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Transport Policy for America’s (Environmental) Future


A new report recommends the U.S. Department of Transportation refocus its priority on reducing national oil consumption. Credit: miggslives/Flickr

Yesterday, the Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC) released a series of recommendations to overhaul the U.S. transportation sector with its report, Transportation Policies for America’s Future. The ESLC is a panel made up of leaders from the American business and national security establishments, whose aim is to improve the country’s energy security.

In a press release for the new report, ESLC Co-Chairman Frederick W. Smith — the CEO of FedEx — said:

"...[America has] for too long neglected the connection between our oil consumption and the network of roads and rails themselves that make up our transportation system. Today, we offer a new vision, for a more market-friendly, more transparent, less congested, and less oil-intensive transportation system.”

As has become apparent in recent years, conversations on energy security in this country typically focus on producing more energy domestically ("Drill Baby Drill!"), or reducing fossil fuel use, which would also offer some environmental benefits. According to the 2010 Annual Energy Outlook, the U.S. transportation sector guzzles 14 million barrels of oil each day, which is greater than the daily oil consumption of any other country’s entire economy. From an energy security perspective, that means the U.S. heavily relies on oil exporters. From a climate change perspective, that oil produces a sizable chunk of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, so minimizing the oil consumed by the transportation sector offers some substantial benefits.

According to the ESLC recommendations, reducing oil consumption should become a “primary performance metric” for the Department of Transportation. This means that instead of focusing on traditional financial benchmarks, like construction costs and how much money can be recovered from tolls and transit fares, transportation policy should be guided by how much it will reduce oil consumption, the report states. For example, highway tolls may be increased to motivate people to reconsider driving, whereas in the past they've been determined by government needs for more revenue.

The ESLC report also includes recommendations to address traffic congestion in U.S. cities, based on a proposed $5 billion per year program aimed at urban centers. The fund would finance public transportation, advanced technology traffic infrastructure that can help clear congestion, and new toll projects that might motivate people to change their driving habits.

The suggested policies come close on the heals of a new report from the Texas Transportation Institute, or TTI, which examines problems associated with traffic congestion.

Nothing is more irritating than sitting in stop-and-go traffic, but congestion isn’t just hard on your nerves; it turns out that it also wastes an immense amount of energy. Idling vehicles don't burn fuel as quickly as moving ones do, but for two cars traveling from point A to point B, one that sits through heavy traffic will usually use more gas than one moving at a steady pace.  The TTI report found that in 2009, Americans consumed an extra 3.9 billion gallons of fuel because of traffic congestion — costing about $115 billion and pumping approximately 40,000,000 tons of additional CO2 into the atmosphere. 

  Data collected by the Texas Transporation Institute shows how much fuel is wasted in America's big cities because of traffic congestion. Credit: Transportation Policies for America's Future

So, it stands to reason that on a city-by-city basis, areas with more congestion are also going to be the areas where more fuel is wasted. You can check out the congestion statistics for your city here, but it’s not surprising that more fuel is wasted in the country’s big urban centers, like Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and Chicago.

To look at some of the other ESLC recommendations for improving and securing America’s transportation sector, check out the full report.

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