Judge orders Caltrans to study carpool lane

August 14, 2008 12:48:04 AM PDT
It's a first-of-its-kind decision. A Sacramento judge is ordering Caltrans to study how creating a carpool lane could impact global warming. It comes as the state approaches a deadline to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The average Californian's commute is about a half hour each way and for some, it's much longer.

"It's horrible and packed and it'd be great if there was another lane," said Kevin Conway, a commuter from San Jose.

That's one reason Caltrans creates carpool and HOV, or high occupancy vehicle, lanes to get more cars off the road. In fact, it was supposed to happen on a portion of Highway 50 in Sacramento. The construction project is now on hold because of global warming.

"This is the first time Caltrans has been required to look at the global warming consequences of a highway construction project," said Chris Field, with the Carnegie institution for Science.

A judge stopped the project and ordered Caltrans to do a more thorough an environmental impact report, or EIR. The study would examine whether the expansion would contribute to global warming and green house gas emissions.

"We need to finish the studies first and go back to the judge and ask for approval," said Jody Jones, from Caltrans.

Doing all of this delays construction by 18 months. As a result, Caltrans is changing its policy, requiring all EIRs to take global warming into consideration.

"EIRs are already thick and a ruling like this one and a change in Caltrans policy will make them bigger and thicker and therefore more expensive," said Witt Manley, an environmental attorney.

Manley, applauds Caltrans' compliance. Even though the judge's ruling applies only to the Highway 50 project, global ecologist, Chris Field hopes for more.

"I hope it does set a precedent and I think careful evaluation of all the consequences building transportation infrastructure is the way we should be going," said Field.

But the studies take time. It could delay projects in different jurisdictions for months.

"The commuter would be happier if we didn't do it," said Conway.

"I don't see a problem with that, there's always going to be congestion, so what's a little more time," said Kristen Corstophine, from Newark.

California's clock is also ticking. It's mandated to cut emissions 20-percent, by the year 2020.


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