Key Steps To Green America’s Transportation Infrastructure

What It Would Take To Make America’s Transportation Infrastructure More Environmentally Sustainable

By Amanda Winstead

America is a country that is often admired for its vast and varied geography. It encompasses rolling pastures, cityscapes, mountains, and deserts all in a single landmass. Yet, its size also means that its citizens are dependent on cars, trains, and planes to navigate day-to-day life.

This reliance can be particularly problematic when we consider the fuel consumption that comes along with vehicle use. Every year, trillions of gallons of fossil fuels are used by private individuals and businesses in the U.S. The damage this is causing to the environment is significant, making it imperative that a switch to greener methods is made as soon as possible.

Yet, the onus isn’t only on individuals to switch to cars fueled by renewable fuels. For electric or hybrid vehicle use to be in any way sustainable, there also needs to be infrastructural development. So, let’s take a look at what it would take to green America’s transportation infrastructure.

Understanding the Range of Damage

From the outside, it can be easy to state that America’s current transportation system is less than ideal. Yet, from the inside, it can often be more difficult to spot the full range of problems that a transportation system so reliant on fossil fuels can pose. One of the keys to making the transportation infrastructure greener is to ensure that the U.S. public is educated about just how varied the range of issues related to retaining fossil fuel infrastructure is. This could be provided in schools and through government-backed marketing campaigns.

Some of the key areas of damage to highlight include the following.

Congested traffic on a 6-lane freeway
Photo by luigi alvarez
Source: Pexels

Direct Environmental Damage

Perhaps the most obvious issue here is the damage fossil fuel transportation is already doing to the American and global environment.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has confirmed that the transportation sector is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other industry. Alongside this, the industrial removal and processing of fossil fuels continue to put extreme pressure on national ecosystems. Fossil fuel emissions also contribute to poor air quality, acid rain, and smog, which have devastating effects on human settlements and animal habitats alike.

Health Deterioration

Another key area of damage relating to fossil fuel transportation is the damage to the health of Americans. On a background atmospheric level alone, the volume of harmful emissions continues to potentially contribute to neurological, respiratory, and immune system deterioration.

There are also specific risks American workers have to contend with. Increasing commuting times can exacerbate mental and physical health consequences experienced by employees on their way to work. Highways congested with noisy gas-powered vehicles can see commuters subject to greater levels of stress and anxiety — not to mention that more time on the roads means greater exposure to harmful emissions.

Socioeconomic Disparity

One of the least recognized yet nonetheless serious consequences of continued transportation fossil fuel reliance is its effect on socioeconomic disparity.

Fossil fuel prices are high and continue to rise. This in itself is a problem for those on lower incomes. It becomes even more problematic when so many people depend on their vehicles to travel to work, school, or recreational activities. When gas prices rise out of step with wage rates, this puts additional pressure on those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. In effect, fossil fuels exacerbate the wealth gap, contribute to poverty, and negatively impact the quality of life for poorer populations.

Ekorent's electric car on a road by a green forest
Ekorent’s electric car in HelsinkiFinland
Credit: Nemo bis – Own work

How to Lessen the Impact of Transportation Infrastructure

Investment in Alternative Fuels

Making America’s transportation infrastructure green will require investment in a variety of areas. This is something there is almost no getting around, Without committed investment, it will be extremely difficult for the transportation industry to transition to cleaner and more sustainable methods. One of the primary focuses for investment should be in the development and use of alternative fuels themselves.

Electric methods are, of course, a priority. There is currently a dire need to invest in improving the efficiency of electricity as a fuel. Not to mention that there must be greater development of more practical sizes and weights of batteries themselves. However, moving directly to electric may not be practical or even desirable for all private and commercial vehicle owners in America.

Consequently, there needs to be investment in fuels that can bridge the gap. For instance, hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative to fossil fuels may be viable. They already play a prominent role in the aerospace industry and could represent a cheaper and cleaner fuel source. Yet, there are issues surrounding the reliable storage of hydrogen fuel. Not to mention that there is not yet a system in place to produce these cells on the kind of large industrial scale that would be required to serve the millions of motorists on America’s roads. Therefore, more investment would need to be made by commercial motor vehicle manufacturers, fuel producers, and government agencies to solve these issues.

