U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   03/13/2003
Marsha Kaiser
on behalf of the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials
Director, Department of Planning and Capital Programming
Maryland Department of Transportation

CMAQ and Conformity programs

Founded in 1914, AASHTO represents the departments concerned with highway and transportation in the fifty States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Its mission is a transportation system for the nation that balances mobility, economic prosperity, safety and the environment.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is Marsha Kaiser. I am Director of Planning and Capital Programming for the Maryland Department of Transportation. I am here today to testify on behalf of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). We applaud your continuing commitment to improving air quality in your state and across the nation, and thank you for your leadership in holding this hearing to address transportation congestion and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ).

In my testimony today, first I will discuss “next-generation” refinements to the transportation conformity process to build on the experience we have gained over the last decade. We would like to see procedural modifications to conformity to provide for:

· The alignment and greater consistency between the transportation and air quality planning processes, including analytical tools and planning assumptions;

· Greater flexibility to implement cost effective emission reduction strategies; and

· Enhanced consultation on implementation of the new national standards for ozone and fine particulates.

Second, I will discuss AASHTO’s views on the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, which we believe should be continued with some added flexibility to enhance our ability to meet the dual challenges of congestion and air quality improvement.

Transportation Conformity

Background. The Clean Air Act closely aligned transportation and air quality planning through an analytical process called “transportation conformity.” The policy objective of transportation conformity is to coordinate air quality and transportation planning by ensuring that transportation plans are consistent with plans for attaining Federal air quality standards.

Mr. Chairman, I want to assure you that all of the State transportation officials across the country fully support the national goal of improving air quality and ensuring a healthy environment in all of our States. After ten years of experience, transportation and air quality agencies have learned a great deal about how to better coordinate their intertwined planning efforts. That experience has also exposed procedural weaknesses with transportation conformity that we believe can only be addressed legislatively. After ten years, it is appropriate for Congress to consider refinements to the conformity requirements.

The current transportation conformity regulations were drafted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) to implement provisions of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which more explicitly defined the process for ensuring that transportation plans and programs conform to State air quality implementation plans (SIPs). The dual policy objectives of transportation conformity are to:

· Coordinate the transportation and air quality planning processes; and

· Ensure that transportation plans and Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) are consistent with SIPs.

There is generally agreement among the transportation agencies that implement the conformity process that it has improved coordination between transportation and air quality plans and has vastly improved communications between transportation and air quality professionals. In addition, the process has been successful in raising awareness among decision makers of the connection between transportation and air quality and has promoted broader involvement in transportation planning by stakeholders.

Nevertheless, ten years of experience with transportation conformity has also exposed some weaknesses in the current procedures designed to integrate air quality and transportation planning through conformity:

· Misalignments and inconsistencies in planning assumptions, planning horizons, and modeling tools; and

· Absence of any flexibility to revise Transportation Control Measures without first revising the State air quality implementation plan (SIP).

The impact on transportation programs is substantial. Just since 1997, over 80 nonattainment or maintenance areas have gone into – or barely missed going into -- a conformity lapse, putting billions of dollars of transportation dollars at the risk. Process inefficiencies impose an additional administrative burden with sizable opportunity costs – scarce staff and resources are diverted from addressing the wide array of existing and emerging transportation policy challenges, including for example, safety and security or broader environmental and community objectives.

AASHTO has identified several procedural improvements to the conformity process improvements which would harmonize the transportation and air quality planning process and reinforce the role of conformity to ensure consistency with SIPs. The goal is simply to strengthen the connection between transportation and air quality planning by making common sense improvements to the conformity process that will benefit transportation and air quality agencies alike.

Transportation Conformity Procedure Revisions

Provide better integration and consistency in the transportation and air quality planning processes, timelines and updates, planning assumptions and modeling tools.

1. Align Planning Horizons.

Metropolitan transportation plans are required to have a minimum of a 20-year planning horizon. The time horizons for SIPs are much shorter – the SIP time horizons extend only to the attainment date, with the latest being 2010. As a result, there is frequently a gap of ten years or more between the horizon year for the SIP and the horizon year for the long-range transportation plan.

