Transportation and the Environment: Greener and Cleaner Than Ever Before

(American Road and Transportation Builders Association 9-22-2010) Through the use of new technologies, innovative project design and construction techniques, cleaner-burning fuels, and intensive recycling of waste materials, the transportation sector has been the driving force behind much of the dramatic improvement in the U.S. environment over the past 40 years.  That story, documented with recent federal government and private sector data, is detailed in a new publication from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).
"The 'good news' in this 28-page report, Transportation and the Environment: Greener & Cleaner, is going to surprise many people," ARTBA President Pete Ruane says.  "The facts about transportation and the environment just don't back-up the views and emotionally-charged rhetoric that no-growth advocates continue to spin for the media, government officials and the general public."
Ruane announced the report's release at the Greater Baltimore Committee Transportation Summit September 22 in Baltimore, Md.  He spoke on a panel session that included U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari and Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.).  Ruane told the group federal data make clear that adding needed road and transit capacity to America's transportation system can be accomplished along with continued environmental improvements.
According to U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) data, motor vehicle emissions have dropped significantly since the 1970s.  Carbon monoxide emissions are down 62 percent, carbon dioxide emissions are down 38 percent, volatile organic compounds are down 73 percent and particulate matter emissions are down 50 percent.  
This progress is extraordinary, Ruane says, given that during the same period the U.S. Gross Domestic Product increased 167 percent, the total number of miles driven by Americans increased 157 percent, the number of vehicles on U.S. roads increased 112 percent and the U.S. population increased 41 percent, while highway and transit capacity grew at much slower rates.
A White House Council on Environmental Quality report cited in the ARTBA publication shows that in 2008, wetlands acreage on federally-funded highway projects increased 170 percent between 1996 and 2008, creating nearly three acres of wetlands for every acre impacted.
The industry's construction equipment is much more efficient and cleaner than that used to build transportation projects in previous generations, according to Ruane.  
Construction contractors are also employing emission-smart practices like turning off heavy equipment rather than letting it idle, keeping their equipment maintained for maximum efficiency and lower emissions, using lower-emitting fuels (increasingly including biodiesel) and finding local sources for building materials to cut shipping-related emissions.  Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Diesel Technology Forum show the results:
The entire U.S. construction industry, which includes transportation construction, accounts for a mere 1.7% of the total greenhouse gas emissions and that will continue to fall as more fuel efficient equipment replaces older machines;

  • Off-road particulate emissions have been reduced by 85 percent since 1996; and
  • Off-road nitrogen oxide emissions have fallen by 70 percent since 1996.

When it comes to recycling, the ARTBA report shows, the U.S. transportation construction industry is a leader, saving taxpayers literally billions of dollars on publicly-funded road projects while simultaneously reducing demand for petroleum, landfills, quarries and gravel pits.
According to the National Asphalt Pavement Association, 100 million tons of asphalt used in roadways, runways and parking lots are reclaimed annually.  Approximately 75 million tons are recycled and applied again as a hot-mix or warm-mix asphalt surface.   The nation's concrete producers are also major consumers of industrial by-products that otherwise would end up in landfills.  They annually utilize, for example, as a reinforcing and binding agent, 15 million tons of fly-ash, the fine particulate ash that results from the combustion of a solid fuel, like coal.
Increased investment in federal transportation programs over the past decade has paid dividends for the environment, according to government sources documented in the ARTBA publication.  According to the Federal Highway Administration's National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse, from 1992 to 2009, state and local governments invested $9.2 billion of their federal highway funding to transportation enhancement projects.  More than half of that money, 56 percent, went to build bicycle and pedestrian facilities and fund bike/pedestrian safety programs.  Almost 20 percent was directed to landscaping, planting of wild flowers and other scenic beautification.  
"Greener & Cleaner" also features profiles on five recent transportation improvement projects (Massachusetts, Oregon, Minnesota, Maryland, and N.Y.-N.J.) that are setting new standards for environmental innovation, energy savings, greenhouse gas reduction and wetlands restoration.
"If America is to meet its future mobility and environmental challenges ahead then it must invest in significant new capacity for highway and public transit systems—and not invest in one mode at the expense of the other," Ruane says.  "We must also continue to encourage and support the development of new technologies that result in ever cleaner and more efficient energy use in the transportation sector."
Established in 1902, ARTBA represents the transportation design and construction industry in the Nation's Capital.
Editor's Note: A digital copy of the publication can be found on the homepage of
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