- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Regional transportation officials say the Washington area could lose millions of federal dollars for road and transit projects because of its poor air quality, blaming an unexpected increase in vehicle emissions on longer commutes in sport utility vehicles.
"If we dont meet our air-quality budgets," said Fairfax Mayor John Mason, chairman of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, "[we] will have to immediately think about taking some sort of measures to reduce emissions or the region stands the potential loss of federal transportation dollars — both highway and transit."
Among the scores of road projects that face being delayed by a loss of federal funds:
* The widening to eight lanes of Route 28 in Fairfax County, which Virginia has sought to have completed by 2006, could be delayed until 2020.
* The widening of Route 5 (Branch Avenue) in Maryland, from U.S. Route 301 to the Capital Beltway, could be delayed until 2025 — 15 years later than Maryland has sought to have the road work completed.
* Reconstruction of a ramp connecting the Dulles Toll Road to the Capital Beltway could be put off past its estimated 2002 completion date.
Each year, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board (TPB) revises its "air quality conformity assessment" without much fanfare.
But this year, a preview of the assessment — which is ongoing and will be released in July — shows the District and its suburbs eclipsing their "emissions budgets."
Ron Kirby, TPB transportation planning director, said those budgets must be met if some road projects are to be built as scheduled and in compliance with federal guidelines.
He said those budgets may not get met because more motorists are driving longer distances in the popular SUVs.
"We are seeing this growth in the number of sports utility vehicles, which are not as clean as cars," Mr. Kirby said. "We are concerned that these are going to raise the total emissions. The emissions could be higher than we planned — they are not going down enough."
Regional officials had no exact figures on how much federal money is in jeopardy, noting that the funds would be shifted to other projects.
The regions emission standards are set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which also lists the area as a "serious non-attainment" in meeting overall air quality guidelines. The region has until 2005 to meet the EPA air-quality requirements, including the emissions budgets, or be placed in the "severe" category and lose federal highway dollars.
Mr. Kirby said the EPA set the emissions budgets in 1999.
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and a TPB vice chairman, said the region last year was within a half percent of exceeding the emissions budget.
"The regional growth has been greater than forecast," said Mr. Mendelson, providing another reason for the excessive emissions.
He said transportation planners are designing more roads and bridges, adding that more roads allow more vehicles to produce more emissions.
The TPB is scheduled to meet in the fall to figure out how to meet the emissions budgets.
That plan must be approved by the EPA, and board members expressed doubt about finding an acceptable solution.
Mr. Mason and others said that, to reduce emissions, they will have to educate commuters about using transit, car pooling or anything else that "focuses on reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicles" on the road.
There is already a problem with that, Mr. Mason said, because Metros subway and other forms of public transportation are reaching their capacity.
Even with MetroRail averaging more than 600,000 weekday riders, Mr. Mason said, "there is a possibility in September we are going to have to create incentives for Joe Six-Pack to behave differently in the sense of be willing to use transit and telework."
Rick Stevens, Metros director of business planning and development, said the transit agency is trying to reduce emissions by beginning to use ultra-low sulfur diesel for its buses this summer, buying 100 compressed natural gas buses and attaching emissions filters on its over 1,400 diesel buses. He said running express bus service parallel to some of Metros busiest rail lines is an option to get more drivers off the road.
Mr. Stevens said Metro and the region have an uphill battle in reducing emissions while also making way for more riders on the subway.
"Its hard for me to say if we will alleviate their problems but we are taking steps … to address the problems," Mr. Stevens said. "But we will continue to need rail cars. People just keep wanting to use transit."
Prince Georges County Council member Peter Shapiro, Brentwood Democrat and a TPB vice chairman, said solutions for reducing emissions and improving air quality will come from better land-use planning and drivers buying more fuel-efficient vehicles.
"In a nutshell, its about sprawl and gas-guzzling cars and the both of them are killing us when it comes to air quality," said Mr. Shapiro.

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