During 2008, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), through its Transportation Planning Capacity Building program, conducted a series of peer exchange workshops across the country. FHWA designed three of these workshops for transportation agencies and organizations on the topic of integrating climate change considerations into the transportation planning process. This report summarizes the results of the first of these workshops held in Albany, NY on September 24, 2008. Representatives from metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and departments of transportation (DOTs) from around the country participated in the day-long event.
FHWA developed this report to summarize the workshop discussions and results for the use and benefit of MPOs and DOTs and their planning partners across the country. The report presents the key themes emerging from the workshop and summarizes participant presentations, discussions and issues of common concern. The report also includes a summary of workshop participants' recommendations to FHWA and other national transportation entities that will help support the climate change planning work of DOTs and MPOs.
Several key themes emerged from the workshop discussions and presentations, including the following:
Peter Plumeau began the workshop by noting the high level of interest in this event by DOTs and MPOs from around the country. The objectives of the workshop were to share information and experiences between fellow DOT and MPO planning and executive staff, to learn the state of the practice in the field, to build peer networks, and to advise FHWA and others about the needs and issues of DOTs and MPOs as they integrate climate change considerations into the planning process.
Cindy Burbank presented information on the connection of transportation and climate change based on elements of the NCHRP 20-24(59) project she is conducting for TRB.
Nationally, the transportation sector contributes 28% of green house gas (GHG) emissions; of this, 78% comes from highway vehicles. This makes it essential for transportation leaders to motivate this sector to reduce its carbon footprint. The projected impacts of climate change on natural and human systems are predicted to be severe, and many of these factors will affect transportation networks. Some states have set ambitious GHG emission reduction targets, but these will be daunting to achieve without serious action.
Ms. Burbank focused her discussion on policy conclusions from recent studies. These studies indicate that the largest reductions in GHG emission will come from improved efficiencies in vehicle technology. She presented a multidimensional a "four-legged stool" model of strategies to reduce transportation sector GHG emissions contained four essential components: Vehicles, Fuels, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), and Vehicle/Systems Operations.
The first two legs of the stool, vehicle technology improvements and alternative fuels, would create the largest reductions in GHG emissions. VMT, the third leg, will also need to be reduced or capped to meet GHG targets, especially with a growing population. The fourth leg is particularly noteworthy and often not as apparent: vehicle and system operations. Actions such as congestion management, ITS initiatives, and speed management have been cited in recent studies to have a 10-20% GHG reduction potential. Both DOTs and MPOs are involved in these activities, and integrating these initiatives into the planning process can contribute to lowering GHG emissions.
Ms. Burbank said that higher energy prices would probably lead to the most significant changes. Mileage fees and congestion pricing will be important pricing tools that can also help finance the transportation system while reducing emissions. Compact development and integrated land use planning are also important steps toward reducing carbon emissions; however, they entail major societal changes that may prove difficult to make. Expanded use of pubic transit will also help reduce emissions. However, because transit currently carries only 1% of passenger-miles traveled in the U.S., it should not be viewed as a panacea.
While states across the nation are developing (or have developed) climate action plans, there are significant differences among the various states' strategies to reduce GHG emissions. For example, Washington State has 64% of the action plan strategies within smart growth and transit, while Montana and Connecticut have only 8% of their plans dedicated to these activities. The bottom line is that a comprehensive, tailored set of policies are needed to enable the nation to cut GHG by recommended targets, and the transportation sector plays a critical role in the success of meeting these challenges. Climate change is unprecedented and inevitable, and if not properly planned for, there could be a downward spiral mirroring the current financial crisis. Transportation organizations and agencies can play a major role in many of the critical strategies to address climate change.
Paul Hoole of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) spoke about the many activities the DOT has initiated to mitigate GHG emissions. These include Green LITES (LEED lights for highway construction), planting trees, and offering "feebates" to incentivize alternative modes, fuels, and vehicles. Within the DOT, there is a high level of executive commitment and buy-in, but there are many pressing priorities with which climate change issues compete. The greatest challenge for NYSDOT is limited staff resources to carry out the many plans and actions that the DOT wants to pursue to cut emissions.
NYSDOT has developed an agency-wide climate and energy team with about 70 interested staff that form five workgroups around different themes. The climate and energy team assists the Department in its efforts to reduce state-wide emission contributed by the transportations sector. The workgroups focus on several issues: societal behavioral changes, internal DOT behavioral changes, internal operation changes, forecasting energy constraints and emissions from a transportation perspective, adapting to climate change impacts, and internal and external communications. These intra-agency groups plan to reduce VMT by 10% in 10 years. Committing staff resources will be essential to the success of these efforts, and currently, there are many competing priorities and resources within the agency. Regardless, it is imperative to be optimistic and work hard to make the best decisions to accomplish goals.
The Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) is pursuing several activities to help reduce GHG emissions. These include collaboration and communication with external parties, coordinating land use and transportation planning, and encouraging VMT reductions.
