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Freeway Use Increases 11 Percent In San Diego County

— More people in San Diego are driving to work and to the mall. That’s good news for the economy, but bad news for the environment.

The news came in a report to the transportation committee of SANDAG, San Diego’s regional planning agency. It said that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased a dramatic 11 percent between fall of 2011 and fall of 2012. VMT is a measure of car traffic on local highways.

So this means more motorists plying the freeways in an improving economy. It also means the effort to reduce greenhouse emissions has been set back.

Marney Cox is SANDAG’s chief economist. He said while hard times may help the environment, he’d prefer San Diego focus on smart growth and encourage mass transit use.

“Those are the kinds of strategies we want to move forward with,” said Cox. “Not necessarily ones that keep the unemployment rate high, so that people don’t make as many trips to work.”

Vehicle miles traveled, of course, don’t tell the whole story about auto emissions. That’s because smaller cars with better gas mileage are becoming more popular.

California regulations will require new cars to reduce their greenhouse emissions by 34 percent by the year 2025.

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