EPA Ozone Rule Threatens Southern California Transportation Projects

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The FINANCIAL — The U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy continued its analysis of the impact of the Obama’s administration’s new ozone regulation with a snapshot look at its impact on Southern California.

The Energy Institute’s Grinding to a Halt series explains how the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to tighten ozone standards could impact critical transportation projects nationwide. In Southern California, the rule could impact 299 projects worth over $32 billion planned to address congestion, according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“At 92 parts per billion, the current level of ozone in the Los Angeles area far exceeds the Obama administration’s new one-size-fits-all standard of 70, which will have major implications for projects in Southern California,” said Dan Byers, senior director of Policy at the Energy Institute. “While local officials have done an excellent job improving air quality, they are out of options to find ways to meet even the existing standard, let alone the new one being implemented by the EPA.” 

Under the Clean Air Act, the federal government is authorized to withhold transportation funding and halt permitting for highway and transit projects in regions unable to demonstrate compliance with emissions rules. Southern California faces perhaps the most difficult challenge of any area in the nation to comply. 

Already the second most populous region in the United States, the greater Los Angeles region is expected to grow to 22 million people by 2035. In order to deal with notorious congestion, officials have planned more than $180 billion in transportation projects, all of which could be threatened either by EPA withholding funding or by permitting. 

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The report includes a statement from Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, the organization responsible for regional transportation planning, regarding the difficult of meeting the new standard in Southern California. 

An example of a project that could be halted as a result of EPA’s new ozone standard is the $1.7 billion Mid-County Parkway project in Riverside County. This project would construct a new 16 mile parkway with six lanes to connect with I-215 and Route 79. When the project is completed, traffic times between Perris and Riverside will be reduced by more than 30 minutes compared to the projected travel time in 2040. 

“The city of Los Angeles is in the process of instituting a self-imposed ‘road diet’ that reduces vehicle lane-miles in favor of dedicated bus and bike lanes,” Byers said. “Unfortunately, EPA’s ozone rule could impose a similar diet across the entire region, halting advancement of desperately needed congestion-reducing projects and making already stifling traffic even worse.”


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