NCDOT Supports Launch of Multimodal Charging Hub

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is helping support the launch of the state’s first electric aircraft charging hub in early 2024 at Raleigh Executive Jetport in Sanford; a hub designed to be “multimodal” so it can charge not only electric aircraft but electric cars and trucks as well.

[Above photo by NCDOT]

BETA Technologies, an electric aerospace company, will install the two multimodal charging stations to serve electric aircraft and ground electric vehicles. The site will include a Level-3 fast-charge Charge Cube, which will charge electric aircraft in under an hour, and an accompanying Charge Center where aircraft crew can rest.

Those new chargers in North Carolina will be part of a growing national network of charging stations BETA is building to enable electric flight. The company has also developed electric aircraft capable of moving passengers and cargo more efficiently and with fewer environmental impacts.

The groundbreaking event featured one of those aircraft, BETA’s ALIA conventional takeoff and landing electric aircraft. The plane originated at BETA’s headquarters in Burlington, VT, and stopped in North Carolina during its 1,500-mile flight down the East Coast – an aeronautical tour coordinated by the U.S. Air Force’s research arm, known as AFWERX.

NCDOT noted in a statement that the Raleigh Executive Jetport site will also include a Level 2 car charger, which will be installed in the airport’s parking lot. The project required a significant expansion of the airport’s apron, where the charging stations will be located. The NCDOT funded the expansion of the apron, which was recently completed and is now ready for additional construction.

The agency noted that electrification is a key component of the state’s “Advance Mobility NC” strategic plan, which leverages NCDOT’s work to create a multimodal transportation system that improves the mobility of people and freight.

Colorado DOT Issues Grants for Local Mobility Projects

The Colorado Department of Transportation recently issued $617,400 in grants to support 12 local mobility programs across the state – helping cities and towns reduce traffic congestion while offering residents travel choices beyond driving in a car alone.

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

Those grants, issued by the Colorado DOT’s Office of Innovative Mobility, seek to help various local communities strengthen their “transportation demand management” efforts. Increasingly being adopted by cities and states, transportation demand management aims to provide travelers with more travel choices than simply single-occupant vehicle driving – choices that can include mode, route and time of travel and work location.

The agency said in a statement that common transportation demand management strategies focus on promoting transit usage; offering micro-mobility options, such as bikes and scooters; improving pedestrian infrastructure; crafting smart growth policies; deploying intelligent transportation systems; building managed roadway lanes; and encouraging telework and “e-work” options.

Colorado DOT said those approaches are used most often in large urban areas, but many smaller communities can benefit from them as well. Examples of the programs the agency is supporting this latest round of local mobility grants include:

  • $50,000 to the City of Denver to scale up its shared micro-mobility program, which now provides a bike- and scooter-share system.
  • $38,400 to the City of Durango to help it improve its transportation demand management software and launch the city’s first-ever e-bike rebate program.
  • $50,000 to the City of Fort Collins for a pilot project to subsidize carpool and vanpool programs for first- and last-mile travel, along with a separate $50,000 grant to help develop a web-based or app-based portal to allow paratransit clients to schedule their own trips and receive real-time information on vehicles.
  • $50,000 to Summit County and various partners to fund a micro-transit feasibility study to provide first- and last-mile service to transit-dependent and disadvantaged communities. This study builds on years of work between partners to target the most successful options for the least served communities.

State departments of transportation across the country regularly support a variety of local mobility projects via grants and other funding options.

Indeed, a panel of state DOT and local government executives convened during the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2022 Spring Meeting in New Orleans to detail how collaboration between federal, local, and tribal agencies – among other stakeholders – is critical to addressing a variety of mobility challenges nationwide.

To aid in those efforts, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory – a division of the U.S. Department of Energy – introduced a new online tool in October 2022 to help transportation planners design more efficient and environmentally friendly mobility systems for both urban and rural areas.

Michigan DOT Details U.P. Highway Improvements

In 2022, the Michigan Department of Transportation made a series of improvements to the highways crisscrossing the state’s Upper Peninsula or U.P. region, with projects widening road shoulders, upgrading weather sensor stations, installing “smart” traffic signals, and making them more active transportation-friendly.

[Above photo by Michigan DOT]

Those projects are also part of its larger decade-long statewide Toward Zero Deaths or TZD effort to reduce roadway injuries and fatalities, noted Jason DeGrand, Michigan DOT region operations engineer, in a statement.

The statewide TZD safety campaign parallels a national strategy on highway safety. Though motor vehicle traffic declined nationally during 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic crash deaths increased in 2020 and stayed high through 2021.

