Modernizing transportation can help tackle the climate crisis

June 10, 2021

It’s no surprise that wildfire season is already upon us in California, with experts projecting that this year’s season will be among the worst – an unwelcome trend in the West. Drought and dry weather have once again put California, along with other states, at risk for extreme and dangerous fires. Despite increased safety planning, community awareness, and countless mitigation efforts, we have witnessed each wildfire season becoming progressively worse year over year. 

The need for climate action is blazing before our eyes, and we must seize every chance we get to make an impact. And this yearwe have a once-in-a-generation opportunity  to take on the threat of extreme weather and climate change by modernizing the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country: transportation. 

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris  laid out a plan that would move our country’s crumbling infrastructure into the 21st Century and toward a clean energy future, all while creating family-sustaining union jobs and advancing justice and equity through improved access to services like transit and safe roads. As we rebuild from COVID-19, it’s become abundantly clear that when faced with competing crises, the answer is  creating solutions to tackle them together – and to do so boldly.   

California has often served as a leader for the rest of the country – but when it comes to infrastructure, we are falling short. The American Society of Civil Engineers have identified California’s roads, bridges, water, and energy infrastructure—among other types of infrastructure—as areas needing attention, giving the state an overall C- grade, the same grade given to the country as a whole. And there is a particularly notable disparity for rural communities, that more often than not have limited access to safe roads, public transit, and stable bridges. One-third of all rural roads are in poor to mediocre conditions with nearly one-in-twelve of the nation’s rural bridges needing rehabilitation, repair or replacement. The poor quality of rural roads also contributes to half of all roadway fatalities in the country, compared to urban areas.  

Although they are literally crumbling beneath us, rural roads are vital for our economic stability, playing a critical role in moving food and goods across the country and the world. California receives the most income from agricultural production in the country, but it’s also one of the top states with the highest percentage of rural roads in poor conditions. Not to mention the trucks and vehicles that move across these roads release dangerous pollutants – which, in turn, exacerbate climate disasters that tear apart our existing infrastructure and threaten public safety. 

The imbalances we see with neglected rural transportation are also a matter of equity. Toxic air pollution disproportionately impacts low-income and communities of color. But there are solutions right in front of us, if we choose to take them. A full transition to electric buses and rail will help reduce air pollution enough to prevent 4,200 deaths and save about $100 billion in health damages each year. Investing $2.4 trillion in transportation investments over a decade, as proposed by the THRIVE Act, would support over 4 million jobs per year. These benefits are just a snapshot of the kind of America we could be living in by committing to invest in our communities.   

The path forward for California, and the rest of the country, is to take advantage of the interest from our leaders and constituents in updating infrastructure and making this plan bigger and bolder. Investments in infrastructure can be made in a way that tackles our problems, instead of perpetuating them. We can invest in electric vehicles, sustainable local-made manufacturing for infrastructure, accessible public transit, and so much more. The potential impacts of a visionary infrastructure plan can  create millions of jobs, protect our public health, provide support to communities that are often neglected, and tackle the climate crisis.  

As my state grapples with another year of extreme drought and devastating wildfires, I will be holding my constituents’ fear of loss of homes and lives at the top of my mind  to make the best decisions as a leader whose job it is to not only protect but also improve the lives of the people I represent. Addressing climate change is the greatest imperative of our time; and we can meet this crisis head-on by updating our transportation and infrastructure so that we are mitigating the problem rather than maintaining the dangerous status-quo.  

By:  Rep. Jared Huffman
Source: The Hill