More than $1 billion in highway construction funds for North
Carolina might be delayed if the state doesn't meet new clean-
The new clean-air standards are more strict than current
ones. Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency can stop new road projects that could worsen
"It's a very big hammer," said Janet D'Ignazio, chief
planning and environmental officer with the N.C. Department of
D'Ignazio's office is working with officials in major North
Carolina cities, as well as the legislature, to find ways to
ensure that new projects won't worsen air quality.
The new rules could affect more than 100 projects across
the state, mostly in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham,
Winston-Salem and Chapel Hill.
The road projects at risk of being delayed are those
scheduled to start after summer 2002, according to David Hyder
of the state Department of Transportation.
Under the new clean-air standards, planners must look ahead
two decades to estimate the effect on air quality of road
projects. The projections are based on a city's growth and the
miles its citizens drive.
The EPA still is working out the details of how cities will
meet the new standards, so it's impossible to know whether
cities can meet them, Hyder said.
Other states already have had serious problems balancing
road construction and the Clean Air Act, which was approved 30
years ago. EPA said the law prevents 15,000 premature deaths
from respiratory illnesses each year.
Atlanta had 61 projects worth $700 million halted in
January 1998 because of poor air. The city committed to put 40
percent of its transportation money into mass transit to clear
Houston has proposed meeting the federal rules by lowering
speed limits and, starting in 2005, banning the use of
earth-moving equipment, lawn mowers and leaf-blowers before
The biggest causes of ozone pollution in North Carolina are
utility power plants, cars and trucks, heavy construction
equipment, and smokestack industries, said Brock Nicholson,
the state's air quality planning chief.
Hyder said the state is looking not only at highways to cut
pollution but at more stringent requirements for power plants
and heavy construction equipment.
Other efforts include new requirements for buses to use
cleaner-burning fuel, more state money for trains and buses,
and encouraging businesses to allow more employees to work at
The legislature already has passed a law requiring the
statewide sale of cleaner, low-sulfur gasoline by 2004. What
North Carolina has not done is make major changes in its
road-building plans. Most of its transportation dollars still
go to widening roads or building new ones.
Under the law, even rural areas are feeling the pollution
pinch that had been predominantly an urban problem. North
Carolina is expanding the number of counties requiring
tailpipe emission tests from nine to 48 by 2006.