How Soon Will Cutting Transportation Emissions Save Money?

movingcooler_0063.jpg(Photo: Moving Cooler)

Anyone
who kept tabs on the House’s climate change bill last month recalls
much acrimonious ado about the plan’s impact on average American
pocketbooks. The GOP tossed out cost estimates that turned out to be manipulated, while nonpartisan projections showed the bill actually saving money for low-income families.

But the unfortunate truth
about the House climate bill is how little incentive it provides for
reducing the carbon footprint of the nation’s transportation sector,
which accounts for about 30 percent of total U.S. emissions.

So
how much would it cost to seriously tackle transportation emissions,
through transit expansion, land use, and strategies to encourage less
driving? A new report released
this morning by a coalition of government agencies and environmental
groups offers a groundbreaking answer to that question.

The
Moving Cooler report, as it’s known, divided an array of
emissions-reduction tactics into bundles, reflecting the likelihood
that several of them will be instituted at once as part of a larger
climate effort.

Pictured above is the chart that depicts
the "long term/maximum results" bundle — in plain English, a package
deal of congestion pricing, high-speed rail, expanded transit and
inter-city passenger rail, car-sharing, more HOV lanes, and increased
highway capacity to clear bottlenecks.

The estimated
savings from those proposals begin to outweigh the costs of
implementation around 2016, according to the report, which was
co-sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit
Administration.

But for other bundles of tactics, the savings
from reducing emissions are more immediate; for others, they are more
far-off. What about a package focusing on improving the efficiency of
transportation systems, with highway expansion, speed limit reductions,
and freight capacity boosts, but less attention to transit and rail?

That
bundle would begin to save money by around 2022, the report found, with
total savings reaching a peak of $80 billion per year in present-day
dollars. Adding transit and rail to the mix nearly doubles the
estimated savings, as the chart depicted above shows.

Another
bundle of tactics focused on those that can be implemented right away
at a low cost, though some of them also face considerable political
opposition: congestion pricing, urban parking restrictions, transit
fare reductions, and eco-driving. That package saves money almost
immediately, the report’s authors found.

Implementing the
report’s full array of solutions would result in estimated emissions
reductions of as much as 24 percent every year. If that could be
achieved, by 2050 the transportation sector would have provided
one-fourth of the total greenhouse gas cuts required under the House
climate bill. Of course, that’s a tremendous "if."

The
process starts, as one panelist involved in the report noted today, by
recognizing that transportation has a major role to play in the climate
bill and making it a prominent part of the discussion — more
prominent, even, than the debate over how long to wait before re-writing federal transportation policy.

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