Friday, January 19, 2018

Decarbonizing transportation: What state DOTs can do

Having recently spent a few days meeting with several thousand of my friends and colleagues in transportation (otherwise known as the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board), I wanted to share a few nuggets of information I picked up.
What can state DOTs do to advance decarbonization of the transportation system?
First of all, it’s encouraging that this was a prominent topic for discussion, including in a workshop dedicated to it.
Some general thoughts gleaned from various presenters and commentators:
·      The transportation sector is getting increased attention as the electricity generation sector is – in many places – rapidly cleaning up, leaving transportation as the next big challenge.
·      State DOTs need to move beyond their normal limits, getting involved in areas of the transportation space where they may have no direct jurisdiction but which may be critical for decarbonization efforts.
·      Many states have adopted a “toolbox” approach to greenhouse gas emissions reductions, but likely the “big two” tools are promoting electric vehicle adoption (or, more precisely, increasing electric vehicle miles traveled – eVMT) and carbon pricing.  All the other measures are probably only nibbling at the problem.
·      And speaking of those toolboxes, how about evaluating how they are working?  A number of states adopted climate change action plans or energy master plans about 10 years ago or so.  A few have decided (I think it’s a great idea) to go back to those plans and take a look at how many of the proposed measures were actually adopted, how well they worked, and what lessons can be learned for planning the next 10 years.
And a few state-specific notes:
·       Minnesotans are becoming very attuned to climate change issues, as the state is experiencing higher temperature increases than any other state.   Minnesota DOT has set up a “Sustainable Transportation Steering Committee” that plans to publish an annual scorecard (first edition here) based on targets for reduced greenhouse gas emissions in MnDOT facilities, fleet, highway operations, roadside management, and construction areas. 
·      In Washington State the transportation sector accounts for a whopping 44% of greenhouse gas emissions (a lot of electricity is provided through hydroelectric power), leading WSDOT to keep climate change issues on the front burner.  In addition to their well-known commitment to the West Coast Electric Highway (being strengthened through deployment of new Fast Chargers), the agency is funding electric buses, looking into the possibility of electric ferries (!), operating a new Active Transportation Division, and pursuing a wide range of partnership initiatives with other agencies and local governments.  The state already has a carbon cap in place, including transportation, but does not yet have a “trade” or “invest” component to the scheme.

·      I think most of us would put California in the lead for dealing with transportation decarbonization, as they are in so many spheres.  Perhaps their most important initiative right now is the carbon cap-and-invest program, which extends to the transportation sector.  But Caltrans is also undertaking a wide range of important activities.  To name a few: GHG emissions from department operations have been reduced by 40 in 6 years; $220 million a year is now programmed for Active Transportation(!); construction and materials (e.g., concrete) are being researched; the highway design manual has been revised to encourage flexilibility for multimodal transportation (called “facilities,” not “amenities”); the new high-speed rail line is planned as the spine of the state’s transportation network.  Lots of good stuff!

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