- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

The Washington metropolitan area is heading toward a record summer for poor air quality, which could be bad news for transportation projects a couple of years from now.
Today is the ninth Code Red day of the summer, and it is likely more Code Reds will be declared before month's end. The area typically sees six or seven Code Reds in the summer, according to Lorrie Pearson, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).
Code Red is an indication that the air quality is worse than emissions standards set by a 1997 law. If the metropolitan area fails to lower emissions in a couple years, the federal government might cut off funding for transportation projects in the District, Northern Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
A Code Red means the ground-level air is filled with ozone and other pollutants and has been given an unhealthy rating. High temperatures are a problem since they cause pollutants to hover closer to the ground.
"As the heat rises along with car emissions, that causes higher ground-level ozone," said Heidi Adams, managing director of GOG's Clean Air Partners.
Yesterday was declared Code Red as the temperature at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport hit 100 degrees. Forecasts are for even hotter weather today.
Residents and businesses are urged to cut down on car or truck trips, fuel vehicles at night, postpone lawn mowing, and not paint or spray aerosol, Ms. Pearson said.
Clean Air Partners sends daily messages about code days to more than 600 area governments, businesses, schools and other organizations that advise people to stay indoors and cut down on emissions as much as possible on Code Red days, Mrs. Adams said.
The metropolitan area air quality has been rated bad and declining since the Clean Air Act was enacted in 1990. In the early 1990s, the rating was "serious unattainment," compared, for example, with "extreme unattainment" for Los Angeles.
Joan Rohlfs, chief of COG's air quality planning, said the region did not meet the attainment level in 1999.
Faced with the possibility of a "severe" rating, local officials asked for an extension until 2004.
When COG pronounces a Code Red day, Maryland and Virginia commuters can ride buses free, helping to curb the number of vehicles driven into the District.
Local governments in Maryland and Virginia pay Metrobus for those tickets.
On three Code Red days in June, free bus rides were provided to 212,516 Virginia commuters and 861,550 Maryland commuters, according to Steven Taubenkibel, a Metro spokesman.
Metrorail ridership rose on those three days to 682,423, 648,599 and 679,044, compared with a daily average of 660,000 passengers, Mr. Taubenkibel said.

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