There is a growing consensus that industrialized countries will need to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 60 to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 to limit global warming to 2-3°C above pre-industrial level and thereby stave off the most severe impacts of global climate change. In the United States, the transportation sector accounts for over 70 percent of our nation’s oil consumption and produces almost a third of total CO2 emissions.
AASHTO leadership has acknowledged the fact that climate change is becoming an important issue and that figuring out how to address GHG emissions growth and navigating the federal and state policy environments on this issue will affect their near- and long-term planning and infrastructure assessment. Transportation sector GHG emissions are a result of what AASHTO refers to as a ‘four legged stool’ -- vehicles, fuels, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and system efficiency – given the potential GHG reduction opportunities from measures such as traffic flow smoothing and freight rail expansion. So far, most domestic climate policy proposals have focused on vehicles and fuels, with little serious attention to slowing growth in VMT and improving system efficiency. There is a need to investigate and demonstrate potential strategies that state departments of transportation can pursue that will result in the most effective reductions in GHG emissions while sustaining and improving transportation mobility to best serve the Nation’s economic and social foundations.
In a collaborative effort between AASHTO, the Center for Clean Air Policy and the Rockefeller Foundation, a two-day executive peer exchange was held in September 2009 to share and discuss integrated state strategies to reduce transportation GHG emissions with a focus on slowing VMT growth and increasing transportation system efficiency. Multi-disciplinary teams from California, Florida, Maryland, Missouri and Washington represented economic development, energy, environment, housing, planning, and transportation perspectives. Executives and senior staff from a variety of state, regional and local government agencies and organizations, joined Governor's representatives, elected officials, and staff from non-governmental organizations to present and discuss each state's experiences.
The focus of the executive peer exchange was twofold: 1) to provide participants with tangible and transferable lessons to develop and implement state and local policies to reduce transportation GHG emissions by slowing the growth of vehicle miles traveled and also by increasing system efficiency, and 2) to identify the essential data, technical resources, policies and funding they will need to successfully implement those policies. The executive peer exchange provided a unique opportunity for several states to develop strategic policy and transportation improvements that can be tailored to specific state contexts while also achieving broader transportation-climate and energy objectives.