FHWA Launches Seventh ‘Every Day Counts’ Initiative

The Federal Highway Administration recently kicked off the latest round of transportation innovations through its Every Day Counts or EDC program.

[Above image by FHWA]

The agency noted that EDC is a successful state-based program that helps identify and rapidly deploy proven, yet underused, innovations that facilitate greater efficiency in project delivery at the state, local and tribal levels – saving time, money, and other resources to ensure transportation infrastructure is built better, faster, smarter, and more equitably. It began soliciting ideas for the seventh round of this program, known as EDC-7, back in March.

The FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration are promoting this year’s innovations to help improve project delivery across highway, rail, and transit agencies at the state and local level.

“For over 10 years the Every Day Counts program has rapidly deployed proven technologies and processes that can be implemented at the national scale,” said Acting FHWA Administration Stephanie Pollack in a statement.

Acting Administrator Pollack

She added that this year’s EDC-7 innovations would improve safety for all road users, build a sustainable infrastructure for the future and grow an inclusive workforce.

Notably, FHWA and FTA selected several EDC-7 innovations with multimodal state transportation agencies in mind that should interest transit and rail agencies, too.

“Many of the innovations announced today as part of this forward-thinking program will help make the nation’s transit systems safer, greener, and more equitable,” said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez. “We look forward to promoting the findings from these initiatives — from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to leveling the playing field for small businesses to compete for design-build contracts — throughout the transit industry.”

This year’s EDC-7 innovations include:

  • Nighttime Visibility for Safety: The nighttime crash fatality rate is three times the daytime rate. Enhancing visibility along corridors, intersections, and pedestrian crossings can help reduce fatalities. This initiative promotes traffic control devices and properly designed lighting to improve safety for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and people who use public transportation and passenger rail services.
  • Next-Generation Traffic Incident Management: Over six million crashes a year in the U.S. put responders and other vulnerable road users at risk. Next-Generation Traffic Incident Management programs promote emerging technologies such as emergency vehicle lighting and queue warning solutions. These and other tools can advance safety and operations to help keep crash responders safe and mitigate traffic impacts after a crash.
  • Integrating Greenhouse Gas Assessment and Reduction Targets in Transportation Planning: Transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the U.S. This initiative provides resources to help agencies, regardless of transportation mode, quantify greenhouse gases, and set goals to decrease motor vehicle, construction, and lifecycle emissions through planning and project development.
  • Enhancing Performance with Internally Cured Concrete or EPIC: Cracking in concrete is a limiting factor in achieving long-term concrete performance. Such internal curing can mitigate shrinkage, and cracking, and extend the service life of concrete bridge decks, as well.
  • Environmental Product Declarations or EPDs for Sustainable Project Delivery: Construction materials such as concrete and asphalt have environmental impacts during their life cycle, whether the transportation facility supports passenger vehicles, transit vehicles, or railroad cars. EPDs document those impacts. This tool helps states support procurement decisions and quantify embodied carbon reductions for “sustainable pavements” via lifecycle assessments.
  • Rethinking Disadvantaged Business Enterprises or DBEs in Design-Build: Many design-build contracts do not adequately provide opportunities for disadvantaged businesses. New practices are available to support the effective integration of program requirements to help DBEs compete for design-build contracts for highway and transit projects.
  • Strategic Workforce Development or SWD: The demand for highway workers is growing due to the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA, and emerging technologies require new skills. Thirty-two states are using SWD protocols to promote career opportunities in transportation, with six of those states having institutionalized SWD processes in their workforce programs. A continued focus on taking this nationwide will help stakeholders across the country improve their ability to identify, train, and place highway construction workers, FHWA said, with the focus on SWD expanding to rural and tribal communities to increase career opportunities.

Every two years since 2011, FHWA has worked with state departments of transportation, local governments, tribes, private industry, and other stakeholders to identify a new set of innovations to champion that merit accelerated deployment. The first six rounds of EDC have yielded several innovative project delivery technologies, including prefabricated bridge systems, design-build contracting, project bundling, e-construction, safety initiatives, and more.

