The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) is urging Congress to fine-tune the federal Clean Air Act transportation conformity requirements and says provisions in the House highway and transit reauthorization bill would help further improve air quality and prevent abuses of the federal and state transportation planning processes by development opponents.
The CAA conformity regulations tie a state or local community's ability to move transportation improvement plans forward to their demonstrated or projected ability to meet federal air quality standards. The process depends on computer modeling and agency assumptions on issues like future population and economic growth and driving and mass transit use projections.
States or local governments that fail to demonstrate their transportation plans will confirm to the area's federally mandated emissions reduction plan can have their share of federal transportation dollars withheld.
"One of the major problems with the transportation conformity process is that many people think it's an exact science, when it is not," Brian Holmes, ARTBA state executive said at a House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality hearing on the conformity provisions in H.R. 3--the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. "Conformity lapses don't occur because air quality is getting worse. It's not.
"Conformity lapses occur because government agencies miss deadlines for filing paperwork," or the assumptions they used for the computer modeling are challenged, or the computer models are challenged, or because the emissions reductions they are trying to squeeze out of an increasingly cleaner transportation sector, relative to all other sources of pollution, are unrealistic.
Holmes drew specific attention to H.R. 3's proposal to establish a 12-month "grace period" for existing projects where an area falls out of conformity. "This provision will allow already approved, environmentally sound transportation projects to continue. This type of flexibility and common sense is greatly needed."
The public, especially those who contract with government agencies to build transportation improvement projects, also will have more predictability in the conformity process under the provisions in H.R. 3, he said.