Misuse of air quality funds

As you’ve heard me mention on this blog many times, the San Joaquin Valley, home to Fresno, has the worst air quality in the nation. So it makes sense that funding would arrive from multiple sources to attempt to clean things up. Because transportation emissions are such a large portion of the air quality problem, it makes sense to target transportation infrastructure. (The other large source of pollution is agriculture, and that’s a touchy subject).

One such source of funding to help clear the air is called CMAQ

The CMAQ program was conceived to support surface transportation projects and other related efforts that contribute air quality improvements and provide congestion relief.

Under SAFETEA-LU, the program has provided just under $9 billion in authorizations to State DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations, and their project sponsors for a growing variety of transportation-environmental projects. As with its predecessor legislation, the SAFETEA-LU has provided CMAQ funding to areas that still face the challenge of attaining or maintaining the NAAQS (National Ambient Air Quality Standards).

The SAFETEA-LU expanded the focus of eligible CMAQ project types, placing more priority on diesel engine retrofits and cost-effective emission reduction and congestion mitigation projects that also provide air quality benefits.


There are many ways to spend air-mitigation funds. One way which I think makes sense is retiring old vehicles that spend all their time driving with more efficient or cleaner models. Things like diesel transit buses, ancient school buses or even garbage trucks. This type of vehicle will be on the road every day, so might as well make it as clean as possible, right? Even getting a garbage truck from 4mpg to 6mpg would be a great improvement. Buying hydrogen-fueled garbage trucks (and the necessary fueling infrastructure) would also do a good job at reducing emissions, but may not make financial sense.

Another great option would be to fund projects that get people out of cars. How about a transit system that runs past 9:30pm and covers routes relevant to 2012 live-work patterns, and not what made sense in 1960?

How about adding bike lanes and trails so people feel comfortable venturing outside of their cars? Maybe even funding sidewalks, since many parts of town still lack them.

All good choices right?

Indeed, the city even talks about all these great options.

A wide range of transportation projects and programs are eligible for CMAQ funds, including traffic flow improvements, bicycle and pedestrian pathways, and idle reduction technology, among others.

Well, here’s how the City of Fresno, in conjunction with Fresno County has decided to spend a portion of their federal funds.

Staff recommends that the City Council approve the cost sharing agreement with the County of Fresno, in substantially the form attached, for the installation of a left turn lane at the intersection of North Avenue and Maple Avenue being designed and constructed by the County of Fresno through a Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAO) Grant.

The County was awarded $118,406 of CMAQ funds through the Fresno
Council of Governments (Fresno COG) to install a left turn lane in the east bound direction of North Avenue at the intersection of North Avenue and Maple Avenue

Project PDF

So to reduce air pollution, local government has opted for….road widening.

But wait, there’s more.

I can understand some of the logic behind road widening as air-mitigation. Sure, in the long term it would simply encourage more driving and thus cause more pollution, but in the short term, widening could decrease delays and so save maybe 5 seconds of idling and the smog that comes from that. That’s why congestion is mentioned. Congestion does indeed lead to more air pollution.

If we’re talking about a narrow road, and a single vehicle has to stop for 10, 20, 40 seconds to make a left turn safely, thus stopping dozens of cars behind them, then I guess that makes sense. The left turn bay would allow them to wait without causing increased emissions for a bunch of other vehicles.

But let’s take a look at this specific project. Let’s take a look at the road that apparently really needs a left turn lane, to mitigate all the congestion that is filling our air with pollution.


Really? This is the best place to spend $120,000 in air quality money? (The total project will cost $180,000…yes, 180k to add a left turn lane. Sound familiar?)

So much congestion to be relieved.


Surely that’s a fluke. Google just happened to drive by the one day there didn’t happen to be a row of trucks just waiting for their chance to turn.

It’s a good thing Google drove by on a different day, in the other direction. That should clear things up.


What a waste. This project will neither improve air quality nor reduce congestion in any meaningful way. Aren’t there other places where dropping $120k would make more sense?

One Reply to “Misuse of air quality funds”

  1. What a shame when Fresno could have been the homt of the first PRT system in the United States !

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