Nebraska DOT Seeking Feedback on Carbon Reduction Plan

The Nebraska DOT is gathering public opinion on its proposed strategies for reducing transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions via an online survey.

[Above photo by Nebraska DOT]

That is the final part of the agency’s efforts to form a statewide Carbon Reduction Strategy or CRS by November 15; a deadline fixed by the Carbon Reduction Program or CRP as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in 2021.

The CRP – a new federal program intended to fund surface transportation carbon emission reduction efforts – requires states to develop a CRS in consultation with metropolitan planning organizations by November 15.

The Nebraska DOT noted in a statement that the transportation sector is the second largest source of carbon emissions in the state, preceded by the electric generation sector.

Activities that contribute to those emissions include the burning of petroleum-based fuels in vehicles as well as from “infrastructure-related” emissions, such as from road construction activities and street lighting, it noted.

The agency said its CRS-development process will pinpoint strategies to reduce carbon that are “proven, effective, and context-sensitive” for Nebraska. 

Thus far, Nebraska DOT said it has completed “extensive internal research and interviews” regarding existing policies and activities contributing to carbon reduction, held individual consultations with each of Nebraska’s four MPOs, and distributed a survey to institutional partners.

FHWA Issues ‘Climate Challenge’ Funds to 25 State DOTs

On October 20, the Federal Highway Administration provided $7.1 million in total funds to 25 state departments of transportation involved in the agency’s ‘Climate Challenge’ program. This is the program’s first funding cycle, FHWA said.

[Above photo by the Oklahoma DOT]

The agency launched its Climate Challenge initiative to quantify the impacts of sustainable pavements and to demonstrate ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in highway projects using sustainable construction materials. That effort is part of a broad array of climate-focused programs FHWA kicked off in April.

“As the sector of the U.S. economy that produces the most carbon emissions, transportation must be a central arena for solutions in our fight against climate change,” said Pete Buttigieg, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, in a statement.

“Sustainable pavement may not sound glamorous, but it’s an example of the kind of creative and important work needed at this moment, and we’re proud to support innovative efforts in this field across the country,” he noted.

State DOTs that received awards include:

  • The Rhode Island Department of Transportation received a $312,000 grant to support a $1 million project to coat a 2,000-foot section of North Road where it crosses Great Creek with permeable pavement. This project seeks to demonstrate the viability of using permeable pavement as a way to mitigate the impacts of coastal flooding on low-lying roads.
  • The Hawaii Department of Transportation received a $312,000 grant to help build a $6 million plastic recycling research facility. Expected to be up and running within two years, the facility seeks to convert waste plastic into new products for use in transportation infrastructure projects.
  • The Maryland Department of Transportation received a pair of grants to investigate the service life and environmental performance of products and materials used in highway projects, such as asphalt and concrete, as well as how dredged material from port construction could create vegetated earth berms to help control erosion at highway project sites.

The Climate Challenge Initiative is part of an FHWA-wide effort announced during Earth Week 2022 to identify innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from the transportation sector. It also supports the new Carbon Reduction Program FHWA rolled out in April that provides $6.4 billion in formula funding over five years for states and localities to develop carbon reduction strategies and other climate change issues.

FHWA’s Climate Challenge program provides funding, training, and technical assistance to help state DOTs and other public sector stakeholders explore the use of Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). Together, LCAs and EPDs illustrate the environmental impacts of pavement materials and products, including quantifying GHG emissions. These standard practices can inform decisions for highway construction projects, pavement material, and design.

During this cycle of Climate Challenge funding, FHWA plans to host peer exchanges and webinars and develop case study reports to share lessons learned, outcomes, and next steps for further implementation. Over the next two years, participants will receive training and work with various stakeholders including industry and academia to implement projects that quantify the environmental impacts of pavements using LCAs and EPDs.

Four Federal Agencies Planning Broad GHG Reduction Effort

The U.S. Departments of Energy, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Environmental Protection Agency recently signed a memorandum of understanding or MOU to reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions associated with the transportation sector while concurrently ensuring “resilient and accessible mobility options” for all Americans.

[Above photo by USDOT]

The MOU commits the agencies to release within 90 days of its signing a comprehensive blueprint for decarbonizing the transportation sector that will help guide future policy decisions, as well as research, development, demonstration, and deployment in the public and private sectors.

That blueprint will also ensure a coordinated “whole-of-government” approach to address challenges to achieving widespread and equitable de-carbonization of the domestic transportation sector. This includes increasing access to safe, active transportation options, providing clean and affordable transit options, modernizing the grid to meet increased demands from the electric vehicle sector, and reducing emissions from the entire lifecycle of transportation, including emissions from construction.

Domestic transportation – including both passenger and freight modes – produces more GHG emissions than any other sector, those four agencies noted in a joint statement. Thus by working together with states, local communities, tribal communities, labor unions, nonprofits, and the private sector, they hope to promote low- and zero-emission transportation solutions to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, create clean transportation jobs, and support the Biden administration’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050. 

Those four agencies said that the billions of dollars in “clean transportation” funding allocated through the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in November 2021 as well as the $739 billion Inflation Reduction Act enacted in August makes the United States “well-positioned” to take reduced GHGs while creating “millions of jobs” for American workers.

The agencies said they plan to accomplish both goals by increasing access to more efficient modes of transportation such as walking, biking, transit and rail, while lowering the costs of electric vehicles and other zero emission vehicles and fuels. That would allow American families and businesses to benefit from and enjoy the benefits of this “affordable clean energy revolution,” those agencies said.

FTA Issues over $1.6B in Clean Bus Grant Awards

The Federal Transit Administration recently issued more than $1.6 billion in grants to transit agencies, territories, and states across the country to invest in 150 bus fleets and facilities.

[Above photo by the MTA]

Funded by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021, that funding should nearly double the number of no-emission transit buses on America’s roadways, according to an FTA statement.

The agency added that, for the first time, 5 percent of that low- and no-emission bus funding would go towards training transit workers on how to maintain and operate clean bus technology.

FTA is providing those bus grant awards through two programs. The first is its Low or No Emission (Low-No) Grant Program, which makes funding available to help transit agencies buy or lease U.S.-built low- or no-emission vehicles, including related equipment or facilities.

The IIJA provides $5.5 billion over five years for the Low-No Program – more than six times greater than the previous five years of funding, FTA said. For fiscal year 2022, approximately $1.17 billion is available for grants under this program.

The second is FTA’s Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program, which supports transit agencies in buying and rehabilitating buses and vans and building bus maintenance facilities. The IIJA provides nearly $2 billion over five years for the program, the agency said. For fiscal year 2022, approximately $550 million for grants was available under this program.

Several state departments of transportation received grants via this round of awards (for a full list of the projects receiving grants, click here). Those include:

  • The Alaska Department of Transportation, on behalf of the City and Borough of Juneau and Capital Transit, received $2.3 million to rehabilitate and modernize its vehicle storage and maintenance facility.
  • The Connecticut Department of Transportation received just over $20 million on behalf of the Connecticut Southeast Area Transit District to rehabilitate its Preston transit facility, buy battery electric buses, and launch a training program to help staff operate and maintain zero-emission buses.
  • The Colorado Department of Transportation received $51 million to support a variety of projects, including $34.7 million on behalf of Summit Stage, a rural transit agency that provides bus service in Summit, Park and Lake Counties in northeast Colorado, to build a bus depot for electrical charging and storage. It will replace Summit Stage’s aging facility and prepare for a 100-percent electric fleet in the future.
  • The District of Columbia Department of Transportation is getting $9.6 million to help buy battery-electric buses to replace diesel vehicles and increase the size of the Washington, D.C., Circulator fleet.
  • The Hawaii Department of Transportation gets $23.2 million on behalf of Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui counties to buy a mix of zero-emission buses, battery electric buses, and fuel cell electric buses. The agency is also getting a further $12 million to undertake bus stop and facility improvements.
  • The Iowa Department of Transportation gets $15.8 million for one urban and four rural transit agencies to buy battery electric buses and charging equipment. The agency gets a further $12 million to buy new buses, cutaway chassis, and vans to replace older vehicles for 26 of Iowa’s transit systems.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Transportation gets $4.1 million on behalf of Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority and Nantucket Regional Transit Authority will receive funding to buy battery electric and propane buses to replace older diesel vehicles.
  • The Minnesota Department of Transportation gets $3.4 million to buy battery electric buses and charging equipment to replace buses that are part of four rural transit fleets.
  • The New Mexico Department of Transportation gets $3 million on behalf of the South Central Regional Transit District to buy battery electric buses and charging equipment, provide training and buy property it currently leases. It also gets another $2.5 million on behalf of the South Central Regional Transit District to buy battery electric buses and charging equipment as well as fund staff training.
  • The Oregon Department of Transportation gets $4.6 million to buy battery electric buses and install three new electric chargers. It gets an additional $2 million for the Sandy Area Metro to buy battery electric buses and install charging equipment, replacing diesel buses that have exceeded their useful life.
  • The South Dakota Department of Transportation gets over $1 million on behalf of River Cities Public Transit, Community Transit of Watertown/Sisseton, Prairie Hills Transit, and Rural Office of Community Services to buy low-emission propane buses, two propane conversion kits, and install a propane fueling station.
  • The Tennessee Department of Transportation gets $12 million on behalf of two urban and five rural transit agencies to buy buses and demand-response vehicles to replace older vehicles that reached their useful life.
  • The Utah Department of Transportation gets over $6 million on behalf of Park City Transit to buy battery-electric buses and charging equipment to expand its express route service in the Quinn’s Junction area.
  • The Vermont Agency of Transportation gets $9.1 million to buy electric buses and install charging equipment for Marble Valley Regional Transit District in Rutland and Green Mountain Transit in Burlington. VTrans gets a further $3.2 million to build a bus depot for the Marble Valley Regional Transit District.
  • The Washington State Department of Transportation gets $5.4 million to purchase vehicles for three rural transportation providers, replacing buses that have exceeded their useful life, improving quality of life, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Colorado Moving Forward with Clean Truck Strategy

The administration of Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) recently finalized its Clean Truck Strategy – initially unveiled in March – after what the governor described as “extensive public input.”

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

Developed by the Colorado Energy Office, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, the 27-page Clean Truck Strategy seeks to encourage the adoption of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks statewide, potentially reducing greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from those vehicles by at least 45 percent in Colorado by 2050.

Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles covered by Colorado’s Clean Truck Strategy include tractor-trailers, school buses, snowplows, delivery vans, large pick-up trucks, and many different vehicle types in between.

A separate 147-page study compiled by the Colorado Energy Office found that medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are the second-largest source of GHG emissions in the transportation sector, producing 22 percent of on-road GHG emissions despite making up less than 10 percent of the total Colorado vehicle population.

That study found if Colorado pursues an “accelerated transition” to zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicle models, it could cut GHG emissions by 45 percent to 59 percent, reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 percent to 93 percent, and reduce particulate matter emissions by 53 percent to 68 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

Those three state agencies said they would continue collaborating with stakeholders and initiating implementation on “near-term” actions over the next few months, including:

Those agencies also expect to update the Clean Truck Strategy every two years to respond to “evolving market and lessons” learned from implementing the plan’s near-term requirements. “Colorado has enormous opportunities to reduce pollution and improve quality of life by transitioning from diesel to zero-emission trucks and buses,” explained Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, in a statement. “This strategic plan creates a framework for achieving big things through investment, collaboration, and regulation.”

FHWA Unlocks $6.4B for Carbon Reduction Program

The Federal Highway Administration officially unlocked $6.4 billion in formula funding for states and localities over the next five years via the new Carbon Reduction Program or CRP, created by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in November 2021.

[Above photo by the MBTA]

Passage of a fiscal year 2022 omnibus appropriations package in March finally honored full first-year transportation funding levels established by the IIJA and allowed new programs to start, which allowed FHWA to apportion funding for CRP.

The CRP seeks to fund a wide range of projects designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from on-road highway sources — from installing infrastructure to support the electrification of freight vehicles or personal cars, to constructing Bus Rapid Transit or BRT corridors, to facilitating micro-mobility and biking.

FHWA emphasized that, under the CRP, states must also develop carbon reduction strategies in consultation with Metropolitan Planning Organizations or MPOs to identify projects and strategies tailored to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in their states – though states and localities may begin using the CRP funds even before such plans are developed and reviewed.

“This new program provides states and local agencies in both urban and rural areas the flexibility and funding needed to reduce emissions and build a more sustainable transportation network that will benefit all travelers,” said Stephanie Pollack, FHWA’s deputy administrator, in a statement. FHWA noted that projects eligible for CRP funds include on- and off-road trail facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorized forms of transportation and projects that support the deployment of alternative fuel vehicles.

Other projects – determined by state and local governments but potentially supported with federal funding – include zero emission vehicles and facilities, projects that support congestion pricing and travel demand strategies, plus truck stop and port electrification systems. Public transportation projects such as the aforementioned BRT corridors, dedicated bus lanes, micro-mobility, and electric bike projects – which encompasses charging infrastructure as well – may also be eligible, FHWA said.

Caltrans Approves Use of Low-Carbon Cement

The California Department of Transportation recently approved the use of low-carbon cement to help reduce the carbon footprint of the state’s transportation system.

[Above photo by Caltrans]

Known formally as Portland Limestone Cement or PLC, low-carbon cement is a blended product containing higher limestone content. Using more limestone creates less “clinker,” the basic component in nearly all types of cement, in the manufacturing process; generating less carbon dioxide as a result.

Caltrans said its road construction and maintenance projects could generate less carbon dioxide with the same high-performance standards at a slightly lower cost by using more PLC. For example, in 2017 alone, Caltrans used 325,000 tons of cement to upgrade the state highway system. Switching to low-carbon cement could potentially reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 28,000 tons a year — the equivalent of removing more than 6,000 cars off the road.

“Using low-carbon cement can cut Caltrans’ concrete-related carbon dioxide emissions annually by up to 10 percent,” noted Toks Omishakin, director of Caltrans, in a statement. “This is a big step in supporting California’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.”

The agency based its new low-carbon cement standards on Caltrans-funded research conducted at Oregon State University, which concluded that PLC is equally suitable for Caltrans’ construction projects as ordinary cement with a reduced carbon footprint.

Throughout the review process, Caltrans worked closely with the California Air Resources Board plus industry experts and stakeholders, such as the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association and the California Nevada Cement Association, to draft the new standard specifications.

Two Governors Unveil ‘Clean Transportation’ Executive Orders

The governors of North Carolina and Connecticut recently issued executive orders that mandate the formation of “clean transportation” plans to reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions in their respective states.

[Above photo by the NCDOT]

Governor Roy Cooper (D) issued an executive order on January 7 that includes a directive to the North Carolina Department of Transportation to develop a North Carolina Clean Transportation Plan for decarbonizing the transportation sector through reductions in vehicle miles traveled, an increase in zero-emission cars, trucks, and buses, along with other GHG-reduction strategies.

“Transforming North Carolina toward a clean energy and more equitable economy will provide good jobs and a healthy environment for generations of families across our state,” Gov. Cooper said in a statement. “This order will assess our progress reducing climate pollution, and direct ways to curb environmental injustices, increase clean transportation options, and build more resilient communities in North Carolina.”

Gov. Cooper by NCDOT

The governor’s order updates North Carolina’s economy-wide carbon reduction emissions goals to “align with climate science, reduce pollution, create good jobs and protect communities,” while increasing the statewide GHG reduction goal to 50 percent when compared to the state’s 2005 levels.

The order calls for the increase in registered zero-emission vehicles to a total of 1.25 million by 2030, with 50 percent of sales of new vehicles in North Carolina to be zero-emission by that same year.

“This executive order ensures our state is preparing for and supporting emerging technologies,” added J. Eric Boyette, NCDOT’s secretary. “We are committed to working with our state and local partners to develop a clean transportation plan – one that will benefit all North Carolinians.”

Gov. Cooper’s order mirrors a similar one issued by Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D) in December 2021.

Gov. Lamont’s order directs Connecticut executive branch state agencies to take “significant actions” within their authority to reduce carbon emissions.

“Climate change is here, and it’s only going to get worse if we don’t take meaningful action,” he said in a statement. “In September [2021], a bad progress report showed that we’re in danger of missing our statutory greenhouse gas reduction goals, so we need to roll up our sleeves and do the necessary work to improve. That work starts with us in the executive branch, and that’s why I’m directing our state agencies to take these actions.”

That “progress report” – officially known as Connecticut’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report – shows that GHG emissions from the state’s transportation and building sectors are increasing, meaning that Connecticut is not on track to meet its interim 2030 target.

Gov. Lamont by the Connecticut Governor’s Office

Gov. Lamont said the state must take “aggressive action” where possible within existing authority to reduce carbon emissions, and that is why he is directing a whole-of-government approach with his executive order and calling on the Connecticut General Assembly to authorize expanded investment and de-carbonization programs.

Transportation measures within the governor’s order include the creation of a statewide battery-powered electric bus fleet; the funding of “shovel-ready” infrastructure resilience projects; plus regulating emissions from medium and heavy-duty vehicles.

It also directs the Connecticut Department of Transportation to cease buying directly or provide state funding to third parties for the purchase of diesel buses by the end of 2023 and create an implementation plan for full bus fleet electrification by 2035. It also directs the Connecticut DOT to set a statewide 2030 Vehicle Miles Traveled or VMT reduction target.

“Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Connecticut, and the Connecticut Department of Transportation can be the biggest driver to reduce air pollutants,” noted Joseph Giulietti, commissioner of the Connecticut DOT.

“Connecticut families and communities, especially the ones most vulnerable and historically underserved, deserve clean transportation,” he added. “The [Connecticut] DOT will do our part, while listening to and working with our partners in health, and equity and environmental justice, to ensure our efforts have a positive impact on all people.”