Transportation agencies must demonstrate conformity to the last year of the plan which means that on-road mobile sources are constrained to the motor vehicle emissions budget from the attainment year to the last year of the transportation plan unless SIPs specifically establish budgets for years after the attainment date yet within the transportation planning horizon. Also, there can be no credit taken for technology or other measures that may be available during the out-years unless those measures have a regulation in place and implementation is assured.

The mismatch in the timeframes for transportation and air quality plans has placed an undue burden on the on-road mobile sector where there are very few measures remaining that can be implemented that will yield significant emissions reductions. This is especially true as vehicles continue to get cleaner and federal controls on vehicles are phased in. This has caused problems for transportation agencies in making conformity determinations, which is a criterion for receiving Federal highway and transit funding.

Recommendation: Require conformity determination on the first ten years of the transportation plan or to the attainment date, whichever is the longer time period. For informational purposes, regional emissions analysis would be done on the remaining years of the transportation plan.

2. Provide More Predictable and Coordinated Planning Update Cycles and Consistent Planning Assumptions.

Long range transportation plans, which are for twenty year periods, must be updated not less frequently than every three years. Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) must be updated every two years. In addition, there are various SIP-related triggers in the transportation conformity rule that require plan and TIP updates within 18 months of various SIP actions. State Implementation Plans (SIPs) do not have a regular update cycle.

This has created a situation where transportation plans are updated regularly while SIPs are updated on a discretionary and sporadic basis, resulting in overlapping plan cycles, public confusion, less time spent on other important planning tasks and a continuous conformity process in many areas. In addition, the unpredictable nature of the 18-month SIP triggers for conformity redeterminations has caused uncertainty in the transportation planning and TIP development processes. Because transportation plans, TIPs and SIPs must use the latest planning assumptions each time they are updated, the assumptions used in SIPs tend to be older than – and inconsistent with -- those in transportation plans and TIPs. AASHTO believes that the conformity process must provide a more predictable and coordinated transportation and air quality plan update cycle along with consistent planning assumptions.

Recommendation: Require the update of metropolitan transportation plans at least every five years with transportation conformity determinations required after each update, unless more frequent updates of the TIP are needed. Reaffirm that TIPs must continue to be consistent with plans and eliminate the requirement for a conformity determination on TIPs because it is duplicative of the conformity requirement for plans.

3. Provide Coordinated and Consistent Use of Emissions Models and Emissions Factors

EPA recently released MOBILE6, the new generation of the emissions factor model used in all states except California. The California model, EMFAC2000 was released in 2001 and will be updated in the near future. The conformity rule requires that latest planning assumptions and emissions models be used in transportation plans, TIPs and SIPs when they are updated.

Nonattainment areas have two years to begin using MOBILE6 (or EMFAC2001) in conformity determinations with no corresponding requirement that SIPs be updated during that period using the new emissions factors model. (There are exceptions to this two-year phase in for areas that took credit for Tier II vehicle standards and heavy duty engine regulations in their SIPs—these areas have either one or two years depending on the specific conditions in their SIPs)

The thrust of the transportation conformity requirement was to provide for an integrated transportation and air quality planning process. However, requiring that regional emissions analysis be done with latest emissions model without requiring a SIP revision using that model prior to use in conformity is contrary to an integrated and seamless process. In fact, the different estimating techniques and parameters used in the models result in significant differences in estimates of current and future emissions levels. Conducting conformity analysis on transportation plans and TIPs that use one model while SIPs used an older model creates an apples to oranges comparison, contrary to Congressional intent and rationale for transportation conformity.

Use of latest planning assumptions requires that vehicle mix data be the most recently available data for use in conformity determinations and in SIPs. However, because SIPs are not updated on a regular basis, the vehicle mix data used to develop SIPs may be many years older than that required for use in transportation conformity determinations. This has caused problems in several areas simply because different data was used in the SIP planning process than is being used in transportation plan and TIP development.

