As ozone concentrations continue to be at high levels in the Tucson area this summer as reported by the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality, the region could face consequences and be designated a "nonattainment" area. According to Pima Association of Governments, the designation would make it harder for the region to spend federal dollars for needed transportation projects, unless improvements in air quality are made.
The region's ground-level ozone levels have lingered near the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2008 standards (.075 parts per million) in recent years, but with more protective 2015 EPA standards, (0.070 parts per million), the ozone concentrations have exceeded the standard's level three times so far this summer. One more exceedance this year could trigger the nonattainment designation, A Pima County Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman said.
According to PAG Senior Air Quality Planner Sue Cotty, "If our region is designated a nonattainment area, it will be a very difficult and costly process to bring the region back to attainment status." Motor vehicles are a major source of emissions. Regional planning efforts to improve traffic flow at congested intersections and reduce vehicle idling, such as at drive-throughs and parking areas, can reduce air pollution, Cotty added. Using other transportation modes, such as carpooling, using public transportation or combining errands in one trip, will help to lower vehicle emissions. "It is important for everyone to take steps to help keep our air healthy," she added.
PAG has seen a growing, delicate balance between congestion management, safety improvements and air quality requirements, and the new ozone standards emphasize the importance of planning and regional collaboration in addressing this issue.
The Pima Association of Governments agrees that it is critical that the association monitors traffic patterns on the county's transportation network to identify ways to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion at the intersections. "This will greatly benefit regional air quality," said PAG Transportation Planning Director Paul Casertano.