For Michigan, preliminary numbers indicate fatal crashes increased 10 percent in 2021, though that the trend reversed slightly in 2022. As of December 6, unofficial data showed that 1,017 people died on Michigan roadways in 2022, a decrease of 50 compared to the same time in 2021. Additionally, 5,304 people sustained serious injuries statewide in motor vehicle crashes, which is 75 fewer compared to the same period in 2021.

Where the U.P. region is concerned, through September 18, unofficial statistics showed 16 people had died on roads in 2022, with 150 seriously injured; some 15 fewer fatalities and 31 fewer serious injuries compared to the same period in 2021.

“Michigan DOT is doing its part in the TZD effort by continuing to invest infrastructure funding into projects that improve the safety of the roadway network,” said Justin Junttila, Michigan DOT region traffic and safety engineer. “The strategy is to address crashes systemically, including at spot locations where a crash pattern has been identified, as funding allows.”

For example, he pointed to an effort begun in 2022 to add more capabilities to its roadside environmental sensor station or ESS network, which is comprised of roadside towers around the peninsula equipped with cameras and instruments.

“The ESS can increase safety by helping MDOT prioritize winter maintenance activities,” he explained – noting that camera images, precipitation, temperatures, wind speed, and other information are available on Michigan DOT’s interactive “Mi Drive Map,” which provides drivers with valuable insight into weather conditions along their planned routes.”

“This year’s sensor upgrades are anticipated to result in less downtime for devices due to age and obsolescence issues,” Junttila said. “Upgraded cameras will provide much better nighttime images, which means our maintenance folks will be able to better prioritize winter snow plowing and road maintenance.”

Michigan DOT also included paved shoulder widening on several U.P. road projects in 2022 to help mitigate lane departure crashes – the number one type of traffic crash in the U.P. In addition, wider paved shoulders provide more room for pedestrians and bicyclists to travel safely on the highway while also helping the agency improve maintenance of the overall roadway area.

“With narrow paved shoulders, we’re constantly adding gravel to deal with the drop-off at the pavement edge caused by erosion,” DeGrand said. “Wider shoulders eliminate the drop-off and result in less worker exposure to traffic dangers.”

The agency also added new traffic detection camera systems at busy intersections in three U.P. counties to help smooth the flow of traffic. Based on the vehicles detected by the camera – which do not record or store video footage, Michigan DOT stressed – in the intersection, sensors adjust traffic signal timing to improve traffic flow.

While those new cameras are not technically safety devices, by improving vehicle detection, they can ultimately boost safety. Those detectors will function better in winter than traditional sensors embedded in the roadway, since snow cannot cover them.

“These projects will create more reliable vehicle detection, which improves the operational efficiency of the intersections,” DeGrand said. “That results in fewer backups and potentially decreases crashes.”

The upgraded traffic signals will also allow MDOT electricians to maintain the equipment remotely or from the roadside cabinet, without having to enter the roadway.”

Hawaii DOT wants plastic waste to hit the road

The Hawaii Department of Transportation is moving forward on two fronts to transform plastic water bottles from beach-littering ‘ōpala’ or rubbish to recycled road material.

[Above photo by the Hawaii DOT]

Engineers are testing an asphalt mix with recycled plastic polymer on a 1.2-mile road segment in Honolulu to see how well it holds up in Hawaii’s tropical environment.

Meanwhile, Hawaii DOT is using an FHWA Climate Challenge Initiative grant to help finance its own $6 million plastic recycling research facility to turn plastic waste into road polymer and other useful transportation products.

The pilot project is the southern end of Fort Weaver Road; a two-lane bi-directional road with that carries 6,200 vehicles per day on average. The roadway was “perfect for the pilot” because the base structure was in good condition, but the wearing recourse required “significant rehabilitation or replacement,” said Ed Sniffen, Hawaii DOT’s deputy director of highways.

He explained that the agency plans to divide the roadway segment into three sections: the control section, which will be composed exclusively of Polymer Modified Asphalt or PMA; a second section incorporating plastic into the PMA; and a third section adding plastic to traditional ‘Hot Mix’ asphalt.

Once construction is finished in July 2023, researchers at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and Hawaii Pacific University will evaluate the three sections for performance and the potential of the material to release microplastics into the environment.

“Even though we’re using a material that has been used on roads in the United States for over five years, we need to make sure the mix is right for Hawaii and our environment,” Sniffen said.

Anticipating that the pilot project will be a success, Hawaii DOT already is planning the state’s first plastic recycling facility, expected to be operational within two years.

The facility will use plastic waste found in the Pacific Ocean to manufacture pellets for roadway use, Sniffen noted, “then could potentially move into creating plastic products for other infrastructure like plastic reinforcing materials for concrete.”

That is important for Hawaii because it must import plastic pellets from the mainland while it has an overabundance of hometown plastic that serves no useful purpose.

“Keeping our own waste plastic out of landfills in a manner that will improve our roads and environment will be a tremendous benefit to everyone in Hawaii,” Sniffen added.

Several other state departments of transportation are engaged in similar plastic recycling efforts.

In November 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation wrapped up a pilot project that used plastic pellets made from grocery bags, milk jugs, and other recyclable plastics in an asphalt reconstruction project.

The pellets were added to the asphalt that covered two quarter-mile test sections of the project at the entrance to Ridley Creek State Park, about 15 miles west of Philadelphia.

In December 2021, the Illinois Department of Transportation started working with the Illinois Center for Transportation to develop more “sustainable pavement practices,” which include ways to incorporate more recycled materials such as plastic into asphalt mixes.

Both are working on a joint project – dubbed “R27-196-HS: Rheology-Chemical Based Procedure to Evaluate Additives/Modifiers Used in Asphalt Binders for Performance Enhancements: Phase 2” – to investigate methods to “soften” asphalt binder to reduce pavement cracking.

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.

ETAP Podcast: Next Generation Highways

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Jessica Oh – strategic partnerships director in the sustainability and public health office within the Minnesota Department of Transportation – discusses the “next generation highway” her agency is studying.

[Above photo by Minnesota DOT]

The Ray and consulting firm NGI released the NextGen Highways Feasibility Study for the Minnesota DOT in April; a study that examined strategies for “co-locating” electric and communications infrastructure in highway right-of-ways or ROWs.

The study focused on the potential deployment of buried, high-voltage/direct current or HVDC transmission lines within Minnesota interstate and highway ROWs – an effort that offers broader implications for highway ROW strategies in other states.

In April 2021, the Federal Highway Administration released guidance clarifying the highway ROW “can be leveraged by state DOTs for pressing public needs relating to climate change, equitable communications access, and energy reliability.”

Projects listed include renewable energy generation, electrical transmission and distribution projects, broadband projects, vegetation management, inductive charging in travel lanes, and alternative fueling facilities, among others.

“At the heart of this study is the need to examine the energy transmission infrastructure we will need in order to electrify our transportation network; part of a broader effort to decarbonize the U.S. economy,” Oh explained during the podcast.

“The concept we’re evaluating looked specifically at burying [electric power] transmission lines in the highway ROW,” she noted. “Only three states allow for that now. Yet the use of existing distributed ROW could contain the visual impact of expanding our electric grid while lessening the need to acquire more land to support more transmission.”

Building transmission capacity in existing highway ROW could also reduce project-siting timelines by seven to 10 years, Oh added, while reducing the need to work with hundreds of landowners on a project down to dealing with a single state department of transportation.

“There is a great benefit for communities if they allow transmission capacity to be built in the highway ROW,” she emphasized.

To listen to the full podcast, click here.

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.”

Workshop: Grid Integration of EV Charging Infrastructure

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released its National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula program guidance, which tasks states to develop plans for electric charging infrastructure deployment along major highway corridors.

[Above photo by the Ohio DOT]

To help states develop such plans, the GridWise Alliance, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the National Association of State Energy Officials, and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners are hosting a workshop to explore electric grid considerations related to EV infrastructure investment under NEVI.

Held March 14 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm eastern, the workshop will feature:

  • Highlights from the GridWise Alliance paper ‘Near-Term Grid Investments for Integrating Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure.’
  • Industry insights on innovative technology solutions.  
  • Utility perspectives on EV charging infrastructure deployment.
  • State perspectives on grid-EV challenges.
  • A group discussion period regarding which utility and technology firms provide the best support to states as they develop EV charging network investment plans.

To register for this workshop, click here.

Michigan DOT Using Carbon Fiber in Bridge Construction

To reduce the cost of corrosion and long-term maintenance expenses, the Michigan Department of Transportation is broadening its use of carbon fiber structural material on bridges statewide.

[Above photo by the Michigan DOT]

“Rusting of steel elements is the leading cause of deterioration in our bridges. Since carbon fiber is non-corrosive, we are eliminating that potential for damage,” explained Matt Chynoweth, Michigan DOT’s chief bridge engineer, in a statement. “Using a material that will not corrode is a real game-changer.”

Paul Ajegba, Michigan DOT’s director, added that one of the ultimate goals in expanding the use of carbon fiber is to build bridges that last a century with minimal maintenance.

He noted that Michigan DOT has been collaborating with Lawrence Technological University or LTU in Southfield, MI, on the use of carbon fiber reinforced polymer materials in concrete bridge beams since 2001 – research now moving from the lab into the field. For example, Michigan DOT is currently building two bridges with carbon fiber reinforced beams as part of its massive I-94 modernization project in Detroit.

[Editor’s note: The Federal Highway Administration launched a new $27 billion Bridge Formula Program on January 14 – a program funded by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in November 2021. FHWA projects this new national program will repair approximately 15,000 highway bridges. In addition to providing funds to states to replace, rehabilitate, preserve, protect, and construct highway bridges, the Bridge Formula Program also offers funding for “off-system” bridges as well – generally referring to locally-owned bridges not located on the federal highway system.]

Michigan DOT’s joint research with LTU included subjecting carbon fiber reinforced beams to 300 freeze-thaw cycles, combined fire/loading events, severe weather, and other trials. Now, that joint research team believes they have the information and specifications they need to predict how carbon fiber reinforced beams will perform under a variety of real-world conditions, as well as design tools for future bridge projects.

The agency also noted that the Research Advisory Committee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials named its joint carbon fiber work with LTU as one of the top 16 research projects of 2020 – work that also led to the development of new MDOT and AASHTO design specifications.

The agency said steel is prone to corrosion and deterioration under assault from extreme temperatures, water, and deicing chemicals – conditions all too common in Michigan. Thus, preventing corrosion and repairing damaged areas requires time and money and can limit the lifespan of bridges, Michigan DOT said.  By contrast, carbon fiber strands have a tensile strength comparable to steel yet resist corrosion and require less maintenance over time.

However, a factor limiting the deployment of carbon fiber bridge beams is price, as carbon fiber elements can cost as much as three to four times more than comparable steel elements. However, based on Michigan DOT and LTU’s joint research, as carbon fiber reinforced beams should last much longer than steel, they may prove to be cheaper over the long run.

“We’ve calculated the ‘break-even point’ to be about 22 years based on life cycle maintenance,” explained Michigan DOT’s Chynoweth. “But since the data points only go back about 20 years, this is a theoretical estimate.”

AASHTO Highlights Key Challenges of EV Charger Plan

While the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials supports President Biden’s “ambitious goal” of building a new national network of 500,000 electric vehicle or EV chargers by 2030, the organization cautions that “many challenges must be overcome, both technical and logistical, in order to make this goal a reality.”

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

The establishment of such a network is a key part of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA signed into law in November 2021, which sets aside $5 billion in formula funding specifically to support EV charging infrastructure projects.

In a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation on January 7, AASHTO said some of the major challenges facing this administration’s EV charging push is overall national electrical grid capacity as well as the grid’s proximity to potential charging stations, especially in rural and underserved areas.

Industrial capacity to meet the sudden increase in demand for EV supply equipment, along with the need to coordinate – on a “huge scale” – with business models and supply chain of “non-traditional” transportation sector stakeholders, are also big concerns, AASHTO said. 

Yet one of the biggest short-term challenges facing Biden’s EV effort – with the “greatest potential” to affect the initial deployment of chargers around the country – is the “reasonable and appropriate” application of Buy America requirements to the EV infrastructure industry, the organization emphasized.

AASHTO strongly recommended in its letter a “staged” or incremental approach to the application of Buy America requirements as they relate to EV supply equipment during the initial implementation period of the IIJA in order to facilitate efficient and effective deployment in the first few years.

“A reasonable, practical, step-wise approach will ensure progress in deploying EV infrastructure while coaxing the industry along to full compliance within a defined period of time,” the organization said. “State DOTs are concerned that the approach taken to Buy America has the potential to upset implementation and increase market volatility.”

In addition, EV infrastructure providers need “widespread education” on federal transportation regulations in general, in addition to the Buy America requirements with which they must now comply. “Many of the subcontractors receiving funds for EV infrastructure will be nontraditional, non-transportation-related private-sector entities that are not familiar with and, in many cases, unable to accommodate the myriad federal-aid requirements attached to the IIJA funding,” AASHTO warned.

The organization pointed out that eliminating the interpretation of Buy America at the state DOT/Federal Highway Administration Division Office level by making compliance determinations at the national level and disseminating this information to the states would be the “preferred solution” to this issue.

“The development by USDOT of a national, pre-approved list of EV equipment vendors that are certified Buy America would ensure that the same review and certification processes do not need to be replicated in each individual state, and would also ensure consistent implementation across the country,” AASHTO added.