OPINION: Infrastructure investments require inclusive collaboration

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One of the best ways to learn how to do something is by turning to others with experience.

It’s one of the ways our nonprofit helps our members, by connecting them to their professional peers – either through one-on-one meetings or through our numerous educational events – who have already adopted sustainable transportation methods. A municipal fleet manager interested in adopting compressed natural gas for the city’s refuse trucks can turn to a fleet manager in another city and learn from their successes before embarking on their own efforts.

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Those with experience truly are the real experts and their knowledge, advice and proven track record of success are incredibly valuable.

The passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has many wondering how they may be able to get a piece of the pie to help with their own sustainable transportation efforts.

According to the White House, under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Indiana would expect to receive roughly $100 million over five years to support the expansion of an EV charging network in the state. Indiana will also have the opportunity to apply for the $2.5 billion in grant funding dedicated to EV charging in the bill.

Hoosiers who take public transportation spend an extra 88.7% of their time commuting and non-White households are 4.5 times more likely to commute via public transportation and 38% of trains and other transit vehicles in the state are past useful life, according to the White House. Indiana is expected to receive nearly $680 million over five years under the IIJA to improve public transportation options across the state. Taking public transit instead of a passenger vehicle helps contribute to improved air quality as well.

These kinds of figures are exciting and can go a long way toward reducing tailpipe emissions and improving air quality throughout the state for all Hoosiers.

The reality is when funding becomes available – especially when you start talking billions and trillions — businesses and organizations that have never been involved in sustainable transportation consulting or project management decide to dip their toes into the water and put themselves out there as experts. We saw the trend when the $41 million Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund dollars were on their way to Indiana. Long before the passage of the IIJA, when discussions were just starting about the potential federal funding, the new “experts” started to emerge once again.

South Shore Clean Cities has been in operation for 22 years and has experienced tremendous success for our members and partners in implementing sustainable transportation projects, including the adoption of alternative fuel and electric vehicles and pieces of equipment and their fueling and charging infrastructure.

In addition to our broad base of members and partners in the industry and end-users who have successfully adopted sustainable transportation, South Shore Clean Cities is a statewide organization backed by the national U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities network. Since 1993, more than 75 coalitions have achieved a cumulative energy impact equal to nearly 11 billion gasoline gallon equivalents through the implementation of diverse transportation projects. That’s the greenhouse gas emission reduction equivalent of removing 21.2 million passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

The coalitions achieved that success through collaboration and experience. Leaders in every area of the country with a Clean Cities coalition should turn to them as experts as they embark on plans to implement the IIJA funding.

We are all better when we work together and share our talents for the greater good of our communities, our Region and our state. As our leaders begin plans to implement the IIJA funding, we must ensure the right people are involved throughout all stages of planning in order to achieve maximum success for years to come.

Remember, it’s never too late to begin your environmental legacy.

This column originally appeared in The Times of Northwest Indiana. Carl Lisek is the Executive Director of South Shore Clean Cities and Vice President of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are the writers.

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