By Maurice Carter, Sustainable Newton Co-Founder & Past President
Thinking about climate solutions, no technology comes to mind quicker than electric vehicles. And for good reason. We’re seeing more EVs on our roads, and charging stations are popping up in parking lots in larger cities -- and even in towns like Covington.
But there's a larger reason transportation solutions are a big deal these days. Nationwide, vehicles moving people, freight, and goods contribute 29% of the total greenhouse gas emissions entering our atmosphere each year to warm our planet. Thanks to researchers with the non-profit Drawdown Georgia, our state is blessed with robust data on emissions in Georgia and the most effective solutions to lower them here. That data shows transportation emissions represent
That’s why the Transportation Sector is a significant focus of the Drawdown Georgia climate solutions framework, accounting for five of the 20 key solutions. But (spoiler alert) it’s not all about EVs. Electric vehicles are critical for removing tailpipe emissions from our roadways, but so too are energy-efficient cars (like plug-in hybrids), trucks (especially alternative fuel ones), mass transit, and alternative mobility (walking, biking, etc.).
More than EVs
Sustainable Newton is working with local officials and businesses to increase availability of EV charging, educate residents about electric and energy-efficient vehicles, and examine local government fleets to identify opportunities to electrify and reduce emissions/save operations costs. And we support efforts by Newton County and our cities to explore scalable solutions to provide public transportation options to city and county residents. But walking and bicycling are easily overlooked as zero-emissions, healthy transportation alternatives. When we make our community safer and more inviting for pedestrians, bicyclists, and persons using other mobility devices, we directly benefit everyone by reducing air pollution and traffic congestion on our streets.
Especially with the growing popularity of electric bicycles (e-bikes), commuting to work, going to school or running errands by bike is more feasible and enjoyable for more residents. From an equity perspective, it's also more affordable. Indeed, the City of Atlanta recently approved a rebate program to provide city residents $500 to $2,000 towards the purchase of an e-bike. The program, administered by the Atlanta Regional Commission is similar to other incentive programs popping up around the country. Even without focused incentives here, we can still expect demand for safe, enjoyable bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to grow.
Let's All Breathe Easier
The extreme weather impacts of climate change are harming Georgians today, in the form of heat waves, drought, floods, severe storms, and crop disruption. And scientists warn it will get worse if we don't rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the heat trapping gases emitted by fossil fuel-powered cars and trucks are invisible to the naked eye, and their effect is cumulative and long-lasting. Something we've long understood -- and many of us have experienced firsthand -- are the health impacts of the particulate pollute coming for tailpipes on our roadways.
According to the most recent report from the American Lung Association:
"More than four in 10 Americans live in communities impacted by unhealthy levels of air pollution." The same report also found that "a national shift to 100 percent new sales of zero-emissions passenger vehicles by 2035 and medium- and heavy-duty trucks by 2040, coupled with a carbon-free grid, would greatly reduce concentrations of these pollutants in the air." Putting that into economic terms, the researchers concluded that "equate to over $1.2 trillion in public-health benefits in the form of over 100,000 avoided premature deaths, nearly 3 million avoided asthma attacks and the avoidance of over 13 million lost workdays."
Keep in mind, these benefits are on top of the already massive benefit of decarbonizing our transportation and energy systems to slow to heating of the planet.
Good Things Are Happening Here
Clean air is vital for maintaining a sustainable community where people are healthy and our environment is conducive to wellbeing and prosperity. To achieve those ends, Sustainable Newton is engaged in several important transportation projects in our community, including:
Turner Lake Road Widening Project
This SPLOST-funded project is focused on improving traffic flow along 1.37 miles of Turner Lake Road between US Highway 278 and Washington Street. However, the roadway redesign offers opportunities to also improve sidewalks, shared-use paths, and pedestrian crossings in the area. Sustainable Newton provided comments during the October 2023 public input period, and we continue to discuss potential design improvements with elected officials and city staff. We believe enhancing places to walk and bicycle along this corridor -- in close proximity to existing parks, trails, neighborhoods, and existing/planned mixed-use developments -- will greatly increase the number of people who chose clean transportation alternatives in this area.
Highway 278 Community Improvement District (CID) Master Plan
The Highway 278 Community Improvement District (CID) is an association of property owners along this state highway running through downtown Covington. Enabled by state legislation, this group of property owners have agreed to tax themselves to raise revenue for road improvements and beautification projects along the corridor. The end result has been a Master Plan to guide redevelopment of the roadway by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) through a series of phases to be implemented over time. Sustainable Newton is engaged through stakeholder communications and will work with CID staff, board members, and GDOT representatives to maximize the opportunity for pedestrian and bicycle improvements in the district.
Clean Cities Georgia Clean Transportation Action Plan
In the fall of 2023, the City of Covington was selected as one of three communities in the State of Georgia to receive technical assistance from Clean Cities Georgia on a Clean Transportation Action Plan funded through a grant from the US Department of Energy. The project includes stakeholders a number of local agencies and non-profits and will examine all avenues for building a cleaner and more equitable transportation system in Covington and Newton County. Areas of focus include, but will not be limited to, electric passenger cars and trucks, government and business fleet electrification, alternative fuel vehicles, electric school buses, public transportation, and walking and biking infrastructure. Sustainable Newton is working closely with Clean Cities staff and the other stakeholders on this initiative.
We all have a vested interest in building a community where zero-emissions, healthy transportation options are abundantly available and affordable for all. As we collaborate with local officials on those objectives, we encourage you to join us at the table. Watch this space for ongoing information about how you can participate directly in shaping the future of transportation in our community. Drop us a line at if you want to get involved. And, by all means, reach out to your elected officials and let them know it matters to you, your family, and your business!