Wednesday, March 11, 2009

PDX congestion dropped 1/3 in 2008 -- bigger bridge desperately needed!

If they don't build that 12-lane monstrosity, how will they ever get the congestion back to where it should be??? (Meaning the level that justifies endless paving for the Road Gang.)

Of course, the same is true for Salem: Congestion is dropping fast. But we're just too small to measure. But Salem blowing $600M on an unneeded third auto bridge is at least as stupid as Portland blowing $4.2B on unneeded expansion of a bi-state bridge.

Speaking of why these bridges are totally the wrong direction, here's this insightful article on how ODOT is going to have to do a fast about-face once we admit that CO2 is a pollutant:

But if the Obama Administration moves forward to regulate greenhouse gases, that could all change -- whether or not EPA institutes cap-and-trade or any other new sort of climate policy.

How? The key lies in one of the wonkiest of all policy areas: "transportation conformity." The Clean Air Act says that the regional bodies that spend federal transportation dollars must write plans that "conform" to a state's clean air implementation plan (known by the cognoscenti as a "SIP"). So when these regional bodies dole out federal dollars, they must certify that these plans will ensure that the plans won't harm air quality (DOT must sign off after consulting with EPA). Building transportation projects means pollutants, but usually the transportation plans can adopt Transportation Control Measures ("TCM"s) to reduce these pollutants.

So what does that have to do with land use? So far, nothing. But that is only because the pollutants that federal law cares about are so-called "criteria" pollutants: particulates, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, etc.

If, however, EPA decides that carbon dioxide is also a criteria pollutant -- which it probably will -- then that means transportation plans must also fit in under state limits on carbon dioxide emissions. And that might transform federal transportation policy, because reducing carbon dioxide, far more than any other pollutant, means reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled. And reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled means changing land use patterns.

This is all complex and contingent, and the reason why lawyers (some, at least) get paid the big bucks. But to go through the motions again:

1. If EPA regulates carbon dioxide, then state implementation plans will have to show how they will reduce carbon emissions.

2. If state plans aim to reduce carbon emissions, then transportation plans will have to "conform" to them.

3. If transportation plans must conform to them, then these plans will have to show how they will reduce vehicle miles traveled.

4. In order to reduce vehicle miles traveled, land use patterns are going to have to change: they will have to be more compact, and rely more on transit.

What about those local governments that control land use? Why should they care? Because if they don't, then they won't get federal money for their transportation projects. And that will mean a lot to them.

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