News | March 6, 2007

Conservation Group Urges CA Legislature To Use Bond Money On Congestion, Pollution Problems

Sacramento, CA — Today, leading national conservation group Environmental Defense urged the state legislature to incorporate environmental performance into transportation projects funded by bond money. At a Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearing, Kathryn Phillips, an Environmental Defense air pollution and transportation analyst said "The $20 billion transportation bond campaign promised Californians that they would get long-term congestion relief and better air quality. But unless the legislature steps in and gives specific guidance to the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and the California Transportation Committee (CTC) about how to prioritize projects, we're going to get the same old thing: more miles of lanes that quickly clog, and no real, long-term environmental benefits."

"Projects that deliver long-term congestion relief and cleaner air should be put at the top of the list for bond funding. To do anything less than this breaks faith with voters," Phillips said. The most important first step is for the legislature to prioritize bond applications according to their ability to deliver long-term, lasting congestion and emissions relief. Applicants must be required to quantify and demonstrate real results, and funding should flow to the projects with the best promise to improve quality of life and the environment in California for the long term.

This would require that applicants for new bond money take cost-effective actions to quantify and commit that new road building will be accompanied with real, long-term congestion and air quality relief. Solutions that can help road builders achieve congestion relief in high-volume corridors include, for example: building in performance targets for clean air, climate and congestion relief -- and holding transportation agencies accountable to achieving them; integrating quick incident response and information-feedback technologies into the road network; funding innovative, fast and cost-effective transit options together with new road projects, so that infrastructure for ideas like bus-rapid-transit is built into the system up front; investing in cleaner rail in major freight corridors, to help reduce truck traffic; and creating more consumer incentives like HOV and HOT lanes and pay-as-you-drive insurance that support drivers making choices that favor the environment . Where tolls are used, they should vary according to congestion levels, to encourage efficient use of roadways and pollution reduction. Computer modeling now allows applicants to quantify the environmental and mobility benefits of the performance measures they adopt – and allows these measures to be part of solving climate and air quality in California.

Recently CalTrans head Will Kempton testified before an Assembly joint committee hearing on transportation bond spending that traffic accidents and other incidents were responsible for about a third of the congestion on roadways. "That's a statistic that suggests that before anyone gets money for widening a freeway, they need to prove that they have put into place the mechanisms to make sure accidents and other incidents get taken care of fast," said Phillips. "This is just one example of a measure the CTC and CalTrans should be requiring applicants to demonstrate if they want to be put at the top of the list for new road funding."

On Wednesday, March 7, Phillips will testify before a joint hearing of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and the Environmental Quality Committee about how the state can ensure that only less-polluting construction equipment is used on projects funded by the bonds. That hearing begins at 1:30 p.m in Room 4203 in the Capitol Building.

SOURCE: Environmental Defense