U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   03/13/2003
 
Diane Steed
President
American Highway Users Alliance

CMAQ and Conformity programs

Introduction

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am honored to appear before you for the first time as the new President of the American Highway Users Alliance. Since 1932, The Highway Users has represented both motorists and a broad cross-section of businesses that depend on safe and efficient highways to transport their families, customers, employees, and products. From coast-to-coast, our members pay the user fees that finance the federal highway program, and they expect the government to be good stewards of their investment in our nation’s roads and bridges. Highway User members strongly believe that user fees paid on the nations roads should be rapidly returned to the roads through projects that make their motoring experience safer and less frustrating.

I use the term “rapidly” for a reason. Mr. Chairman, I know that you have been a leader among Senators who want to streamline the project delivery process. I want to take a second to thank you for your attention to the problems of project delay. You can count on us to support your efforts to advance highway projects quickly.

This morning I will focus my testimony mainly on our views of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program or CMAQ. However, I would also like to state for the record that I endorse the comments of those who testified last summer (and here today, if applicable) on the specific need to coordinate the submission of Clean Air Act State Implementation Plans (SIPs) with Statewide and Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Plans (TIPs).

We Care About Congestion Relief and Clean Air

When I tell someone that I work for the Highway Users, the frequent, joking reply is that he or she is one. Nearly every American can claim to be a highway user – regardless of race, creed, or even political affiliation. Representing such a broad group, I can say confidently that highway users, like all Americans, care about the quality of the air we breathe and want it to keep getting cleaner.

Of course, we have also lost patience with the increasing amount of traffic that chokes up our roads, delays our trips home to our families, causes accidents, strangles commerce, and even slows emergency vehicles when time really matters most.

With that in mind, I am so pleased to speak to you about the Clean Air Act and the CMAQ program – a transportation program that should address both the problems of congestion and air pollution.

Clean Air Progress

The good news is that we have a freer, more mobile society than ever and our air is cleaner. The dramatic improvements in air quality are truly a testament to the outstanding benefits of the Clean Air Act. Incredibly, today’s car on the road emits less pollution than a 1960’s car sitting in its driveway with its engine off. And more progress has been made in mobile source pollution reduction than any other source. For most metropolitan areas, mobile source emissions are no longer the principal source of pollution; for many, they aren’t even second.

Since 1970, there is 28% less carbon monoxide in the air, 39% less sulfur dioxide, 42% less volatile organic compounds, 75% less particulate matter, and lead pollution has been all but eliminated. In fact, the only pollutant that has increased since 1970 has been Nitrous Oxides. However the amount of NOx being emitted from automobiles is down over 31 percent.

At the same time, the population has grown 38%, transportation energy consumption has gone up 61%, there are 71% more drivers, and 99% more vehicles. And most impressively, vehicle-miles-traveled or VMT has increased nearly point-by-point with the gross domestic product at 148% and 158%, respectively. This is no coincidence. Mobility leads to economic growth.

In the State of the Union address, President Bush introduced his pollution-free fuel cell car initiative by noting that “the greatest environmental progress will come about… through technology and innovation”. When contrasting the growth in vehicle miles traveled with the reductions in Clean Air Act pollutants, it is clear that technology and innovation have done far more to clean the air than increased travel has done to sully it. For example, today’s diesel truck engine is eight times cleaner than an engine built just a dozen years ago. And with new technology for dramatically cleaner diesel fuels and engines coming online, it is clear that technological advancement leading to cleaner air is only gaining in momentum.

A Major Flaw in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments

When the Clean Air Act Amendments were written in 1990, there was an assumption from EPA models that increased vehicle-miles of travel (VMT) would be a major source of increased air pollution. As I have already discussed, this has not been the case. VMT has gone up; pollution has gone down. EPA’s models did not reflect the improvements that would be realized by technology. But due to this flaw in the CAAA, State Implementation Plans for air quality conformity are not approved unless States include projects to reduce VMT. If States do not show how their plans would reduce VMT, the EPA can impose sanctions that freeze money for highway projects.

