Orange County Branch Newsletter

July 2020

ASCE OC Sustainability Committee

Sustainable Infrastructure Post COVID-19

By Tonia Wang, P.E., ENV SP | Sustainability Committee Member

The future of sustainable infrastructure post COVID-19 may seem uncertain like many other aspects of our community. As COVID-19 continues to spread, the social, environmental, and economic impacts are overwhelmingly experienced in all parts of the world. The pandemic has made clear the urgency to develop sustainable infrastructure in order to address the impending social, environmental, and public health issues. Public agencies are transforming their infrastructure plans to consider the various shifts in lifestyle during a pandemic. For instance, cities are racing to establish bikeway projects to avoid the increase of single occupancy vehicle traffic, due to a heightened caution to use public transit. Major cities, such as London, Paris, New York, and Milan are temporarily giving back roads to the pedestrians and cyclists (Source). Working from home could be the new normal. Tech companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, are allowing their employees to telecommute and work remotely – permanently (Source). Public spaces will need to be constructed or re-designed to allow for social distancing. The ASCE OC Sustainability Committee presents a series of articles focused on how sustainable infrastructure should be shaped with the pandemic in mind.

As stated by Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), “This is a watershed moment for us! COVID-19 underscores what sustainability professionals have known all along that the global economy, our health and well-being, and the natural world are interconnected. At the center of these three systems are our infrastructure networks. To avoid or mitigate future threats, we cannot afford to deliver infrastructure that has been designed and built using outdated processes and practices.” (Source).

A Case for Transportation Electrification

Sustainable infrastructure post COVID-19 should incorporate a multi-faceted approach to transportation electrification. Inspired by the Roadmap 2.0 plan developed by the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) (Source), transportation electrification would significantly contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals currently set by California, Los Angeles County, and some cities in Orange County.

When stay-at-home orders were in place, vehicles on the road significantly decreased. Even with greater than 40% traffic reductions, recent studies using data collected by the EPA show that the ozone pollutant has only slightly decreased (Source). The research explains that heavy-duty transportation, such as trucks and buses, accounts for the largest source of nitrogen oxides, which form ozone. Truck fleets continue to stay on roads during this time to ensure that goods are shipped to stores and homes. Developing zero-emission methods of goods movement will be pertinent for reducing emissions and other pollutants. California regulators recently approved new rules that would force automakers to sell more electric work trucks and delivery vans (Source). The California Air Resources board estimates at the rule’s full implementation in 2035, “At least 15% of the 1.2 million trucks on the road would run on electricity and create thousands of new jobs.” This rule is the first of its kind and will set precedent to future region and county-wide goals focused on increased adoption of electric trucks. Other ideas to contribute to the zero-emission goods movement include piloting electric cargo bicycles for first/last-mile delivery and testing drone delivery.

Increasing the adoption of electric vehicles and expanding charging infrastructure is also key to meeting transportation electrification measures. Annual goals should be established on the number of electric vehicles sold and programs should be developed that encourage removal of older internal combustion vehicles. More electric vehicle discounts and incentives should be established for Orange County, encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles. Currently, only Southern California Electric (SCE) has a Clean Fuel Reward Program (Source), which includes an incentive for purchasing an electric vehicle and installing home EV charging infrastructure. To promote widespread adoption among all socioeconomic classes, distribution programs should be piloted and established to offer low income and disadvantaged households a personal or shared electric vehicle. This initiative should be paired with establishing new construction and renovation requirements on the number of charging stations to be built on public and private property and located to be accessible to all. Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has expressed their efforts of moving toward a 100 percent zero-emission electric bus fleet (Source), an effort that will significantly contribute to transportation electrification and its associated goals.

With the increase in electricity demand, it is important to also consider improving and expanding the electricity grid. As of June 2019, California has the highest reliance on natural gas to generate electricity, with renewables as a close second (Source). The electricity grid in Orange County should set requirements to increasingly rely on renewable sources, with the ultimate goal of 100% renewables. Research and investment should be focused on efficient energy storage and managing increased demand for electricity since renewable energy sources are not always readily available.

A major focus on transportation electrification post-COVID-19 is pertinent to help meet emission reduction goals and contribute to overall efforts in climate change mitigation. In order to effectively take action towards transportation electrification, we must ensure that it is accessible, equitable, and provides positive impacts to all communities—including low income and underrepresented communities.

About the Author

Tonia Wang is a civil engineer specialized in rail/highway design and sustainability coordination. As a part of HNTB, she is currently working on XpressWest, a high-speed rail line from Southern California to Las Vegas. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley where she obtained a master’s in civil engineering, in the Energy, Civil Infrastructure, and Climate Change graduate program.


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