A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

CLEAN-TEA will revolutionize federal transportation policy

Later this year, Congress is expected to pass a new transportation bill, which will set the country's transportation and infrastructure priorities. It's long been expected that the new federal transportation policy would address climate change, since automobiles and light trucks generate over 20% of the nation's greenhouse gases.

Last week, a formal bill was introduced. It still has a long way to go, with countless revisions and amendments in the works. But the broad outlines look to be positively revolutionary. Quoting from a March 12 press release from Rep. Earl Blumenauer's (D-OR) office [emphases are mine]:

Washington, DC – Yesterday, Sens. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) and Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), Steven La Tourette (R-Ohio), Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introduced The Clean Low-Emissions Affordable New Transportation Equity Act or CLEAN TEA.  The bill is predicated upon passage of a comprehensive climate change bill, such as the one considered by the Senate earlier this year, which would generate revenue for the Federal government. Under CLEAN TEA, ten percent of the revenue would be used to create a more efficient transportation system and lower greenhouse gas emissions through strategies including funding new or expanded transit or passenger rail; supporting development around transit stops; and making neighborhoods safer for bikes and pedestrians...

Sen. Tom Carper said: “Today, we fund our transportation system through a gas tax, meaning we pay for roads and transit by burning gasoline. When people drive less, our transportation budgets dry up. This means states and localities that reduce oil use, lower greenhouse emissions and save their constituents money end up getting their budgets cut. But CLEAN TEA reverses this negative funding policy by sending money to states and localities based on how much they reduce emissions. Now, we in the Congress have the great opportunity to address many national problems at once – finding additional funding for transportation infrastructure, building money-saving transportation alternatives and lowering greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.”

“Reducing emissions from the transportation sector will not only help us achieve our global warming goals, but will provide additional benefits to the environment, public health, the economy, and quality of life,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer.  This legislation will help finance our shift to a low-carbon transportation system that provides transportation choices, creates safe and healthy communities, and saves consumers money. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that any climate legislation we advance in the House recognizes the opportunities provided by the transportation sector.”

This arrangement could very well benefit Maine: our current greenhouse gas emissions are high, but Mainers have a high propensity to use transit and rail services where they're available (witness the success of the privately-run Concord Coach intercity bus service, or the Downeaster). A few new transit routes along key corridors - Portland to Lewiston/Auburn, Bangor to Ellsworth, Biddeford/Saco to Portsmouth - could reduce Maine's greenhouse gas emissions considerably, and put our state at the front of the line for these new federal investments.

But it can only happen if our state and regional transportation agencies stop wasting their time and our money with zombie highway expansion plans from the 20th century. A $40 million tollbooth on the Maine Turnpike, for instance, won't do squat to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions: legacy highway projects like these are a waste of precious money that would be better spent on better bus service.

The takeaway for Maine is this: if our state wants to receive federal support for infrastructure in the future, we need to start planning smaller highways and expanded transit services today yesterday.


Corey Templeton said...

From today's press herald concerning 'traffic problems' in Gorham: "...any feasible, long-range solution is likely to include new asphalt, such as a turnpike spur or some other type of arterial highway to handle automobile and truck traffic."



C Neal said...

Yeah, the traffic engineers may believe that, but the EPA's about to regulate greenhouse gases as a "harmful pollutant," the federal government is going to be a whole lot more reluctant to fund new highways, and the state can't afford new asphalt.

A turnpike spur or new arterial is wishful thinking, and nothing more. I'm not too concerned.