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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Office of the Secretary, Office of Public Affairs, Washington, DC 20590

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, July 26, 2000
Contact: Jim Pinkelman
Tel.: 202-366-0660
FHWA 50-00

U.S. Transportation Secretary Slater Says Atlanta Can Move Forward, Transportation Plan Will Meet Clean Air Standards

U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater today announced that a revised transportation plan for the Atlanta area will meet air quality standards for the area and that the region now can move forward to implement those plans.

The U.S. Department of Transportations Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA), in consultation with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), produced a new "transportation conformity determination" for the Atlanta area based on a more stringent air quality standard than a determination held up by federal court last week.

The new conformity determination enables Atlanta area authorities to implement their long-range transportation plan and transportation improvement program (TIP), such as preliminary engineering for high occupancy lanes on Interstate 75 and 575 and the Atlanta multimodal passenger station in downtown Atlanta, which will provide a connection for commuter rail, bus and airport passengers near a city transit station. The revised plan and TIP place greater emphasis on enhanced and expanded transit services and facilities, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, air quality improvements, and system preservation than earlier plans.

"President Clinton and Vice President Gore are committed to protecting the environment while continuing to build and maintain a strong and growing economy," Secretary Slater said. "We are working with our partners in Georgia to ensure access to transportation and mobility for everyone in the Atlanta metro area while continuing to improve air quality and protect the environment."

The Atlanta area transportation plan had been in "conformity lapse" since January 1998. As such, no new federally funded transportation projects in the region could move ahead in the planning process. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), which serves as the metropolitan planning organization for the Atlanta area, was unable to show that an earlier 2010 Regional Transportation Plan would result in vehicle emissions that would conform to the state air quality implementation plan.

The ARC worked with the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA), the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and other state and local authorities, on a revised plan and updated TIP. The FHWA and FTA conformity determination was based on these revised plans, which were submitted by the ARC and state authorities.

Secretary Slater said that funding in the Atlanta area under the revised TIP includes 40 percent for transit; 10 percent for bicycle and pedestrian facilities and air quality improvements; 21 percent for safety measures and bridge and intersection improvements; and 26 percent for highway capacity, including high-occupancy vehicle lanes. About $16 billion in FHWA and FTA funding over the next 25 years is involved, only some of which would have been made available for spending had the conformity lapse continued.

Concerns about the conformity determination for Atlanta were raised when the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta on July 18 issued a stay on an "adequacy" determination by the EPA regarding the states proposed motor vehicle emissions budget. That budget, absent the court action, would have been the basis for a new conformity determination. With the court-imposed stay, however, the prior emissions budget served as the basis for a new conformity finding. Using the prior budget will not harm Atlantas air quality because this budget is actually more stringent regarding the key pollutants.

Conformity determinations are intended to ensure that air quality is considered in transportation decisions. Under the Clean Air Act, metropolitan planning offices such as the ARC must show that their long-range transportation plans meet, or "conform," to state air quality implementation plans. The CAA also requires each state to provide a state air quality implementation plan that shows procedures for monitoring, controlling, maintaining and enforcing compliance with federal air quality standards.

The FHWA and the FTA, both agencies of the U.S. Department of Transportation, completed the conformity determination in consultation with the EPA. The EPA administers and enforces the CAA, which governs the conformity determination process. Both federal transportation agencies and the EPA provided technical assistance to the ARC and the GRTA, as well as to GDOT and the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority, and served as liaisons between the various state and local units of government.

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