Which CMAQ Projects Work and Which Do Not

Mr. Chairman, last summer this Committee held a hearing on CMAQ and conformity. One common conclusion reached by several witnesses was that the biggest environmental bang for the buck comes from traffic flow improvements, diesel engine retrofits, and vehicle inspection and maintenance programs. Yet, according to the EPA, the highest priority for CMAQ funds is the implementation of transportation control measures (TCMs) intended to reduce VMT. The use of the word “control” is telling. TCMs are intended to control the “bad” people who either need or choose to drive alone. These measures are the “carrots and sticks” advocated by some anti-car, anti-motorist planners and groups who believe that government should be in the business of forcing people out of their cars. TCMs sit uneasily with a population accustomed to basic freedoms. However, even if that were not the case, TCMs are doomed to failure for another reason: They are directed mainly at commuters – but over 80% of trips are NOT commutes. It should be no surprise that TCMs have little to no proven track record in causing measurable clean air progress or congestion relief.

What should be clear is that there are serious flaws in the CMAQ program. And the reasons are actually quite simple. First, road improvements that increase capacity for single occupant vehicles are prohibited. In other words, by law, the vast majority of drivers idling in congestion cannot get any relief under the program. Second, there is no measurement of the projects funded under the program so there is no incentive for prioritize the most effective projects. For example, according to a recent Federal Highway Administration report, transit improvements cost $272,000 per ton of hydrocarbon removed while traffic signalization improvements only cost $23,000 per ton. Yet inexplicably, the year that this data was reported, transit received 47% of all CMAQ funds while only 32% went to traffic lights.

Some of the Most Effective Projects Are Ineligible for Funding

Many projects that would result in clean air progress and congestion relief are not mutually exclusive. Nowhere is that more clear than in a comprehensive examination of the benefits of making modest improvements to unclog America’s worst bottlenecks. In 1999, we analyzed the worst traffic bottlenecks in the country and calculated the benefits of improving them from what engineers call level of service “F” (or failing) to just passable level of service “D”. What we found was astonishing. If the worst 167 bottlenecks were unclogged, the average emissions of volatile organic compounds would drop by 44 percent, carbon monoxide would be reduced 45 percent. Greenhouse gases would drop over 70%. At the same time, traffic delays would be reduced by 71 percent, saving the average commuter 40 minutes per roundtrip. Clearly, a comprehensive program to relieve traffic bottlenecks is an example of a program that should meet the logical requirements for an effective Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program. But under the current program it is ineligible because it would provide capacity for single occupancy vehicles.

In addition, vehicle scrappage programs are ineligible under CMAQ. The EPA estimates that the dirtiest 10 percent of vehicle contribute 40 percent of the pollution. Providing incentives to scrap old, dirty vehicles would do nothing for congestion relief, but it would do far more to improve air quality than trying in vain to convince people to give up their cars.

Recommendations to Improve the CMAQ Program

Although we clearly have concerns with the CMAQ program, fortunately the majority of problems can be remedied with only minor statutory adjustments. We believe the CMAQ program can be restructured to better meet the true pollution-reduction goals of the Clean Air Act. At the same time, these program improvements can markedly reduce traffic congestion. We recommend the following:

(1) Ease CMAQ’s inflexibility. Allow all transportation projects that reduce congestion and Clear Air Act pollutants to be eligible for funding.

(2) Focus on technological improvements instead of trying to get people out of their cars. Let’s be realistic: TCMs aren’t convincing people to stop driving and they never will. And changes in VMT are not accurate indicators of air pollution anyway.

(3) When funding CMAQ projects, measure the benefits and costs of alternative strategies to relieve congestion and reduce air pollution. Based on those criteria, engage in projects that can be shown to do the most good for congestion and air quality. DOT should report results and develop best practices for obligating CMAQ funds.

(4) Frustrated drivers stuck in traffic would appreciate a targeted program that fixes the worst bottlenecks. Give motorists a break from traffic jams and clean the air! Traffic congestion is positively nightmarish in many parts of the country. We’re wasting 3.6 billion hours and 5.7 billion gallons of fuel in delay. The air quality, safety, and time management benefits of unclogging those bottlenecks would be extraordinary.

Conclusion

Since 1991, $14 billion has been authorized for the CMAQ program. But CMAQ doesn’t reduce congestion and clean the air because of its name alone. Changes in the way the account is administered could go a long way toward realizing the transportation-related goals of the Clean Air Act. We look forward to working with you as you reconsider the structure of this program. I’d be happy to answer your questions at the appropriate time.

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