OTF Voices

Connecticut could be known for a modern transportation system, instead of asthma

Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut

By Amy McLean Salls and Charles Rothenberger

Connecticut’s transportation system is due for an upgrade. The state’s network of roads, public transit, and ports, ranks 37th in the nation, and our outdated infrastructure, congested roads, and polluted air are a drag on the economy. All of Connecticut’s residents and businesses deserve transportation options that will help them thrive, and that’s a vision that we can deliver.

We need to begin the work of building a modern transportation system that is less reliant on fossil fuels and more protective of public health. That’s why we’re encouraged to see that Connecticut has embraced the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) as an opportunity to accelerate the transition to a cleaner, modern, more equitable transportation system. Connecticut is working with eleven other states and the District of Columbia to develop a cap-and-invest program to reduce transportation pollution and fund clean transportation investments.

We already have a similar program for power plant pollution — the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — and it has helped the region slash smokestack emissions by 47 percent while funding energy efficiency programs in Connecticut. It is time we apply a similar model to the transportation sector.

In Connecticut, the transportation sector is responsible for 38 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 67 percent of the state’s nitrogen oxide emissions — a leading contributor to respiratory diseases. If we’re going to improve air quality in our most vulnerable communities and meet the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets — 45 percent below 2001 levels by 2030 — we need to take immediate steps to reduce pollution from cars, trucks and buses. The Transportation and Climate Initiative’s multi-state approach will help us hit that mark.

Beyond the emission reduction benefits, the Transportation and Climate Initiative would also fund investments that expand our transportation choices and modernize Connecticut’s infrastructure. Specific investments could include expanding and electrifying public transit, building more electric vehicle charging stations, consumer rebates to make clean cars more affordable, and improving sidewalks and biking lanes to encourage safe, active, emissions-free mobility.

When asked about their transportation priorities, these are exactly the types of investments that Connecticut residents want to see. A recent survey from Transport Hartford shows that over 82 percent of respondents support Connecticut’s participation in the Transportation and Climate Initiative, and they want to see the proceeds invested in equitable, low-carbon transportation options.

The program, when paired with complementary transportation, climate, and development strategies, would be a boon for Connecticut’s economy. A recent Acadia Center report shows that by capping transportation carbon dioxide emissions, auctioning allowances, and investing proceeds — much like Connecticut already does for power plants emissions — the state could generate $2.7 billion in auction proceeds through 2030. Reinvesting these funds across the state’s transportation system would generate 23,000 long-term jobs; $2.2 billion in new wages; $7 billion in new business sales; and $4.3 billion in other benefits, including reduced air pollution.

The transportation decisions we make today should address our current challenges while laying the foundation for a better transportation future. The next generation won’t be grateful if we widen highways and double down on polluting trips. They will be grateful, however, if we lead by ensuring that the next generation has a livable climate with thriving cities and town centers. They will be grateful if we make significant investment in public transit, sidewalks, and safe biking routes, so that they can get to where they need to go conveniently and sustainably. And they will be grateful when their kids and grandkids grow up in Hartford or New Haven without the burden of living in an “asthma capital.” The Transportation and Climate Initiative can help make this vision a reality.

Amy McLean Salls is the Connecticut director of the Acadia Center and Charles Rothenberger is the Climate and Energy Attorney for Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

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