In 2005, CDTC partook in and helped plan a "Colloquy" in New York State on the future of travel that examined the many possible demographic, economic, policy, technology, and other changes that may affect transportation planning. The Colloquy participants, who include national experts in a variety of fields, examined factors influencing shifts in travel over the next 30 to 50 years.
An essential lesson that emerged from the Colloquy and a current guiding principle for planning at CDTC is that models are helpful tools but do not perfectly predict the future. There are several "underminers" to the predictability of patterns and transportation models, including climate change, fuel supply and vulnerability, state and federal funding crises, and changing cultural perceptions and norms.
CDTC integrates climate change into the planning process through its long range plan, known as "New Visions 2030," by fostering a cohesive vision, developing regional consensus and engaging the public, and integrating land use with transportation planning at a regional level. The focus of New Visions 2030 is accessibility and mobility, with a special emphasis on VMT reductions. CDTC has used scenario planning to help integrate land use and transportation. CDTC has developed and applied four future scenarios: two centralized growth scenarios and two sprawl scenarios. As part of its "branding" and to foster public engagement, CDTC has used the concept of a "Quality Region" to convey the quality of life that metropolitan planning promotes as well as a focus on regional, "big picture" planning. New Visions 2030 has received high levels of public and business support.
Binghamton, NY is a small metro area of 160,000 people. Binghamton has been in economic decline for several years, as major manufacturers have left the region. Like other areas around the country, there has been a "hollowing of the core" and growth in the region has occurred in a decentralized manner.
The BMTS was one of the first small MPOs to engage the public in scenario planning sessions in the development of long range plans. These sessions concluded that the region would flourish if investments were made in the core community. BMTS will begin another update of the long range plan next year.
BMTS plans for climate change with modeling and household travel surveys to examine travel behavior and the various affects of climate change. Baseline data is being developed that will help BMTS compare future studies with current data to determine changes in travel behavior. A variety of solutions is being considered to mitigate and plan for climate change, as there is no one "silver bullet." More scientific studies will be helpful to aid decision making and make climate change a priority for transportation agencies and organizations.
The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) has begun the process of integrating climate change considerations into the planning process. These include developing and applying alternative long range planning scenarios and land use strategies. While climate change is a priority with the Commission, it is not a priority with the public or with the state DOT, particularly since there has been a recent funding crisis.
The Commission has used the Energy Independence Security Act to examine ways to reduce GHG emissions. ARC's Livable Centers Initiative focuses on integrating transportation and land use planning and development at the local level. Generally, though, the Atlanta region has seen little leadership thus far from key regional decision-makers on climate change issues. Once such leadership emerges, the ARC is ready to take additional action steps to plan for climate change and facilitate decreased GHG emissions.
Mr. Barnes began by stating that large parts of New Jersey will be under water if climate change effects continue at current rates; hence, infrastructure adaptation is an important issue that the state needs to consider. The Governor signed a state global warming response act that sets GHG emission targets for 2020 at 1990 levels. This act also created an imperative to have compliance plans, although the state has not adopted clear climate change policies.
NJDOT has been working on a climate change plan for the last few years. In concert with other entities, NJDOT has undertaken programs to reduce GHG emissions, such as VMT reduction and modal shift initiatives. Other actions being considered are pricing techniques to help reduce single occupancy vehicle trips during peak periods of congestion. Mr. Barnes said, however, that the major reductions in carbon would come through technology changes. New Jersey has a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) policy that promotes use of low and zero emission vehicles in the state. Mr. Barnes believes that the market will be the primary driver of change. NJDOT is facilitating ZEV fleets and plug-in electric vehicles by providing infrastructure for cleaner fuel use and a battery exchange program. Cleaner fuel will mean higher prices, yet this will withstand the market if there is adequate demand. Sustainability can outweigh the economic negatives, such as higher prices. State policy can help achieve goals through taxes or providing incentives; for example, having a VMT tax with varying rates based on the type of vehicle driven.
Overall, climate change has not been a priority in the NCDOT, although the Department has taken several actions to help mitigate the effects of climate change. At this time, the NCDOT is transitioning from highway-focused planning to planning for a more comprehensive multimodal system. Instead of only adding capacity to deal with congestion, there have been increased operational and multimodal investment strategies. Currently, there is a focus on a strategic highway corridor system and access management. Constraining funding is an issue, and the state is increasingly looking to local governments to fund projects. There is no statewide climate change action plan, although climate change issues are being examined by various cross-agency action teams and by an active MPO base. There needs to be increased communication about climate change between the public, agencies, and organizations around the state.
For NYMTC, the major challenge is ensuring that their plans are implemented in an environment with severely constrained funding sources. Ms. Foster said that while NYMTC pursues planning for many GHG reduction strategies, including those that take advantage of the region's vast public transit network and many walkable, transit-friendly communities, budgetary realities can make it difficult to include certain strategies that do not necessarily rank competitively in established funding prioritization systems. For example, in New York City, there are many competing priorities such as upkeep of aging infrastructure, and items such as bridge maintenance will always take priority over climate change issues. NYMTC currently allocates Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds for TIP projects that help mitigate carbon and air pollution emissions. Some kind of additional funding source beyond CMAQ resources could help MPOs and DOTs prioritize carbon reduction projects. Ms. Foster further said that having the federal government mandate climate change strategies in the planning process and related performance measurement would enable NYMTC's strategies to have more "teeth."
