Environmental Impacts of Transportation

Motor vehicle transportation causes enormous damage to our environment, in a multitude of ways:

Energy Consumption

Traffic Pollution

In the United States, vehicles use more gasoline each year than the entire U.S. oil industry produces. Cars and trucks are ultimately responsible for most of the pollution and damage caused by the oil extraction industry, including disastrous oil spills and pollution from oil refineries. Also, it appears that our country's oil dependency is at least partly responsible for shaping our Middle East foreign policies. As a matter of environmental and national security we must wean ourselves from this costly fuel.

Land Consumption

Huge tracts of land are cleared and locked-up to provide transportation corridors, removing these acres from constructive uses. As the corridors are widened and speed limits increase, it increases land development pressures and traffic congestion. Urban sprawl is rapidly spreading as more and more people move into the countryside to "get away from it all" while still commuting to nearby cities to work, shop, go to school and recreate. In the city, much of the land is devoted to streets and parking lots, rather than livable, walkable places for people to enjoy. Our quality of life declines as more green spaces are covered with concrete.

Lost Farmland

As more homes and businesses are built further into the countryside, they chew up and isolate farmlands at a rapid pace. Many thousands of acres of fertile farmland are lost forever under concrete, barren median strips and suburban lawns.

Wildlife Habitat Loss

Meadows, wetlands and forests are lost along with farmland, greatly reducing wildlife habitat for fish and game, and endangered species.

Increased Taxes

All the land locked in transportation corridors is removed from tax-rolls, which means that other property taxes must rise to compensate, contributing to our present budget woes. Wisconsin's government budget for transportation has risen tremendously in the past 20 years, far ahead of inflation, as many state and local roadways have been expanded from two to four lanes, with added frontage roads and expanded interchanges. The construction costs have been large, but the long-term maintenance and replacement costs will be much larger. A major portion of local property taxes is used for road widening, new roads, road maintenance, street lights, parking, signs, traffic policing and other inflated transportation costs. Because bigger highways encourage more urban sprawl, our taxes increase drastically to extend costly public services to dispersed homes. Former city dwellers expect more services than longtime country folk, forcing even rural communities to fund more services than previously. The taxes spiral upward. Traditional, efficient compact city neighborhoods are forced to pay much higher property taxes to subsidize urban sprawl. Tax assessors rarely charge sprawled homes for the true, full cost of their inefficient developments, so these extra costs are dumped on existing homeowners' taxes. It's a vicious cycle which starts with the expansion of convenient highways and poor land use zoning.

Air Pollution

Vehicle emissions are one of the major sources of air pollution in Wisconsin. Diesel trucks and cars emit a wide variety of unhealthy gases, such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and other products of incomplete combustion. Diesel emissions are a leading source of the highly toxic dioxin, which accumulates up our food chain. Many eastern Wisconsin counties are in ozone Non-Attainment Areas, or nearly so, due primarily to vehicle emissions (with major help from industrial sources). The nitrous oxides are converted by sunlight into unhealthy ground-level ozone, especially on hot windless summer days.

Water and Land Pollution

Chemical gases and particles which are released by cars and trucks do eventually fall out of the air onto street surfaces and land. Vehicles often leak oil, gas, brake fluid, worn brake linings, windshield detergent, engine coolant and worn metal particles. Car tires leave a residue of zinc and other pollutants as they wear. Road salt is added to the mix in the winter. Hard pavements, streets and parking lots often provide direct conduits to storm sewers, allowing these pollutants to wash directly into lakes and streams without any filtration.

Noise Pollution

As traffic increases, so does the noise level, adding to the stress of modern city life. Ironically, the increasing noise causes more people to move to the country for peace and quiet, which adds to the number of long-distance commuters who create traffic congestion.

A Vision for Transportation in Wisconsin

A vision for transportation in Wisconsin should not be restricted to just roads and bridges. It should be a broad view with many alternatives including high speed rail, safe bicycle lanes and bicycle sharing programs, and pedestrian paths.

For more information:

Gas mileage (MPG), greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution ratings, and safety information for new and used cars and trucks --- U.S. Dept. of Energy - http://www.fueleconomy.gov/

Carfree City Ideas - http://www.carfree.com/

Costs of Auto Transportation Are High and Subsidized by Non-Drivers - http://www.ecoiq.com/magazine/features/feature13.html

Costly New Wisconsin Highway Plan Ignores Effects on Local Roads, Transit, Sprawl, and Taxes - http://www.wsn.org/landuse/WIDOTplan.html

Environmental Information – Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation - http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/localgov/aid/cmaq.htm

© Clean Water Action Council

P.O. Box 9144

Green Bay, WI 54308

(920) 421-8885

Office location:
A307 MAC Hall, UW-Green Bay
2420 Nicolet Drive
Green Bay, WI 54311