Cost of Inaction on U.S. Transportation

Sheryl CanterThis post is by Sheryl Canter, an online writer and editorial manager at Environmental Defense Fund.

A new fact sheet on costs to U.S. transportation and infrastructure surveys the many ways that global warming will cause disruption and damage if we don’t act to stop it.

Published by the Democratic Policy Committee, the fact sheet gives examples of known costs in different areas to give a sense of what the total might be – and it’s big. Here are just a few examples from the transportation sector:

Flooding, droughts, and shipping on rivers. In 1998, severe droughts stranded more than 4,000 barges, each capable of carrying 52,000 bushels of grain. Climate change increases the risk of similar droughts. At today’s prices, the cost to the agriculture sector would be more than $1.2 billion.

Rail transportation. Climate change increases the intensity of hurricanes, so we can expect more storms like Hurricane Katrina or worse. Reconstruction costs for the damage caused to rail transportation by Hurricane Katrina totaled about $300 million.

Muddy dirt roads and logging. The frozen dirt roads that logging companies use will be muddy and difficult to traverse for more of the time. In Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, almost 100,000 people are employed in forest-based manufacturing jobs that generate annual payrolls of $3 billion.

These are just a few examples from the transportation section. The infrastructure section examines potential damage to pipelines and costs of highway deterioration. All the numbers are documented with reference links.

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  1. kenzrw
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I wish the Democrats and the Congress in general would increase funding for passenger rail transportation, including Amtrak, making taking a train instead of driving a more relavent choice. According to a report I read, Oak Ridge National Laboratory research said that Amtrak uses 18 percent less BTU’s than driving, meaning 18 percent less greenhouse gases. We need to stop paving over this country and adding more and more cars. Walk, bike, take the bus or train.

  2. Posted April 16, 2008 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I think that kenzrw is wrong — in a good way. Most trains and busses follow fixed schedules. The marginal cost of an additional passenger is often nothing. If the train or bus fills up, it makes sense to add another trip to the schedule. (Airlines are good at this.) Amtrak often runs below capacity — and should LOWER prices to fill up the trains. Routes and times that are busy can raise prices (to reduce demand) or increase service. Even more important, busses should be free while there are still seats (it would be easier to make them free during off-peak hours).

    People understand free, and they will switch to mass transit. (Road pricing ON TOP of gas prices will help their decision.)

  3. kenzrw
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    davidzet, I agree with what you’re saying. Prices should be lowered when trains or buses are not full. For each 1 or 2 passengers that take the bus or train, that’s 1 or 2 cars off the highways. That’s why I’d like Amtrak or other passenger rail carries to add more trains on each route to make the trips more accesible useable.

    Take long-distance trains, for instance. Many only run once a day in each direction, and some of the 500 towns Amtrak serves has the train arriving in the middle of the night. Increase the frequency so there’d be a day train. And the fact that most people who ride Amtrak’s long distance trains only travel between the many towns along the route and not the entire length of the route, means there’d be more riders between the various points (such as between Chicago and Poplar Bluff, Missouri or between between Fargo, North Dakota and East Glacier, Montana, etc).

    You’d also need to have a convenient souce of tranportation at the passenger’s destintion, either mass transit or low-pollution hybrid cars. Interstate bus service would work the same way, with convenient departures in all towns and added frequency. Back in the 1920s and 30s, anyone could take a train to almost any town in the country. I think it would be great if we could return to those days, except adding fuel efficient hybrid-electric locomotives instead of the polluting coal or wood-burning engines of the past.

    Maybe I’m dreaming, but I think now is the time to ween people out of their their cars, helping both the economy and lowering greenhouse gases.

    Yes, I knoow it would cost money, but no transportation is free. Amtrak gets a subsidy, but so do highways (after all, everytime we buy gasoline, we subsidize roads by paying the gas tax, don’t we?) It’d take a mega-change in transportation priorities, but if we have the will, there’s always a way. This could at least be part of the global warming solution.

  4. kenzrw
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Here’s an interesting news release today by the National Association of Railroad Passengers. It has some good climate change facts and figures, and of course, encourages train riding:

    “Washington, D.C. April 16, 2008—Citing a missed opportunity to propose real solutions to climate change that would help both our environment and our economy, the National Association of Railroad Passengers criticized today’s address by President Bush and urged that balanced transportation policy be a key element in climate change legislation.

    “The President has a goal of halting the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 2025. His goal is inadequate and his methods for reaching it ring hollow,” said NARP Executive Director Ross Capon.

    “The framework he proposed today ignores a key problem: The United States, with just 4.5% of the world’s population, uses 25% of the world’s oil; the U.S. imports about 60% of its oil, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.” The U.S. transportation sector alone emits more CO2 than the entire economy of any other country in the world except China (US Public Interest Research Group). Environmental Protection Agency data show that over 60% of CO2 emissions from U.S. transportation in 2005 came from personal automobiles.

    Automobiles account for 40% of U.S. oil consumption, so U.S. automobiles cause about 10% of worldwide oil consumption.

    Capon noted, “With an expanded national passenger train network, Americans could shift to—-or expand use of—-an attractive, energy-efficient travel choice that is environmentally sound, reducing both their carbon output and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

    “The President’s desire to reduce carbon output in the energy sector is laudable, but his focus too narrow. NARP urges President Bush and Congress to include, as part of any meaningful climate change policy, an emphasis in transportation investment on the most energy-efficient and environmental sound forms of transportation, including passenger trains and mass transit. Such an emphasis would be consistent with the President’s stated interest in green technology.

    “Fuel efficiency offers the most immediate and biggest potential for reducing CO2 emissions from transportation over the next three decades, partly because we are so far from developing advanced, low-carbon technologies to replace oil-based transportation energy. The emissions reduction policy measure that will have the most immediate impact is the one that will make greater use of the most fuel/carbon efficient transportation.”

  5. satan
    Posted April 19, 2008 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    I was wondering. Can anyone tell me why can can’t dump hydrogen into an engine made for oil? It goes by the same principle, right? Liquid gas in. Liquid gas bomb. Stuff turn really fast. Gas comes out. Combined with the idea of…”internal combustion” I think it is called, it should be extremly cheap and enviormentally friendly.

  6. Posted April 24, 2008 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a post on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: