D.C. region leaders want to halve transportation emissions by 2030 despite road widening plans 

Key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to promote regional transit strategies, official says

By: - August 24, 2022 12:04 am

Traffic flows over the American Legion Bridge along I-495, the Capital Beltway, on the day before the Thanksgiving holiday November 22, 2006 between Virginia and Maryland. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board has pledged to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks despite also pursuing projects that could hinder those reductions.

Earlier this summer, the board, made up of representatives from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region, including those from Northern Virginia, passed a resolution to reduce road emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

But Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said after the board’s June meeting that other board priorities such as the expansion of Interstate 270 and part of I-495 to add high-occupancy toll lanes will “undermine” the board’s goals.

Kanti Srikanth, deputy executive director for metropolitan planning with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said it’s challenging to determine the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from a specific project.

However, he said the region has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions community-wide by 13% from 2005 to 2018 despite a population growth of 19%.

Srikanth said one of the keys to reducing emissions from a specific project is by promoting regional transit strategies including carpooling, reducing travel miles and traveling on public transit.

Individual jurisdictions would not be expected to achieve the same percentage reductions as the region at large, according to a June staff memo. Some of the factors that influence road transportation emissions include population and employment growth, land development decisions and clean vehicle adoption.

“I think the biggest challenge is going to be how quickly can all of the member jurisdictions find the resources needed to implement these strategies,” said Srikanth. “None of the strategies that the board adopted are brand new. These are all well-known strategies, proven strategies, but now there is a renewed sense of urgency.”

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said in June that the board listened to a number of requests to consider climate change in their plans. He said he expects the next set of long-term plan updates to make progress in reducing emissions and car dependency and fostering a more “equitable and sustainable transportation system.”

Forecasts in the board’s recent climate mitigation study published last year show at least half of sold vehicles on the region’s roads would need to be electric to meet the board’s goals.

Converting vehicles to clean fuels and developing an electric vehicle charging network are some of the reduction strategies still being discussed among members, the study states.

Other strategies include adding more housing units near high-capacity transit stations, reducing travel times and completing the board’s National Capital Trail Network to increase walk and bike trips.

Srikanth said one sign the board is moving closer to its goal is the impending operation of the Metrorail Silver Line in Northern Virginia, which was included in the board’s previous long-term plan in 2010.

But Tulkin criticized the transportation board’s decision last summer to place the I-270 toll lane project — proposed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan — back on its list of priority projects, a move required to obtain federal funding. The project had been taken off due to opposition.

“If the Metro region is serious about reaching its goal of reducing at least 50% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, then the entire toll lanes proposal must be stopped,” Tulkin said in a statement. “Instead, we need to build a sustainable transportation system that gives people more options to get around without needing to drive everywhere.”


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Nathaniel Cline
Nathaniel Cline

Nathaniel is an award-winning journalist who's been covering news across the country since 2007, including politics at The Loudoun Times-Mirror and The Northern Neck News in Virginia as well as sports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. He has also hosted podcasts, worked as a television analyst for Spectrum Sports, and appeared as a panelist for conferences and educational programs. A graduate of Bowie State University, Nathaniel grew up in Hawaii and the United Kingdom as a military brat. Five things he must have before leaving home: his cellphone, Black Panther water bottle, hand sanitizer, wedding ring and Philadelphia Eagles keychain.