What Happened When Larry Hogan Tried to Claim Wider Highways Would Help the Climate

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, shown here announcing a $9 billion toll road expansion program, is not an environmental hero. Photo: Maryland Department of Transportation/Twitter
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, shown here announcing a $9 billion toll road expansion program, is not an environmental hero. Photo: Maryland Department of Transportation/Twitter

Not so fast, says a University of Michigan researcher whose work is being held up to advance a controversial plan to widen virtually every highway in Maryland.

This week UM Professor Stuart Batterman spoke out against Gov. Larry Hogan’s suggestion that widening highways would be — LOL — good for the climate.

Hogan is facing backlash from environmentalists and other groups for his massive $9 billion highway widening plan, which would involve widening I-270, I-495, and MD 295. Yesterday, in a “compromise” decision, the Maryland Board of Public Works voted to advance one less controversial segment of his proposal, with some funding for transit attached.

But not before Batterman had to chance to clarify his research in the Baltimore Sun. His 2011 study, evaluated how much carbon was released by cars under different conditions: rush hour congestion, work zones, and free flow conditions. The “emissions density” is worse in congested rush hour conditions, because a lot of cars are sitting around idling, which is not surprising.

But that finding does not support the popular conclusion that widening highways would reduce emissions, Batterman says in his letter. That’s because highway widening tends to lead to more driving — a phenomenon known as induced demand. He wrote:

For example, an expansion adding four lanes to the existing eight lanes that soon reach capacity would represent a 50-percent increase in volume or [vehicle miles traveled], all things being equal. The change in the VMT would likely to be larger than the changes in the emission factors, and thus would offset any benefits of free flow conditions.

This is important. Because like Hogan, transportation planners across the U.S. use this same flawed spin to promote highway widenings. Indeed, as transit expert Yonah Freemark points out, they often use federal transportation funds designated for air quality improvement to pay for the widenings, on these grounds.

Lindsey Mendelson of the Maryland Sierra Club said she is really disappointed the board voted to allow the project to move forward before that had been completed, especially considering it has a stated goal of reducing vehicle emissions from transportation 40 percent by 2030.

“We believe that with more added lane that there’s more vehicle miles traveled, more cars on the roads,” said Mendelson. “Any of the positive impacts you might get by less cars idling might be offset by more cars on the road.”

But nobody knows since the state hasn’t completed any emissions modeling or an environmental impact statement for the project, she added.

“The one emissions study that they cited from Stuart Batterman they improperly used,” Mendelson concluded.

5 thoughts on What Happened When Larry Hogan Tried to Claim Wider Highways Would Help the Climate

  1. He may very well be wrong. But light rail doesn’t do much either. BUSES can move more people than Light rail, be implemented immediately and at a fraction the costs.

    in most urban areas, transit’s importance is declining; it is less environmentally friendly than driving; and its use is increasingly dominated by high-income people. All of these indicators suggest that the reasons we once had for subsidizing transit are disappearing and those subsidies should be phased out and mileage based user fees implemented to our highway systems.

  2. LazyReader,

    Please provide evidence for your assertion that transit is “less environmentally friendly than driving.” There are reams of studies that come to the opposite conclusion.

  3. Read Three Revolutions for newer studies showing existing diesel buses are both more polluting per mile and use more fuel per passenger mile than passenger car fleets because of CAFE mpg and pollution regulations. Obviously electric buses or transit could change that equation, but so could hybrid motor vehicles that use electric backup in stop and go traffic, which would also negate the widening roads reduces pollution claim.

  4. Hogan is lying about this just like he lied about not tearing down people’s homes and lied about this project solving congestion (unless you pay big bucks for toll lanes) in the first place.

    He wants sprawl. His policies favor sprawl. He has business interests.

  5. Global cooling now in progress since February 2016, can be predicted to last at least 28 years (i.e. to 2044), matching the sun’s 28-year decline from 1991 to today, and allowing for the 25-year time-lag. Inescapable conclusion: IPCC is wrong ? the sun, not CO2, drove modern global warming.

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