America's Transportation Future Stands a Crossroads

America's Transportation Future Stands a Crossroads

President Biden's infrastructure legislation will re-invest in America's transportation system. While billions will go toward greener transportation infrastructures like EV chargers and public transit, $273 billion will be reserved for new construction and repairs of state highways.

Transportation needs and modes in the US vary greatly by region, and Western states tend to be more reliant on automobiles than public transportation, such as trains and subways. So now, they’ll need to decide how to shape their transportation future.

In Colorado, Governor Jard Polis has promised to cut transportation emissions in an effort to meet the state's goal of "100% renewable energy by 2040." In December, the state already adopted the Greenhouse Gas Planning Standard, which focuses on moving investment away from highway expansions and towards bike lanes and buses.

Why This Matters

Transportation is both a major contributor to the climate crisis and a necessity. Already, transportation is responsible for 29% of emissions. Constructing new highways not only maintains but expands existing carbon infrastructure, making it harder for cities and the country to meet clean energy goals.

Additionally, highway expansion is often an environmental justice issue. Expansion projects placed in lower-income communities can further worsen air quality. The recent 1-94 expansion project in Milwaukee was put on hold after concerns that the project runs through a predominantly black community. The Biden infrastructure package contained investments to remove mid-twentieth-century highways and roads which cut off poor communities from waterfronts and hurt Black and Brown neighborhoods disproportionately.

A Halt On Highways

Younger generations, environmental advocates, and some politicians have taken a stand against highway expansion, citing that commitments to decades of carbon-emitting construction and transportation are in direct opposition with net-zero goals. Often, adding more lanes to highways results in huge costs and no relief in traffic congestion. Because driving becomes more convenient, highways become as crowded as before. This phenomenon is called "generated traffic" and "induced travel."

America's transportation system stands at a crossroads. According to Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, "There's lots of money for transit, but if new transit lines are surrounded by hundreds of newly expanded highways, how do we think that will work out for the climate? The status quo is going to win unless everything aligns to change it."

City Beautiful: Why are we still widening highways in US cities?, October 25, 2021.

Grist: What happens to traffic when you tear down a freeway?, April 9, 2019.