FHWA Issues PROTECT Formula Program Guidance

The Federal Highway Administration issued guidance on July 29 for a new $7.3 billion in formula funding created by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021 to help states and local communities better prepare for and respond to extreme weather events such as wildfires and flooding.

[Above photo by the KYTC]

The Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation or “PROTECT” program provides funding over five years to help states focus on resilience planning, making resilience improvements to existing transportation assets and evacuation routes, and addressing at-risk highway infrastructure. 

In general, eligible projects include highway and transit projects, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and port facilities including those that help improve evacuations or disaster relief. States are encouraged to work with regional and local partner organizations to prioritize transportation and emergency response improvements, as well as address vulnerabilities, noted Stephanie Pollack, deputy administrator for the Federal Highway Administration.

“We see the effects of climate change and extreme weather play out across the country every week, with extreme temperatures and rainfall and resulting flooding and wildfires that damage and in some cases destroy roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure,” she said in a statement. “The PROTECT Formula Program will help make transportation infrastructure more resilient to current and future weather events and at the same time make communities safer during these events.”

FHWA said eligible resilience improvements could involve adapting existing transportation infrastructure or new construction to keep communities safe by bolstering infrastructure’s ability to withstand extreme weather events and other physical hazards that are becoming more common and intense. Eligible project choices may include the use of natural or green infrastructure that acts as a “buffer” against future storm surges and provide flood protection, as well as aquatic ecosystem restoration.

PROTECT projects can also help improve the resilience of transportation networks that serve traditionally underserved and underrepresented communities, particularly during natural disasters and evacuations, the agency noted.
FHWA added that its new guidance applies to the PROTECT formula program only, with the agency planning to release a notice of funding opportunity for the program’s discretionary grant initiative later this year.

State departments of transportation consider formula funding to be a critical aspect of national efforts to improve infrastructure resiliency.

Edwin Sniffen, deputy director of highways for the Hawaii Department of Transportation, highlighted that viewpoint in a Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing in May 2021.

Sniffen – who also serves as chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience – said that traditional formula funding processes play a key role in helping states implement resiliency plans.

“When considering funding for resilience, the current core formula program eligibility could be expanded to consider resilience improvements,” he said. “Or formula funding could be set aside to focus on resilience-related planning, coordination, and evacuation; or, a discretionary grant program for adaptation strategies could be established.”

Sniffen added that additional funding and an expedited project delivery process would “greatly aid” getting more resilience initiatives out of the theoretical stages and into practice on the nation’s streets, bridges, runways, and harbors.

“The Hawaii DOT is currently approaching building resilience into our systems using a variety of approaches, including pursuing green infrastructure such as carbon mineralized concrete and adding recycled plastics to asphalt mixes,” he noted. “Investing in resilient infrastructure on a federal level will enable us and other transportation agencies to implement better and greener infrastructure.”

Maine DOT Issues Infrastructure Protection Grants

The Maine Department of Transportation recently awarded $20 million in grants to 13 local infrastructure projects to improve local resilience against climate effects such as flooding, rising sea levels, and extreme storms.

[Above photo by the Maine DOT]

That funding comes from a Maine Infrastructure Adaptation Fund established by Governor Janet Mills (D) in December 2021 to help municipalities protect vital infrastructure from the effects of climate change.

“Climate change is impacting nearly every facet of our lives, and Maine communities are on the front lines,” explained Gov. Mills in a statement.

“These investments will help municipalities across the state strengthen their infrastructure to better deal with the impacts of climate change, improving the safety of their towns and the Maine people who call them home,” she said.

“The effects of climate change present significant challenges for our vulnerable infrastructure,” added Bruce Van Note, commissioner of the Maine DOT.

“Our team, led by Chief Engineer Joyce Taylor, has been working with other agencies and municipalities to help find ways to mitigate these impacts,” he said. “The resources provided by the Maine Infrastructure Adaptation Fund will help make real differences in these communities.”

That fund is part of the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan approved by the state legislature that is investing nearly $1 billion issued to Maine from the American Rescue Plan – enacted in March 2021 – to “improve the lives of Maine people and families, help businesses, create good-paying jobs, and build an economy poised for future prosperity.”

It draws heavily on recommendations from the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee and the State’s 10-Year Economic Development Strategy, the agency said, “transforming them into real action to improve the lives of Maine people and strengthen the economy.”

