By 2020, Tucson’s traffic will be like Phoenix’s in ’80
MICHAEL GRAHAM Citizen Staff Writer
Picture Phoenix in 1980.
See the traffic? See the brown cloud?
See the ”Valley of the Sun” turn into the ”Valley of the Smog.”
Environmental officials say that could be a telling snapshot of congestive Tucson a quarter-century from now.
According to the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality, models show that the traffic in Tucson by 2020 will be similar to that of Phoenix in 1980.
Sixteen years ago, Phoenicians drove an average of 35 million vehicle-miles daily.
Tucsonans drive between 15 million and 17 million miles daily.
By 2020, we’re expected to drive, on average, 27 million to 30 million miles a day.
That spells a ”mess,” says Martha Salvato, technical operations manager for the county’s DEQ.
For every 25 miles driven, a pound of pollution is emitted into the air. Who knows how many pounds of swear words accompany it when traffic is at a gridlock.
In 1985, Phoenix was near gridlock. Voters there then passed a half-cent sales tax to pay for new freeways.
The thought was that moving cars on the hundreds of miles of concrete slabs woven through metropolitan Phoenix would ease congestion and clean the air.
But it’s back to the drawing board for Phoenix.
In June, the Environmental Protection Agency officially designated the Phoenix area as a serious non-attainment carbon monoxide area -meaning the Valley of the Sun is not able to meet the basic health standard for carbon monoxide.
Freeways not for Tucson
Freeways apparently are not in Tucson’s future.
The majority of local residents oppose freeways. And, according to Salvato, high-speed interstates don’t necessarily solve pollutant problems, anyway.
The optimal driving speed to combat carbon monoxide problems is between 35 mph and 40 mph.
”Freeways can defeat you,” Salvato said. ”In Phoenix, freeways are not digging them out of a hole.”
Concern about air quality in Tucson was highest in 1988, when 87 percent of the people surveyed said the community suffered from major or moderate air quality problems.
This year, 81 percent of those surveyed said they are concerned with air quality.
About 766,000 people live in the metropolitan Tucson area and, according to the Motor Vehicle Division, nearly 505,000 vehicles are registered in Pima County.
Major pollutants by autos
As far as air contaminants go, carbon monoxide, particulate matter – soot and dust – and ozone are the three major pollutants attributed to automobiles.
Tucson has not been in violation of federal air pollution standards since 1988. While levels of carbon monoxide are improving, particulate matter and ozone are nearing problem levels.
Ozone production depends on sunlight and how it reacts with nitrogen oxide and volatile organics. Each time a car is refueled, the fumes escaping a gas tank help produce ozone.
County DEQ Director David Esposito says ozone is the biggest problem pollutant in Tucson.
”It’s largely because of the number of cars on the road and how much we’re refueling,” Esposito said. ”Ozone is the fumes, and as long as we’re driving and buying cars and buying gas, we’re contributing to the ozone precursors.”
In Tucson, the primary sources of particulate matter are traffic, overpaved and unpaved roads, exhaust emissions, diesel exhaust, earth-moving construction and farming.
Our natural desert contributes about one-third of particulate matter, and abnormally dry conditions – which allow particles to remain suspended in the air – worsen the problem.
The highest values we experience are about 80 percent to 90 percent of the health-based standards for particulate matter, Esposito said.
Carbon monoxide levels have declined considerably in Tucson – thanks to federal tailpipe emission standards for new cars, the county’s Clean Air Program, and oxygenated fuels, Esposito said.
What can be done?
Is there anything we can do to avoid resembling Phoenix?
”We can by finding alternative modes of transportation and utilizing cleaner cars as they become available,” Esposito said.
In fact, the future of using cleaner cars is at our doorstep.
Tucson is one of four cities nationwide that will begin testing the new EV1, an electric vehicle manufactured by General Motors. The car will be available at Saturn dealerships.
Testing is scheduled to begin later this year, said Cheryl Masterofrancesco, sales manager of Saturn of Tucson.
Esposito said improvements to our transportation systems, such as grade-separated interchanges, would help combat pollution.
Beth Gorman, program coordinator for the Clean Air Program, said increasing the awareness about air quality will help.
”We’re training teachers because teachers train hundreds of kids,”she said.
How to reduce air pollution
Advice for motorists:
• Combine errands. Cold starts put out more pollutants.
• Keep cars well-tuned.
• Make sure tires are properly inflated.
• Instead of driving a half-mile to a convenience store or neighborhood park, walk or bicycle.
• Consider telecommuting to the office – working from home on the computer – one day a week.
• Ask your employer to consider a compressed work week. Four 10-hour days can replace five eight-hour shifts.
• Car pool, or take the bus.
Pollutants and health
Health effects of the three major problem pollutants:
Ozone: At ground level, pollutant is formed by the reaction of sunlight with exhaust gases from vehicles. Ozone irritates membranes of the respiratory system, causing shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest pain and headaches. It damages the individual air sacs and airways in the lungs.
Carbon monoxide: It’s an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas in motor vehicle exhaust. Carbon monoxide reduces oxygen levels reaching the brain, heart and other tissues by obstructing the work of red blood cells. This causes reduced alertness and decreased ability to perform basic tasks. Carbon monoxide increases the risk of heart disease and promotes the long-term development of arteriosclerosis – the thickening and hardening of blood vessel walls.
Particulate matter: Consisting of small particles, such as soot and dust, the matter is small enough to bypass the body’s filtering system and can be very harmful. Toxic and cancer-causing chemicals can be carried by particulate matter into the lungs. Particulate matter can lead to breathing difficulties and respiratory pain and can irritate the nose, throat and ear canal, which are often mistaken for allergic reactions. Particulate matter increases the incidence and severity of acute bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, emphysema and other severe lung Illnesses.