Patience is a Virtue… They Say

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Hotline, Summer 1998

People have often asked this writer, “Don’t you ever get discouraged by all the anti-environmental actions committed by transportation departments at every level?”

My response is always “Patience is a virtue” and with all due modesty this writer knows that she can wait while the rest of the world catches up to her.

For years at various public hearings I have testified that if all agencies continue to work separately, none of our environmental problems will ever get solved. Well, imagine my surprise when I received, from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, their latest publication, “Strategic Plan for Environmental Research 1998–2003,” better later than never I thought. The publication is 30 pages long, but rather than boring you with a page by page report, I’ll attempt to summarize the key points.

Their first discussion is entitled, “Seeing the Whole Picture: An Integrated Approach,” and they conclude, “Research on holistic” (the latest buzz word) “approaches to identify the cumulative and indirect effects of transportation is part of this strategic plan.” (Too bad this approach was not used for the Mon/Fayette-Southern Beltway where they deliberately segmented the project to minimize the reporting of environmental effects.) The Strategic Plan emphasizes the development of research tools and techniques that apply, not only to project development, but also to system planning, maintenance and operations, and redevelopment. In addition, the Environmental Research Program develops training for managers to air their decision-making on environmental and community impact assessment (emphasis mine). I hope that this is not a case of “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

The vision of this plan is “To become an international leader in transportation environmental research, development, and technology transfer.” (I would settle for only in the U.S.A., but maybe I am thinking too small.) Their mission is “To develop and disseminate innovative and effective research products and services that help the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and its partners implement surface transportation programs in a manner that protects and enhances the natural and human environment.” The report then lists the various focus areas:, including natural environment, under which is air quality and climate, wetlands, water quality, habitat, and ecosystems. The other focus area is human environment, which includes communities, neighborhoods and people, environmental justice, noise, cultural, historic, archaeological, and scenic resources. And finally, integrated decision-making, under which is listed integrated transportation and environmental decisions.

Each program is described in more detail, and just to give you a flavor, I’ll summarize the Air Quality and Climate section. The Program Goal: Develop analytical techniques and cost-effective mitigation strategies to reduce the amount of transportation-related emissions and greenhouse gases.

They acknowledge that motor vehicle travel generates emissions of various air pollutants and greenhouse gases, and that many of the pollutants (criteria pollutants) have health impacts. In addition, they acknowledge that air pollutants can reduce visibility, damage crops and vegetation, damage materials and buildings, and affect water quality and ecosystems.

“There is broad international consensus that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing potentially harmful changes in the Earth’s atmosphere.” “Transportation plans must be shown to conform with the State Implementation Plan (SIP), which details the steps that states will take to attain the NAAQS (National Ambient Air Quality Standards). Reducing on-road mobile source emissions by 20% in 10 years is identified as a strategic objective in FHWA’s National Strategic Plan” (emphasis mine). It’s about time they admitted that vehicles are a part of the problem. Their objective “is to develop analytical tools, and provide training and technical assistance to predict emissions under the current NAAQS, greenhouse gas emissions and emissions under the new NAAQS” (ozone precursors and PM-2.5).

As environmentalists, we must watch FHWA and PennDOT to see how they implement this document. If you want a copy for yourself, call the Environmental Analysis Divis.: 202-366-2069 for publication number: FHWA-PR-98-016.

by Marilyn Skolnick, GASP Board Member