August 2015

New Report on LCA and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Road Construction/Maintenance

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A new whitepaper from the National Center for Sustainable Transportation and ITS Davis explores the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and road construction and maintenance. The paper is The Role of Life Cycle Assessment In Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Road Construction and Maintenance by John Harvey, Alissa Kendall, and Arash Saboori. 

This white paper summarizes the state-of-knowledge and state-of-the-art in pavement LCA modeling, with particular emphasis on life cycle GHG emissions and on interpretation and analysis that lead to GHG reductions from the on-road transportation sector. This white paper synthesizes research from a number of previous and current projects, highlighting both broadly agreed upon methods and findings, and those that are emerging or currently debated. The goal is to inform federal, state, and local policymakers; pavement industry professionals; private pavement owners; and transportation and other researchers about the significance and role of pavement LCA in understanding and mitigating the negative environmental consequences of the pavement sector.

There has already been considerable research and implementation in this area in California. Some have developed better models to predict optimal maintenance strategies. Others have examined the tradeoffs between costs and greenhouse gas emissions in road resurfacing, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through management of pavement roughness. Some of these concepts have been incorporated into Caltrans' PaveM pavement management system. 

Gov. Brown wants to fix California's highways

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Yesterday California Governor Jerry Brown help a press conference at the Port of Oakland to call for a bipartisan solution to fund the state's needed highway reapairs. Brown was evasive about the actual mechanisms to be used to raise funds, refusing to say anything about taxes. 

Then how can the state fund these necessary improvements? A recent report from ITS Davis,"A Funding Compromise Can Set Transportation on Path Toward Sustainability", proposes: 

The funding recommendations include a one-time use of corporate taxes to allow states to reduce the backlog of maintenance needs. The federal gas tax would be continued and indexed to inflation. Greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets would be set for each state and states would be allowed to ‘buy down’ their gas tax as they reduce their GHG emissions. States would be given pricing and tolling authority and have the authority to implement a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax. States would also assume responsibility for all roads. Taken together, these strategies would set transportation on the path toward sustainability.

For VMT-based pricing, we're still waiting for conclusive numbers from Oregon's recent implementation. Research has indicated that other types of road-pricing in California will need to be tailored to specific regions to be successful. It clear that even without the political will to raise it, the gas tax alone is not stable enough to fund the infrastructure repairs on the horizon.