The cars, trucks, buses and trains that make up our transportation system are responsible for more pollution than any other sector. Tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide are Connecticut’s largest contribution to global climate change, but our vehicle emissions are also directly responsible for problems in our communities.

Pollution from transportation is a leading cause of asthma, strokes and heart attacks in the state, and our most vulnerable populations are being hit the hardest. It’s time we get serious about cleaning up Connecticut’s transportation system, and we don’t have to look far to find the solutions.

Connecticut residents are exposed to health risks every day from passenger vehicles spewing nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (which cause smog), particulate matter pollution, as well as greenhouse gases that cause climate change. And it’s not just cars. The problem is as bad or worse when it comes to trucks, trains, buses, and other vehicles running on fossil fuel energy.

While Connecticut’s overall carbon emissions have declined since 1990, largely due to reduced pollution from power plants, transportation emissions have increased. In 2015, transportation accounted for 41 percent of the state’s carbon emissions. Our lack of action to curb transportation pollution has come with staggering health costs. Vehicles are responsible for 69 percent of Connecticut’s nitrogen oxide emissions, a leading cause of asthma.

As of 2014, 9.6 percent of children and 9.2 percent of adults in Connecticut suffer from asthma — both of these figures are well above the national average. Asthma-related trips to the hospital and emergency room in 2016 resulted in $135 million in medical bills in Connecticut. Making matters worse, this health and financial burden is not evenly spread out across the state; communities of color face a disproportionate share of the health costs.

As a nurse who spent years working in critical care and cardiology, I know firsthand the health impacts from exposure to ozone and particulate matter pollution.  Seeing a young child with asthma struggling to breathe, a person with chronic respiratory problems requiring a ventilator or someone suffering from a cardiovascular event is devastating. Poor air quality exacerbates disease symptoms and can even cause sudden death.  Cleaning up our transportation system is the best thing we can do to reduce harmful emissions and improve the health of thousands of Connecticut residents.

In Connecticut, along with the rest of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, we need to shift to a modern transportation system that increases electric cars, trucks, and buses, expands public transit and ride sharing, and builds walkable, bike-able, transit-oriented communities accessible to all residents. To make these improvements happen, our towns, cities and state need additional funds for transportation investment. A regional cap-and-invest program that reduces transportation emissions over time while generating revenue for reinvestment can make our air cleaner while accelerating the transition to clean, modern modes of transportation. One example of how these funds could be used is electrification of buses and school buses, particularly in urban areas and communities of color.

Connecticut is a member of the 11-state Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which hosted a regional listening recently at the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) headquarters. The purpose of these sessions is to identify potential policy approaches to bring about a cleaner and more resilient transportation future across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. These meetings are moving the needle in the right direction.

Implementing clean transportation solutions across Connecticut will mean fewer delays, safer travel, improved health and fewer climate impacts. Modernizing the transportation system for our state is a huge undertaking, but we need to encourage lawmakers to join the process and support Gov. Dannel Malloy’s pledge.

Now is the time to make Connecticut a cleaner and healthier place to live when it comes to transportation.

Anne Hulick is the Director of Connecticut Clean Water Action/Clean Water Fund and the Coordinator of the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy CT in East Berlin, CT.

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