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EDITORIAL: Widen I-25 with Volkswagen settlement

By: The Gazette editorial board
September 3, 2017 Updated: September 3, 2017 at 7:56 am
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We can waste $68 million or put it toward fixing I-25. We advocate the latter.

Colorado is due about $68 million in a settlement with Volkswagen over its notorious emissions tampering scheme. ColoradoPolitics.com's Joey Bunch reports how environmental groups want to spend the money.

They champion a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment draft proposal that recommends spending $18 million of the settlement on upgrading transit buses that serve about 4 percent of daily commuters. Another $18 million would pay for alternative fuel trucks and buses. An additional $10 million would go for electric vehicle recharging stations 30 miles apart. The charging stations would serve a small fraction of cars powered by batteries.

The money, based on the settlement terms, must to be used to reduce vehicle emissions. That seems appropriate.

Putting the money toward expanding I-25 between Castle Rock and Monument would reduce emissions, by a significant amount. Known as "The Gap," the narrow stretch of freeway has been a thorn in the side of the Colorado Department of Transportation for decades. Ignored by the Legislature in favor of metro Denver highway expansion projects, The Gap has become a death trap for drivers and an economic burden for Denver and Colorado Springs.

What isn't so obvious are the environmental problems associated with The Gap. Congestion, we have learned, generates huge amounts of pollution. Automobiles produce the least amount of pollution when they operate at the highway speeds they were designed for. It makes the pollution control systems work more efficiently and minimizes the time a vehicle is on the highway with the engine running. Just ask state, local and federal government experts.

"Idling just one car for 5 minutes per day can emit as many as 25 pounds of harmful air pollutants and 260 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, the primary greenhouse gas," reports Engines Off! Colorado, which calls itself a collaborative effort of federal, state and local governments to improve regional air quality by reducing vehicle idling, "Throughout the Denver Metro area, idling is responsible for an estimated 40,000 tons of harmful air pollution a year and 400,000 tons of CO2 emissions. This results in over 40 million gallons of fuel wasted while idling, costing area residences and businesses over $100 million dollars a year."

Stop-and-go and slow traffic generates pollution because vehicles are not operating at proper temperatures. Engines Off! Colorado says that means "fuel does not undergo complete combustion. This leaves fuel residue that can deposit on spark plugs and increase fuel consumption by up to 5 percent. Also, water condensation in the exhaust system can reduce the system's life."

A 2013 research study out of Beijing, which has some of the worst vehicle pollution on Earth, addressed the issue of traffic volume, traffic speed and the effects on pollution. A paper published in Mathematical Problems in Engineering concludes: "If the volume of vehicles is reduced by 27 percent, the speed of vehicles in the whole road network can be improved by 24 percent, while the average commuting time can be reduced by 19.4 percent . Furthermore, according to calculations, the exhaust emissions will be dropped as follows: Nitrogen oxide emissions will be reduced by 29.3 percent, CO2 emissions will be reduced by 42.2 percent and hydrocarbon emissions will be reduced by 40.9 percent."

Traffic slowdowns increase the length of time pollutants are emitted and increases the amount of pollution produced in a given time while idling or running at low speeds. That means adding lanes to congested highways, which reduces congestion, should be a priority in the pursuit of protecting our air. We have spent more than 25 years trying to lure people out of their cars, spending more than $5 billion on mass transit systems in Colorado that serve less than 5 percent of the public.

To best reduce emissions, we should stick with common sense and science. The science says to improve I-25. Volkswagen's $68 million would pay a big chunk of the cost.

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