State DOT Projects Receive 2024 Environmental Awards

The Federal Highway Administration awarded 2024 Environmental Excellence Awards or EEAs to several state departments of transportation projects and programs.

[Above photo by NCDOT]

Those awards are being handed out at the joint meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Environment and Sustainability and Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience occurring this week in Virginia Beach, VA.

Since the program started in 1995, the FHWA said its biennial EEA program has recognized outstanding transportation projects, processes, and organizations that incorporate environmental stewardship into the planning and project development processes using FHWA funding sources.

The EEA program is coordinated with FHWA’s Offices of Human Environment, Natural Environment, plus Project Development and Environmental Review to reflect the notion that “environment” means a connection to both human and natural environmental systems.

The winning projects and programs for 2024 are:  

  • The California Department of Transportation’s Fish Passage Program.
  • The District of Columbia Department of Transportation’s Pennsylvania Avenue SE Multimodal Project.
  • The Colorado Department of Transportation’s Air Quality Monitoring and Public Alert System. 
  • The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Flood Inundation Mapping Program. 
  • The Arkansas Department of Transportation’s “Relocating a Rare Crayfish: Jefferson County” Project.
  • The Oregon Department of Transportation’s I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project.
  • The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Second Street (US 60) Corridor Grant Project.
  • The Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s Gilcrease Expressway Corridor Coordination Project. 
  • The New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s Bartlett Brook Fish Passage Improvement  
  • The Georgia Department of Transportation’s “Bats in Transportation Structures” Program. 
  • The Nevada Department of Transportation’s “Wildlife Collision/Habitat Connectivity” Pooled Fund Project.
  • The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s “Tires to Trails: A Full Circle” Project.
  • The Virginia Department of Transportation’s “Driving Transportation Sustainability” Project.
  • The New York Department of Transportation’s Nassau Expressway Operational/Resiliency Project.

NRDC Ranks State Transport Equity, Climate Efforts

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has identified the states doing the most to fight climate change, promote equity, increase active mobility, and improve sustainability through their transportation policies and practices.

[Above photo by NRDC]

The report, “Getting Transportation Right: Ranking the States in Light of New Federal Funding,” calls on states to “take transportation spending off autopilot” to ensure that unprecedented federal funding will have a positive environmental impact. It evaluates each state “to gauge the general policy and spending context that will influence and direct” how the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds will be spent.

The report also ranks which states are doing the most “to improve equity and climate outcomes from the transportation sector,” based largely on data from each state’s department of transportation.

The report measured states’ commitments to equity, active transportation, electric vehicle usage, greenhouse gas reductions, and a host of other environmental metrics through a scoring system based on publicly available data. Some of the metrics focus on whether states have adopted certain policies while other metrics are based on “actual state performance, spending, and outcomes.”

The NRDC’s report also noted that state transportation policies will guide funding decisions that “will shape the nature of the transportation system in the United States for decades to come, with enormous implications for equity, climate change, and public health.”

The states doing the most to improve equity and climate outcomes from the transportation sector, according to the report, are California; Massachusetts; Vermont; Oregon; Washington; New York; Colorado; New Jersey; Connecticut; Minnesota.

The NRDC report ranked states on 20 measurements that fall in five major categories: state planning for climate and equity; vehicle electrification; reducing vehicle miles travelled through expanded transportation choices; system maintenance; and procurement. Measurements included such items as transit investment, flex spending on active transportation, number of EV charging ports per 1,000 people, and whether states compensate citizens for participating in the project planning process.

The report also cited examples of how states are advancing environmental and equity causes:

  • The Minnesota Department of Transportation set transportation-related greenhouse gas reduction targets of 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and 50 percent below 2005 by 2030.
  • Vermont offers “point-of-sale rebates for the purchase of new EVs,” including greater incentives for buyers with an adjusted gross income of $50,000 or less.
  • North Carolina DOT “identified strategies to reduce VMT” or vehicle miles traveled and modeled those strategies in key metro areas.
  • California, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon require or encourage environmental product declarations “for commonly used construction materials in transportation projects.”

Although many states already have policies and programs in place to meet equity and climate goals, “other states must rapidly realign their priorities in order to achieve these outcomes,” the report states. “Even the states currently leading the pack, while they are to be commended for their actions thus far, have areas in need of improvement.”

Maryland DOT Supporting ‘Five Million Tree’ Effort

The Maryland Department of Transportation is “branching out” in its commitment to support the state’s goal of planting five million trees over the next eight years with initiatives that should add thousands of new trees annually statewide via plantings, grants for community-based efforts and programs that encourage support for the Maryland Forest Service.

[Above photo by the Maryland DOT]

The Maryland DOT is one of several state agencies involved in the “Growing 5 Million Trees in Maryland” program; a plan designed to help the state meet its goal to plant and maintain five million native trees in Maryland by the end of calendar year 2031.

The initiative, led by a commission chaired by the Maryland Department of the Environment, stems from the Tree Solutions Now Act, passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2021.

“We’re working every day to mitigate and reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation – now and for the future,” Maryland DOT Secretary Paul Wiedefeld recently explained in a statement.

“As we strive to create and maintain a transportation network that’s cleaner and more efficient, our partnerships with other agencies and stakeholders in the ‘5 Million Trees’ initiative will make a generational impact on those goals,” he added.

Maryland DOT noted it routinely plants trees as part of highway, bridge, transit and other projects, but since those plantings largely mitigate the impact of those projects, they don’t count toward the “5 Million Trees” initiative.

However, led by its Office of Climate Change Resilience and Adaptation, the Maryland DOT pointed out that it does conduct other tree planting programs, including:

  • The Urban Tree Grant Program: A Maryland DOT partnership with the Maryland Urban and Community Forest Committee and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, this program awards grants of up to $5,000 for tree plantings and more than $5,000 for pocket forest projects. The grants can be used by nonprofits, schools, local business associations, youth and civic groups and others, and can help areas affected by environmental justice issues or heat island effect – such as urban areas with little tree canopy.
  • The Tree Planting Donation: Operated by the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles, a division of the Maryland DOT, this initiative allows state residents to make a voluntary donation of $1, or more, when registering or renewing a vehicle registration, to the Maryland Forest Service to plant trees.
  • The Urban Forestry Partnership: Overseen by the Maryland Port Administration, another Maryland DOT division this partnership works with communities to restore tree canopy on streets and parks in Baltimore City. Between 2018 and 2020, the Partnership planted 1,500 trees in neighborhoods across Baltimore.​ 

In April, the Maryland Department of the Environment launched an online “tracking tool” and hub site for tree plantings and planting initiatives across Maryland. From community-based projects to agency efforts, the tool will track the trees and the progress toward the “5 Million Trees” goal.

The hub site also provides a resource library that includes tree planting tips and guides, a map of statewide tree planting assistance and rebate programs, and volunteer and training opportunities to get more people involved in tree plantings across Maryland.

Video: New Jersey DOT’s Use of Foamed Glass Aggregate

The New Jersey Department of Transportation recently released a video detailing how its use of “foamed glass aggregate” provides a multitude of green benefits to the state – especially as the material is made from recycled glass bottles.

[Above photo by the New Jersey DOT]

Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, commissioner of the New Jersey DOT, noted in testimony before a state assembly hearing on her agency’s fiscal year 2024 budget plan that foamed glass aggregate is one of the “new innovations” her department is using to build resiliency into the state’s transportation projects.

“[We] recently started using ultra-lightweight foamed glass aggregate made from 99 percent recycled glass bottles [as] it is up to 85 percent lighter than traditional aggregate, which makes it a good material for projects that require fill on soft soils, areas with underground utilities, and embankments,” she explained.

She pointed to a recent example of a project – the Route 7 Wittpenn Bridge project, which connects Jersey City and Kearney over the Hackensack River – that used 32,000 cubic yards of foamed glass aggregate, repurposing more than 27 million bottles. 

“As the effects of climate change, sea level rise, and increasingly severe weather continue to impact New Jersey, resiliency projects will become even more important,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “We cannot control Mother Nature, so we are doing more to build resiliency into our projects and to safeguard our infrastructure for the future–not just a few years into the future, but for decades to come.  It is about supporting today’s critical transportation infrastructure needs while laying the foundation for the next generation of transportation advancements in New Jersey.”

Many state departments of transportation are experimenting with ways to use recycled materials in roadway and other pavement designs to help boost their resiliency and sustainability.

For example, the Illinois Department of Transportation began working with the Illinois Center for Transportation in December 2021 to develop more “sustainable pavement practices,” which includes 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.

As recycled materials are added to hot mix asphalt, the asphalt tends to harden and become brittle, potentially leading to premature cracking. As a result the project’s researchers began testing the use of different “modifiers” or softening additives to asphalt binders to improve long-term pavement performance, especially when recycled materials are used in the mix.

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

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

The expected benefits from this project include diverting waste plastics from landfills, helping to establish a market for recycled plastics, and extending the useful life of asphalt pavements, PennDOT said.

Oklahoma DOT Crafting First-Ever Active Transportation Plan

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is working on its first-ever active transportation plan – a policy toolkit that can be used internally and by Oklahoma counties and towns as engineers and designers look to develop more people-friendly infrastructure.

[Above image by the Oklahoma DOT]

The plan will address walking, biking, “wheelchairs and mobility scooters, pedal and electric scooters, electric bikes, skateboards, and other similar wheeled vehicles,” according to a website developed by the agency that details the plan’s contents.

The finished product will be more of a policy guide than a rule book, said Shelby Templin, an Oklahoma DOT certified planner who is heading up the plan’s development.

“We’re hoping this will guide our engineers and designers, in-house, as well as provide a starting-off point for smaller communities that may not have the resources,” she said. “It also will give the multi-modal group more of a leg to stand on for project development.”

The agency said its Active Transportation Plan is expected to be completed this summer and opened to a 30-day public comment period. In the fall, Oklahoma DOT expects to submit the plan to the Oklahoma Transportation Commission for approval.

Right now, an Oklahoma DOT consultant is analyzing about 1,000 citizen surveys and results from 10 online workshops, alongside the development of “scenario planning” sessions by the agency – sessions that examine situations involving active transportation in order to determine which infrastructure tools work best.

The rise in pedestrian deaths across the country is also giving some added urgency to developing the plan, Templin pointed out. “We basically create intersections or hot spots where, theoretically, we’d be having an issue with crashes or a high number of pedestrians,” she explained.

The department also is researching and reviewing best practices from other states that already have Active Transportation Plans, as Oklahoma DOT is one of a handful of state departments of transportation that do not have such a plan, Templin said.

[Editor’s note: The Washington State Department of Transportation unveiled a formal Active Transportation Plan in December 2021 – which won the 2022 America’s Transportation Awards contest’s “People’s Choice Award” – with the Kansas Department of Transportation developing one in December 2020 and the Ohio Department of Transportation launching one in July 2019.]

The Active Transportation Plan development process, which kicked off in the fall of 2022, might not have happened except for an assumption Oklahoma DOT made about what would be in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021.

“We thought that all states would have to have an Active Transportation Plan, so the conversation here was already starting,” Templin said. When the IIJA did not include an Active Transportation Plan mandate, “we were already planning for it, so we decided to do it now because we didn’t want to have our hand forced into it.”

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic the transportation habits of state residents became another “deciding factor” in the development of an active mobility strategy, she noted. The pandemic “shifted people’s minds to realize that not everyone has to drive a car,” said Templin. “There are other options.”

Like every state, Oklahoma has its own transportation issues that don’t fit neatly in a one-size-fits-all template, so those situations must be incorporated into the plan.

“I think in Oklahoma, it’s pretty common to live a longer distance from where people work,” Templin said. “So, it’s not always going to be about commuting – you look for more realistic opportunities. I live 35 miles from work, so I’ll never walk or bike to work, but I live a half-mile from a 7-11.”

Sacramento Kings, Caltrans Work on Local Waterway Cleanup

The Sacramento Kings basketball team, the California Department of Transportation, and more than 35 volunteers recently joined forces to collect and remove litter from Robert T. Matsui Park along the Sacramento River.

[Above photo by Caltrans]

In a statement, Caltrans Director Tony Tavares explained that this cleanup event highlighted how trash and debris pollute Sacramento waterways, including through storm water flows. The event collected and removed more than 500 pounds of trash from the park, which included things such as broken glass, cigarettes, plastic bottles, and cans, he said.

“Sacramento is known as the River City, and residents and tourists love to visit and enjoy our rivers,” Tavares pointed out. “But these fragile waterways and public spaces need to be protected, so everyone needs to work together to keep our waters clean and litter-free.”

Caltrans noted that recent storms put a spotlight on the threat of storm water pollution in the Sacramento region and statewide as well. The agency said storm water can pick up a variety of pollutants, including trash, litter, and bacteria, flushing it down storm drains that flow to local lakes, rivers and streams.

State departments of transportation across the country are engaged in a variety of efforts to not only remove litter from waterways but manage storm water flows as well.

For example, in September 2022, the Tennessee Department of Transportation began expanding upon its traditional role in the Mississippi River Delta Region from building and maintaining roads to include fighting litter, supporting tourism, and promoting economic development.

The agency is doing so through the Tennessee Delta Alliance or TDA, a partnership between Tennessee DOT and the University of Memphis.

That alliance also established a regional, water-based Keep America Beautiful affiliate along Tennessee’s portion of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway.

Additionally, in March 2022, Tennessee DOT teamed up with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful and other partners to establish a network of 17 “Seabin” automated litter and debris removal devices across the Tennessee River watershed. In related move, in April 2021, the agency provided the Tennessee Aquarium grants to establish two new exhibits illustrating how microplastics and other roadside trash can negatively affect the health of the ocean as well as rivers, lakes, and streams.

Maryland DOT Begins Statewide Litter, Mowing Effort

The Maryland Department of Transportation recently launched “Operation Clean Sweep Maryland,” a new initiative that will nearly double the frequency of litter pickup and mowing efforts along state roads.

[Above photo by Maryland DOT]

This new effort – which launched in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., regions – is under the purview of the Maryland State Highway Administration, one of Maryland DOT’s modal divisions.

The agency said it increased its annual maintenance budget more than 30 percent compared to 2022 to nearly $30 million to accommodate additional litter removal and mowing efforts as part of Operation Clean Sweep Maryland.

The agency added that it spent approximately $39 million over the last five years collecting and disposing more than 26,000 truckloads of litter along state roads. Annually, MDOT SHA collects approximately 5,300 truckloads of trash at a cost of more than $7 million.

“Operation Clean Sweep Maryland” also includes funding to hire additional state employees to increase litter pickup frequency as well as to purchase additional mowing equipment and develop contract resources to maintain both the increased mowing and litter removal cycles.

“Maryland’s highways connect us to friends, family, schools, jobs and recreation, and serve as the welcome mat for visitors to our state,” explained Paul J. Wiedefeld, secretary for the Maryland DOT, in a statement.

“We can’t allow litter to destroy the beauty of our communities and threaten our safety and the environment,” he added. “We need the help of everyone to tackle this problem, and our state highway crews are prepared to lead the way.”

In addition to hindering mowing and landscape efforts, as well as creating negative environmental impacts, roadway trash severely impacts drainage infrastructure, Maryland DOT said. Backed up drains cause rain and snow melt to “pond” on the roads, creating a major safety hazard for motorists, the agency said. 

Concurrently, due to a mild winter, MDOT SHA said it anticipates roadside mowing will be required earlier than usual, thus necessitating earlier and more frequent seasonal trash removal efforts.

State departments of transportation across the country are involved in a wide range of anti-littering efforts.

For example, the Tennessee Department of Transportation sponsors an annual litter prevention campaign – called “Nobody Trashes Tennessee” – with Keep Tennessee Beautiful affiliates and Adopt-A-Highway groups.

In November 2022, more than 1,300 volunteers statewide removed more than 48,000 pounds of litter in their communities as part of its month-long “No Trash November” roadway cleanup effort.

Meanwhile, in August 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation joined several fellow state agencies to help launch a new anti-litter campaign entitled “PA Fights Dirty: Every Litter Bit Matters.”

The creation of this campaign is one of the many recommendations made by Pennsylvania’s first-ever Litter Action Plan, released in December 2021. That plan also won a Pennsylvania Governor’s Awards for Excellence in May 2022.

Concurrently, in July 2022, Ohio launched a new litter control program – one administered by the Ohio Department of Transportation – that seeks to broaden engagement by the business community in its trash removal efforts.

That Ohio program allows businesses and groups to fund litter removal services along one-mile, one-direction segments of state highways. In exchange for their sponsorship, Ohio DOT displays the name of the business or group on a sign within their sponsored segment.

Buttigieg: We Are ‘Rebuilding’ the Foundation of Transportation

Pete Buttigieg, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (above), says his agency and the nation’s mobility community are currently involved in “one of the most exciting, productive, and challenging times in U.S. transportation history” – driven in no small part by “historic” levels of funding provided by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA, enacted in November 2021.

[Above photo by AASHTO]

Speaking at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ 2023 Washington Briefing, held February 28 through March 3 at the Hilton Washington D.C. Capitol Hill hotel, Buttigieg explained that the Biden administration seeks to “rebuild the foundation of our nation’s transportation system” via IIJA funding both in terms of physical infrastructure – fixing roadways, bridges, airports, etc. – but also by making those transportation networks cleaner and safer.

“We are living in the season of project delivery for the IIJA – time is money and there is great pressure on costs, so we must make every transportation dollar go as far as we can,” he noted. “We have a lot to celebrate but also a lot more to do.”

[Buttigieg’s full remarks are in the video below]

For example, he noted that there are “many challenges” associated with the electric vehicle “revolution” USDOT and the Biden administration are trying to spur across the country. “This is not an incremental or layered change on our transportation system; it is a fundamental transformation of it,” he said. “We will look to you [state DOTs] and your experience on the ground as you deploy EV chargers and as you prepare communities and states for this revolution. Of all the new 40-plus programs funded by the IIJA, I do not think any are as novel as this [National Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure or NEVI] program.

Buttigieg also emphasized that USDOT also wants to maintain its focus on reducing roadway fatalities and injuries in line with its National Roadway Safety Strategy or NRSS, unveiled in January 2022, and encouraged the state department of transportation community – with the Washington State Department of  Transportation and the Missouri Department of Transportation formally joining the agency’s “First Movers” initiative, along with AASHTO, in February – to bolster that effort.

“We would not settle for this level of death and destruction on our roads in any other facet of American life or mode of transportation,” the secretary stressed. “That’s why we’re setting a tone of urgency and will continue to do that.”

Buttigieg summed up his remarks with a “thank you” to the state DOT community for its work in trying to bring those and many other new mobility endeavors to life. “The level of expectation and work that have been placed on your shoulders from all of this is likely unprecedented, but we at USDOT are really excited about it,” he said. “This is the really fun part but also the really but hard part – this is where we encounter available workforce issues, supply chain problems, and rising material costs. But on the other side of this mountain is where we have not only transformed the physical transportation infrastructure of the country but the economic capacity of our country as well. We are lifting up the entire country’s ability to compete and to win.”

ETAP Podcast: Georgia’s Transportation Investment Act

The latest episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast examines the impact of Georgia’s Transportation Investment Act or TIA a decade after its passage – a voter-approved 1 percent sales tax dedicated to funding state transportation and infrastructure needs.

[Above photo by the Georgia DOT]

In 2012, voters in three Georgia regions – River Valley, the Central Savannah River Area, and the Heart of Georgia Altamaha – approved a 1 percent sales tax that would last for 10 years to fund regional and local transportation improvements. Voters in the Southern Georgia Region passed the same transportation tax referendum in 2018. While TIA tax collections continued through 2022 for the original three regions, those collections will continue until 2028 for the Southern Georgia Region.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is responsible for the management of the budget, schedule, execution and delivery of all 1,022 projects contained in the TIA’s “Approved Investment Lists,” and

Kenneth Franks – state TIA administrator – details on this episode of the ETAP podcast how the regional and local impact of those projects. To list to the full episode, click here.

RIDOT Fully Converts to Energy-Efficient LED Lights

Governor Dan McKee (D) recently saluted the Rhode Island Department of Transportation for being the first state agency to fully convert its lighting resources to energy-efficient light-emitting diode or LED lights.

[Above photo by RIDOT]

The LED switchover project – the result of several years of collaboration between the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) and RIDOT – includes lighting at 23 RIDOT maintenance facilities and the retrofit of over 9,000 streetlights.

Combined, RIDOT said it should save over $1 million a year on electricity costs and an estimated $14 million over the life of these more efficient lighting systems. They also will save nearly 55,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

“I thank RIDOT and OER for their hard work and commitment to conserving energy through this comprehensive conversion to efficient LED technology,” Gov. McKee said in a statement. “In addition to dollars saved, this will contribute to the state’s green energy goals and commitment to meet the goal of the state’s ‘Act on Climate’ while reducing RIDOT’s carbon footprint.”

“This is a journey we have been on for the past several years, first with our streetlights and now with our facilities,” added RIDOT Director Peter Alviti, Jr. “We are proud to lead the way with this energy-saving initiative that will not only save money but reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”

Photo courtesy of RIDOT

Gov. McKee noted that OER is spearheading an energy- and emission-reduction effort among state agencies and municipal governments via its “Lead by Example Program.”  That program has helped Rhode Island state agencies successfully lower energy consumption by 12.7 percent in 2022 compared to 2014, with 60 percent of state-owned buildings either converted or in the process of converting to LED lighting and 95 percent of state government electricity consumption being offset by renewables.

Other state departments of transportation are deploying LEDs to help reduce energy consumption in different areas.

For example, the Arizona Department of Transportation upgraded the lighting system inside the Interstate 10 Deck Park Tunnel north of downtown Phoenix in March 2021. The agency replaced the “old style” high-pressure sodium lighting system in the Deck Park Tunnel – which originally opened in August 1990 – with 3,200 LED fixtures for a cost of roughly $1.4 million. The agency said the new LED fixtures – expected to last more than twice as long as their sodium predecessors – should result in energy savings worth more than $175,000 per year; savings that, over time, will help pay for the cost of installing the new LED-based tunnel system.