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The Role of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in Climate Change Mitigation

Presentation and Discussion Summaries

Michael Grant, ICF International, and Diane Turchetta, FHWA, welcomed participants to the exchange and explained the series of FHWA peer exchanges focused on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

FHWA Climate Change-Related Initiatives

Diane Turchetta described the range of activity underway at FHWA related to tools and support for states and regions. FHWA is developing a Handbook for Estimating Transportation GHGs for Integration into the Planning Process, creating a planning tool and analytical framework for quantifying GHG emissions from construction activities, and currently piloting a new tool - the Energy and Emissions Reduction Policy Analysis Tool (EERPAT) - based on Oregon DOT's GreenSTEP model. EERPAT can help with state-level strategy analysis in situations where states would like to examine a large number of strategies quickly. It does not replace more robust models like EPA's MOVES model, and so, can be used rather as a screening tool for MOVES. Unlike other models, EERPAT uses national household survey data to estimate variables such as car ownership and transit ridership, and then generate vehicle miles traveled (VMT) estimates rather than using a network model. Finally, FHWA has released a mitigation reference source book that will examine some areas where MPOs have a greater level of control, such as travel demand management (TDM) and operational strategies.

In the area of sustainability, FHWA has also developed a self-evaluation tool for assessing programs and projects, known as the Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool (INVEST). INVEST, which has been piloted and tested by several State DOTs and MPOs, will not be tied to funding in any way, but rather was developed to help agencies identify characteristics of sustainable highways and provide information and techniques to assist them with integrating sustainability best practices into highway projects and programs. Finally, in the area of adaptation, FHWA has been conducting a climate change vulnerability assessment in the Gulf Coast Region. Phase II of the project, currently underway, examines critical infrastructure vulnerability in Mobile, Alabama, and FHWA is working with local decisionmakers to identify possible responses.

Context for Climate Change Mitigation

Mr. Grant highlighted ways in which GHG analysis can be integrated into metropolitan transportation planning. The presentation also included a summary of responses to a survey that participants had completed prior to the peer exchange. The survey showed that MPOs in attendance ranged in their level of experience with GHG inventories and mitigation strategy implementation. All participants were asked to briefly introduce themselves and mention key elements that they hoped the exchange would cover. Issues of interest are listed below:

Current Efforts to Integrate GHG Emissions into Transportation Planning

Three participants provided highlights of their MPOs' activities relative to GHG mitigation. A brief summary of these presentations is included below:

Baltimore Metropolitan Council: The State of Maryland is tenth in the country in terms of length of coast miles and is at high risk for inundation from sea-level rise. The region depends on the health of the Chesapeake Bay for much of its economic activity and appeal. Cleaning up the Bay and mitigating climate change have been important issues receiving significant attention for some time, with the Governor first issuing an executive order on climate change in 2007. The order established a commission on climate change, and in 2009, the state passed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (GGRA), which set a goal to reduce emissions statewide to 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2020. The state released its draft implementation document on March 21st, 2012. The MPO is currently reviewing this document to determine where its responsibilities lie and what is possible to attain with current funding levels. Therefore, BMC is interested in identifying the most cost-effective emissions reduction strategies available to an MPO.

Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency: CHCRPA is a bi-state MPO, covering part of Georgia in addition to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The area currently has the highest levels of freight through-traffic in the country. CHCRPA started using the MOVES model several years ago for conformity analysis. While one municipality in the region has conducted a climate action planning process, the agency has not conducted a region-wide GHG inventory. With skepticism from some decisionmakers and public, the MPO has focused on livability-related and multi-modal improvements, such as ITS projects, adding sidewalks and bike lanes, launching a bicycle transit system, and a Green Trips incentives program to encourage reduction of single-occupancy vehicle trips. For the new project selection process for the region's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), CHCRPA will include information on emissions impacts of projects, relationship to land use, and health-related factors when presenting options to its policy board for project prioritization.

Mid-America Regional Council: MARC, the MPO for Kansas City, Missouri has a wide variety of sustainability- and climate change-related initiatives in place. Several of its jurisdictions have GHG inventories and climate action plans, but no regional GHG planning has taken place, as several areas do not prioritize the issue. MARC recently completed a Long-Range Plan (LRP), which includes goals for energy, VMT reduction, and vehicle occupancy. Projections created for the plan forecast massive growth for the region, which the MPO used to create an "adaptive" scenario that focuses on livability initiatives and land conservation measures. MARC received a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sustainability grant to create a sustainability plan for six specific corridors and a grant from USDOT for its Green Impact Zone where it will implement multimodal and traffic flow improvements through signal optimization. The region is in attainment, but receives some Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) money through both Missouri and Kansas and has a regional clean air action plan in place. The MPO has been conducting electric vehicle planning for a number of years. In addition to the MPOs direct activities, it works with a variety of local coalitions and non-profits that help to spearhead particular campaigns.

GHG Analysis in Planning (inventories, forecasts, and methodologies)

Michael Grant began with a brief overview of GHG inventory and analysis methodologies, including fuel consumption and VMT methods. This was followed by three participant presentations focusing largely on GHG analysis issues, with questions and discussion integrated throughout.

Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning: CMAP has performed three GHG inventories for the years 2000, 2005, and 2010. The agency has faced a tradeoff between accuracy and consistency in methodologies in performing its inventories, as updates in methodology for its most recent inventory changed its understanding of emissions sources somewhat. The overall level of emissions has remained relatively constant through these three inventory years. As similar regions have found around the country, the City of Chicago has lower per capita emissions levels than the surrounding suburban areas. The MOVES model was used to estimate mobile sources GHG emissions. The inventory process showed that transportation makes up approximately 30 percent of regional emissions, and also revealed that approximately 15 percent of transportation-related emissions can be attributed to through trips and only between five and seven percent of emissions are due to congestion.

Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission: CCRPC covers Burlington, Vermont and surrounding areas. Largely due to the use of hydroelectric and nuclear power, which lower emissions from electricity, transportation in Vermont accounts for approximately 47 percent of the State's emissions. The MPO began working on GHG analysis relatively recently and will soon integrate climate change planning activities into a new HUD-funded regional sustainability plan. Vermont's estimate of transportation emissions was based on fuel sales data, and CCRPC's will be based on the travel-based method, which could yield slightly different results but will also serve as a reasonableness check. To perform its inventory, CCRPC will use its regional travel model to generate flows and speeds by individual links. Then it will run MOVES in emissions factor mode using county-specific fuel formulation and vehicle registration data from the State. The emissions factors will then be applied to the travel model output. CCRPC is allocating half of VMT for each trip to origin locations and half to the destination. It has found that there can be a 5-10 percent difference in vehicle emissions depending on the season, with emissions rising in the summer. The results of the analysis will be used to identify promising mitigation strategies.

San Diego Association of Governments: SANDAG, as with other California MPOs has been significantly impacted by the State's Senate Bill 375 - the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008. Under this act, each region has been assigned a per-capita GHG reduction target from passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks, using a 2005 base year, and each MPO must prepare a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) to reach that target using land use, housing, and transportation planning strategies. SANDAG recently completed its SCS and LRP for 2050, which shows the region exceeding its targets for emissions reduction in 2020, just meeting the targets for 2035, and showing a slight overall emissions increase in 2050. Modeling for technology improvements is only available through the State's air emissions model through 2040, meaning that the 2050 estimate was uncertain. The plan relies on a combination of active transportation, smart growth, TDM, transit, and managed lanes to achieve its goals. In creating the plan, SANDAG used a composite of its municipalities' land use plans to generate the future land use scenario, as these municipalities have been engaged in "smart growth" planning for several years in conjunction with SANDAG's Regional Comprehensive Plan, which was approved in 2004. As a result, the regional housing growth is expected to be largely multi-family units. At the moment, SANDAG's plan is facing scrutiny - California's Attorney General and a coalition of environmental groups are suing SANDAG and alleging that it did not adequately analyze its plan under the California Environmental Quality Act and are actively seeking to have SANDAG change the projects approved in its local sales tax measure, which was approved by a two-thirds majority of county-wide voters in 2004.

General Discussion: Participants discussed a number of the technical and model-related considerations that they currently face. Major points from these discussions are included below.

Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Strategies and Incorporation into the Planning Process

During this session, four participants presented on their mitigation strategies, the related strategy analysis, and links between these strategies and the planning process. Due to time constraints, the second two presentations took place on the morning of the second day.

Southern California Association of Governments: In April 2012, SCAG adopted its RTP/SCS after three years of an extensive bottom-up collaborative process. SCAG covers a very large region - including six counties and 191 cities with over 18 million people - and is projected to add another 4.2 million people by 2035. Transportation currently makes up less than a third of the region's emissions, and fuel efficiency and vehicle technology are projected to be responsible for the majority of SCAG's transportation-related emissions reductions over the coming decades. Activities related to SB375 implementation are projected to account for only three percent of the region's total emissions reductions. Thus, SCAG's RTP/SCS focuses on planning for a sustainable future by conserving land consumption and promoting public health. In drafting its current plan, SCAG performed scenario analysis exploring combinations of development location, neighborhood design strategies, housing mix, and transportation investments. The plan, which is expected to reduce per capita GHG emissions by 16 percent by 2035, will allocate only 13 percent of capital investment to highways, focus half of the growth in three percent of the land area (areas designated as "high quality transit areas" that are within a half-mile of a major transit corridor), primarily in multi-family housing units. SCAG also involved its local municipalities in the planning process by asking each to contribute their land use and growth projections and helping them to focus more future development towards transit corridors.

Tri-County Regional Planning Commission: Tri-County RPC covers Lansing, Michigan and the surrounding region in mid-Michigan. In 2000, the region conducted an extensive and inclusive visioning process that generated its land use vision. The vision has helped the MPO in implementing related initiatives, since it has already achieved buy-in from local governments and citizens. Primary initiatives for Tri-County RPC include street design to improve traffic flow and promote transportation alternatives, such as through road diets, roundabouts, signal timing optimization, and installing bike lanes. Between 1988 and 2010, 15 miles of area roads were slimmed from four to three lanes to allow for bicycling. They plan similar "road diets" on an additional 18.5 miles by 2020. Additionally, Tri-County RPC is working with Michigan State University to encourage mode shift on campus, and for students and staff commuting to campus. Since 1997, the University has decreased VMT significantly and between 2012 and 2020 it expects to designate some roads as bus-only, remove some on-campus roads, and create new park-and-ride lots. The MPO uses MOVES to model GHG reductions, but has not conducted a regional inventory.

Day Two: Recap and Discussion from Day One

To begin the second day of the exchange, participants completed presentations related to GHG emissions reduction strategies.

Houston-Galveston Area Council: The Houston-Galveston area covers eight counties with six million people. The area is flat with numerous port facilities, and has few restrictions on growth, including no zoning - making greenfield development particularly easy. The region is in non-attainment for ozone under the Clean Air Act and has a long history of implementing voluntary measures and using public-private partnerships to reduce air pollutant emissions. Some of H-GAC's key transportation and air quality-related initiatives include engine replacement programs for heavy-duty trucks and school buses and working with the area's clean cities program and private partners to promote a switch to natural gas through vehicle purchases, retrofits, and installation of fueling stations. H-GAC has also received funding to help convert vehicles in public fleets through proceeds from fines paid by area refineries and factories who exceed their permitted emissions amounts. H-GAC has implemented a loan program for drayage truck owners to purchase cleaner trucks. The program has cost-effectiveness requirements based on the tonnage of the truck and the percentage of VMT driven within the H-GAC region. Other H-GAC initiatives include a commute solutions program, electric vehicle infrastructure planning, and a clean vessels program. While the region has not conducted a GHG inventory, it did release a Foresight Panel on Environmental Effects Report in 2008.

Central Lane MPO: In 2010, Oregon's legislature passed a bill to reduce GHG emissions from transportation, including a goal to reduce these emissions to 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The bill specifically directed the Central Lane MPO to develop multiple land use and transportation scenarios to accommodate population and employment growth while reducing emissions from light-duty vehicles. The MPO has conducted an inventory and is now in the process of examining scenarios for 2035. It will explore three possible levels of implementation of a range of strategies covering community design, pricing, marketing and incentives, roads, fleet, and technology. Central Lane MPO will work closely with Portland Metro, which has finished its initial phase of scenario planning and adapted Oregon's statewide GreenSTEP scenario analysis tool for use by metropolitan regions. This adapted model helped the MPO to test and analyze scenarios. It anticipates that technology and fuel standards will account for about 80 percent of the emissions reduction.

Financing GHG Reduction Strategies

Participants discussed some of the key issues and challenges associated with financing transportation investments that will contribute to emissions reduction. Major points from the discussion included:

Communication about Climate Change and Co-Benefits of Mitigation Strategies

Mr. Grant set the context for communication challenges in the face of skepticism and misunderstanding about climate science among the public and decisionmakers. Two MPOs presented on their activities relating to GHG emissions, and the group then discussed communication strategies and the role played by co-benefits of mitigation strategies both in decisionmaking and in communicating about climate change.

Missoula MPO: Despite representing a smaller region, the Missoula MPO's area has been in non-attainment for PM10 and CO due to a combination of geographic location, wood product mills, and continued use of wood stoves. Although the MPO has not conducted an inventory at this time, the City of Missoula and University of Montana have both completed inventories and have climate action plans in place. The MPO recently created a land use and transportation vision (Envision Missoula), which focuses its projected growth in population (likely doubling in the next 50 years) in the urban core and designated corridors and is projected to reduce VMT and congestion compared to other scenarios. Missoula is also in the process of realigning its transit to focus service in the urban core on more heavily-traveled routes to improve efficiency. Looking forward, the MPO is working to develop performance measures related to air pollution and GHG reduction.

North Central Texas COG: NCTCOG represents the Dallas-Fort Worth region. Given regional resistance to address climate change, the MPO has overall not taken significant action directed at mitigation. However, NCTCOG performs significant air quality analysis and planning related to its non-attainment status. In performing scenario analysis, NCTCOG includes projections of CO2 impacts, although these are not emphasized or incorporated in project prioritization at this time. Current emissions-related initiatives in the region include encouraging municipalities to pass anti-idling ordinances, emissions enforcement for existing vehicles, preferential parking, and environmental speed limits.

General Discussion: As part of the discussions of mitigation strategies, GHG analysis, and incorporation into the planning process, participants discussed a number key issues relating to outreach and education - both to the general public, decisionmakers, and engineers. A few key questions and discussion points emerged, particularly around how regions can engage partners in implementing controversial strategies.

MPO Needs for Federal Support

During the peer exchange, participants were asked for areas where they could use additional support from FHWA. MPOs expressed interest in:

To close, Mr. Grant and Ms. Turchetta thanked the MPO representatives for their participation.

Updated: 12/23/2016
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