Study Highlights IIJA Spending, Climate Issues

THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2024


Transportation policy organization Transportation for America recently released a study detailing how most of the funding from the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) has gone towards highway expansion projects that could increase emissions.

According to a release from the organization, the question is now centered around whether states will reverse course to mitigate the issue in the last two fiscal years of funding.

About the Study

The findings were reportedly presented at a briefing with American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials in Washington, D.C., where politicians such as Delaware Senator Tom Carper weighed in on the IIJA and its role in fighting against climate change.

According to the release, the organization’s study indicated that while many senators have explained how the IIJA can help in reducing emissions, the legislation has reportedly not yet made a positive impact.

Though the IIJA reportedly gave states a chance to use formula program dollars towards emissions-reducing projects, state DOTs also maintained the flexibility and power to invest in traditional, unsustainable road-building projects.

Climate researchers reportedly found that states play an important role in deciding if the infrastructure law could help reduce emissions or use the new funding to make the current problem worse.

With specific potential outcomes in mind, researchers reportedly set out to find out how states are using the IIJA’s funding.

Using artificial intelligence, the organization reportedly categorized thousands of infrastructure law federal award project descriptions in line with the Georgetown Climate Center’s Transportation Investment Strategy Tool.

According to the release, the organization then used this to determine how states are using their federal program funding.

This was reportedly done by categorizing over $130 billion in funding, designated to be spent with IIJA funding from over 56,000 U.S. Federal Highway Administration projects, over 1,200 Federal Transit Administration grants and multiple grants from the Office of the Secretary and Federal Railroad Administration.

Research Findings

Instead of using the funding levels to give people alternatives to congestion, pollution and car dependency, the analysis reportedly found that states have given over $33 billion in federal dollars (more than 25% of analyzed funds) toward projects that work to expand road capacity.

“We’re seeing investments that are not too conscious of the climate across the board from states,” policy associate at Transportation for America Corrigan Salerno said in a report from The Guardian.

“Nothing is fundamentally changing in terms of modes of transport. This much money going into highway expansion is, for one, a liability into the future, and two, it just doesn’t work. We’ve been expanding highways for decades on decades, and everyone consistently finds themselves stuck in traffic.”

Additionally, states and authorities have reportedly been slow to appoint funds for transit and other emissions-reducing projects, as well as to spend funds relative to FHWA dollar spending.

According to the study, only around 20% of FTA formula apportionments from fiscal year 2022 to 2024 were reported as necessary in this dataset, while 64% of FHWA formula apportionments were reported necessary, aligning with reporting from U.S. Department of Transportation.

Additionally, there has reportedly been a concern surrounding the idea that if IIJA funds are not scheduled to be spent within a specified period of time, they could expire and become unavailable for use.

To keep the surface of the nation’s massive inventory of roads, almost 28% of analyzed funding has reportedly been given to highway resurfacing, a strategy that the Georgetown Climate Center stated its Transportation Investment Strategy Tool could potentially help at when working to reduce emissions.

The study also reportedly determined that road maintenance accounts for more than half of all FHWA formula spending by using information provided by the federal government on USAspending.gov.

Updating project spending data is reportedly a slow process for state DOTs and federal agencies, and many discretionary awards have not yet been uploaded to the site. Because of this, the organization states that the current analysis does not reflect all of the IIJA’s spending.

Instead, the organization said that it expects this analysis to shine a light on how states use the largest, and often least understood chunk of federal funding—federal highway formula funds.

Without federal guardrails on states or a drastic change in spending priorities, the analysis reportedly predicts a large increase in GHG emissions if current trends continue.

The release adds that the IIJA is only approaching its midway point, set to expire on September 30, 2026. If states continue to fund and advance projects in the same way that they’ve done so far, the organization believes that the IIJA will have a strong impact on the climate.

According to the organization, the IIJA could potentially produce an additional 178.5 million tons of CO2e GHG over baseline emissions by 2040. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this is the emissions equivalent of running 48 coal-fired power plants for a full year.

However, The Guardian reports that some jurisdictions have rallied against non-car options. Lawmakers in Indiana reportedly recently moved to ban dedicated bus lanes in Indianapolis, while officials in Miami Beach recently rejected a plan to extend a rail line to help alleviate congestion.

Yet another report from Construction Dive states that the Texas Department of Transportation also recently proposed a $12 billion project to widen Interstate 45 in Houston, despite objections of dozens from organizations.

“Nearly 25% of the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] formula dollars, specifically, states are spending towards highway expansion and another quarter is being spent towards highway resurfacing,” Salerno said.

Construction Dive adds that Transportation for America’s projection that the IIJA could add more than 69 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2040 was made before the reported possibility that President Joe Biden's administration may stretch out emissions standards for passenger vehicles and light trucks.

The standard could reportedly require 67% of new light-duty vehicle sales to be electric vehicles by model year 2032. The revised rule expects EVs to account for less than 60% of new vehicles manufactured by 2030.

“So much of the decision making falls to state departments of transportation,” said Mary Buchanan, research and policy manager at TransitCenter, a foundation working to improve public transit in the U.S. “There are essentially 50 opportunities to get this right, I guess, or to potentially get it wrong, in terms of how money is being spent.”

Transportation for America’s study reportedly concluded that the IIJA has been used to expand roadways despite the billions of federal dollars already spent on highway expansion projects. Now, the release adds, it may take more work to undo certain environmental harms.

   

Tagged categories: Air quality; Department of Transportation (DOT); Emissions; Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Federal Railroad Administration; Funding; Gas detectors; Government; Grants; Green Infrastructure; Greenhouse gas; Health & Safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; President Biden; Program/Project Management; Research; Research and development; Roads/Highways

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