Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Roads, Dollars, and Air Quality

There's an article in the local Daily (click HERE for the online version), reporting that Congressman Bill Sali wants to remove the bureaucratic red tape that's holding up road construction in Idaho.

(The article should be titled, "Sali asks for Study of Studies.")

Sali says, "Many of Idaho's highways are dangerous, inadequate or plain worn out, and yet the federal government's mandates slow down the state's ability to fix those problems."

Since I'm of a "small government" philosophy, my first reaction was, "Right ON, Bill!"

But then I got to thinkin'.

One of the agencies doing the holding-up is the Environmental one (EPA). It's their job to try to hold the line on air quality, and determine how roads will affect air quality. And since I breathe Boise's air, 350-plus days of any given year, they're working for my benefit.

But then I got to thinkin'.

Repairing dangerous and worn-out roads seems like a no-brainer. If pavement isn't being expanded, the EPA shouldn't get in the way.

But how about adding pavement? For example, will another lane on I-84 result in better, or worse, air?

Tough question.

On the one hand, it would seem that another lane would result in more traffic.

But on the other hand, maybe the existing traffic would move faster (averaging 23mph, instead of the traditional 18mph), thus resulting in less pollution.

It's the EPA's job to figure all that stuff out.

I'm guessing that in the short term, a new freeway lane would result in marginally improved air quality. In the long term, traffic will expand to fill the available space. (Anybody who's convinced that more lanes will resolve traffic problems should go spend a week in the Los Angeles Basin... that's been their methodology for 60 years. Try breathing some of their air, too. It's not good, but it's been recognized as "The Best Chunk-Style Air in America.")

The harsh reality is... the number-one factor in Treasure Valley's air quality is motor vehicle traffic. And we're right on the edge of getting additional restrictions. Our growthophile elected "public servants" should be chewing on that regularly. If I thought it would result in more responsible transportation choices, I'd be in favor of shutting down a lane or two that we already have! After all, I breathe that stuff! (So does Mr. Sali's constituency.)

So, after some consideration, I'm in favor of removing any bureaucratic red tape for repairing and maintaining existing roads. But I want some checks-and-balances oversight when it comes to expanding. If the EPA doesn't do it... who will?

Here's an idea. How about making the new I-84 lane an HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane, at least during rush hour? Give carpoolers a bit of an advantage, and incentive.

UPDATE: I happened across an article on the Idaho Business Review website (click HERE) - "The air quality in the Treasure Valley could be designated a non-attainment area by the [EPA] by the end of the summer. Pollution, generated mostly by automobiles, could exceed the maximum amount allowed by the federal government. ... if the Treasure Valley slips into non-attainment status, the first thing the government will likely do is withhold highway funding." Maybe that's what got Sali's knickers in a wad. And the solution is to eliminate the ability of the EPA to declare non-attainment.

Photo credit: (BSU student newspaper) Yep... that's Boise.


db said...

After reading the story, my impression is that Rep. Sali really just wants to remove 2 of the 3 contributing factors - the EPA and Fish & Wildlife - and leave it all up to the Federal Highway Administration.

I mean, check out the quote from the ITD's Pam Lowe (emphasis mine): "Many of the regulations that drive the federal environmental process are extremely bureaucratic."

What, no mention of red tape at the Federal Highway Administration (which probably oversees the funding)? To me this translates to "We'd like to waive the environmental checks and balances while still maintaining our access to the checkbook."

So in essence, I see Sali and Tom Davis just trying to further erase the limits placed on government for environmental concerns.

Smaller government is one thing. A smaller sense of responsibility is another.

Wouldn't a wiser approach be to streamline the processes within each of those 3 groups, rather than eliminate one or more of them? I fear that the reason that's not being proposed is that it would come out that those agencies are already underfunded and can't afford to move more quickly.

I would second the motion to have an HOV lane on I-80. I just don't want an additional lane created for it.

Clancy said...

An HOV lane would be terrific. Marginal cost with a real effect. Teach the SOV's how to conserve gas while improving airquality. Build only one lane for now and just reverse it in the afternoon.

I was driving in LA during rushhour on the 405 with my family recently. If not for the carpool lane, our jaunt would of taken 3 times as long. I am for simple and sensible transportation solutions.