Everyone knows mass transit is key: CLT, Raleigh GOPers scramble to assure constituents
A new study from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) at the university’s School of Public Health provides as much reason as we’ve ever had before to support efforts to build public and mass transit systems.
Just as the North Carolina Senate unveils and debates their Charlotte-light-rail-stripping proposals — and as Charlotte and Raleigh GOP politicians scramble to assure their constituents that such projects are still viable — this new study shows a direct correlation between increased traffic congestion and public health costs stemming from premature deaths and other health risks resulting from air pollution caused by vehicle emissions, in particular fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx).
We estimate traffic congestion-related PM2.5, NOx and SO2 emissions in these 83 cities caused approximately 4,000 premature deaths in the year 2000, with a monetized value of approximately $31 billion (in 2007 dollars). This compares to the estimated $60 billion congested-related cost of wasted time and fuel in these communities during the same year. This fuel and time loss is expected to continue to grow annually over the next 20 years. […]
We forecast the mortality and public health costs of congestion, however, will diminish slightly over time in most of the areas studied—until rising again toward the end of the modeling period, 2030. In 2005, for example, we estimate congestion-related premature mortality of 3,000 lives, with a monetized value of $24 billion (in 2007 dollars). This reduction results from the continual turnover of the motor vehicle fleet to lower emission vehicles and the increased use of cleaner motor fuels.
Both Charlotte and Raleigh — the state’s two largest metro areas — face the challenge of increased traffic, congestion and resident travel. According to national models included in the HCRA study, Raleigh would experience a 54 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled by 2030; Charlotte would see an increase of 28 percent. The resulting public health impact will increase in local communities and remain sustained nationally, with $17 billion in health costs and 1,900 premature deaths by 2030. Last year, costs were conservatively estimated at $18 billion, with 2,200 premature deaths. Raleigh, in particular, will see dramatic increases in PM2.5, NOx and SO2 emissions (see chart below).
The Monetized Health Impacts Attributable to Congestion for Selected Urban Areas, 2000 - 2030 (Figure 2, “The Public Health Costs of Traffic Congestion”)
Charlotte already has one light rail line built and operating, but plans to start construction on the northern leg of the city’s north/south route might very well be stalled under new proposals from the North Carolina Senate. There, lawmakers have stripped $22.5 million previously dedicated to the Blue Line to UNC Charlotte. CATS CEO Carolyn Flowers says the new budget develops are disappointing; the absence of state backing will likely mean federal funds will dry up as well. Additionally, new rules would forbid the use or commitment of state money on such Charlotte projects in the future — a troubling development for Triangle-area residents who are already working on plans to build their own light rail project there.
The Charlotte Observer reports:
Blocking money for light rail in Charlotte could set a precedent for Triangle officials who are counting on the state to cover 25 percent of construction costs for planned light rail and commuter train projects that could cost a total of $3.5 billion over the next 15 years.
“This would hurt Charlotte in the very near term and, if it were to stand, would hurt us in the Triangle, clearly,” said David King, general manager of Triangle Transit.
But, the Harvard study set aside, everyone — even the politicians who themselves were charged with cutting out the light rail funding — know that public and mass transit projects like light rail are needed for future growth and sustainability and popular with constituents, many of whom would seek out new transportation opportunities if made available to them. That’s why Speaker of the House Thom Tillis — who represents Charlotte’s northern suburb, Cornelius — quickly sought out the press to allay public concerns that the final budget might retain funds for light rail projects. Similarly, Cary Sen. Richard Stevens, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee and oversaw the cuts to light rail monies, also spoke out.
“But GOP Sen. Richard Stevens of Cary, co-chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, warned against reading too much into the current budget,” the Charlotte Observer reported. “He said he would not rule out prospects for Triangle and other rail transit funding in future years.”
Tillis’ and Stevens’ knee-jerk reactions to assuage their constituents are telling. They know that constituents know public and mass transportation is smart, efficient and clean. They know that constituents know public and mass transportation is a much-needed infrastructure improvement that if left unbuilt due to nothing more than funding squabbles (the GOP has been attacking public transportation throughout this session) will cripple growing metropolitan, urban, education, research and commerce centers like Charlotte and Raleigh.
Additionally, major infrastructure projects like public and mass transit systems are investment. Everyone knows their costs, but most acknowledge their future and widespread benefit. A little investment upfront, can go a long way in building future capacity and growth down the road.
Like their proposals for education, these latest budget developments from our GOP-controlled legislature show once again that Republicans in the state have no grasp on the concept of investment and are better suited to the minority status they held for a century in this state. There is a stark difference between ranting and raving ideological viewpoints from the sidelines and quite another to actually put to use intelligent, wise and rational decision-making abilities in government. The Republicans haven’t learned that lesson, and their continued on-the-job training will damage North Carolina for generations to come.
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