Analysis of the $599 billion allocated in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for surface transportation shows that greenhouse gas emissions could either expedite a decline in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) or hinder progress. Ultimately, the outcome depends on the specific projects and approaches chosen across the country as federal funds are deployed.
Upon close analysis of the infrastructure package, the Georgetown Climate Center found that as funds are deployed, greenhouse gases could be lowered. However, depending on the actual choices made in the selection of projects across the country, progress could be slowed. As ENR reports, surface transportation projects will likely determine the outcome:
Researchers contend that the selection of projects to be funded has the potential to either hasten an expected decline in GHG emissions or slow efforts to cut them…The high-emission scenario projects 1.6% more emissions in 2032, while the low-emission scenario projects 1.3% less than the baseline…Highway spending in particular may swing the infrastructure package’s impact one way or the other. The high-emission scenario assumes that 27% of the money would support highway expansion and 23% spent on existing highway maintenance. The low-emission scenario drops the amount spent on new highways to just 4% and allocates 38% toward maintenance. That scenario also reflects other low-carbon strategies, with greater portions of the money allocated tor infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists and electric vehicles. The researchers wrote that they expect reality to fall somewhere between the two scenarios.
While it will take time for most projects funded by the infrastructure act to get underway, some transportation officials already are taking steps to make them more sustainable and resilient.
The Federal Highway Administration released guidance on Dec. 16 that encourages state and local agencies to prioritize maintenance and modernize existing transportation infrastructure—rather than build new roads.
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State Priorities: Colorado?
The specific projects ultimately funded by federal infrastructure dollars will reflect the priorities of state transportation departments and local planning leaders. In Colorado, for example, climate-conscious approaches are already taking shape:
Officials recently approved a new rule to move money to more environmentally friendly projects by requiring GHG emissions estimates in planning, setting emission reduction levels and restricting funds from projects that don’t mitigate emissions. “What all this will likely mean in practice is greater investments in projects that improve quality of life and air quality for Coloradans, such as adding sidewalks and protected bike facilities, improving local and intercity transit and supporting compact and walkable land use,” Kelly Blynn, transportation climate change specialist for the Colorado Energy Office, wrote in a blog post about the rule.
Mindset Shifts Ahead
Experts anticipate “an annual average growth rate of 5.1% globally during the period from 2020 to 2025, driven by unprecedented levels of government stimulus…” Construction industry experts also predict that shifts in approaches to supply chain, labor and technology are going to be critical to the success of public projects.
Leveraging technology across the life cycle of construction projects is necessary for “on-time and on-budget” outcomes. Shifts in education and marketing about careers in the trades are also deemed essential for a thriving labor force.
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