Boom: Oregon DOT Uses ‘Fireworks’ to Drive Birds from Bridges

The Oregon Department of Transportation has a public outreach message for water birds who want to nest on two of their iconic bridges: Beat it.

[Above: Matt Alex, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, fires a “flash pistol” to scare off birds. Photo via the Oregon DOT.]

Officially, Oregon DOT is utilizing an auditory dispersal method to relocate cormorants to facilitate infrastructure maintenance, such as inspection and painting. In practice, a technician fires a pistol that flashes, pops, and whistles. The sounds and lights chase the birds from the bridges.

“It basically is a gun-like mechanism that looks like a fireworks show,” explained Angela Beers Seydel, an Oregon DOT public information officer, in describing a test of the procedure in early March. “It whizzed, it banged, it flashed.”

Both bridges are on U.S. 101, along the Pacific coast. The 4.1-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge crosses the Columbia River and connects Oregon and Washington. It is the longest continuous truss bridge in the U.S., and painting it takes more than eight years and about $75 million.

Meanwhile, the Yaquina Bay Bridge – located about 300 miles south – is an 88-year-old arch structure built by the Public Works Administration; a depression-era federal program that also financed the Lincoln Tunnel and Hoover Dam. Conde McCullough, a renowned Oregon DOT engineer (he has his own Wikipedia page) designed the Yaquina Bay Bridge – along with 14 others along U.S. 101.

The sound-and-light program will continue through September on the Astoria-Megler Bridge and through June on the Yaquina Bay Bridge.

“These birds affect our ability to conduct inspections,” noted Don Hamilton, an Oregon DOT spokesperson. He added that those inspections occur at least every two years, but that cannot happen if birds, bird nests, or bird “guano” are on the bridge. Guano, or bird droppings, also have a corrosive effect on bridges and can be toxic to humans.

One or two technicians go on the U.S. 101 bridges every day and fire off several rounds.

Seydel said the sensory assaults take place at random times “so the birds don’t recognize a pattern. You want them to be uncomfortable to be in that area.”

Recently, Oregon DOT used propane cannons, which produce louder and deeper sounds, to successfully chase away birds from the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. Seydel said Oregon DOT might bring out those “big guns” if the pistol sounds and flashes do not work on the U.S. 101 bridges.

“There’s also the canon, if necessary,” she said. “So, whiz, bang, boom is the possibility.”

Alaska Budget Contains Ice Road Maintenance Funds

The fiscal year 2023 state budget proposed by Governor Michael Dunleavy (R) contains maintenance funding for the Dick Nash Memorial ice road that will help tribal transportation departments maintain the frozen Kuskokwim for travel in the 2022/2023 winter season.

[Above photo by the Alaska DOT&PF]

By contrast, in 2021, contributions from community stakeholders covered half of the ice road’s maintenance costs. However, as heating oil delivery and diesel costs are now over $6 per gallon in the region – and the state is experiencing a funding surplus based in part on high oil prices – Governor Dunleavy said in a statement that he believes it is “only right” to provide community relief where possible.

That is why, in addition to the proposed funding in his FY 2023 budget, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities plans to recover any remaining maintenance costs via federal surface transportation funding during the 2022/2023 winter season, Gov. Dunleavy said.

The Kuskokwim ice road – which can stretch up to 300 miles long – serves 17 villages and helps Alaskan rural communities move goods and services during winter months. They are a safe alternative when poor weather prevents airplanes from flying, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and proved an efficient way to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

Alaska DOT&PF

Maintaining ice roads goes beyond plowing snow and placing reflectors. For example, the ice road crew serving the Village of Napaimute has developed a cell phone application to measure ice thickness. That application integrates ice-penetrating radar with traditional Native knowledge and local observations into an easy-to-access cell phone data format.

“I had the opportunity to travel the Kuskokwim Ice Road for the first time on a recent visit to the Villages of Napakiak and Napaskiak,” the governor said. “All those hundreds of miles of drivable ice are truly an Alaskan feat … and I heard from many residents about the importance of the road during the winter months for health, safety, commerce, and recreation. I’m glad we have identified funding to cover this expense from existing authorities.”

North Carolina Testing Light Pole EV Charging Technology

Governor Roy Cooper (D) recently toured PoleVolt – a new electric vehicle charging station in Charlotte created by a partnership between the City of Charlotte, Duke Energy, Centralina Regional Council and UNC Charlotte – that uses existing streetlights to provide free universal curbside charging for electric vehicles.

[Above photo via the North Carolina Governor’s Office]

PoleVolt – created through a partnership with the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center at UNC Charlotte, the City of Charlotte, the Centralina Regional Council, and Duke Energy – received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. Lessons learned from this project about intentional planning and streamlined local government development review processes should help foster similar projects and help expand curbside EV charging infrastructure more broadly statewide.

The project is also in line with Executive Order No. 246 signed by the governor in January that directs the North Carolina Department of Transportation to work with public and private sectors to create a Clean Transportation Plan to guide the establishment of “a cleaner and more resilient” state transportation system.

The order also “underscores” the importance of emphasizing environmental justice and equity in the state’s transition to a clean economy, the governor said.

“The transition by vehicle manufacturers to electric vehicles is upon us and this station is just one example of how North Carolina is getting ready,” Gov. Cooper explained in a statement. “The quicker we move the more affordable electric vehicles will become for everyday people. Our state is moving toward an equitable clean energy economy and public-private partnerships like this one will help make that happen.”

To help foster the development and deployment of similar projects, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the National Association of State Energy Officials, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Department of Energy signed a memorandum of understanding on February 23.

Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s executive director, explained in a statement at the time that this MOU provides a “framework for collaboration” in response to the $5 billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program established by USDOT and DOE on February 10 to build and operate a nationwide network of EV charging stations.

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.”

New Law Requires Illinois DOT to Create Performance Program

A newly passed state law is requiring the Illinois Department of Transportation to establish and implement a performance program to improve the “efficiency and effectiveness” of the state’s transportation system. The new law also requires the agency to develop a statewide highway system asset management plan with the goal of preserving and improving the conditions of highway and bridge assets and enhance the existing system while reducing costs.

[Above photo by the Illinois DOT]

The law – House Bill 253 – went into effect immediately and requires the agency to put “equity and data” at the heart of its transportation project planning process; using performance measures to guide project selection and capital investment decisions to increase “transparency” about project impacts and assuring that the benefits and burdens of the state’s transportation system are “fairly distributed.”

As a result, beginning January 1, 2022, the Illinois DOT will be required to select projects for inclusion in their multi-year plan based on a selection process that weighs a variety of factors including congestion mitigation or improved traffic operations, economic development, livability, environmental impact, accessibility, and safety.

“I’m proud that Illinois is a supply chain hub for the nation and this administration is committed to investing in our infrastructure to ensure we maintain that vital role,” noted Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) in a statement. “This legislation will empower the hardworking team at IDOT to ensure those investments go as far as possible. And by establishing a performance-based project selection process, the administration is doubling-down on our commitment to being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

“Illinois is the transportation hub of North America. With the distinction comes a huge responsibility that we are investing resources equitably, fairly, and in locations where they make the most sense and do the most good,” added Omer Osman, secretary of the Illinois DOT. “Thanks to Gov. Pritzker’s vision and the support of the General Assembly, we are making historic improvements in our transportation system. Now we will have even more tools that will strengthen our project-selection process and make it more transparent.”

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.

Backhoe on a bridge installing concrete culvert.

Incorporating ‘Green Infrastructure’ into Transportation Projects: Part 2

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) released a report in February 2021 highlighting several state agency efforts to incorporate Green Infrastructure (GI) solutions into transportation drainage and landscaping design. 

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials helped research and publish that report – entitled Landscape Design Practices for Roadside Water Management: Domestic Scan 16-02 – as part of the joint AASHTO and Federal Highway Administration’s NCHRP “Domestic Scan Program.” That program helps speed up the transfer of information and technology among transportation agencies. 

This article is the second of a two-part series – focusing on GI recommendations for state transportation agencies.

How and where can state departments of transportation incorporate Green Infrastructure or “GI” practices into their ongoing infrastructure programs? A four-day workshop organized by the team that crafted the Landscape Design Practices for Roadside Water Management: Domestic Scan 16-02 report came up with eight recommendations that can help build a successful GI program with long-term results, across varied climates, geographies, and topographies.

[Above photo by Colorado DOT]

The first is to define what GI is, as the workshop participants discerned at the outset that there is no nationally recognized standard GI definition – and an agreed-upon definition is needed to support grant funding consistency, federal eligibility, categorization of GI projects, design approaches, and recognition in the transportation realm.

As a result, the report team recommended that AASHTO, in conjunction with FHWA, develop a national GI definition as it relates to transportation for consistent adoption throughout the country – one also be incorporated into “A Policy on the Geometric Design of Highways,” which is known colloquially as the “Green Book.” 

Steve Sisson – a design resource engineer with the Delaware Department of Transportation and member of the AASHTO Technical Committee on Hydrology and Hydraulics – believes there are several other areas where more GI information could be included in AASHTO documents. 

He pointed to two current AASHTO publications – Highway Drainage Guidelines (HDG) and Drainage Manual (ADM) – currently undergoing updates to incorporate GI and new stormwater management (SWM) systems earlier into the infrastructure design process. Those particular areas include advancing setting-based site assessment, runoff reduction opportunities, and public private partnerships.

“The latter also will include support for more watershed-based approaches that minimize long term maintenance costs while increasing return on investment for public and private dollars,” Sisson explained.

“[Those] updates will draw on additional studies like NCHRP Research Report 840, ‘A Watershed Approach to Mitigating Stormwater Impacts,’ and NCHRP 25-60. ‘Watershed Approach to Mitigating Hydrologic Impacts of Transportation Projects,’” he said.

Sisson added that the GI section would also include an expanded generic Best Management Practices or BMP library, applicable over a wide range of regulatory jurisdictions, incorporating maintenance and construction recommendations.

The other recommendations made by the report team include:

  • Maintenance: Considered the most important project-related category identified for the success of GI, the teams believes in integrating maintenance plans incorporating GI elements into all transportation projects. However, training is needed to ensure proper workflow and actions for the GI solutions. Personnel with the right expertise and equipment are essential, along with policies, procedures, guidance, and manuals with standard operating procedures and maintenance plans to ensure long-term consistency in practice.
  • Watershed Approach versus Project Site Approach: GI solutions are often not available as an option when constrained by right of way or ROW on project sites. State DOTs typically obtain ROW in linear segments in alignment with the roadway, which can limit the opportunity for some GI practices, such as bio-retention areas, because there is not enough space within a linear ROW for effective treatments to be built. By taking a watershed approach and partnering with other agencies, the area for building GI is greatly increased. It is important for state DOTs and regulating agencies to develop common goals and outcomes for a watershed approach as well as educate practitioners on the benefits.
  • Information Sharing: The team identified a lack of generally available education, training, and research for interested agencies on the use of GI.  While there is a considerable amount of information about SWM and GI, there is no central repository or clearinghouse for that information and research. The team recommends development more GI based conferences, peer exchanges and a data repository located on a free website to encourage the implementation of more GI solutions.
  • Public Outreach: Public and political support is important for acceptance GI infrastructure solutions as well as to obtaining funding for those solutions. Educating the public on the importance of GI to clean water and clean air shows both them and decision makers the environmental, social, and economic benefits. The team recommended that state DOT public information officers or communications experts develop a “GI factsheet,” relevant signage, and other materials to provide the public with a good understanding of the locations and importance of GI.
  • Asset Management: State DOTs track highway assets such as bridges, barrier rail, and pavement miles, but currently stormwater and GI are not necessarily included in geospatial tracking systems. Including GI in the general agency-wide asset management system allows a state DOT to report to regulatory agencies the types and quantities of GI components that are in place for stormwater controls. It also allows an agency to plan and budget for necessary maintenance staff, inspections, materials, supplies, and scheduling.
  • Design: GI and components often do not have a standardized design within DOTs. Design guidance would vary somewhat according to regional and local geography and climatic conditions, each state could develop standard criteria and design guidelines in order to prevent having to develop designs strictly on a project-by-project basis. 
  • Construction Inspection: Vegetation establishment is a consistent challenge on transportation projects and issues that include process quality control, contractor compliance with specifications, and contractor and state DOT field personnel understanding of the overall re-vegetation process and specifications. The report team would like to see development of a process for ensuring correct implementation of permanent and temporary stormwater and GI features. The process would also include sequencing/time frames (e.g., contract hold points) for critical work and vegetation establishment. The team also recommended that standardized, recognized infiltration tests, such as ASTM standards, would be necessary for a successful program.

Overall, the report team believes that by using a holistic approach incorporating recommendations from those eight concentration areas, transportation agencies can provide long-term successful GI solutions to their roadway project. 

Incorporating ‘Green Infrastructure’ into Transportation Projects: Part 1

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) released a report in February 2021 highlighting several state agency efforts to incorporate Green Infrastructure (GI) solutions into transportation drainage and landscaping design. 

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials helped research and publish that report – entitled Landscape Design Practices for Roadside Water Management: Domestic Scan 16-02 – as part of the joint AASHTO and Federal Highway Administration’s NCHRP “Domestic Scan Program.” That program helps speed up the transfer of information and technology among transportation agencies. 

This article is the first in a two-part series – focusing on the state of the practice in GI in several agencies, as well as policies in place and challenges found in the industry. The second article will focus on recommendations for the future of GI implementation state transportation agencies.

According to the FHWA, “green infrastructure” is defined as “strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, working landscapes and other open spaces that conserve ecosystem values and functions and provide associated benefits to human populations.” It also applies to various water management approaches where transportation infrastructure is concerned, including technologies that “infiltrate, evapotranspire, capture, and reuse stormwater to maintain or restore natural hydrologies.”

[Above photo by the Virginia DOT]

The NCHRP’s new report — Landscape Design Practices for Roadside Water Management: Domestic Scan 16-02 – developed a more specific definition for GI. That definition included “roadside stormwater management, Low Impact Development or LID, hydro-modification, and watershed actions that conserve water, buffer climate change impacts, improve water quality, water supply, public heath, and restores and protects rivers, creeks and streams as a component of transportation development projects and operations.”

The team compiling the report found, however, that the practice of incorporating GI is inconsistent among state departments of transportation – employed only when required. Overall findings suggest GI is not yet a part of the state DOT stormwater management toolbox and is not routinely employed as a standard stormwater management method. 

That team included:

  • Jennifer Taira, senior landscape architect for the California Department of Transportation and chair of AASHTO’s NCHRP committee.
  • Ken Graeve, erosion and stormwater management unit supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Transportation
  • Charles Hebson, manager of the surface water resources division for the Maine Department of Transportation
  • Garrett Jackson, a hydrologist with the Washington State Department of Transportation
  • Laura Riggs, LRSP and SRTPP program manager for the Louisiana Department of Transportation
  • Brian Smith, ecologist and biologist for the FHWA
  • Lucy Joyce, former landscape architect supervisor with the Nevada Department of Transportation

That team further investigated how leading transportation agencies are applying principles and practices of GI for roadside water management and then planned to develop recommendations to help agencies look to the future of a higher level of implementation. 

A central finding of this report is that, historically, managing the “peak flow” of water off roads to nearby waterways has been the traditional focus of transportation infrastructure design via techniques such as “gray infrastructure,” which includes culverts and pipes, to move the water offsite quickly. However, the report found that approach is sometimes neither the most efficient nor cost-effective in terms of managing that water flow.  Newer GI techniques – such as water harvesting, landform grading, rain gardens, micro-catchment basins in arid climates, and large-watershed – are proving to be more efficient “green solutions.” 

Photo via WSDOT

On top of that, many of the GI practices in use today resulted from various regulatory requirements for clean water/clean air imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency as well as state departments of environmental protection/quality. Yet the report discovered that many of those regulatory efforts – typically at the state level – often included barriers that hindered a state DOT’s ability to fully or successfully implement the switch to more efficient and low cost GI practices. 

For example, the “gray” approaches to managing stormwater runoff from roads and highway can actually contribute to the problems of flooding and stormwater pollution in some cases.

To discern what GI practices work best, the report team sent out a survey to seven state DOTs (Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington) and five cities, counties, or regional agencies (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York City, New York; Long Creek Watershed Management District, Maine; Southeast Michigan Council of Governments [SEMCOG], Michigan; and King County, Washington).

Photo via Maryland DOT

In addition to the survey responses, the team met directly with several of them during a series of three-day workshops.

The survey and workshop discussions resulted in a series of key GI implementation focal points:

  • “Intensity of regulations really affects what gets implemented.”
  • “Technology matters, especially geospatial data management.”
  • “Training/education is important in implementing effective maintenance”
  • “Watershed approach is key.”
  • “Planning level of DOTs is important to coordinate stormwater needs and optimize opportunities.”
  • “Maintenance is important; we could have an entire scan on maintenance of these solutions”
  • “Standards, codes, policy, ordinances as important tools for driving/enabling green stormwater infrastructure”

While the survey answers and workshop discussions highlight “significant movement” toward more use of GI solutions in landscaping and storm water management, the funding, support, construction, and maintenance practice for GI remained inconsistent.

As a result, the report team outlined eight recommendations to promote GI practices among state DOTs in the future — recommendations detailed in part two of this series next week.