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Climate Change Mitigation Peer Exchanges: Comprehensive Report

4. Implementing GHG Mitigation Strategies

MPOs and State DOTs participating in the peer exchanges have been pursuing a range of GHG reduction strategies. This section describes some of the key themes and lessons learned regarding mitigation strategies.

Travel efficiency (e.g., demand management, transit, land use) strategies are a key focus of State DOTs and MPOs.

VMT reduction strategies include transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and transportation demand management (TDM) to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips, and integrated transportation and land use planning to bring origins and destinations closer together. MPOs present at the exchanges were particularly active in this area.

MPOs expressed significant interest in land use planning and transit investments.Integrated land use and transportation planning emerged as crosscutting theme across the peer exchanges, with MPOs particularly active in encouraging transit-oriented development (TOD). For example:

States and MPOs see benefits in less costly investments in non-SOV infrastructure (e.g., complete streets) and demand management. These types of investments do not require as expensive or extensive investments and yield co-benefits associated with public health and livability. For example:

Vehicle/system operations strategies also can provide important GHG benefits.

Vehicle and system operations strategies can improve traffic flow, which reduces transportation emissions by reducing the number of stops and starts a vehicle has to make, and encouraging traffic to move at speeds that optimize vehicle fuel-efficiency. These strategies can include eco-driving, anti-idling, signal timing, high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, or congestion pricing.

While these types of strategies can reduce emissions, implementing some vehicle operations strategies (e.g., eco-driving and anti-idling) requires either significant resources for enforcement or widespread behavioral change. Managed lanes can be complicated to establish particularly when introducing new user fees, revenue sharing arrangements, and other associated coordination challenges between regional organizations. Nevertheless, some examples of vehicle system/operations strategies include:

State DOTs are particularly interested in implementing construction, maintenance, and facility operations strategies.

While MPOs may focus on land use and VMT-reduction strategies within their particular regions, the mitigation options available to State DOTs are somewhat different. For example, few State DOTs plan for or operate transit or engage directly in land use planning in the way that MPOs do. Among peer exchange participants, a number of State DOTs noted their internal efforts at reducing emissions from DOT operations and at DOT facilities. Examples of internal DOT emissions reduction strategies include:

DOTs mentioned their interest in tools to quantify the emissions reduced from these strategies. Those who were currently engaged in these activities noted that often tracking energy saved or emissions reductions was more complicated than it initially appeared.

Fuels and vehicle technology strategies are important for reducing GHG emissions, but State DOTs and MPOs are limited in their ability to address these factors.

These strategies include use of alternative fuels, more efficient vehicles, or vehicles powered by electricity. While State DOTs and MPOs tend to be interested in these types of strategies, market forces or national-level regulations surpass their ability to influence technology change or technology development, particularly at the MPO level.

Vehicle efficiency standards (i.e., CAFE standards) are one of the most effective means of reducing transportation emissions, but are set at the Federal level. Multiple MPOs and States noted the importance of nationwide gains in fuel efficiency and vehicle technologies in reducing transportation emissions. All MPOs conducting emissions forecasts showed the vast majority of emissions reductions for future years coming from these sources, with other strategies accounting for important but much smaller reductions. This limits the impact that State DOTs and MPOs can have on transportation emissions.

Some States and MPOs have programs to encourage use of alternative fuel or more efficient vehicles, particularly for fleets. Though often implemented to reduce criteria air pollutant emissions, a number of programs help fleet managers to increase the fuel efficiency of delivery trucks or other large vehicles with large diesel engines. For example, Houston-Galveston Area Council has a loan program to help drayage truck owners upgrade to more efficient engines, and its Clean Cities Coalition helps to form public private partnerships to promote use of alternative fuels, hybrid technologies, and fuel-efficient vehicles.

Both DOTs and MPOs are interested in supporting and planning for electric vehicles (EVs) through infrastructure provision. However, predicting EV penetration is very difficult, since it depends on a number of forces outside of DOT control - the success of the technology, its market penetration, electricity prices, and prices for competing technologies to name a few. Nevertheless, a number of States and regions are beginning to plan for and deploy EV infrastructure, including Philadelphia, San Francisco, Kansas City, and the State of Vermont. Mid-America Regional Council in Kansas City is able to partner with local manufacturers of EV batteries to work on planning for deployment.

Lessons learned regarding implementing and communicating about DOT and MPO strategies.

MPOs and DOTs discussed challenges associated with communicating strategies to the public and decisionmakers and shared their successes as well. Some of the themes from these discussions were:

Climate change strategies often have multiple co-benefits.Many of the transportation GHG reduction strategies available to MPOs and State DOTs have multiple benefits for society. For instance, vehicle efficiency strategies (e.g., land use strategies, increasing walking and bicycling) often help to increase physical activity, reduce household transportation budgets, and reduce congestion and air pollution, and operations strategies often reduce traffic congestion and delay, and improve system reliability. DOT efforts to reduce energy use in construction, maintenance, and facility operation also can save money out of tight budgets. In many areas, these issues are more salient than climate change mitigation, and so transportation agencies may either be taking action primarily for those benefits (i.e., working to reduce congestion and viewing GHG emissions reduction as a secondary benefit) or may choose to emphasize co-benefits in presenting their activities to the public.

Even in locations where climate change mitigation is not a priority, transportation agencies can focus on win-win, no regrets solutions. Given the many co-benefits of GHG reduction strategies, even in locations where climate change is not a priority, there are opportunities to develop GHG strategies that decision-makers can advance for multiple reasons. For example, East-West Gateway Council of Governments in St. Louis participates actively in the Department of Energy Clean Cities Program and is promoting TOD around its transit stations, despite not having an active climate change program. Instead these activities are aimed at economic development and improved air quality.

Transportation agencies should communicate with messages that resonate with the public and elected officials, and appropriately tailor messages to speak to regional priorities.

Planning processes themselves can help to achieve buy-in. A strategic planning process that incorporates interests from a wide variety of stakeholders and the public lends legitimacy to subsequent initiatives under that plan. Making sure that plans adequately address the concerns of others can save time later as decisionmakers feel more comfortable and receive less push-back when implementing projects or programs. For example:

This map from the Tri-County RPC's Regional Growth Policy Plan shows the vision laid out within the Plan and proposed projects for the years 2010-2035.

Figure 3. Tri-County RPC's Regional Growth Vision

These examples illustrate the importance of communication strategies, whether communicating with decisionmakers and governing bodies or with the general public.

Updated: 3/27/2014
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