Groundbreaking for Nevada DOT-Led Brightline Rail Project

Pete Buttigieg, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, headlined a recent groundbreaking event for the Brightline West High-Speed Rail Project; a 218-mile high-speed, all-electric, zero-emission rail line that will operate between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga, California.

[Above photo by USDOT]

The Nevada Department of Transportation received $3 billion in funding from the USDOT’s Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program in December 2023 to help build the Brightline West high speed rail line, which the company expects will open in 2028.

That $3 billion grant to Nevada DOT brings the total federal support for the Brightline West high-speed rail line up to $6.5 billion in grants and financing.

“I want to thank Governor [Joe] Lombardo for his leadership and support demonstrating in a project this complex that it has support across state lines, across jurisdictional lines, and across party lines; that is what it takes to get big things done,” USDOT’s Buttigieg noted in his remarks at the groundbreaking event.

“We’re going to be working closely with the Nevada DOT [and] Brightline West to meet their ambitious 2028 target,” he said. “This train will move people at 186 miles an hour between Southern California and Las Vegas in just over two hours – which is about half the time that it can sometimes take to drive on that road. There will be a million fewer cars stuck in traffic. So even if you don’t use it, you’ll be benefiting from the people who do.”

Buttigieg added that, because Interstate 15 such an important freight route, the expected reduction in traffic congestion due to the Brightline West high-speed rail line should have a “material benefit” to America’s supply chains – all while reducing carbon emissions from motor vehicles to the tune of 800 million fewer pounds annually.

USDOT, DOE Help Push Sustainable Aviation Fuel Development

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Department of Energy recently released the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge Roadmap as part of what they dubbed a “government-wide strategy” for scaling up sustainable aviation fuel production across the country.

[Above photo by DOE]

That roadmap – a collaboration between USDOT, DOE, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency – outlines actions designed to spur technological innovation to produce sustainable aviation fuel or SAF, reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions, and enable the United States to meet its domestic climate goals. It also seeks to position the United States as a “global leader” in the emerging SAF market.  

Made from renewable biomass and other resources, including winter oilseed crops, agricultural and forestry residues, and municipal solid waste streams, USDOT said there is enough collectible biomass available in the U.S. to produce 50 billion to 60 billion gallons of low-carbon fuels annually.

According to a joint USDOT and DOE statement, the SAF Grand Challenge Roadmap aligns government and industry actions to achieve the three major goals of the SAF Grand Challenge outlined by those agencies in 2021: 

  • Achieve a minimum of a 50 percent reduction in life cycle GHG emissions compared to conventional fuel; 
  • Produce three billion gallons of SAF per year by 2030; and 
  • Supply sufficient SAF to meet 100 percent of aviation fuel demand by 2050. 

USDOT noted that U.S. commercial aviation currently consumes approximately 10 percent of all transportation energy and is a significant contributor to domestic GHG emissions. SAF has the potential to deliver the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel, but with a fraction of its carbon footprint, USDOT added – adding that “emerging SAF” pathways even offer the potential for a “net-negative” GHG footprint.

State departments are engaged in similar sustainable aviation promotion efforts.

For example, on September 23, the aviation division of the Washington State Department of Transportation began accepting applications for a new airport grant program that funds sustainable aviation projects.

The agency said in a statement that such projects may include electrification of ground support equipment; electric aircraft charging infrastructure; airport clean power production; electric vehicle charging stations or fuel cell electric vehicle hydrogen stations whose infrastructure may also support ground support equipment and/or electric aircraft charging; and sustainable aviation fuel storage.

FTA Issues over $1.6B in Clean Bus Grant Awards

The Federal Transit Administration recently issued more than $1.6 billion in grants to transit agencies, territories, and states across the country to invest in 150 bus fleets and facilities.

[Above photo by the MTA]

Funded by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021, that funding should nearly double the number of no-emission transit buses on America’s roadways, according to an FTA statement.

The agency added that, for the first time, 5 percent of that low- and no-emission bus funding would go towards training transit workers on how to maintain and operate clean bus technology.

FTA is providing those bus grant awards through two programs. The first is its Low or No Emission (Low-No) Grant Program, which makes funding available to help transit agencies buy or lease U.S.-built low- or no-emission vehicles, including related equipment or facilities.

The IIJA provides $5.5 billion over five years for the Low-No Program – more than six times greater than the previous five years of funding, FTA said. For fiscal year 2022, approximately $1.17 billion is available for grants under this program.