Recommendation: Require that SIP budgets and conformity demonstrations be based on the same mobile-source emissions factors model and/or same vehicle fleet mix data. Require the use of the latest EPA-approved emissions models in SIPs prior to requiring their use in transportation plans and TIPs. Require the use of the latest vehicle fleet mix data in SIPs prior to requiring their use in transportation plans and TIPs

4. Synchronize Sanction Clocks

In the event of a conformity lapse, there are immediate consequences in that only certain types of transportation projects may proceed until the lapse is resolved. In contrast, in the event of a SIP failure, there is an 18-month period in which to correct the SIP failure prior to the imposition of sanctions. In essence, a conformity lapse functions as an immediate sanction with no time permitted to correct situations that might have led to the lapse.

Recommendation: Align the conformity lapse with same 18-month time clock for imposition of sanctions for SIP failures in order to provide a similar amount of time to correct deficiencies in transportation plans and TIPs.

5. Require Conformity Only for Nonattainment and Maintenance Areas.

Transportation conformity determinations must be undertaken for all nonattainment and maintenance areas. Currently, if an area has completed its 20-year maintenance period prior to the last year of transportation plan, the area still must meet conformity requirements all the way to the last year of the transportation plan – the “horizon year” (e.g., end of 20-year maintenance period is 2006 and the transportation plan horizon is 2025). Because some areas are approaching the end of their 20-year maintenance periods, this situation is beginning to surface. Similarly, when Maintenance Plans reach their 8-year update point, the new SIP budget need only be for 10 years out, rather than the 20+ years required for transportation plans.

Recommendation: Clarify that conformity determinations are required only for that time period when an area is classified as nonattainment or maintenance, and can be suspended when reclassified as attainment.

Provide flexibility to enable transportation agencies to respond to changing circumstances.

1. Allow Substitution of Transportation Control Measures (TCMs) Without a SIP Revision

Transportation control measures that are included in SIPs cannot be added, deleted, or changed unless a formal SIP revision is made with its accompanying processing delays, and a subsequent conformity determination. This discourages the inclusion of TCMs in SIPs with the result that transportation control measures are often included in transportation plans and TIPs and contribute to meeting emissions budget, but are only included in SIPs if they are absolutely essential to achieving needed emission reductions.

Recommendation: Permit the revision or substitution of transportation control measures that yield equivalent emission reductions without the need for either a SIP revision or a conformity determination.

2. During a Conformity Lapse, Consider Emission Reductions from Other than On-Road Mobile Sources

In the event of a conformity lapse, transportation agencies have very few tools at their disposal that will generate sufficient emission reductions to correct a lapse. This is increasingly the case because vehicle technologies continue to improve and new technologies are being phased in that will continue to reduce the amount of emissions from on-road motor vehicles. Further, the cost of emission reductions from on-road sources is higher than other sectors given the tight controls on these sources already.

At the same time, there are uncontrolled sources that account for large portions of emissions in nonattainment and maintenance areas (e.g., marine vessels, off-road vehicles, etc.) Such sources could generate emissions reductions more cost effectively than on-road mobile sources. The ability to “purchase” emissions credits from other sources would provide needed flexibility and cost effective emissions reductions.

Recommendation: In the event of a conformity lapse, permit all polluting sectors to be included in an analysis of strategies to reduce emissions in order to correct the conformity lapse and permit the purchase of emissions credits from other sources.

Develop an inclusive process for implementation of the new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone and fine particulates.

1. Require Adequate Consultation

EPA recently held public meetings on the implementation of the new ozone and PM NAAQS. These new standards are expected to affect many areas that are not currently nonattainment areas. A significant number of the new nonattainment areas are rural. The impacts will include transportation conformity requirements and new areas will need adequate time to prepare to meet these new requirements.

Recommendation: Require that EPA provide adequate notification of proposed, new requirements and consult with affected areas sufficiently in advance of new designations for those areas to be prepared to address any new transportation-related requirements.

