Air Quality-What's All The Fuss About?
Prepared By: James E. Scapellato
American Concrete Pavement Association
Atlantans used to brag about its highway system, saying you
could travel anywhere in the city in under thirty minutes-whether
it was from the north end of Roswell to the airport was no matter.
Interstate 85 was four lanes and highway 400 didn't even exist
yet. Atlanta was touted as one of the most heavily wooded metropolitan
area in America. However, thirty years later, this golden period
is no longer. Traffic has gotten unbearable and urban sprawl
is a way of life throughout the entire metro area. In the last
several decades, the city has lost well over three hundred thousand
acres of vegetation because of sprawl causing Atlanta to sometimes
be referred to as "Hotlanta". The urban heat island
effect has made the city the sixth worst in the nation in air
quality, according to the American Lung Association. Air quality
has gotten so bad that the Federal government in 1998 withheld
600 million dollars in funds to build new or improved roads
until Atlanta took measured steps to reduce the urban heat island
effects. The inability to build roads causes more congestion;
the congestion, therefore, causes more pollution, and the paradox
becomes evident. Thus, the transportation industry is constantly
struggling to balance transportation needs with environment
protection and enhancement.
First discovered in London during the 1800s, the urban heat
island phenomenon has become a focal point in many southeastern
cities. Atlanta serves as a prime example. The city's population
has grown 65% since 1970 to well over 3 million, and as a result,
this once wooded metropolis lost over 16% of its tree canopy
between 1973 and 1992. The upset to the land-energy balance
has resulted in a 6-12 degree average increase in temperature
versus nearby undeveloped countryside, thus producing a variety
of problems with smog, energy demand, and air/water quality
which caused the EPA to invoke the ban of federal highway spending.
With the recent U .S. Supreme Court ruling upholding EPA's
authority to issue broad-based air quality standards, compliance
with these standards becomes a critical health and economic
productivity issue for the country. Despite that 11% of the
Nation's Gross Domestic Product is driven by investment in highways,
urban heat island consequences are serious as the Federal Highway
Administration would attest. The FHWA predicts that under the
new eight-hour ozone standard issued by the EPA in 1997, the
number of counties failing to meet the Federal air quality standards
will increase from 414 to 656. What this means is that there
will be a potential withholding of Federal funds for highway
improvements in an additional 52 urban areas, comprising 242
counties because they will be designated as "non-attainment
areas" and in 29 areas already categorized as non-attainment,
the boundaries will be expanded. For example, the Atlanta region
currently has 13 counties included in the non-attainment area,
but under the new standard, that number jumps to 21. The DOT
in North Carolina predicts that they would be required to halt
work on 139 road projects with a net cost of $1.7 billion under
EPA's proposed air quality standards.
Consequently, the concrete industries have joined forces, promoting
recognition of and education about the importance of air quality
attainment through better management and control of urban heat
island build-up. This call for action has resulted in local
environmental organizations, such as Trees Atlanta (who replenish
the tree population in new developments), as well as national
organizations like American Concrete Pavement Association, to
join forces to help ensure that Federal funding will not be
halted for needed road improvement projects. The use of lighter
and more reflective surfaces such as concrete pavement materials
for roads and roofing materials is shown to have immediate effects
in reducing urban heat island effects, with tree canopy replenishment
offering most tangible long-term solutions. Scientists at Berkeley
National Laboratory have run computer simulations with tree
replenishment and reflective surface solutions in Los Angeles
and have determined that trees and lightened surfaces in only
15% of the test area produced a six-degree drop in temperature
at 3 pm. With increased awareness and the approval of State
Implementation Plan credits by the EPA, cool communities initiatives
coupled with responsible design and development for our cities
and surrounding urban areas will result in lower temperatures
and thus lower levels of ozone.
It's everyone's responsibility to play a role in achieving
clean air and clean water through sensible growth and development!
In Pasco and Hernando Counties north of Tampa, US 19 and US
41 serve as the only major north-south routes. As the population
north of Hillsborough County grew in the late 80's and early
90's, these roads were projected to have major capacity shortfalls.
The Suncoast Parkway was proposed, to relieve traffic congestion.
The project extends 43 miles, from the Veterans Expressway in
Hillsborough County, to US 98 in Hernando County. The Parkway
was proposed as a multi-lane, limited access toll facility.
In 1988, corridor and environmental studies were initiated by
FDOT. In 1992, the preferred alignment was presented at a public
hearing. After the hearing, the Turnpike District proceeded
with preliminary design for six sections of this project in
The proposed alignment had major interchanges at the Veterans
Expressway, SR54, SR52, and SR50. The project started in residential
areas in Hillsborough County, and proceeded through mostly agricultural
land in Pasco and Hernando Counties. To streamline the permitting
process, quarterly partnering meeting were held with the State
permitting agencies. Solutions were found that included multiple
wildlife crossings, and creation of a 10,000-acre mitigation
site in Pasco County.
There were also aesthetic guidelines developed to promote a
parkway environment. These treatments included weathering steel
bridges and guardrail, special R.E. wall panels with logo, and
tubular sign structures. The area between the slope limits and
right-of-way line was not cleared, in order to provide a natural
environment along the Parkway. A 30-mile bike trail, extending
from SR54 to SR50, was also included in the plans.
Construction started in 1998 on five of the six sections. The
Parkway was open to traffic from the Veteran's Expressway to
State Route 50, including the bike trail, in March of 2001.
The remaining section, from SR 50 to US 98, was opened in August,
2001. This project was the first Turnpike project to include
express toll lanes utilizing the SunPass system. The Suncoast
Parkway is an excellent example of teamwork between the engineering
and construction communities to provide another major transportation
corridor in the State of Florida.
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