The second is FTA’s Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program, which supports transit agencies in buying and rehabilitating buses and vans and building bus maintenance facilities. The IIJA provides nearly $2 billion over five years for the program, the agency said. For fiscal year 2022, approximately $550 million for grants was available under this program.

Several state departments of transportation received grants via this round of awards (for a full list of the projects receiving grants, click here). Those include:

  • The Alaska Department of Transportation, on behalf of the City and Borough of Juneau and Capital Transit, received $2.3 million to rehabilitate and modernize its vehicle storage and maintenance facility.
  • The Connecticut Department of Transportation received just over $20 million on behalf of the Connecticut Southeast Area Transit District to rehabilitate its Preston transit facility, buy battery electric buses, and launch a training program to help staff operate and maintain zero-emission buses.
  • The Colorado Department of Transportation received $51 million to support a variety of projects, including $34.7 million on behalf of Summit Stage, a rural transit agency that provides bus service in Summit, Park and Lake Counties in northeast Colorado, to build a bus depot for electrical charging and storage. It will replace Summit Stage’s aging facility and prepare for a 100-percent electric fleet in the future.
  • The District of Columbia Department of Transportation is getting $9.6 million to help buy battery-electric buses to replace diesel vehicles and increase the size of the Washington, D.C., Circulator fleet.
  • The Hawaii Department of Transportation gets $23.2 million on behalf of Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui counties to buy a mix of zero-emission buses, battery electric buses, and fuel cell electric buses. The agency is also getting a further $12 million to undertake bus stop and facility improvements.
  • The Iowa Department of Transportation gets $15.8 million for one urban and four rural transit agencies to buy battery electric buses and charging equipment. The agency gets a further $12 million to buy new buses, cutaway chassis, and vans to replace older vehicles for 26 of Iowa’s transit systems.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Transportation gets $4.1 million on behalf of Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority and Nantucket Regional Transit Authority will receive funding to buy battery electric and propane buses to replace older diesel vehicles.
  • The Minnesota Department of Transportation gets $3.4 million to buy battery electric buses and charging equipment to replace buses that are part of four rural transit fleets.
  • The New Mexico Department of Transportation gets $3 million on behalf of the South Central Regional Transit District to buy battery electric buses and charging equipment, provide training and buy property it currently leases. It also gets another $2.5 million on behalf of the South Central Regional Transit District to buy battery electric buses and charging equipment as well as fund staff training.
  • The Oregon Department of Transportation gets $4.6 million to buy battery electric buses and install three new electric chargers. It gets an additional $2 million for the Sandy Area Metro to buy battery electric buses and install charging equipment, replacing diesel buses that have exceeded their useful life.
  • The South Dakota Department of Transportation gets over $1 million on behalf of River Cities Public Transit, Community Transit of Watertown/Sisseton, Prairie Hills Transit, and Rural Office of Community Services to buy low-emission propane buses, two propane conversion kits, and install a propane fueling station.
  • The Tennessee Department of Transportation gets $12 million on behalf of two urban and five rural transit agencies to buy buses and demand-response vehicles to replace older vehicles that reached their useful life.
  • The Utah Department of Transportation gets over $6 million on behalf of Park City Transit to buy battery-electric buses and charging equipment to expand its express route service in the Quinn’s Junction area.
  • The Vermont Agency of Transportation gets $9.1 million to buy electric buses and install charging equipment for Marble Valley Regional Transit District in Rutland and Green Mountain Transit in Burlington. VTrans gets a further $3.2 million to build a bus depot for the Marble Valley Regional Transit District.
  • The Washington State Department of Transportation gets $5.4 million to purchase vehicles for three rural transportation providers, replacing buses that have exceeded their useful life, improving quality of life, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

ETAP Podcast: Electric Vehicles and State DOTs

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast talks with Dr. Shihab Kuran (seen above) about the key role state departments of transportation play in helping establish a national electric vehicle or EV charging network.

Kuran is the co-founder and CEO of Power Edison as well as co-founder and executive chairman of its sister company EV Edison – companies offering innovative renewable energy, EV charging, and mobile energy storage solutions for the grid.

Kuran explains a “vision” for a peaceful world with universal access to clean and sustainable sources of energy, food, and water drives his efforts in the EV sector. In this ETAP podcast episode, Kuran discusses a variety of approaches and solutions for meeting the electric grid demand generated by EV charging – how state DOTs can support those efforts.

