The Overhead Wire Daily | June 26th | Highway Leadership

June 26, 2024

Last week we shared an item about NRDC suing Caltrans over highway expansion in California that the State DOT says will reduce emissions. Obviously that claim has been getting a lot of pushback because more lanes often means more driving and even more congestion. But the lawsuit is likely to set a huge precedent in terms of how the courts will see regulations related to reduced driving and climate goals and whether California can keep getting away with talking out both sides of its mouth. But there are other states tackling this issue head on that don’t seem to be waiting for the courts to intervene including Colorado and Minnesota.

In Minnesota, a 2023 law asked the state DOT and the Met Council to assess whether highway expansion projects were consistent with state climate goals, which include a 20% reduction in driving by 2050. This year legislation went a step further and required the agencies to look at all road projects whether or not they added a driving lane, and create mitigation plans for increased emissions and VMT that result from projects.

Colorado is a bit further along in this process and the state saw perhaps for the first time in the country a highway expansion plan abandoned. I-25 through Denver was shelved because Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a law in 2019 that required the state to reduce emissions 90% in 30 years. When you start looking around for where those emissions are coming from, transportation is a large slice of the pie chart. As Megan Kimble notes, the state offered a new vision of transportation going forward and other states should take note.

Why is this important?  Because we need to reduced emissions in order to keep global temperatures from rising and causing havoc with our ecosystems, thus creating problems for human habitation and financial systems as we discussed last week. Where do a huge chunk of those emissions come from? The transportation sector.

In fact in the United States, ~30% of emissions are from transportation, most of which is from passenger vehicles. And unlike the energy or building sectors, emissions seem to continue to rise from transportation, even as small numbers of electric vehicles are purchased. The fact of the matter is that we need to reduce VMT as well to reach climate goals, even if those miles are with electric vehicles. So there’s a lot of work to do on this front, but these two states are leading the way. As I’ve mentioned before, I hope California and other states are jealous of their leadership.


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