxide emissions are down 43% during the period and lead emissions have been virtually eliminated, says ARTBA. At the same time, vehicle miles traveled increased nearly 150%.

On the recycling side, over 80 million of the 100 million tons of asphalt pavement removed during resurfacing and widening projects is reused.

While those are laudable achievements, ARTBA also reports congestion is costing Americans $70 billion per year in lost productivity and wasted fuel, due in large part to the increase in delays. The average annual delay for American drivers has increased by 19 hours since 1982.

“If you don't add capacity — and we really haven't in a significant way over the past 30 years — the result is congestion,” says Pete Ruane, president and CEO of ARTBA. “Since 1970, energy consumption has increased 42%, the U.S. population has increased 33%, vehicle miles traveled have increased nearly 150%, but new highway capacity has only increased 6%”

From 1992 to 2000, $547 million in highway funds were used for transportation-related landscape improvement and beautification projects.

Individual ports face some of the same challenges. The Port of New York/New Jersey recently purchased 16 compressed natural gas vehicles for a total of $384,000 to reduce harmful emissions. It also replaced engines on two tug boats with lower emission engines. The tug boat engine project calls for the replacement of two engines per tug and will cost $600,000 in 2003.

Meanwhile, the Port of Los Angeles is forming a working group to identify opportunities to reduce truck traffic on highways during peak commuter hours. “The time has come for us to seriously consider extending gate hours at the Port of Los Angeles,” says Councilwoman Janice Hahn. “Nothing will impact traffic and air quality more than extending the hours that trucks travel into and out of the harbor.” LT

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January, 2004

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