To listen to this podcast episode, click here.

FTA Makes $300M in Ferry Grants Available

The Federal Transit Administration is making nearly $300 million available through three competitive grant programs to boost access to rural ferry services, bolster existing and new urban services, and lower emissions across all services by speeding the adoption of zero-emission ferry propulsion technologies.

[Above photo by NCDOT]

The agency noted in a statement that grants are available for those three programs via a single, combined notice of funding opportunity, with the overall funding level coming by way of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA, enacted in November 2021

Those programs include:

  • Ferry Service for Rural Communities Program is a new grant program that seeks to ensure states provide basic essential ferry services to rural areas. For fiscal year 2022, $209 million is available.
  • Electric or Low-Emitting Ferry Pilot Program is a new program that provides grants for electric or low-emitting ferries and associated infrastructure that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using alternative fuels or onboard energy storage systems. For FY 2022, $49 million is available.
  • Passenger Ferry Grant Program is an established program for funding capital projects that support existing passenger ferry services, establish new ferry services, and repair and modernize ferries, terminals, and related facilities and equipment in urbanized areas. For FY 2022, $36.5 million is available; of that, $3.25 million is set aside to support low or zero-emission ferries.

Many state departments of transportation that operate ferry services are witnessing a strong rebound in passenger demand.

For example, the North Carolina Department of Transportation recently noted that its four-year-old Ocracoke Express passenger ferry nearly matched pre-pandemic ridership levels over the first two months of its 2022 season despite using a smaller vessel.

The new Ocracoke Express ferry vessel carries 129 people versus the 149-person capacity previous model used from 2019 through 2021, noted NCDOT in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities and the Southeast Conference announced plans to collaborate on a low-emission ferry project in May.

Alternative fuel-powered, low-emission and electric ferries could be a game-changer for Alaska’s Marine Highway System, the agency said, as it starts replacing aging ferry vessels in upcoming years.

NHTSA Issues New Vehicle Fuel Mileage Standards

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued new Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE standards that require an industry-wide fleet average of approximately 49 miles per gallon for passenger cars and light trucks in model year 2026.

[Above photo of GM plant via Wikimedia Commons]

The agency said in a statement that the new standards would increase fuel efficiency 8 percent annually for model years 2024-2025 and 10 percent annually for model year 2026. They will also increase the estimated fleet-wide average by nearly 10 miles per gallon for model year 2026, relative to model year 2021.

NHTSA added that its new CAFE standards for model year 2024-26 should reduce fuel consumption by more than 200 billion gallons through 2050, as compared to the old standards.

The agency also noted that this final CAFÉ rule follows President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, which directed NHTSA to review the 2020 “The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks” final rule.

NHTSA also emphasized, however, that “real-world fuel economy” is generally 20 to 30 percent lower than the estimated required CAFE level stated above, while also noting that actual CAFE standards serve as a “footprint” or “target” curves for passenger cars and light trucks. That means ultimate fleet-wide levels would vary depending on the mix of vehicles that the industry produces for sale in those model years.

This agency added that its final rule reflects a conclusion “significantly different” from the conclusion it reached in the 2020 final rule. However, this is because “important facts have changed” and because NHTSA has reconsidered how to balance the relevant statutory considerations in light of those facts.

NHTSA concludes that these significantly more stringent standards are feasible and vehicle manufacturers can achieve them during the period covered by this new final rule. Standards that are more stringent than those finalized in 2020 appear economically practicable, based on manageable average per-vehicle cost increases, large consumer fuel savings, minimal effects on sales, and estimated increases in employment, among other things.

EPA Proposes New Emission Rules for Trucks, Engines

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to introduce stricter heavy-duty vehicle and engine emission rules starting in model year 2027.

[Above photo by the Missouri DOT]

The proposed standards would reduce emissions of smog- and soot-forming nitrogen oxides or NOx from heavy-duty gasoline and diesel engines, EPA said, while updating commercial vehicle greenhouse gas or GHG standards in certain categories. 

Those GHG revisions focus on “subsectors” of the transportation industry where “electrification is advancing at a more rapid pace,” the agency said, such as school buses, transit buses, commercial delivery trucks, and short-haul tractors.

[Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Energy released a 69-page study on March 7 compiled by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory purportedly showing that, by 2030, nearly half of medium- and heavy-duty trucks will be cheaper to buy, operate, and maintain as zero-emissions models versus traditional diesel-powered units.]

