Re mid-year driving totals things aren’t exactly looking up

360px-CBX_Parkchester_6_jeh[1]We Americans must love our cars or why else in June 2015 would 261.9 billion so-called “seasonally-adjusted” miles have been driven; 8.7 billion more than in June 2014? That’s an increase of 3.4 percent June ’15 versus June ’14. Driving is also on pace to surpass 2014’s collective 3.016 trillion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) with an estimated total of 1.54 trillion miles logged for 2015’s first six months according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in a press release. Per-capita VMT, meanwhile, according to StreetsBlog USA, is just about where it was in 1997.

“The new data, published in FHWA’s latest ‘Traffic Volume Trends’ report, a monthly estimate of U.S. road travel, show that 275.13 billion miles were driven last June, the most ever in June of any year and the highest VMT for the first half of any year – reaffirming calls for increased investment in transportation infrastructure as demand on the nation’s highway system grows,” the FHWA acknowledged.

Several factors are responsible apparently – among them population growth, an improving economy and fuel being more affordable, according to StreetsBlog USA’s Angie Schmitt. Gas is close to $2 per gallon in some places, in fact, for regular unleaded.

Reported in a previous post was that miles-per-gallon vehicle fuel ratings averaged 27.25. The 8.7 billion extra miles driven in June ’15 over June ’14 means an additional 319,266,055 gallons of gas were purchased. So, just in June 2015 alone an added 6,385,321,100 pounds of carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere on account of the extra amount of fuel being burned. Remember: for each gallon of gasoline burned 20 pounds of CO2 is introduced into the air.

Emissions-wise, it’d be better if the amount of carbon dioxide released from motor vehicles decreased proportionately to the increase in driving. But, that’s not what’s happening. That motor vehicle emissions are on the rise overall, this doesn’t paint a very encouraging picture in the least. And, it isn’t just this. Driving-related fatalities numbered 40,000; this is up from right around 32,000 only one year earlier. These are yearly totals.

This all comes in the absence of a long-term transportation funding program being instituted in place of the many extensions that have in the meantime been substituted. These temporary transportation funding fixes have sufficed to tide programmatic transportation funding over. But a long-term funding solution is what is needed.

In California, with some state areas possessing some of the country’s worst traffic congestion and with some of those and other in-state areas having this nation’s worst air quality, well, according to The Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, it will take $5.9 billion per year more or $59 billion over the next decade just for roadway repair and upkeep, Walters repeating what Gov. Jerry Brown said. According to Walters also, and based on information from the FHWA, the physical condition of California’s highways is among the poorest in the nation.

320px-FLV_California_train[1]Immediately, some no doubt are wondering why the Golden State is spending $68.4 billion to build 520 miles of high-speed railway to connect northern and southern California when that kind of money could be better spent fixing the state’s deteriorating roadway infrastructure. This seems to be a commonly held concern.

The federal and state monies being allocated to the bullet train project cannot be used elsewhere; besides, that $68.4 billion sum is the cost spread out over a span of around 15 years out to 2029, which breaks down to an approximately $4.56 billion per-year expenditure.

Meanwhile, again according to Walters, through raised gasoline and diesel fuel taxes generated will be roughly four-and-a-half billion dollars per year for local and state government use. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) this year will have an expenditure of ten-and-a-half billion dollars, a third generated from taxes on fuels and weight fees on trucks with the bulk of what’s left being federally supplied, Walters continued.

320px-Benton_County_wind_turbines[1]While all of the roadway work may result in only a slight reduction in vehicle exhaust emissions, if that, California’s bullet train project, by 2029, the year operations are expected to commence, an estimated annual 29 million riders minimum will be riding emissions-free trains. That’s 29 million yearly travelers that won’t be adding to the state emissions levels from either flying or driving/riding in polluting cars and trucks. It should be noted, however, that Gov. Brown has set a goal of cutting fuel consumption from motor vehicles in state by half by 2030, and that, presumably, will mean average vehicle fuel-efficiency ratings by then will be double what they are now. If both efforts come to pass, this will be a win-win for air quality and the environment considering California’s bullet train system will be operated using 100 percent renewable energy.

All of which should set a course if not a precedent for how and where transportation dollars should be spent, where monies will do the most good (provide the greatest benefit) and in terms of what is being spent on what type of infrastructure project, what will yield the biggest bang for the buck.

Published by Alan Kandel