Highway Healthy and Sustainable Transportation

Cyclist on Longfellow Bridge
Photo Credit: Jerry Kelleher

As transportation emissions continue to increase in the state, and across the country, MassDOT is working to find climate solutions that support reductions in emissions.

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Daily Vehicle Miles (VMT) Traveled per Capita

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Vehicles miles traveled (VMT) is a measure of how much people travel by car. While the average daily VMT per capita has remained relatively constant over the past four years, total VMT has increased with the growing economy since 2010 (see MassDOT 2019 Congestion in the Commonwealth Report). After decades of planning and design with a focus on vehicle travel, travel by automobile is the dominant mode in the Commonwealth, and across the country, and with it comes related externalities such as congestion and environmental impacts like greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pollution. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted affected VMT in the state – VMT decreased significantly during the state shutdown, but in recent months has increased to near normal levels, although travel patterns themselves have changed. As concerns about public health continue alongside state reopening, MassDOT is closely tracking VMT. MassDOT’s target of 24.3 daily vehicle miles per capita is meant to return daily VMT per capita to 2008 levels, when the Global Warming Solutions Act was passed. Although daily VMT per capita varies by county, statewide daily VMT per capita has remained constant at about 24.4 in CY15 through CY18. In CY19, the VMT per capita was 25.8. VMT is the number of miles traveled by motor vehicles in the Commonwealth, calculated per capita, on an average daily basis. The data is obtained from the Office of Transportation Planning (OTP), which derives the information from FHWA Annual Highway Statistics Reports (part of the Federal Highway Administration Performance Monitoring System – HPMS), various HPMS state reports, and U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. Projected figures are based on modeled traffic growth, state population projections, and state and national VMT growth trends. In 2015, MassDOT improved its capacity for estimating VMT with new software and updated data collection methods. These improvements resulted in higher estimates of average daily VMT, so pre-2015 data was scaled up by a constant factor to allow for comparison. Due to these improvements, both the data and the target for this measure are different from the numbers reported in previous versions of Tracker.

Daily Bicycle And Walking Miles Traveled

Equally important to understanding VMT, is understanding the equivalent miles traveled by people on foot and on bicycles. On an average day in Massachusetts, there are just over 6 million (6,253,328) miles traveled by people walking and 406,993 miles traveled on bicycle. If those trips were taken in a car instead, 5.8 million additional pounds of CO2 would have been emitted in the state. This is equivalent to 568 cars being taken off the road for a year or about 6 months of electricity generated from a wind turbine or the electricity it takes to power 300 homes for one year.

Complete Streets

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Complete Streets refers to an approach to transportation policy and infrastructure design that ensures that everyone using streets is safe and feels safe, regardless of age, ability, or mode of travel. The approach, if adopted in all work, will help the Commonwealth meet its mobility and safety performance measures. However, work on state-owned roadways alone is not enough. Cities and towns own 80 percent of roadway miles across the Commonwealth. Now in its fifth year, the MassDOT Complete Streets Funding Program supports communities to incorporate Complete Streets elements into regular planning and design practice for their local roadways. This is accomplished by MassDOT providing technical assistance funding and construction funding to eligible municipalities through a three-tiered approach that includes policy, planning and capital construction to increase safe travel options. Municipalities that participate in the Complete Streets Funding Program are important partners in meeting statewide sustainability goals. At the end of FY20, 240 municipalities throughout the Commonwealth have registered with the Complete Streets Funding Program; 215 local Complete Streets policies have been approved; and 148 construction grants have been awarded. The Program also continues to support municipalities in taking a comprehensive approach to making travel safer and more comfortable for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users through new training opportunities.

Renewable Energy

The MassDOT Highway Division, in partnership with Ameresco, has developed a total of eight solar projects (4292 kW) generating renewable energy. All sites were commissioned under the former Massachusetts incentive program SREC-II, and installed between 2015 and 2018. The largest sites are located along I-90 in Framingham near Exit 10. In FY20 the systems saved MassDOT $640,000, produced approximately 5,750,000 kilowatt hours of electricity; saving approximately 2,500 tons of CO2 emissions. MassDOT owns and operates six electric vehicle charging stations in the state, all along I-90. In FY20, there were a total of 2,878 charging sessions, 41,000 kWh dispensed, saving approximately 30 metric tons of CO2 emissions and avoiding 5,300 gallons of gasoline. Electric vehicles are one of the critical measures needed to solve the climate crisis, but currently electric vehicle charging stations are not a profitable endeavor and have not been picked up by private industry. New England faces a unique challenge for electric vehicle adoption due to high utility rates in comparison with low fuel rates. Until there is a business model that supports development and ownership by private companies, MassDOT views itself as having an important role filling the gaps in station availability for electric vehicle first adopters. In Spring 2021, MassDOT expects to begin installing ten new DCFC charging stations and 24 Level-II charging stations at various Park & Rides and Service Plazas partnering with the Eversource Make Ready Program and with a CMAQ funded contract.