In a separate action, EPA said it plans to establish new GHG emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles as soon as model year 2030 – and action it said would “more comprehensively address” the long-term trend towards zero-emissions vehicles across the heavy-duty vehicle sector.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan noted in a statement that the proposed rule would help “chart a path” to increase the use of zero-emission models while reducing the exposure of communities comprised of “low income” residents and “people of color” to the pollution that causes respiratory and cardiovascular problems, among other serious health effects.

Consistent with an executive order issued by President Biden in August 2021, the new proposed rule would reduce NOx emissions from trucks by as much as 60 percent in 2045, with benefits exceeding its costs by “billions of dollars,” the EPA said. Those potential benefits include:

  • Up to 2,100 fewer premature deaths.
  • Roughly 6,700 fewer hospital admissions and emergency department visits. 
  • Some 18,000 fewer cases of asthma onset in children.
  • About 3.1 million fewer cases of asthma symptoms and allergic rhinitis symptoms.
  • Some 78,000 fewer lost days of work.
  • About 1.1 million fewer lost school days for children.

The EPA added that this rulemaking effort is the “first step” in its longer-term “Clean Trucks Plan” – a series of clean air and climate regulations that the agency said it plans to develop over the next three years to reduce pollution from trucks and buses and to advance the transition to a zero-emissions transportation future. 

Several states are creating similar emission reduction plans for vehicles, with state departments of transportation taking an active role in such efforts.

For example, in August 2021, the Colorado Transportation Commission proposed new transportation pollution reduction planning standards to cut GHG emissions from the state’s transportation sector while improving statewide air quality and reducing smog.

That proposed rule would require the Colorado Department of Transportation and the state’s five Metropolitan Planning Organizations to determine total pollution and GHG emissions increase or decrease expected from future transportation projects while taking steps to ensure that total GHG emission levels do not exceed set reduction amounts.

Furthermore, the Colorado DOT – in partnership with the Colorado Energy Office and Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment – recently unveiled the daft of a “Clean Truck Strategy” that seeks to lower greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from heavy- and medium-duty vehicles by at least 45 percent statewide by 2050.

Meanwhile, in January, California introduced a $6.1 billion zero-emission vehicle or ZEV fiscal support package to accelerate the state’s transition to ZEVs and “fight climate change” in the process.

Combined with a $3.9 billion ZEV investment package signed into law in September 2021, California would ultimately outlay $10 billion to support broader ZEV deployment statewide. That spending also dovetails with an executive order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom (D) in September 2020 that requires that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California by 2035 must be zero-emission vehicles.

Concurrently, the Maryland Transit Administration – a division of the Maryland Department of Transportation – is moving forward to implement the state’s new Zero-Emission Bus Transition Act, which mandates all new buses procured for Maryland’s transit fleet be emission-free beginning in 2023.

The agency said it has committed to converting 50 percent of its bus fleet to zero-emission by 2030 while “seamlessly providing reliable, efficient service throughout the transition and beyond.”

Colorado DOT Helps Craft Clean Truck Strategy

The Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado Energy Office, and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment recently unveiled the daft of a “Clean Truck Strategy” that seeks to lower greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from heavy- and medium-duty vehicles by at least 45 percent statewide by 2050.

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

That strategy is part of a package of initiatives undertaken by Governor Jared Polis (D) to improve air quality and reduce emissions while saving money for citizens and small businesses.

The Colorado DOT noted in a statement that heavy- and medium-duty vehicles include semi-trucks, school buses, snowplows, delivery vans, large pick-up trucks, and many different vehicle types in between. The agency added that they are the second-largest source of GHG emissions in the state’s transportation sector, contributing 22 percent of on-road GHG emissions despite being less than 10 percent of all Colorado vehicles.

This new multi-agency strategy seeks to accelerate clean truck adoption to help fight climate change, improve air quality, and help communities “disproportionately impacted” by transportation pollution emissions, Colorado DOT said.

[Editor’s note: At the national level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new clean air standards for heavy-duty vehicles and engines starting in model year 2027. The proposed standards would reduce emissions of smog- and soot-forming nitrogen oxides or NOx from heavy-duty gasoline and diesel engines while updating GHG standards for select commercial vehicle categories. Overall, the EOA expects its proposed rule to reduce NOx emissions from trucks by as much as 60 percent by 2045.]

The strategy also predicts that owners of medium- and heavy-duty trucks – most of whom are small businesses – could save an estimated $5.8 billion by 2050 from reduced vehicle maintenance costs and fuel cost savings by switching to zero-emission vehicles, the agency noted.

