Why Should Environmentalists Be Concerned About Transportation?

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Hotline, Winter 1998

GASP stands for the Group Against Smog and Pollution. Transportation is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution nationally: transportation contributes up to 50-60% and more than 50% of our air pollution in most urban and suburban areas. That fact alone ought to give us some concern, but in addition, transportation produces pollution from runoff, from roads and parking lots. This is a major source of water pollution in urban and suburban areas.

Leaking fuel storage tanks, automobile junkyards, and battery and tire storage facilities all add to water pollution. Reabsorption of air pollutants into surface waters near urban and suburban areas is a growing concern. Road expansion and the sprawl development that follows exacerbate water pollution problems by spreading out pollution and consuming wetlands and other habitats that help the environment absorb pollution.

Transportation contributes about 30% of the carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. — the primary greenhouse gas. Transportation is second only to electric utilities in the emission of carbon dioxide. Global warming is the subject of much discussion now and vehicle use is at the heart of it.

We all know by now that the U.S. consumes more energy per capita than any other nation, and our energy use is dominated by transportation. Transportation is 97 % dependent upon petroleum, far more than any other sector of our society. Our cars and trucks use more gasoline than they did a decade ago.

The paving of as much of one half of our urban and suburban areas for roads and parking is dramatically reducing the amount of land available for agriculture and open space. In most metropolitan areas the conversion of forest, farm, and open space to sprawled residential and commercial development is out-pacing population growth by factors ranging from 3-to-1 to 15-to-1. This is reducing the economic viability of many urban areas (including our urban area) and creating an economic imbalance between cities and inner suburbs and the newly created ex-urbs.

Sprawl patterns of development harm the overall environment of urban and suburban areas in a number of ways:

  • Sprawl directs government spending into subsidizing inefficient infrastructure extensions; water and sewer lines, new schools chasing new subdivisions, and roads.
  • Sprawl discourages the development of public transit and encourages the use of the single occupant automobile, which increases peak hour tie-ups and increases pollution.
  • Sprawl encourages the building of more and more roads to make it easier for development to move farther and farther away from places of employment.

We have all become familiar with the assorted health problems associated with air pollution. Motor vehicle emissions are responsible for a major portion of the health problems we experience.

The above reasons and more are why we oppose the construction of the Mon-Fayette/Southern Beltway Toll Road.

Much of the factual information was obtained from the Surface Transportation Policy Project.

by Marilyn Skolnick, GASP Board Member