Public Recognition of Benefits

Much of the public information about alternative fuel for transportation is rooted in the urgency of the need for change.

It’s certainly important for Americans to recognize that there are clear environmental reasons to make better choices. However, it may also be important to emphasize the other benefits that investment in renewable transport infrastructure can offer. With some clarity on these advantages, the public may be not just more likely to adopt renewable fuel vehicles but also put pressure on their local and national governments to create an infrastructure that supports their travel needs.

Highlighting the cost benefits is perhaps one of the most impactful approaches here. After all, many people in the U.S. are still experiencing difficult economic conditions. There are financial advantages that individuals investing in alternative fuel vehicles can gain. For instance, electric vehicle maintenance costs tend to be lower. This is the result of fewer moving parts that need to be adjusted, repaired, or updated. Therefore, owners of electric cars not only have to pay lower costs but also experience them less frequently.

Another important benefit to pitch to consumers and governments alike is the improvements to the general quality of life. Electric and hybrid vehicles tend to be quieter than their fossil counterparts. This lower level of noise pollution can make travelling and living spaces more pleasant to be around.

Not to mention that the reduction of emissions and smells can make walkable neighbourhoods and cities better environments for day-to-day experiences. This can be attractive to individuals and give local governments a way to draw new residents, industries, and tourists.

Key Steps To Green America's Transportation Infrastructure: Highway interchange seen from the sky
Interstate 10 and Interstate 45 near downtown HoustonTexas
Credit: Dhanix at English Wikipedia

Local and National Infrastructure Development

One of the most important things to remember about America is that, while it is a single country, it is far from homogenized. Often, the challenge of making infrastructural transport changes is that key decisions are often made by localized state, county, and city authorities, rather than on a sweeping country-wide basis. This means that to enable the most positive impact of alternative fuel infrastructural developments, action must be taken on local and national levels.

On a local scale, there should be a focus on installing alternative fuelling stations throughout communities. This is a key sticking point for many potential investors in electric or hybrid vehicles. After all, there simply aren’t enough stations available to serve all those who would want to utilize them.

The actions here can be geared toward attracting more private businesses through local tax incentives and land availability. However, it’s important for local governments to not just focus on high-traffic big cities or suburban areas. Investment needs to be placed on ensuring even rural communities have equal access to the services they’d need to keep their green vehicles charged or fueled.

On a national level, the infrastructural focus must be on greater support of resources on major highway corridors. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has already begun to solicit nominations for specific corridors to focus on electric, hydrogen, and natural gas fueling stations. Nevertheless, the highway system is a major vein of commuting, tourism, and commerce. Having a limited number of key fuel spots along corridors is unlikely to be enough to support widespread change. There would need to be a greater commitment to installing stations throughout all highways that connect the states.

Greater Adoption Incentives

The transition to green transport infrastructure often isn’t going to be driven by the fact that it’s the right thing to do. Even the urgency related to climate change isn’t necessarily enough to sway some individuals and government representatives. This means that U.S. state and federal authorities need to offer greater alternative incentives for individuals and businesses to adopt green transportation methods.

There are certainly some incentives available at the moment. On an infrastructural level, the federal bus and bus facilities grants can be key to ensuring public transportation systems can practically transition. There are also some biofuel feedstock incentives that reward landowners who provide crops to advanced biofuel production facilities. However, programs like Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grants may need to be extended beyond local government agencies and toward private fuel station providers to be truly impactful.

Conclusion

Transitioning America’s transportation infrastructure to support renewable fuel methods is no mean feat. It is likely to involve methods that both offer practical solutions and educate against decades of fossil fuel dependency. This could involve highlighting both the damage fossil fuels cause and the benefits renewable systems offer. There also needs to be a commitment on both local and national government levels to make serious efforts to attract and support green fuel and charging stations. Greater access to incentives is likely to provide motivation for the urgent action industries need to take, too. While there are no easy solutions here, the U.S. must take all viable steps to ensure green transportation is available and sustainable for its vehicle-dependent population.


About the Author

Amanda Winstead is a writer focusing on many topics including technology and digital marketing. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.

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