Date: April 18, 2002 Contacts: Jennifer Burris, Media Relations Associate Andrea Durham, Media Relations Assistant (202) 334-2138; e-mail <email@example.com>
EMBARGOED: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
National Transportation Air Quality Program Benefits Local Areas, Warrants Reauthorization
WASHINGTON -- Congress should retain the sole federal surface-transportation program that funds projects to reduce pollution and traffic congestion in areas that must comply with national air quality standards, says a new report from the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies' National Research Council. Strategies tailored by local agencies to address regional pollution and congestion problems are among the program's most important contributions.
"The magnitude of the air quality problem in the United States is large and this program is relatively small," said Martin Wachs, chair of the committee that wrote the report and director, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Berkeley. "But we believe that the projects it funds can help make the difference at the margin in whether an area meets pollution-reduction targets."
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program should be modified to reflect changes over the past decade in motor vehicle travel and emissions, the committee added. As vehicles and fuels have become "cleaner," some projects that were effective in the past may be less so in the future. New knowledge about the adverse health effects of pollutants, such as particulates, also calls for different approaches. Other chief recommendations from the committee include keeping air quality improvement a high priority in the program, increasing the role of state and local air quality agencies in reviewing proposed projects, and improving methods for evaluating projects.
Measuring the program's cost-effectiveness at the national level is not possible because the basic data needed to carry out a complete evaluation are not available. However, the potential benefits of the program are sufficiently great to warrant its continuation, the committee said. For example, the program's funds are restricted to projects that reduce pollution, making it the only transportation program with this focus. It enables local areas to experiment with nontraditional strategies for improving air quality and reducing congestion that receive limited funding from other sources. It also encourages new partnerships and interagency arrangements in developing projects.
DOT should make the program more amenable to scientific evaluation by using program funds to encourage more assessments of funded projects, the report says. Even though a national-level assessment of the program's performance is not possible, the agency should evaluate the performance of a sample of projects across regions, broadly disseminate the results, and conduct research on appropriate analysis methods.
Congress enacted the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990, imposing strict new deadlines for meeting national air quality requirements. To help areas meet the mandates, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program was established the following year and reauthorized in 1998 for an additional six years with a total budget of $8.1 billion. During reauthorization, questions were raised about the program's effectiveness in reducing emissions and improving air quality, and Congress ordered an examination of the program by the National Research Council.
The program's funds are distributed to states according to a formula based on the severity of air pollution and the size of affected populations. At the local level, metropolitan planning organizations typically coordinate investment of funds in new facilities and services, with support for operations generally limited to three years. So far, most projects have concentrated on transit and traffic flow improvements, such as freeway incident management systems, traffic signal improvements, and expanded transit services, such as new express bus routes.
Projects that improve air quality should remain the program's major focus, the report says. Consistent with this focus and their charge, state and local air quality agencies should be more directly involved in evaluating proposals for program funding. Any local project that can demonstrate the potential to reduce emissions from transportation sources should be eligible for the program's funding. Congestion-relief projects that can demonstrate pollutant reduction should also be supported, but existing restrictions on new highway construction should be maintained.
To date, the program has focused on regions with ozone and carbon monoxide pollution problems. At a minimum, all pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act should be covered by the program, both for determining project eligibility and for allocating funds, the report says. These pollutants should include particulates, as well as sulfur dioxide and air toxics.
The study was sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under congressional charter. A committee roster follows.