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March 30, 2011

Area may not meet federal air quality standards

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By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, March 30, 2011

20110323-MPO
The MPO Policy Board met on March 23, 2011

An increase in air pollution as well as tighter regulations could soon lead to greater federal scrutiny of transportation projects overseen by the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“Between those two things, we’re concerned that within the next two years we may find ourselves in non-attainment status,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

That would mean that any transportation plan approved by the MPO would have to demonstrate what steps would be taken to reduce pollution locally.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110323-MPO

 

The Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO is currently within approved guidelines whereas the MPOs that oversee planning Hampton Roads, Fredericksburg, Northern Virginia, and Richmond are all considered to be non-attaining.

“If [an] MPO area does not meet national standards for air quality, [the MPO] is required to make an analysis showing that their [transportation improvement program] will make air quality better,” said Dan Painter, a planner with VDOT’s Culpeper District.

The topic came up during the March meeting of the MPO Policy Board, the body which coordinates transportation planning in Charlottesville-Albemarle between state and local officials.  A presentation was made to educate the board’s newer members on how transportation planning works in Virginia.

The Clean Air Act of 1977 requires that state goals to improve air quality be taken into account when deciding what transportation projects should move forward.

“The state has to submit a plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency each year which shows how areas that have healthy air maintain that healthy air, and how regions with unhealthy air will clean up their air,” said Morgan Butler, a staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The TJPDC’s Williams said over time, regulations are becoming tighter because the EPA is assuming vehicles are becoming more efficient.

If the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO is designated as “non-attaining”, it would be eligible for additional money for congestion mitigation. However, that would come at a cost according to Williams.

“The air quality analysis is not easy to do and it also limits your choices because many of the types of projects we might want to do might actually increase air pollution,” Williams said. “Becoming a non-attainment area for the money is like going to prison just for the food.”

Williams said the planning process would become more arduous and expensive because a staff member would have to be qualified to conduct an air quality determination.

Butler said he did not think a change in status would be too hard for the community to handle.

“Knowing how proposed transportation projects would affect air quality is smart policy any time, but it becomes even more important if the air we’re breathing isn’t healthy,” Butler said.

Readings for ozone in the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO come from a single source – a monitoring station located at Albemarle High School.

Williams said ozone detected at the station may not necessarily have been generated in this location.

“In reality, once it goes into the air, who knows where it goes?” Williams asked. “All we can do is reduce the amount we’re putting into the air and hope that the other reductions in other places reduce air quality enough so that we can have better air quality overall here in Charlottesville.”

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 01:00 - Meeting called to order with election of Rodney Thomas as the Chair of the MPO
  • 03:45 - Approval of minutes
  • 04:00 - Discussion of changes to Bike Route 76
  • 09:30 - Presentation of VDOT's Six Year Improvement program
  • 22:45 - Snow asks about status of 29/250 improvements
  • 34:45 - Karen Kilby describes different funding sources for transportation projects in Virginia
  • 53:00 - Discussion of changes to Transportation Improvement Program
  • 1:08:30 - Discussion of Unified Planning and Work Program
  • 1:17:45 - Williams discusses data from American Community Survey
  • 1:31:00 - Discussion of FY12 Annual Listing

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