Let's Re-imagine Transportation in Montana

By Skye Borden
State Director

Earth just had its hottest January ever recorded, and it’s predicted 2020 will rank among the five warmest years on record. In Montana, we’re facing increasingly sever wildfire seasons, unstable snowpack, and prolonged periods of drought.

The transportation sector is the second largest source of global warming pollution in Montana and the largest source nationwide. Tailpipe pollution is contributing to the climate crisis, and threatens our health, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, heart disease and more. 

Why are transportation emissions so high? Most Americans drive more than 10,000 miles a year, often in inefficient fossil fuel-powered vehicles. And because of the way we've built our communities and our lack of investment in transit, most of us have few alternatives. 

The only way we can effectively address global warming is by changing how we get around. We need big, ambitious goals to transform transportation, and the means to achieve them. Thankfully, we have a road map to help us solve this problem. 

In our report, Destination: Zero Carbon: three strategies to transform transportation, we lay out three goals that can get us closer to the destination. 

The first goal is ensuring that all personal vehicles sold after 2035 are electric. Given that Americans drive 10,000 miles on average each year, this transformation is essential. To get this right, we need both incentives and infrastructure to make it easier for folks to get around in an electric car. 

The second goal is electrifying all transit and school buses by 2030. Electrifying all modes of public transportation will eventually mean our travel can be powered by clean, renewable energy. Electrifying buses would also eliminate harmful street-level emissions from diesel combustion, benefiting the health of children who board the bus to school every day and anyone who rides a bus. 

The third goal is doubling the number of people who travel by walking, biking and public transit by 2035. The least-polluting car is the one we don’t drive in the first place. We have to provide more options so that people can choose to travel by foot, bike, or transit. Creating sustainable communities requires making zero-carbon modes of travel the cheapest, easiest, most comfortable and safest options available.

Fortunately, the transition to zero carbon is already starting to gain traction. Missoula’s transit bus system recently added electric buses to its fleet, and communities from Lima to Red Lodge are building new electric vehicle charging stations. And, with $12.6 million in Volkswagen funds available for emission reduction projects around the state, there’s an unprecedented opportunity for our communities to invest in new zero-carbon projects.  

Montana should step up to the climate challenge and re-imagine transportation. From Missoula to Miles City, we can envision a better, carbon-free way to get around. It is a future that we must achieve if we want future generation of Montanans to inherit a clean and healthy environment.