Ohio Unveils Connected Mobility Corridor

The recently opened 33 Smart Mobility Corridor in central Ohio is a connected highway project that seeks to enhance motor vehicle safety, reduce traffic congestion, and improve fuel economy.

[Above photo by DriveOhio]

This connected highway project – overseen by InnovateOhio, which coordinates service integration among state agencies – involves the Ohio Department of Transportation, DriveOhio, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the NW 33 Council of Governments, among others.

With a 35-mile redundant loop of fiber connectivity, the corridor includes 432 strands of available fiber, 63 roadside units, and 45 connected intersections. The route also encompasses diverse geographical and meteorological scenarios to provide a one-of-a-kind vehicle testing “ecosystem” for developing and testing smart mobility technology.

“Transportation is evolving, and mobility technology solutions that have and will be tested on the 33 Smart Mobility Corridor will save lives,” noted Jack Marchbanks, Ohio DOT’s director, in a statement. “The partnership framework we have established during this project is a model for future programs across the state, as we work to improve the quality of life for all Ohioans.”

“We know that connected and automated vehicle technology will continue to mature and scale at an ever-increasing pace,” added Howard Wood, executive director of DriveOhio, which is a division of the Ohio DOT. “As these systems are tested and refined, infrastructure plays a major role in the development cycle as mobility technology interphases with our legacy transportation system.”

“[This] corridor enables us to conduct real-world testing of our SAFE SWARM technology, which uses vehicle-to-everything communication to help mitigate collisions, improve traffic flow, increase fuel efficiency for all road users, and prepare for higher-levels of automated driving features,” said Sue Bai, chief engineer at Honda Research Institute USA, Inc.

Currently, Honda is operating over 200 connected vehicles along the corridor to understand how technology impacts the customer and realize a connected ecosystem that protects everyone sharing the road, including pedestrians, motorcycles, and bicyclists.

“This initiative is helping us develop the transportation ecosystem of the future with like-minded partners in the auto industry, government, academia, and the private sector,” Bai added.

Nevada DOT Offering “Water-Smart” Advice to State Residents

The Environmental Division of the Nevada Department of Transportation is offering state residents landscaping advice on pesticide and herbicide use as well as “water-smart practices” when conducting residential landscaping activities.

[Above photo by the Southern Nevada Water Authority]

“Most people are surprised to learn that homes can be a source of pollution,” explained James Murphy, the Environmental Division’s program manager within Nevada DOT, in a statement – noting that his division oversees disciplines such as stormwater, air quality, noise, wildlife biology, environmental engineering, and cultural resources.

“We encourage Nevada residents to take steps to avoid polluting our waterways, such as avoiding overwatering and applying pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers sparingly, with caution, and per product labeling,” he said.

Murphy explained that, in Nevada, sewer systems and stormwater drains are separate systems. Water that goes down the drain inside a home via toilet or sink goes to a wastewater treatment plant where it is treated and filtered. Conversely, water that flows down driveways and streets into gutters goes directly into a storm drain that flows untreated into lakes, rivers and streams.

Thus runoff from landscaped areas may contain fertilizers, pesticides or other materials that are harmful to lakes and streams, stressed Charles Schembre, an environmental scientist with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

He explained that the most important thing residents could do to prevent stormwater contamination from landscaping activities is to avoid watering the sidewalk. Installing a buffer between the lawn and sidewalk – such as rocks, woody mulch or plants – will prevent runoff onto the sidewalk. This is a critical component in reducing runoff of pollutants into storm drains, he said.

Other tips include:

  • Use “healthy soil” practices and use organic fertilizers and pesticides sparingly; make sure to follow product label instructions.
  • Consider planting trees, seeds and plants that are native to Nevada, which require less water.
  • Use “selective” herbicide applications to target just weeds and avoid affecting desirable plant species. Avoid spraying during conditions where herbicides may drift to non-target plant species – specifically when wind speeds are greater than 15 mph.
  • Use organic mulch or other pest control methods whenever possible.
  • Install a buffer between the lawn and sidewalk to prevent irrigation runoff onto the sidewalk.
  • Pick up pet waste and dispose of it properly.
  • Use a commercial car wash or wash your car on the grass so the water infiltrates into the ground instead of spilling into storm drains.

Small Alabama Town Overcomes Barriers to Establish All-Electric Ferry

For two years, the Alabama Department of Transportation has quietly run an all-electric passenger and vehicle ferry, giving a tiny African-American community the distinction of having the only such vessel in the United States.

[Photo courtesy of the Alabama DOT.]

The story of how this unique ferry wound up in Gee’s Bend exemplifies the fundamental role transportation plays in civil rights, environmental, and social justice issues.

In the 1900s, Gee’s Bend had a hand-powered ferry – a wooden raft tethered to a cable stretched across the Alabama River. The old ferry linked Gee’s Bend – a community of about 300 people – to Camden, the county seat, where most of the grocery stores, schools, medical facilities, and government offices – including the voting registrar – are established. Without it, a 15-minute drive from Gee’s Bend to Camden turns into an hour-long journey.

“God blessed us to be able to have this ferry,” said Mary Ann Pettway, a champion African-American quilter and lifelong resident of Gee’s Bend. “That ferry is very important to all of us.”

Photo courtesy of the Alabama DOT.

However, as the civil rights movement rippled through Gee’s Bend in the 1960s, the ferry disappeared without explanation. The truth of its demise is as murky as the river it crossed, but the loss symbolized a host of injustices heaped upon the people of Gee’s Bend, who had limited access to jobs, education, medical care or emergency services.

That all began to change one night in 1993 when Hollis Curl – owner of The Wilcox Progressive Era, the county newspaper – looked across the river toward Gee’s Bend and saw smoke rising from a house fire. He knew the house was doomed and everyone inside was in danger because there was no ferry to get firefighters there in time.

“When I was a child, I remember him talking about it,” said Ethan Van Sice, the grandson of Curl, who died in 2010. “People’s houses were being burned down. He saw that smoke across the river and I think something in him clicked.”

Curl penned a front-page editorial, arguing that re-establishing the ferry would be good for both communities. The increased mobility, Curl wrote, would provide the children in Gee’s Bend with a chance at a better education and a better quality of life for everyone.

People in Camden were astonished at the newspaper’s editorial shift, but Curl’s words left them unmoved.

“It wasn’t totally received well,” Van Sice said.

Undeterred, Curl started a crusade to re-establish the ferry – and he found a willing partner in the Alabama DOT or ALDOT.

“We saw a need there,” said Josh Phillips, a public information officer for the agency. “We said, ‘We need to find a way to make this happen.’ It became a special project for ALDOT.”

Photo courtesy of the Alabama DOT.

After years of planning and some federal funding, the Alabama DOT finished the ferry in 2006, reconnecting Gee’s Bend to the rest of the world.

The ferry broke down often, however, and the service was unreliable. Ultimately, the agency decided to convert the ferry from diesel to electric power, replacing all the diesel components electric parts, lithium-ion batteries, cooling systems, and a computer and software package to orchestrate the operation.

The Alabama DOT also negotiated with two power companies to get sufficient electricity to each landing to re-charge the ferry’s massive batteries between trips.

In spring of 2019, it all came together, and the first all-electric ferry in the United States purred across the Alabama River from the Camden terminal to Gee’s Bend.

Mike Wilson of the Alabama DOT said other state departments of transportation can make the conversion to all-electric in certain situations.

“The technologies are pretty much off-the-shelf technologies, so it’s doable in the right circumstances,” he said. “Most operations that are trying to do something like this go to a hybrid boat simply because the routes are longer. Our route is such that we didn’t need to do that.”

Tim Aguirre, general manager of HMS Ferries Alabama, said the first lesson is “don’t start from scratch. There’s a lot of experience out there on this, and there are engineering firms that know how to do this.” Having the nation’s first all-electric ferry in Gee’s Bend is “a fascinating story with a neat outcome,” Aguirre said. “Ferries connect communities; they always have.”

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

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

[Above photo via The Ray.] 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona DOT Installing New LED Highway Lights to Save Energy, Money

The Arizona Department of Transportation recently started upgrading the lighting system inside the Interstate 10 Deck Park Tunnel north of downtown Phoenix – a project that should save both energy and money.

[Photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Transportation.]

The Deck Park Tunnel – which originally opened in August 1990 – currently uses an “old style” high-pressure sodium lighting system. The Arizona DOT is now replacing that old lighting system with 3,200 new light-emitting diode or LED fixtures; a $1.4 million project that should take several months to complete. The agency said in a statement that the new LED fixtures – expected to last well over 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 system.

ETAP Podcast: Spotlighting TRB’s 100th Annual Meeting

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast shines a light on the Transportation Research Board’s 100th annual meeting and the changes going on behind-the-scenes at TRB to prepare for the mobility challenges of the future.

Featuring Martin Palmer – engineering services manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation and co-chair of TRB’s Standing Committee on Environmental Analysis and Ecology – the podcast also discusses the all-virtual format for the organization’s 100th meeting; a format required due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It took six months for TRB to revamp its entire annual meeting program, to get the recordings and virtual platforms established,” he said. “While the virtual meeting will be different in the sense that while there will be fewer sessions, there is the potential for more participants. And no one has to worry about being turned away from a virtual session because there is always a seat available.”

Palmer also talks about how TRB has restructured its committee groups to meet new transportation challenges. “TRB has merged several committees – such as operations with safety – and formed several new groups, such as sustainability and resilience, transportation and society, and a committee devoted to the impact of extreme weather.”

One of the biggest topics up for discussion at TRB’s 100th annual meeting is how transportation could be affected during the transition to the Harris-Biden administration.

“As we transition to another administration, we expect policy changes,” Palmer noted. “Under the previous administration, we experienced a ‘re-visioning’ on how we looked at the Endangered Species Act, for example. So we expect some of those things to change, though it will take time to put such changes in place and move forward with them.”

To listen to this ETAP Podcast, click here.

VTrans Awards Mobility and Transportation Innovation Grants

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

[Photo courtesy of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.]

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

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

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

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

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

ETAP Podcast: Georgia DOT’s Innovative PEL Study

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

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

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

Website Tool Created to Support Roadside Solar Array Establishment

The Ray – a corporate venture devoted to roadway technology testing – and the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas-Austin are creating an interactive web-based tool to help state departments of transportation map out potential highway right-of-way (ROW) locations for solar energy arrays.

[Photo courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration]

According to the Webber Energy Group’s recent analysis, most states have more than 200 miles of interstate ROW suitable for solar energy development, which combined could generate up to 36 terawatt hours (TWh) per year of clean energy – providing approximately $4 billion in economic value to state DOTs.

The group analyzed the unpaved roadside areas at exits on the U.S. interstate system for solar energy generation potential and through this new interactive web-based tool hosted at www.TheRay.org, each of the lower 48-states now have access to projections of how much solar energy could be generated on their interstate exits.

“Interstate solar just makes sense,” said Harriet Langford, founder and president of The Ray, in a statement. “As our transportation systems become smarter and electrified, we will need more energy available, closer to the interstate and interstate exits, and more funding to support the infrastructure demands. By enabling renewable energy generation using the idle roadsides, our state DOTs can help to fill this gap.”

Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

“The aim of this project is to provide a report and mapping tool by which state DOTs or other interested parties can assess the potential for installing solar in the interstate ROW in all contiguous 48 states,” added Michael Webber, a professor of mechanical engineering at UT. “Our goal with this study: to help people understand the potential for interstate solar so that policymakers, developers, and investors have a clearer view of the opportunity.”

Interstate roadsides are appealing areas for renewable energy development for many reasons, he said, including: unshaded acreage; ease of access; public ownership status; and lack of competing development efforts. Because exits have more room to accommodate the transportation safety requirements, such as safety setbacks, they are ideal locations for solar development, Webber noted.

Individually, most states have interstate solar potential in the thousands of gigawatt hours (GWh) per year. At a typical retail price for electricity of roughly 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (KWh) and a wholesale price of two cents per KWh, this means states could generate carbon-free electricity with millions of dollars’ worth of value – anywhere from $2.5 million to $181.4 million annually, the group’s research indicated.

State DOTs can also take advantage of operational cost savings, the Webber Energy Group noted – such as through reduced roadside maintenance and reduced energy costs – and even build new revenue streams over the lifetime of such solar array projects, which could be 30 years or more.

“On day one of these projects, state DOTs win,” emphasized Laura Rogers, director of strategic partnerships at The Ray. “State DOTs have a lot of options when structuring ROW renewable energy projects.”

Depending on their priorities and goals, state DOTs can own the renewable energy system and use or sell the clean energy generated, she said – or they can work with a solar developer who owns the system and collect a land fee, while at the same time transferring land maintenance obligations to that developer. “No matter how they decide to structure the deal, state DOTs win on all fronts by optimizing underutilized land to generate clean renewable energy that benefits their communities, the environment, and their budgets,” Rogers added.