FHWA credited the program’s success largely on its close collaboration with states and local partners through a process whereby states select innovations they want to pursue, then establish performance goals for the level of implementation and adoption they want to reach over the upcoming two-year cycle. After finalizing the selection and performance goals, implementation of those innovations begins with the support and assistance of diverse technical deployment teams established for each innovation, including federal, state, and local experts.

In addition, FHWA noted that the Accelerated Innovation Demonstration program and State Transportation Innovation Council Incentive program administered by the agency could complement EDC by providing additional funding and resources to help the surface transportation community accelerate the adoption and standardization of innovative technologies in their programs.

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.”

Utah DOT Issues Draft EIS for Little Cottonwood Canyon Project

The Utah Department of Transportation identified two “preferred alternatives” to improve transportation in Little Cottonwood Canyon in a draft Environmental Impact Statement or EIS issued on June 24 – alternatives that deliver mobility and reliability benefits while minimizing impact on water quality, air quality, plus visual/noise affects, among others.

[Above photo by Utah DOT]

Along with a 45-day public comment period on the EIS – which ends on August 9 – the Utah DOT said in a statement that it plans to host an in-person public open house and a hearing on July 13 to review both alternatives: events that will be livestreamed and recorded as well.

Based on its technical analysis – a process started three years ago – Utah DOT identified the Enhanced Bus Service in Peak-Period Shoulder Lane as the alternative that “best improves” mobility for the project, while the Gondola Alternative B is alternative that best improves transportation reliability.

The Enhanced Bus Service in Peak-Period Shoulder Lane Alternative offers bus-only shoulder lanes on State Route 210 from North Little Cottonwood Road to the Bypass Road for peak travel times. With this alternative, bus service is removed from congestion and able to pass slower moving traffic in the general-purpose lane, providing direct service to each destination. Of the alternatives examined, this bus option offers the fastest travel time and the second lowest cost. Meanwhile, pedestrians and bicyclists could use the improved shoulders when the buses are not operating, the agency said.

The Gondola B alternative would construct a base station approximately one mile from the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon and offer direct service to each destination. Each gondola could hold up to 35 people and travelers could expect a cabin to arrive every two minutes. The Gondola base station includes 1,500 parking spaces, reducing the need for passengers to use bus service from the mobility hubs. It also can operate “independently” of S.R. 210, avoiding delays related to snow removal, avalanche mitigation, crashes, slide offs, and traffic.

The Utah DOT added that while the Gondola B alternative creates the highest “visual impacts,” it minimizes effects on wildlife movement, climbing boulders, and the area’s watershed compared to the other alternatives. It is also the more expensive of the two options – clocking in at $592 million, with an annual winter operation cost of roughly $7.6 million. In addition to the preliminary preferred alternatives, the EIS highlights other elements within the project to support each alternative. These include snow sheds (concrete structures built over the highway to keep it clear of snow in case of avalanches); mobility hubs (larger-capacity park-and-ride lots with transit service); widening and other improvements to Wasatch Boulevard; tolling or single occupancy restrictions; addressing trailhead parking and eliminating winter roadside parking above Snowbird Entry 1.

Mug shots of Sens. Schumer and Sherrod

Senators Unveil $73B ‘Clean Transit for America’ Plan

Two key Senate Democrats introduced a $73 billion plan on May 4 to transition the nation’s transit buses and vans to Zero Emission Vehicle or ZEV platforms.

The “Clean Transit for America” plan – introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the senate’s majority leader, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs – would replace America’s 70,000 mass transit buses and 85,000 cutaway/transit vans to “clean energy vehicles.” The plan would also prioritize funding for areas with the worst air quality first.

Currently in the United States, only 2 percent of buses are ZEVs, argued Sen. Schumer in a statement. He added that the volume of air pollutants from diesel buses disproportionally affects low-income communities and communities of color. 

“To reduce the carbon in our atmosphere and address the climate crisis, we must transform our transit system,” he said. “The Clean Transit for America proposal will replace dirty, diesel-spewing buses, create new American jobs, help save the planet and protect public health, particularly in our country’s most vulnerable communities.”

“Americans deserve world-class public transportation that is delivered with modern, zero-emission buses built by American workers,” added Sen. Brown. “The Clean Transit for America Plan will create a significant number of good-paying, union jobs building zero-emission buses in the U.S. It is the kind of transformative investment we need in public transit that will put Americans to work [and] connects people with opportunity.”

In a related effort, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., recently outlined a “vision” for how the Environmental Protection Agency could adopt standards to reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions in the automotive industry and eliminate tailpipe pollution from new cars by 2035.

“The future of the automobile manufacturing sector is at a crossroads,” Sen. Carper – chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – explained in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

“The Clean Air Act provides sufficient authority for the EPA to rise to this challenge,” he said in a statement released with the letter. “EPA can establish requirements on new cars that would significantly reduce air pollution harming communities, put the nation on track to maintain its leadership in vehicle technology, and make significant progress in fighting climate change.”

Sen. Carper added that “if the U.S. does not establish a robust policy that leads to ZEV deployment” he warned the nation “will be at risk of losing our automotive jobs and industry leadership to other nations, as well as enduring unnecessary public health impacts from pollution.”

State DOTs Net $10B in Aid from COVID-19 Relief Legislation

State departments of transportation are getting $10 billion in long-awaited emergency aid from a $900 billion COVID-19 relief measure passed by Congress late on December 21 as part of a final year-end legislative package. President Trump is expected to sign the measure later this week.

The House of Representatives passed the legislative package that included the COVID-19 rescue bill by a vote of 359 to 53, with the Senate passing it by a vote of 92 to 6.

“Since the early response to the pandemic, state DOTs have faced severe losses in state transportation revenues as vehicle travel declined. This COVID relief bill enables state DOTs to stay on track and support the efficient movement of critical goods and services as they maintain their transportation systems,” noted Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in a statement.

“Furthermore, this timely federal support will help state DOTs to retain their institutional capacities and to be prepared to deliver future infrastructure investment driving economic recovery and growth,” he added.

The massive 5,593-page bill that includes the $900 billion COVID relief measure also includes a $1.4 trillion fiscal year 2021 omnibus appropriations package and various other pieces of pending legislation – including the reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act.

According to an analysis by AASHTO’s policy team, the $10 billion worth COVID-19 relief set aside for state DOTs must be apportioned by the Federal Highway Administration within 30 days of the bill’s enactment and will be based on each state’s share of obligation limitations within the recently extended Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act.

AASHTO’s analysis also indicated that the relief money can be used by state DOTs to fund Surface Transportation Block Grant-eligible projects as well as for preventive maintenance, routine maintenance, operations, and personnel – including employee and contractor salaries – along with debt service payments, availability payments, and coverage for other revenue losses.

The organization added that the relief funds – available for obligation until September 30, 2024 – could be transferred to public tolling and ferry agencies for costs related to operations, personnel, salaries, contractors, debt service payments, availability payments, and coverage for other revenue losses, and are not subject to existing federal restrictions on tolling revenues.

Additionally, funds spent on maintenance and administrative expenses are not required to be included in either metropolitan or statewide long-range transportation improvement programs.

In terms of the FY 2021 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development funding approved as part of this broad fiscal package, some $46.365 billion is provided for Federal-aid Highways obligation limitation along with a nearly $2 billion in general fund supplement to help support a highway bridge rehabilitation program. That supplemental program based on 2018 National Bridge Inventory data for calculation purposes similar to prior fiscal years, AASHTO noted.

Finally, the approval of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 within this broad legislative package includes key points for state DOTs as well, AASHTO said. For starters, it fully authorizes water infrastructure and navigation programs including for dredging needs of emerging harbors, donor and energy transfer ports, commercial strategic ports, and Great Lakes Harbors. It also authorizes 46 water resources projects along with eight project modifications for previously authorized projects and allows for spending down of existing balances – amounting to roughly $10 billion in total – within the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

NOAA Research Grants Include Surface Transportation Focus

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science – a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – recently issued a notice of funding opportunity for the fiscal year 2021 Effects of Sea Level Rise (ESLR) program; one with two surface transportation focal points.

The ESLR Program is soliciting proposals to evaluate and quantify the ability of natural and nature-based features to mitigate the effects of sea level rise and inundation – including storm surge, nuisance flooding, and/or wave actions. The NOFO focused on two areas: coastal resilience and surface transportation resilience.

It aims to support research to inform adaptation planning and coastal management decisions in response to sea-level rise and coastal inundation via the advancement of models of physical and biological processes capable of evaluating vulnerability and resilience under multiple sea-level rise, inundation, and management scenarios, including evaluation of nature-based solutions. A letter of intent is required prior to submission of a full proposal and those letters are due to NOAA by October 16. For additional information, visit the ESLR website.

CES to Hold Five Annual Meeting Sessions in October

The 2020 annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Environment & Sustainability will take place over five virtual sessions in October.

To register for these free meeting sessions please click here.

CES monitors national trends, promotes research on significant environmental issues, and acts as a forum to disseminate and exchange information and experiences among state departments of transportation and various other AASHTO committees and subcommittees, including the sharing of best practices and other innovations. CES also monitors federal environmental laws, regulations, procedures, and guidance related to air quality, cultural resources, environmental processes, and natural systems and ecological communities; recommending and supporting programs and initiatives to streamline the environmental review process and promote environmental stewardship.

[Above photo courtesy of Missouri DOT.]

In Addressing Climate Change, State DOTs Change Approach

Climate change and the swirling air of unpredictability around its effects are creating new challenges for transportation officials: dealing with damage from extreme storms that can plague the Midwest, the rise of coastal sea levels, and increased wildfire activity in the southwest.

A detailed understanding of climate threats has become essential when constructing a safe, sustainable transportation system. To that end, the Washington State Department of Transportation completed several studies on the subject, including the Climate Impacts Vulnerability Assessment Reportand theClimate Change and Innovative Stormwater Control,which help the department analyze risks and address potential hazards.

Carol Lee Roalkvam, WSDOT’s environmental policy branch manager, noted that her department initially addressed the matter of climate change in 2011 by “conducting a statewide vulnerability assessment for all of our assets, with help from the FHWA [the Federal Highway Administration]. We have relied on that assessment since concerning climate-related threats or vulnerability.”

Photo courtesy WSDOT

She highlighted one large project that included extreme weather considerations: State Route 520, a 13-mile highway that connects Seattle to Redmond and includes the new Evergreen Point Floating Bridge; the longest floating bridge in the world. That bridge, which opened in April 2016, is built to withstand sustained winds of up to 89 mph. “We used the best available science to brace for changes projected for the future,” Roalkvam said of the construction.

Another example is WSDOT’s Fish Passage Barrier Correction Program. To date, the department has completed 345 fish passage barrier corrections, allowing access to approximately 1,155 miles of potential upstream habitat for fish. Eventually, it will guide the replacement of hundreds of small culverts to provide more access to fish attempting to reach habitat. The new fish-friendly culverts are designed to realign and restore stream channels for fish migration while simultaneously providing more resilient water crossings.

Another concern at WSDOT is the issue of sea level rise and its impact on ferry terminals and coastal highways. At the Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal Project, in the town of Mukilteo, the department projected sea level rise out to the year 2100, with the project team also examining the impact of upland stormwater runoff. Examining saltwater and freshwater flooding risks during the lifespan of the terminal were part of the planning.

 There are similar concerns in Utah, where the Utah Department of Transportation just released information concerning a variety of projects that are being built with addressing climate change in mind. The two largest are the U.S. 89 Farmington to I-84 – a $489 million projectthat encompasses converting a 9.5-mile section of U.S. 89 to a freeway by widening the road to three lanes in each direction – and the Bangerter Highway Three Interchanges; a $222 million project that calls for the replacement of existing intersections with freeway-style interchanges along the highway at three new locations.

“We always take into account extreme weather conditions when designing and building our road construction projects,” explained John Gleason, a Utah DOT spokesperson. “In Utah, we see it all: blizzards, ice, flooding, mudslides, and scorching summer heat. We have to use durable and sustainable materials and design our projects to stand up to the elements.”

WSDOT’s Roalkvam thinks planning for such events has been taken to a new level, as she “definitely” sees “an increased understanding among her agency’s technical employees and planners of how their work can influence long-term transportation system resilience, especially related to climate change.”

Hearing Out the [Entire] Community to do it Justice

Imagine a massive highway project in a highly populated area that calls for the removal of several clusters of homes. Or the closing of a community gathering spot or other popular open space.

Such happenstances often require the overview and input of a state’s environmental justice program. They set policy and require that the road’s builders convene with the community to learn more about the impact that not only the finished project, but its construction, will have on the daily lives of local residents.

“In these cases, you have to initially look at what the state department of transportation is trying to achieve,” explained Rashaud Joseph, civil rights office director for the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities. “Where environmental justice programs come into play are with projects that have to do with the holding of public outreach meetings.”

The key in these circumstances is gaining input from the voices of in community, particularly from those who may seem less involved.

Courtesy Alaska DOT&PF

“I try to get across to [the road’s builders] that Alaska DOT&PF has to hold extensive public outreach, so it’s important to let people know where meetings are held and at what time,” he pointed out. “If you’re in a low-income area and have kids to take care of, the DOT in whichever state can’t have the meetings at 10 a.m. and at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday ― in other words, when everyone is at work. That shuts people out.”

Another part of an environmental justice analysis concerns what perhaps unforeseen impact a project has on the community.

“While construction of walkways is required by law, one part of that construction might cut off bus access on a given road that, in turn, requires riders to walk to another stop that’s harder to reach for low-income citizens or those with disabilities,” Joseph said.

That’s part of the reason these programs are tied-in nationally with most environmental departments. “We cross-reference their information,” he added.

Oklahoma is notable for its demographic of Native American citizens. To recognize this diversity, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation implemented procedures throughout the planning, design, and National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA process to ensure “that social impacts to communities and people are recognized early and continually throughout the transportation decision-making process,” said Leslie Novotny, the agency’s environmental project supervisor.

That process at the Oklahoma DOT, she added, includes early identification of minority and low-income populations during reconnaissance studies.

“Projects that affect the community more socially, economically and environmentally, such as a new alignment, will be accessed accordingly; and a plan of action best suited to serve the affected community will be created early on in the planning and design process,” noted Novotny.

That can include mail-out questionnaires, pop-up public involvement booths, and one-on-one meetings with community leaders.

She stressed that projects that may have a lesser impact on the community, such as a road or bridge closure, still require public outreach to ensure the Oklahoma DOT is not adversely affecting vulnerable populations.

The time of year of the projects can even come into play. “These situations are interesting since we only have winter and summer,” Alaska DOT&PF’s Joseph said. “We only have about five months to get our construction projects done, so we always have to see if we have any outlaying issues to examine.” “[The Anchorage] metro area isn’t so big that we have such pronounced issues. We have room out here, so generally, our citizens aren’t opposed to any transportation improvements,” he pointed out.

E-Bike Rule Proposed for National Parks

To increase recreational use on public lands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed on April 2 a new set of regulations governing the use of electric bicycles or e-bikes within the National Wildlife Refuge System – a move that supports two directives issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Secretary’s Order 3366 to increase recreational opportunities on public lands and Secretary’s Order 3376 directing Department of the Interior bureaus to obtain public input on e-bike use.

The proposed rule also closely follows e-bike policy established by Director’s Order 222 in October 2019 that allows refuge managers to consider the use of e-bikes on any refuge roads and trails where traditional bicycle use is allowed, provided it is consistent with a refuge’s statutory purpose and the refuge manager determines it to be a compatible use.

The agency noted in a statement that the proposed rule defines permitted e-bikes as ‘two- or three-wheeled vehicles with fully operable pedals and a small electric motor of one horsepower or less.”

However, neither traditional bicycles nor e-bikes are allowed in designated wilderness areas and may not be appropriate for back-country trails, USFW added – noting that the focus of this guidance is on expanding the traditional bicycling experience to those who enjoy the reduction of effort provided by this new technology.

The USFW added that a majority of states – listed here – have adopted e-bike policies, with most following model legislation that allows for three classes of e-bikes to have access to bicycle trails.