Ms. Foster noted that NYSDOT is doing an excellent job statewide in leadership on climate change planning.
The Adirondack/Glens Falls Transportation Council is one of the smallest MPOs in New York State. Climate change issues are addressed in the long range transportation plan in the environmental chapter. The area has transit programs and there are transportation demand programs such as carpool and alternative mode initiatives. The MPO would like to increase its focus on climate change issues and GHG reduction strategies. It has worked with the Capital District Transit Authority (Albany area transit agency) and other transit agencies to consolidate routes for commuters between Glens Falls and Albany. The main priority right now for the area is road maintenance, with a ‘fix it first" approach. The MPO would like to increase the priority of climate change issues and is working to educate the public and various local and regional leaders. The MPO would also like to choose strategies that are most cost-effective to undertake and that will induce the largest carbon emission reductions.
The North Florida Transportation Planning Organization (formerly known as First Coast MPO) is the MPO for the Jacksonville metro area. The MPO has used scenario planning in the long range planning process, which included participation from a broad array of stakeholders. Analyses of options under the different scenarios are helping the MPO examine strategies for reducing VMT in the region. The MPO has conducted trend analyses to examine the effects of certain policies on VMT reduction under each of the different scenarios.
The Jacksonville region now has bus rapid transit and a commuter rail program. The region's non-attainment status has enabled the MPO to allocate CMAQ funds for some of these activities. While the MPO has a carpool and vanpool program that is being heavily promoted, it has been very challenging to "get people out of their cars." There will be increased marketing to promote these current VMT reduction programs. The Port facilities in the region are also threatened by climate change induced sea level rise; therefore, the Port and others are also examining whether and how adaptation strategies will be pursued in order to keep the Port operational.
Vermont has aggressive GHG reduction goals–25% below 1990 levels by 2012 and 50% by 2020. While the state is not on track to meet this target, actions are beginning to be taken in the transportation sector, which accounts for 44% of the state GHG emissions. The recent Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) Climate Change Action Plan has three main goals: reduce GHG emission from the transportation sector, protect Vermont's transportation infrastructure from the effects of climate change and reduce agency operational impacts on climate change.
Vermonters are very aware of climate change issues and in general, the public and the legislature are very concerned about the issue. Vermont is actively involved with the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in efforts to reduce the regions' carbon emissions. The Governor has appointed a commission to research and develop strategies to deal with climate change in Vermont. While there are several programs to reduce carbon emissions, the tools are not yet in place to measure this. There is, however, movement toward regulating carbon emissions in Vermont. Like the Western Climate Initiative, certain entities in Vermont are working on cap and trade for the utility industry, and there is discussion on how this could be transferred to the transportation sector.
VTrans is seeking to reduce emissions from the transportation sector by working with engineers within the agency and collaborating with other state agencies and organizations, including the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. VTrans is leading by example through using cleaner burning fuels in its fleets and developing a more efficient transportation system through management and operations. There are also efforts to support smart growth, telecommunications, fuel technology, transportation demand management, and expansion of alternative modes. More aggressive measures such as fuel pricing and taxation are a political challenge in Vermont and have not yet been feasible. It will probably take evidence of severe climate change impacts (such as major floods) to fully get all parties to focus on the importance of addressing climate change.
Leadership is helping pave the way toward recognition of climate change issues in Connecticut. The Governor has appointed a Steering Committee on Climate Change, which leads Connecticut's climate change initiative and includes the Commission of Transportation (www.ctclimatechange.com). The Connecticut Climate Change Action Plan 2005, created by the Steering Committee, includes a major element focused on the DOT, transportation and land use. Many of the Action Plan recommendations have been or are being implemented. In addition, the Steering Committee sponsors annual leadership awards to recognize the emission reduction efforts of organization, towns, and individuals.
As part of the Action Plan initiative, the DOT has established internal working groups and technical subcommittees to examine and strategize on climate change issues. In addition, the DOT works with the state Department of Environmental Protection to promote GHG mitigation activities.
The issue of climate change is complex and dynamic. As one workshop participant noted, "climate change is not like other pollutants that we've dealt with before; it's a larger and more global issue that must take agencies beyond ‘business as usual' so they can offer real solutions to the problem." Because of transportation's contribution to GHG emissions, DOTs and MPOs must be an integral part of climate change strategies. Their roles, however, need to be supported by policy, technical and funding resources from the federal government in order to ensure national consistency and overall effectiveness.
The workshop also produced a variety of recommendations to FHWA that could help support DOTs and MPOs with integrating climate change considerations into the transportation planning process: