Proactive Air Quality Efforts in Illinois and Iowa

On August 25, 2011, the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation held the RPO America Peer Symposium in Washington, DC.  This event was sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and was held in conjunction with the 2011 National Rural Transportation Peer Learning Conference, an annual meeting organized by the NADO Research Foundation and Development District Association of Appalachia.  The Symposium brought together transportation professionals from across the nation and addressed how rural and small metro regions and their partners have improved the planning and implementation process of vital transportation projects by strengthening communications and collaboration across state, regional, and local agencies.

One noteworthy presentation was given by Gena McCullough, planning director for the Bi-State Regional Commission.  The commission has been working on air quality issues in the five-county Quad Cities region of eastern Iowa and western Illinois since 1998. The region’s efforts have long included awareness of and public education on air quality issues, informing residents what ozone and fine particulates are and how they can be harmful to public health. McCullough presented an effort by the Commission to move this work from planning to implementation.

A proposal to revise federal ozone standards would have threatened to push this small metro area into non-attainment with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.  In response, the 2009 Bi-State Air Quality Partnership helped spur individuals and organizations to act to help reduce the region’s air quality emissions, instead of merely becoming aware of air quality issues with no related action.  Models from other air quality partnerships offered helpful lessons for the commission: most were public-private partnerships focusing on voluntary emissions reductions. Possibilities gleaned from other initiatives included: conservation and energy efficiency programs co-sponsored by local utilities, public awareness days, transportation ridesharing and fleet and anti-idling initiatives with local governments. A 2009 air quality summit convened local leaders, and the end of the summit marked the launch of a partnership to bring each local government on board by making a pledge to work toward cleaner air.  The commission also disseminated marketing information with the goal of finding additional participants to make the pledge.

This process revealed that many organizations in the Quad Cities area were already taking beneficial steps toward emissions reductions and identified new ideas to adopt in the coming year. Conducting energy audits and buying non-toxic products (which reduce ozone by emitting fewer volatile organic compounds during production) were especially popular among the participants of the air quality summit.

In late 2011, the Bi-State Regional Commission adopted a five-year strategic plan called “Make Outdoor Air Quality Visible,” which has two primary goals:

  • Targeting area sources of pollution, as many of the Partnership’s efforts to date have addressed point-source pollution
  • Encouraging the use of alternative transportation, including through complementary marketing campaigns for riding transit and encouraging the use of bicycling and walking

Finally, the commission has helped establish a web portal where customers can get information on all area transit systems, an example of how helping transit be more accessible can help reduce solo car trips. Also, the ALCOA Foundation awarded the Bi-State Regional Commission a Clean Air Every Day grant to provide additional support for these efforts.

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This case study was researched and written by NADO Research Foundation Graduate Fellow Jonathan Tarr and Associate Director Carrie Kissel and is supported by the Federal Highway Administration under contract number DTFH61-10-C-00050 through the NADO Research Foundation (  Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FHWA or the NADO Research Foundation.


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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.

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