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Environment - Air Quality

What does WSDOT do to improve air quality?

Information on how we address climate change in project documents is on our Energy page.  Additional information on what WSDOT is doing about climate change on our main Sustainable Transportation page.

How does WSDOT analyze air quality?

WSDOT requirements for air quality analysis are described in Chapter 425 of the WSDOT Environmental Manual (EM). 

The Air Quality Checklist (pdf 12 kb) outlines documentation requirements used for WSDOT review and approval and can be used to help with project scoping.
If you are working on a WSDOT project and need an air quality analysis, please submit a completed Task Request Form (doc 167 kb) to Jim Laughlin.

WASIST 3.0 can now be used for project level hot-spot screening for Carbon Monoxide starting May 18, 2015.

WASIST: WSDOT’s carbon monoxide (CO) intersection screening tool, has been updated with emission factors from MOVES2014 and we have been given permission by U.S. EPA Region X to begin using it again. All other aspects of the tool are identical to version 2.0.

If WASIST is not appropriate for use on your particular project intersection(s) air quality modeling can also be conducted using EPA MOVES and either AERMOD or CAL3QHC/-R models. In February 2014, FHWA released their Carbon Monoxide Categorical Hot-Spot Finding (CMCF) that can be used to demonstrate project level conformity for eligible projects. This tool is recommended, where applicable.

Regulatory Compliance

Transportation conformity is required under the Clean Air Act and applies to projects funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).  Conformity requirements apply to areas that do not meet ("nonattainment area"), or previously did not meet ("maintenance area"), the NAAQS. 

When an area violates the standard for one of these pollutants, a State Implementation Plan (SIP) is developed to outline the strategies for attaining the standard.  When conformity applies to an area, transportation projects must demonstrate conformity to the SIP at the regional and project levels.

Regional Conformity
-  Emissions from regionally significant transportation projects within, and contributing to, the nonattainment/maintenance area must be within the allowable emissions limits, or "motor vehicle emissions budget" (MVEB)," for transportation.

Regional conformity is demonstrated by regional planning organizations when they list local transportation projects in their Regional Transportation Improvement Programs (TIP) every four years.  TIPs must conform with state and federal regulations demonstrating conformity or federal funding from FHWA and FTA can be restricted for some projects in the nonattainment/maintenance area.

Project Level Conformity - Projects within nonattainment or maintenance areas that have the potential to increase emissions for the pollutant of concern are subject to project level conformity.  For example, adding a new traffic signal in a carbon monoxide (CO) maintenance area has the potential to increase idling, which can increase CO emissions.

Where project level conformity applies, the project sponsor, e.g., WSDOT, must model emissions to demonstrate project level conformity before a project can be constructed.

The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Air Quality site provides more information about the air quality requirements for transportation projects. The FHWA Conformity site describes regulations governing these analyses. 

What pollutants does WSDOT evaluate?

WSDOT evaluates each project for its effects on our air quality according to the Air Quality Chapter of the WSDOT Environmental Manual. We focus on three primary types of pollutants:

  • Carbon Monoxide - in significant quantities, can inhibit the body's ability to take up oxygen. While carbon monoxide is no longer much of a problem because of improved vehicle exhaust systems. conformity regulations still require us to analyze carbon monoxide concentrations at project intersections.
  • Particulate matter- (e.g., dust, smoke, and diesel exhaust) also negatively affects human health, especially the respiratory system. Particulate matter is a byproduct of combustion and comes from "fugitive" dust released into the air. 
  • Mobile source air toxics (MSATs) are a group of chemicals prioritized by the EPA for reduction in transportation projects. These chemicals are known to adversely impact human health and WSDOT follows FHWA guidance for evaluating MSATs. See our WSDOT Summary of MSAT Analysis in NEPA/SEPA Documents (pdf 73 kb) for more information.

What is WSDOT working on with others?

WSDOT collaborates with a number of public, private, and non-profit partners to reduce vehicle air pollution throughout the state. 

What is WSDOT doing to reduce its own emissions?

Within the agency we are working to reduce our emissions as well. Some of the steps we have taken include:

  • Reducing idle times. Our no-idle policy (pdf 45 kb) instructs employees to turn off engines when they are not needed to reduce idling. This both reduces air pollutants and saves fuel. In addition to reducing idling in vehicles, we are also implementing this easy strategy for equipment that is not being used.
  • Mowing less often. Our maintenance crews are mowing the right of way area next to the roads less frequently. Again, while reducing air pollutants, this also conserves fuel.
  • Installing LED lights. We are installing LED warning lights on many vehicles. With these high-efficiency lights we can turn the engine off without worrying about running down the batteries. Many traffic signals have also been replaced with LED lights.