Developing new road infrastructure can be problematic in the face of environmental quality ambitions. These conflicts can even undermine the development of such new infrastructure, as occurred for example in the Netherlands in the mid-2000s as a result of European Union air quality standards. To govern the conflict between transport policies and air quality regulations, a National Cooperation Programme on Air Quality (NSL) was developed in The Netherlands. This programme relies on a collaborative governance approach between various government agencies on national, regional and local levels. As such, it involves a relative shift away from central government coordination towards a reliance on more decentralized governance networks. Within these networks, coordination is expected to result from bottom-up self-governance processes by interacting actors that emerge from either competition and market processes or active actor participation. Theory shows two important risks of such a shift: (i) actors might behave opportunistically, and (ii) in case of problems, assigning problem ownership and responsibility to specific actors may be difficult. This paper aims to gain insight into the NSL’s response to these risks. We monitored the NSL from 2009 to 2012, mainly through a series of interviews and expert workshops. Our research shows that the NSL contains the kind of ‘checks and balances’ that allows it to respond to the first risk. However, we will show that these mechanisms are merely expressions of intent. Furthermore, the NSL proves to be prone to the second identified risk, in that it is unclear who is responsible for the follow-up on these intentions, while rewards or sanctions are non-existent. As it is, the NSL learns us that in order for more collaborative and decentralized forms of governance to function, involved actors on both central and lower levels of government paradoxically require coordinative instruments to enable coordination, to hold each other accountable for their performance and to establish rules and sanctions.