The multi-agency Clean Truck Strategy also includes a “prioritized set” of 34 actions that state agencies will implement to support the transition to zero-emission heavy- and medium-duty vehicles across seven different categories of initiatives, including procurement policies and programs, vehicle incentives and financing, infrastructure planning and investments, utility strategies, workforce development, and regulatory actions.

The plan also relies in part on proposals with the governor’s fiscal year 2023 budget plan, including a new electric school bus incentive program and a clean truck replacement program, alongside new federal funding opportunities to build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

As part of this multi-agency clean truck draft, the Colorado DOT said Gov. Polis’ administration is expected by the end of 2022 to submit a request to set a hearing to the state Air Quality Control Commission to consider adopting rules to reduce pollution from diesel vehicles and to further support the transition to zero-emission trucks and buses.

California Governor Proposes Zero Emission Vehicle Package

Governor Gavin Newsom (D) (seen above) has introduced a $6.1 billion zero-emission vehicle or ZEV fiscal support package to accelerate the state’s transition to ZEVs and “fight climate change” in the process.

[Above photo by the California Governor’s Office]

Combined with a $3.9 billion ZEV investment package signed into law in September 2021, California would ultimately outlay $10 billion to support broader ZEV deployment statewide.

That spending also dovetails the governor’s executive order issued in September 2020 requiring that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California by 2035 must be zero-emission vehicles.

“The future is electric, and we’re making it easier and cheaper than ever before to go electric. That means more assistance to help folks buy clean cars and more charging stations in more communities throughout the state,” said Gov. Newsom in a statement.

This latest funding proposal would also support the construction of vehicle charging stations and other infrastructure needed to “facilitate” the state’s transition to ZEVs.

The governor’s $6.1 billion package includes:

  • Low-Income Zero-Emission Vehicles and Infrastructure: $256 million for low-income consumer purchases, and $900 million to expand affordable and convenient ZEV infrastructure access in low-income neighborhoods. These investments will focus on planning and deploying a range of charging options to support communities, including grid-friendly high-power fast chargers and at-home charging.
  • Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicles and Supporting Infrastructure: $935 million for the purchase of 1,000 zero-emission short-haul drayage trucks and 1,700 zero-emission transit buses. Another $1.5 billion would support the purchase of electric buses for school transportation programs. A further $1.1 billion would help buy zero-emission trucks, buses, and off-road equipment plus related fueling infrastructure, with $400 million to enable port electrification.
  • Zero-Emission Mobility: $419 million to support sustainable community-based transportation equity projects that increase access to zero-emission mobility in low-income communities. This includes supporting local clean mobility options plus sustainable transportation and equity projects.
  • Emerging Opportunities: $200 million to invest in demonstration and pilot projects in high carbon-emitting sectors, such as maritime, aviation, rail and other off-road applications, as well as support for vehicle grid integration at scale.

New EPA Rule Mandates 55 MPG by Model Year 2026

The Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing new federal greenhouse gas or GHG emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2023 through 2026 – establishing a 55 miles per gallon corporate average fuel economy or CAFE target for model year 2026 vehicles.

[Above photo by Ford Motor Co.]

The EPA expects its new rule – consistent with an executive order issued by President Biden in August 2021 – to “unlock” $190 billion in net benefits by reducing climate pollution, improving public health, and saving drivers money by reducing vehicle fuel consumption.

The agency also calculates that American motorists will save between $210 billion and $420 billion through 2050 on fuel costs due to this new rule.  On average over the lifetime of an individual MY 2026 vehicle, EPA estimates that the fuel savings will exceed the initial increase in vehicle costs by more than $1,000 for consumers.

The agency added in a statement that it plans to initiate a separate rulemaking to establish multi-pollutant emission standards under the Clean Air Act for MY 2027 passenger cars and light trucks and beyond to “speed the transition” of the country’s light-duty vehicle fleet toward a zero-emissions future consistent with the president’s abovementioned executive order.

The EPA also expects its new rule to spur increased production and sales of electric vehicles or EVs. As the GHG standards get stronger over the four-year period encompassed by the new rule, the agency said sales of EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles should grow from about 7 percent market share in MY 2023 to about 17 percent in MY 2026, the agency projects.

Those increasing levels of EVs will position the United States to achieve aggressive GHG emissions reductions from transportation over the long term, EPA noted.