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Holiday Road Trip: What Price for "Clean" Travel?

Some 67 million gallons of gas will be burned by American vehicles this Labor Day Weekend. Credit: clarita/
Some 67 million gallons of gas will be burned by American vehicles this Labor Day Weekend. Credit: clarita/
September 4, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Highways will be bustling with Labor Day Weekend travel. The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts the highest volume since 2008, with an estimated 1.7 million Illinoisans driving 50 miles or more.

According to the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), vehicles across the nation will burn more than 67 million gallons of gas this weekend. And, not to kill any healthy road-trip buzz, that equates to more than 1.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Abe Scarr, director of the Public Interest Research Group in Illinois, explains.

"Our transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to global-warming pollution, and there's a lot of air pollution that comes from cars that affects our lungs and our health as well," he says. "Especially on the hot summer days, we've seen an increase in ozone and other respiratory problems."

Scarr notes research indicates Americans are driving less overall, but transportation policy hasn't caught up. In fact, infrastructure hasn't even been maintained in many areas. In tight policy decisions, Scarr contends more resources should be directed to investment in public transportation and other options that reduce pollution.

With its continued budget impasse, Scarr admits Illinois is in a tough spot. He points out that's more reason to look at overall costs long-term, and prioritize solutions that reduce congestion and curb air pollution, such as bus rapid-transit lines, bike routes and carpool lanes.

"Certainly for the Chicago region, there is a regional planning organization that has a really good plan for the next 30 years in terms of transportation planning," says Scarr. "But mostly, it's coming down to resources, and whether we have the resources to make that plan a reality."

Meanwhile, PIRG's stance against the Illinois toll road project known as the Illiana Expressway remains strong. Scarr says it would take important resources away from other transportation options. Gov. Bruce Rauner recently shelved the project due to the budget crisis.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL