Fearing loss of millions of dollars in federal funds for key road projects, Sacramento leaders on Monday sped passage of a new regional 20-year transportation spending plan in hopes of getting federal approval ahead of an unfavorable federal regulation change set for next week.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments, made up of leaders in six local counties, had been scheduled to approve its new transportation spending priorities early next year. The plan lays out how the regional expects to spend federal funds over the next two decades. Much of the funding would be put toward projects aimed at improving non-car transportation modes, such as buses and rail, but it also includes substantial road-project plans.

The Trump Administration intends to lower national emissions standards on Nov. 26 for new cars and trucks, pre-empting California’s tougher state emission restrictions. California has sued.

In an odd twist, that regulatory change next week could cause the Sacramento region and other metropolitan areas around the state to fall out of compliance with federal Clean Air Act air quality rules. If that happens, those areas may no longer qualify for federal funds needed to build infrastructure to keep up with planned growth.

In an email to The Sacramento Bee, SACOG head James Corless said the agency has immediately submitted its new Metropolitan Transportation Plan to the Federal Highway Administration in hopes that the federal government will approve it before Nov. 26 so that it can be judged under existing California emission standards rather than the Trump Administration’s more lax “Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks.”

“If we had not taken this step prior to the effective date of the federal SAFE rule … SACOG would be prevented from adopting a valid (plan),” Corless wrote. “At risk are millions of federal, and potentially state, dollars for transportation projects to meet the region’s mobility needs, promote economic prosperity and housing, and meet the region’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction and air-quality goals.”

The California Association of Councils of Governments (CALCOG) lists 30 Sacramento-area projects in the short term that could be slowed, delayed or stalled, including portions of the Capital Southeast Connector Road, the Interstate 80 and Highway 65 interchange reconstruction project, as well as road improvements around Folsom Boulevard near Sacramento State University and an auxiliary lane on U.S. Highway 50 at Howe Avenue.

The reason the new standards put Sacramento and other areas at risk of losing funds is complicated: Sacramento’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan is based on computer modeling that forecast cars and trucks to be much cleaner and fuel efficient in the coming years based on California’s emission standards. Under that scenario, new or expanded roads that allow for more cars will do less damage to air quality because those cars would pollute less.

Under Trump’s more lax regulations, however, the area’s new cars and trucks are expected to be considerably more polluting, likely causing Sacramento’s road plans to run afoul of federal emissions standards.

Other transportation planning areas at risk of losing federal funds include the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and five surrounding counties, San Diego County and the San Joaquin Valley. Sacramento is most at risk because it is the first metropolitan area is required to submit a new transportation plan for federal approval.

Alberto Ayala, head of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, said his agency supports SACOG’s efforts to get its plan approved under the current rules. The local air quality district has joined other air agencies in a lawsuit against the Trump plan to require California to lower its emissions standards.

Trump in turn has threatened California with cuts in federal funding for not completing air quality implementation plans.

Officials with CALCOG, which represents transportation planning agencies around the state, said the new federal emissions standards could lead to of almost 15 million more metric tons per year by 2025.

CALCOG estimates on its website that just under 2,000 projects totaling $130 billion could face project delivery delays or a loss of funding.


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