Reducing Carbon Pollution from Transportation

This week the U.S. Department of Transportation delivered new guidance for a key program in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Carbon Reduction Program.

Credit: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

This week the Department of Transportation delivered new guidance for a key program in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Carbon Reduction Program.


This program is noteworthy for a few reasons. It is the first major highway program dedicated to reducing carbon pollution. This signals that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and state highway agencies must accelerate strategies and investments for reducing carbon pollution from transportation.

Since it is a highway program, it’s substantial (highway programs tend to be big) although future Congresses should expand it further given the scale and urgency of our climate crisis. The program also requires that grantees—state and local jurisdictions—develop strategies for effective use of the new funding to decarbonize transportation.

In short, this is a chance for states and cities to develop new collaborative models for tackling climate change with infrastructure investments.

Digging further into the guidance, we find these highlights:

  • It refers to the Federal Highway Administration’s commonsense December 16th guidance as the overarching framework for implementation of all Bipartisan Infrastructure Law programs, including this one. That guidance laid out important priorities for addressing climate change, and I am glad to see that FHWA is continuing to highlight it.
  • It encourages states and local governments to prioritize safety, including incorporating Complete Streets into projects built with Carbon Reduction funds, making the choice to bike or walk more attractive and safer for families and commuters.
  • It encourages states to consider using Carbon Reduction funds for transit, which could help make better rail and bus service available to more people.

While this guidance is a very promising start to this important program, there are a few areas in which more could be done. Specifically:

  • States need more guidance on developing and implementing effective carbon reduction strategies, including defining the network of low-carbon mobility options enhanced and/or built out by new investments
  • States should be encouraged to use these funds for projects that will generate emissions reductions over the full life-cycle of the project, not just in the short term. Road improvements or traffic management projects that speed traffic may have short-term impacts due to reduced idling, but in the long run only serve to attract more drivers, which is counter to the purpose of this program.
  • Grantees should be required to demonstrate carbon emissions reductions for every project funded by the Carbon Reduction Program.
  • Projects that expand highway capacity should not be eligible absent analyses demonstrating emissions reductions over the project’s lifecycle.
  • FHWA should provide states and regions additional tools to understand the emissions impacts of fossil-fueled “clean” vehicles, which do not represent a long-term carbon reduction solution, and should further encourage projects to support zero-emission vehicles.
  • FHWA should commit to reporting annually on Carbon Reduction Program performance outcomes, especially carbon reductions

We look forward to working with FHWA and state highway agencies to measurably reduce carbon pollution thanks to this new program.

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