2. Provide an Adequate Grace Period for New Nonattainment Areas to Demonstrate Conformity

Congress provided a one-year grace period for new areas to demonstrate conformity after the new ozone and/or PM2.5 non-attainment designations are made. One year may be insufficient for areas, particularly those that have not had to address conformity issues in the past.

Recommendation: Allow for a three-year period for an area to demonstrate conformity after the EPA makes designations under the ozone and PM2.5 NAAQS. Ensure that the SIPs for these areas are also developed within this timeframe, which is consistent with Clean Air Act requirements for SIP development within three years of a designation.

Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ)

Since the 1970s we have made remarkable progress in reducing air pollution, including emissions from motor vehicles. According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration[1] emissions from Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are down 59 percent and emissions from Carbon Monoxide (CO) are down 43 percent. Emissions from Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) are up slightly (5%) for all vehicles, but decreased by more than 30 percent for automobiles. The introduction of Tier II engine and gasoline standards and heavy duty diesel engine standards are predicted to decrease NOx emissions by 61 percent and 88 percent, respectively, by 2030. This is a remarkable success story when we recognize that these reductions have occurred at the same time we had 37 percent growth in population, 147 percent growth in gross domestic product and 143 percent growth in vehicle miles traveled.

Despite the progress we have made in reducing emissions, the complementary goal of congestion relief remains a challenge. Too many Americans are spending time stuck in traffic. Congestion deeply affects our nation’s ability to move goods and services and threatens the health of our economy. Congestion is no longer confined to urban areas, peak periods or work trips. According to the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2002 Urban Mobility Study, “Congestion is growing in metropolitan areas of every size…The average annual delay per peak road traveler climbed from 16 hours in 1982 to 62 hours in 2000.”

At least fifty percent of the congestion problem is associated with inadequate capacity. The remainder is caused by non-recurring delays, which result from vehicle crashes and breakdowns, weather, construction, special events, poor signalization and even the mix of vehicle types.

To address the dual goals of relieving congestion and reducing emissions, a diverse set of strategies and options – tailored to individual states and regions – is needed. The CMAQ Program was established in 1992 in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) with funding targeted for programs and projects that could address mobility and air quality needs simultaneously. CMAQ provided flexibility to fund a wide array of transportation improvements including more traditional projects such highway traffic flow and intersection projects, transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects as well as alternative fuels and new vehicle technologies, telecommuting, intermodal highway facilities, and inspection and maintenance programs.

After ten years and a $14 billion federal investment, the CMAQ Program enjoys broad support, largely attributable to its flexibility and broad eligibility. We believe that the key to the continued success of the CMAQ program is continuing and enhancing that flexibility.

AASHTO Recommendations for the CMAQ Program

· Continue the CMAQ Program with funding levels increasing commensurate with increases in the overall highway program.

· Extend the eligibility of CMAQ funds to all types of projects that reduce congestion or improve air quality, including traffic flow improvements and Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) capacity enhancement projects that have air quality benefits.

· Permit states to use CMAQ funds in attainment areas if emissions reductions benefit adjacent non-attainment or maintenance areas, or in areas identified as high risk.

· Eliminate the CMAQ three-year restriction on highway and transit projects, including operations and Inspection and Maintenance.

Mr. Chairman, I want to assure you that all of the State transportation officials across the country fully support the national goal of improving air quality and ensuring a healthy environment in all of our States. We strongly believe that environmental stewardship is very much a part of our fundamental transportation mobility mission, and continually seek new and innovative, multi-modal strategies to more effectively unite the two. We stand ready to work with you, the Members of your Committee and your staff to simplify, demystify and bring common sense to transportation conformity. And we urge you to broaden the CMAQ Program to enable funds to be used to more effective target the dual goals of improving mobility and air quality.

[1] U.S. Federal Highway Administration, Transportation and Air Quality: Selected Facts and Figures, January, 2000