Minnesota DOT Discusses Transportation Impact of Climate Change at Hearing

Climate change is causing “real, costly impacts” to the nation’s transportation infrastructure, according to Margaret Anderson Kelliher (seen above), commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

[Above image via Select Committee on Climate Crisis broadcast]

Anderson Kelliher – who also serves as chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on the Environment and Sustainability – made her comments June 30 in testimony before the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

“According to the Minnesota State Climatology Office, average temperatures have increased by nearly three degrees Fahrenheit statewide, with our winter temperatures are warming even faster, resulting in fewer nights of extreme cold,” she explained. “Extreme heat events are also a major safety problem – during the recent extreme heat just a few weeks ago, we saw at least 43 incidents of pavements buckling or exploding.”

Anderson Kelliher added that Minnesota is also experiencing more damaging rains due to climate change, including a 65 percent increase in the number of three-inch rain events and the frequency of “mega rain” events: widespread rains over six inches that she said “are now four times more frequent than” compared to the previous 30 years.

“Heavy precipitation directly causes flooding that closes and damages roads and bridges; disrupts travel and commerce; creates slope and embankments failures from saturated soils, and can lead to debris flows that block or damage culverts and bridges,” she said – literally in some cases “washing away” roads and bridges.

To counteract those issues, Anderson Kelliher said the Minnesota DOT is working to make the state’s transportation system more resilient.

In particular, the agency is developing a Statewide Extreme Flood Vulnerability Analysis tool to improve processes for evaluating future flood risks to bridges, large culverts, and pipes. That helps the Minnesota DOT make “better data-informed decisions” about roadway projects based on the likelihood and magnitude of climate risks, she said – managing factors such as evacuation routes, access to medical services, freight needs, and detour length.

To reduce the impact of vehicle emissions on the environment, Anderson Kelliher said her agency launched a project in 2019 called “Pathways to Decarbonizing Transportation” to engage citizens and businesses in a variety of carbon reduction efforts.

“That resulted in the state pursuing low- and zero-emissions vehicle standards, creating incentives for electric vehicles [EVs], including climate change in the environmental review process, and supported development of low carbon biofuels,” she said.

The Minnesota DOT followed that up in 2020 with the creation of the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council – a group of public, private, nonprofit, and citizen leaders as well as elected officials to advise the agency on strategies to reduce carbon pollution, promote economic development, and support equity.

“We believe that this type of ongoing partnership between the public and private sector can be a model to help avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change,” she said. “This council is helping on several initiatives, including setting a goal to reduce vehicle miles traveled, promoting electric vehicles and EV charging, re-evaluating our approaches to congestion, and de-prioritizing adding lane capacity, which can not only induce demand but also adds new costs to our woefully-underfunded system.”

Anderson Kelliher added that similar efforts at the federal level could help reduce climate change risks on a broader basis. To that end, she recommended the following during her testimony:

  • Modernizing federal climate risk standards and tools, including updates to the 100-year federal flood risk standard
  • Encouraging the construction of more EV recharging, transit, and pedestrian/bicycling infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions nationwide
  • Encouraging more federal investment in improving the accuracy of travel demand modeling to ensure more accurate travel forecasts and better understanding of investment impacts.

“Those tools will help projects achieve performance targets and make cost-effective, sustainable decisions in place of general-purpose lane expansion,” she said.

ETAP Podcast: State Agency Partnerships and Transportation Climate Initiatives

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast explores how state agency partnerships are helping Connecticut achieve climate goals while also implementing the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program or TCI-P.

TCI-P is a multi-state effort to cap and reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from the transportation sector while at the same time generating revenues from carbon taxes to reinvest in cleaner transportation infrastructure.

In Connecticut, for example, TCI-P should generate roughly $1 billion in revenues from carbon taxes over the next decade, much of which will go towards supporting transportation systems.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D) added in a December 2020 statement that the TCI-P should reduce transportation-related GHGs in his state by at least 26 percent from 2022 to 2032. Meanwhile, he plans to re-invest revenues generated through TCI-P carbon taxes in “equitable and cleaner transportation options,” creating an employment program across transit, construction, and green energy – efforts that should serve as a “catalyst” for infrastructure development through the next decade and beyond.

State departments of transportation will play a critical role in deciding how to re-invest revenue-generated caps on emissions, according to Connecticut agencies involved with implementing TCI-P protocols.

Katie Dykes, Connecticut’s commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection or DEEP and Garrett Eucalitto, the deputy commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, explain during this episode of the ETAP podcast how their ongoing collaboration will help implement the TCI-P agreement and how it will affect the state’s transportation sector and, ultimately, benefit the public.

Click here to listen to this podcast.