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.

The Ray Signs Charters to Pilot ‘Green’ Initiatives in Central Texas

The Ray – a Georgia-based transportation innovation non-profit – recently signed separate charters with the Texas Department of Transportation Austin District, Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, and the City of Austin to pilot new technologies and “green energy solutions” for the Central Texas region. 

[Above photo via The Ray.] 

“Central Texas is a dynamic growing community with a tech-based economy and a highly educated workforce,” explained Tucker Ferguson, district engineer for TxDOT’s Austin District, in a statement.  

“The community expects government entities like TxDOT, the City of Austin, and the Mobility Authority to use new technology and innovative strategies to enhance mobility, protect the environment, improve quality of life and increase economic opportunity,” he added. “The partnership with The Ray is a great opportunity to bring additional expertise and experience to our work.” 

In Georgia, The Ray has partnered with state and industry leaders to create the world’s first sustainable highway living laboratory, and we are excited to bring our experience in transportation innovation to Central Texas,” noted Laura Rogers, director of strategic partnerships at The Ray.  

[Editor’s note: The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Center for Environmental Excellence recently interviewed Allie Kelly, executive director of The Ray, as part of its Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast series. Click here to listen to that interview.] 

“Focusing on infrastructure that supports future-forward transportation technology through regional collaboration allows for a seamless transition of service across jurisdictions and provides a model to scale similar initiatives across the state and nation,” she said. 

Rogers noted this new Central Texas region collaboration is focusing on “facilitating, executing, promoting and building” projects that prioritize road safety, improve infrastructure resiliency, plus protect and restore the environment.  

Those projects include but are not limited to connected autonomous vehicle infrastructure, solar-powered photovoltaic electric-vehicle or EV charging stations, and in-road dynamic wireless EV charging, she said. 

The Ray’s 501c3 nonprofit status will open additional opportunities to collaborate between the public and private sectors by acting as a bridge to accelerate project delivery while leveraging “innovative funding mechanisms,” explained Harriet Langford, president and founder of The Ray.  

By working with the various tech companies moving to Austin and those that already call Austin home, this new collaboration will bring industries together to create better results that directly benefit the citizens of Texas through job creation, resilient roads, and cleaner air, she said. 

“Much like my father Ray C. Anderson shared his model for circular business with companies around the world, The Ray is ready to scale our record of transportation innovation with states across the country,” Langford noted. “Georgia and Texas are both states with an independent streak, and together with all three agencies, The Ray will expand on our projects to create smarter and safer transportation infrastructure for Texans.”

VTrans Awards Mobility and Transportation Innovation Grants

The Vermont Agency of Transportation recently awarded $500,000 in grants via the Mobility and Transportation Innovation or MTI program, which seeks to support “innovative strategies” that improve both mobility and access for transit-dependent Vermonters, reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles for work trips, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions of GHGs.

[Photo courtesy of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.]

“Innovation like this is essential to meeting the transportation needs of Vermont’s rural population and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Russ MacDonald, public transit manager for VTrans, in a statement. “This is another exciting step forward for the diversification of our state’s transportation system.”

Created by Vermont’s legislature with the passage of the state’s 2020 Transportation Bill in June, VTrans said it awarded 13 grants via its MTU program to fund a variety of projects, including:

  • Extension of existing transportation demand management or TDM programs, such as bike share, and purchase of electric bicycles
  • Creation of new TDM programs such as micro-transit services and car sharing
  • Creation of TDM materials and outreach efforts to promote alternative and efficient commuting options and tools, including teleworking resources such as a telework program guide, telework program planning baseline assessment, and telework best practices resources.

In a related effort, VTrans issued a grant solicitation for new infrastructure projects to improve statewide access and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians in July.

The agency noted that in 2019, it awarded a total of $3.6 million for construction and planning projects throughout Vermont via its Bicycle and Pedestrian grant program.

ETAP Podcast: Georgia DOT’s Innovative PEL Study

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Jannine Miller and Charles Robinson from the Georgia Department of Transportation discuss the agency’s I-85 Corridor Study and how the department is using a new tool as part of that work: Planning and Environmental Linkages or PELs.

Miller and Robinson explain that PELs represents a collaborative and integrated approach to transportation decision-making that considers environmental, community, and economic goals early in the transportation planning process, while using the information, analysis, and products developed during planning to inform the environmental review process required for transportation projects.

The benefits of PRLs, they emphasize, are improved relationships with stakeholders, improved project delivery timelines, and better transportation programs and projects. To listen to this ETAP Podcast, click here.