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The United States allocates a large amount of funds towards building and maintaining roads instead of investing in public transportation, despite the looming threat of climate change.
Climate Environment World News

The United States allocates a large amount of funds towards building and maintaining roads instead of investing in public transportation, despite the looming threat of climate change.

Roads, roads and more roads. The US is continuing to spend billions of dollars on expanding enormous highways rather than fund public transport, with a landmark infrastructure bill lauded by Joe Biden only further accelerating the dominance of cars at the expense, critics say, of communities and the climate.

According to a recent analysis, despite President Biden’s recognition of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law passed in 2021 as a major step towards updating the US’s deteriorating bridges, roads, ports, and public transit, the majority of funding has been allocated towards road maintenance and expansion rather than enhancing the inadequate bus, rail, and cycling systems accessible to the American public.

Over half of the funds allocated to states has been utilized for improving and widening highways, with an estimated amount of $70 billion. Studies have consistently shown that this approach leads to an increase in car usage and thus, more traffic congestion.

Only 20% of the funds have been allocated towards public transportation thus far. The majority of the remaining funds are also being used to support increased car usage, such as repairing bridges.

According to a recent analysis from Transportation for America, the spending on highway expansions is a ticking “climate time bomb”. The report estimates that by 2040, these projects will emit over 178 million tons of greenhouse gases. While the bill includes measures to reduce emissions, they are not enough to fully offset the impact of the expansions.

Corrigan Salerno, a policy associate at Transportation for America, a transportation policy organization, stated that there are investments being made by states that do not adequately consider the impact on the climate.

“The methods of transportation are not undergoing any major changes. Investing a large amount of money in expanding highways is a problem for two reasons: it will be a burden in the future and it is not an effective solution. We have been expanding highways for many years, but people still face congestion regularly.”

The federal government has provided funding to states, giving them flexibility in how it can be used. However, the majority of state authorities have opted to continue investing in car-focused infrastructure. The Biden administration’s department of transportation has emphasized the importance of prioritizing road maintenance over expansion and considering the negative impact on communities, particularly those of color, that have been separated by highways and exposed to increased air pollution.

Nonetheless, this position faced opposition from Republicans in the legislative branch and has largely been disregarded by states like Texas and California, which are typically seen as progressive leaders in addressing climate issues. These states have continued to pursue plans to expand highways with additional lanes despite this stance.

According to Mary Buchanan, the research and policy manager at TransitCenter, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing public transportation in the US, the responsibility for decision-making largely lies with state departments of transportation. With 50 chances to either succeed or fail, the allocation of funds plays a crucial role.

According to Salerno, passing the infrastructure bill will result in the US producing more carbon emissions from transportation, which is already its biggest contributor to global warming. This means that we will have to deal with a significant increase in emissions in the future, as it will be difficult to reverse the impacts of building new highways.

The United States’ obsession with large highways, combined with the rise of oversized vehicles that are accountable for approximately 40,000 fatalities annually in accidents (a number that has increased in recent years), has sparked discussions about the need for a fresh perspective. A coalition of 200 organizations focused on climate change, biking, and promoting walkable cities has proposed a nationwide pause on the expansion of highways, citing the negative consequences they bring.

“The construction of our nation’s highway system is not sustainable in terms of both finances and the environment, and it unfairly impacts impoverished and minority communities,” reads a statement from the coalition in an open letter.

Unfortunately, there are currently no indications of public transportation experiencing better success. The Covid pandemic greatly impacted rail and bus services, resulting in a loss of commuter income and creating financial challenges for many city systems attempting to sustain their essential operational expenses.

Certain areas, however, seem openly unfriendly towards alternatives to cars. Politicians in Indiana have taken steps this week to prohibit designated bus lanes in Indianapolis, while leaders in Miami Beach have recently turned down a proposal to expand a train route in an effort to ease traffic. Additionally, it was recently declared that the final game of the 2026 World Cup will take place at the MetLife stadium in New Jersey, a venue where attendees are advised against walking due to hazardous conditions for pedestrians caused by cars.

Buchanan stated that the availability of public transportation varies significantly across the United States and that funding for it must be approached differently by the states.

She stated that if states keep using this additional funding in the same manner as before, it will only lead to further development of highways, solidifying our dependence on cars as the primary mode of transportation.

“This is a crucial point in time. The potential for emissions to rise in the transportation sector due to the passing of these infrastructure bills is concerning.”

According to a representative from the US Department of Transportation, the current Biden administration has implemented the most stringent measures to date in order to decrease carbon emissions in the transportation sector. These efforts include the largest ever investment in public transportation, the largest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak was founded, and significant funding for initiatives that promote active modes of transportation such as walking and biking. Additionally, there have been historic investments in zero-emission buses, electric vehicles, and charging infrastructure.

Source: theguardian.com