As any business owner will admit, a great business means nothing if people can’t access it.
Here in North Texas, we’ve been expanding our roads over the past few years to accommodate new companies, as well as the people moving here to take advantage of new opportunities.
Although most of us have complained about the traffic, we also recognize that, ultimately, those construction projects will bring a smoother commute.
That’s one reason why new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are a concern for motorists all across the Metroplex.
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The EPA is moving forward with a plan to tighten the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone.
The original clean air standard for ozone was set in 1997 at 85 parts per billion. At that time, North Texas air was at 102 ppb.
After more than a decade of effort, our region is now at 83 ppb. However, in 2008 the EPA changed the standard to 75 ppb, an even more challenging goal.
Now, EPA wants to change again by moving the standard further to 70 ppb, at which point some believe national parks would be in non-attainment, including Death Valley National Park and Cape Cod National Seashore.
With a 70 ppb ozone standard, many counties in Texas will also remain in non-attainment, including Tarrant County.
According to a joint warning from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Coalition of Counties and the National League of Cities, a non-attainment designation can severely affect new transportation projects.
As those groups explained, “for non-attainment areas, the federal government can withhold federal highway funds for projects and plans … even when these projects and plans could have a measurable positive effect on congestion relief.”
According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Scorecard, the Metroplex burned nearly 80 million gallons of excess fuel due to traffic congestion in 2014. The related loss of productivity cost our region a staggering $4.2 billion last year, which is the seventh highest in the country.
Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report on the impact of the new ozone rule for North Texas commuters.
As the report notes, the North Central Texas Council of Governments has identified $95 billion of transit projects that are necessary to alleviate the worst congestion problems, including $40 billion for freeway construction and expansion, all to accommodate additional cars and trucks from our growing population.
But the EPA’s ozone rule puts these projects at risk; even the cleanest vehicles have emissions. Two such at-risk projects are the I-820 Loop Interchange and I-35W reconstruction, which could face a cutoff in federal funds and a permitting freeze until the region can get into attainment.
NCTCOG has diligently worked to avoid such cuts by implementing innovative programs that further lower our emissions levels.
The federal government has recognized these good-faith efforts and steady reductions by continuing to grant transportation funds, even though our region is not yet to the current 75 ppb goal set by the EPA. A 70 ppb standard may make sanctions more likely.
Finally, more than 60 percent of the controls and technologies needed to meet the new standard are what the EPA admits are unknown controls.
These unknown controls do not take into account negative air quality influences for the Metroplex from other areas of the state, such as the Piney Woods of East Texas or other metropolitan areas, let alone the influences from out of state as far north as Chicago.
In other words, the rule is setting up the potential for a traffic nightmare from which North Texans may never be able to awaken.
Balancing economic growth with environmental protection is never easy, but imposing new federal regulations without regard to cost or feasibility is not the answer.
Stanford Lynch is chairman of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee and an associate with Freese and Nichols Inc.