Transportation Reform in the South

SELC's transportation reform work envisions more efficient, less polluting ways to move goods and people across the South.

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Photo © SELC/Heather Dodge

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Charlottesville Amtrak passengers rally against Trump budget cuts to rail More »

A crowd gathered outside the Charlottesville Amtrak station Friday to oppose President Trump’s proposal to cut all federal funding for Amtrak’s national network of trains. The move would leave more than 220 communities and more than 40 million people across the country with no rail service. In Charlottesville, more than 50 thousand passengers would feel the loss.

Cutting Amtrak will also result in an increase in driving, leading to greater carbon emissions. “Transportation is the number one source of carbon pollution in Virginia,” Senior Attorney Trip Pollard said, addressing the crowd. “Rail is one of the cleanest, most efficient, and climate-friendly forms of transportation. Per passenger mile, it uses about a third less energy than driving and produces about a third less CO2 emissions.”

If Trump’s budget is approved, 23 states would lose all passenger rail service. Charlottesville would lose Amtrak’s Crescent and Cardinal lines, which make up two-thirds of its trains.

David Toscano, Charlottesville’s representative in the Virginia House of Delegates, told the crowd, “We are going to have to turn up the heat.” Toscano promised to draft a letter opposing the loss of service in the state and encouraged all delegates in Virginia to sign on.

Another rally is planned at Richmond’s Main Street Station on Wednesday, June 28th.

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The South's auto-centered transportation approach contributes to nearly every serious environmental problem we face today--from air and water pollution, to loss of rural lands and natural areas, to climate change. SELC is pursuing an alternative approach through a region-wide effort to promote cleaner transportation options and to advance policies to curb sprawl and protect the special places in the South that we cherish.

Halting the Most Destructive Highway Projects

State transportation departments in the South have too often built massive, destructive highways and bypasses that do little to improve our long-term mobility, safety, economy, or quality of life. Instead of reducing congestion, these costly new projects often subsidize development farther out into the countryside, causing "planned sprawl" and quickly filling up with traffic by essentially forcing people to drive everywhere for everything.  Sprawling development, coupled with a failure to invest in alternatives to auto and truck travel, has made the South's per capita driving distances and tailpipe pollution levels some of the worst in the nation.

SELC is challenging the most ill-conceived and expensive highway proposals in the South. These projects would increase air and water pollution, destroy valuable natural areas and farmland, worsen the region's carbon footprint, and pave the way for yet more far-flung development.  Instead, we are advocating for low impact, more effective solutions to transportation problems, such as targeted improvements to existing highways.

SELC's Vision for Transportation

In addition to advancing alternatives to damaging projects, SELC is promoting fundamental policy changes at the federal, state, and local levels, including

• More transportation choices: We are spurring investment in cleaner and more efficient alternatives to driving, such as transit, intercity passenger rail, and freight rail.
• Fix-it-first: We are urging our states and metro areas to repair thousands of roads and bridges and to improve the efficiency of existing roads, rather than to pour money into new highways and bypasses.
• Linking transportation and land use: We are promoting development patterns that curb sprawl, reduce the cost for public services, and promote public health by providing choices for getting to work, shopping centers, school and other destinations.

If we change our approach to transportation, as the South continues to grow we can foster vibrant economic growth and communities with a range of mobility and living options while protecting our health and our environment.