Key D.C. Area Transportation Projects Threatened Due to Proposed EPA Ozone Regulations

Press Release
July 22, 2015

I-66 Widening, Purple Line Among Impacted Projects

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy today released the first in a series of new reports detailing the negative impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed ozone regulations on key transportation projects around the nation, starting with the Washington, D.C. region.

Grinding to A Halt takes a detailed look at the challenges communities will face in meeting EPA’s proposal to tighten ozone standards to 65-70 parts per billion, and the projects that could be delayed if they fail to comply.  Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is authorized to withhold transportation funding for highway and transit projects in regions unable to demonstrate compliance with emissions rules. The deadline for demonstrating conformity will be 2018, and the Washington region is among many areas across the country expected to have difficulty complying.

“EPA’s strict new ozone standards could mean that badly needed transportation improvements in the Washington area will truly be grinding to a halt,” said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.  “D.C. area commuters already are facing some of the worst commutes in the nation, and now key projects intended to help like improving I-66 in Virginia, the Purple Line in Maryland, and the D.C. Streetcar are all being threatened by unreasonable standards that the region will have extreme difficulty meeting.”

“Federal funding for transportation projects has been a long and difficult battle, which continues to this day,” said Janet Kavinoky, executive director of Transportation and Infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber.  “Just as there is finally some momentum in Maryland and Virginia thanks to new state funding, EPA’s proposed ozone regulations threaten to halt progress.  Ironically, withholding funding for road and public transit projects will actually result in increased ozone emissions by failing to reduce congestion and emissions from idling traffic.”

Because Washington and many other localities have already dramatically reduced ozone emissions, compliance with another new standard will be very difficult.  In fact, EPA has acknowledged that, in order to comply with a 65 parts per billion standard, 40 percent of reductions must come from “unknown controls” that don’t currently exist.  At this level, EPA’s proposed new standards are so strict that the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks would not be in compliance. All told, 558 counties across the country are expected to violate the new standard, many of which have just achieved compliance with the most recent tightening of ozone rules in 2008.

While the D.C. Regional Transportation Plan is in the process of being updated with new projects approved to proceed, there are currently at least 13 projects totaling $511 million in funding in FY2019 and FY2020 that could face a cutoff in federal funding.  These include a proposed streetcar project connecting Union Station to Georgetown in D.C., a Virginia Railway Express line capacity expansion in Virginia, and new interchanges at I-270 and Watkins Mill Road and MD-4 and Suitland Parkway in Maryland. 

In addition, future projects which are moving forward but not yet in the regional plan will also be impacted.  These include a long awaited project to widen I-66 outside the Beltway, and construction of the Purple Line in Maryland.  At more than $2 billion each, both projects will need federal funding in addition to state and local resources to be completed—funding that could be withhold due to non-compliance.  To read the Energy Institute’s complete report and see a full list of impacted projects, visit

Joining the Chamber to unveil the new report were: Lon Anderson, Managing Director, Public and Government Affairs, AAA Mid-Atlantic;  Richard Parsons, Vice-Chair, Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance; David Birtwistle, CEO, Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance; Greg Cohen, President and CEO, American Highway Users Alliance;  Nick Goldstein, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs & Assistant General Counsel, American Road and Transportation Builders Association; and Pam Whitted, Senior Vice President, Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association.