2. Better cars
Even with significant investment in the alternative modes of transportation, cars are still expected to remain the major mode of transportation in the U.S. That’s why switching to low-carbon transportation options like EVs is critical for reducing carbon emissions. This transition will require consumer adoption but also the charging infrastructure needed to support these new vehicles. Without a robust network of charging stations, drivers may experience "range anxiety"—the fear of not having enough battery charge to reach your destination—and be hesitant to purchase electric vehicles.
As we move towards a low-carbon future, it is important to include heavy-duty vehicles in decarbonization plans, since they account for almost one-third of the total GHG emissions from on-road transportation. However, building a zero-emission infrastructure network for these vehicles presents unique challenges. With their larger size, higher power demands, and longer range requirements, it's not as simple as just adding a few charging stations. But it's not an impossible task. By designing a comprehensive, reliable, and accessible network of zero-emission infrastructure, we can enable heavy-duty vehicles to transition to low-carbon transportation without sacrificing performance or efficiency.
A transition to EVs alone can dramatically reduce GHGs, but an electric grid powered primarily by clean energy is required to unlock the full carbon-reducing potential of EVs.
3. Better infrastructure
As U.S. states and metropolitan planning organizations strive towards a decarbonized future, it's important to understand that this new infrastructure will create a significant carbon footprint of its own. Every step of the process, from extracting raw materials to construction and maintenance, emits greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. In fact, the lifecycle of emissions from this new infrastructure is expected to be one of the most significant drivers of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. Given this reality, it's essential that transportation planners explore and implement various strategies to effectively manage these emissions.
Climate-friendly alternatives to traditional concrete, improved paving techniques, and better preventative maintenance are just a few of the options available to minimize the carbon footprint of this new infrastructure. By prioritizing these measures and considering the full lifecycle of emissions, state transportation departments can make significant progress towards a cleaner, more sustainable future for transportation. For example, transportation planners can leverage tools and technology to estimate the energy and GHG emissions on their transportation infrastructure, like the infrastructure carbon estimator ICF built for the FHWA.
Strategies for success
To truly decarbonize the transportation sector, it's imperative that state transportation departments prioritize strategies for shifting to low-carbon modes of travel, improving vehicle efficiency, leveraging low-carbon fuels, and investing in sustainable infrastructure assets. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving this goal. Every state must tailor its decarbonization strategy to meet its unique needs and challenges. By adopting innovative and customized approaches, transportation departments can effectively address the emissions challenges in their respective states.
Transportation departments should also consider strategies that ensure equity and human health as additional elements of decarbonization. Integrating these components into a decarbonization strategy can help transportation planners access federal funding and ultimately achieve their climate and transportation goals simultaneously: a win-win.