FHWA Seeks 2024 EEA Program Entries

Now through November 3, the Federal Highway Administration will be accepting nominations for its 2024 Environmental Excellence Awards or EEA program.

[Above image via FHWA]

Since the program started in 1995, the 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.

[Editor’s note: The FHWA pointed to the 2022 EEA program winners to show how such projects exemplify the agency’s priorities of climate change and sustainability, equity and environmental justice, complete streets, economic strength, and safety for all road users.]

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.

FHWA noted that it accepts nominations for any project, process, group, or individuals involved in a project or process that has used agency funding to make an “outstanding contribution” to both transportation and the environment.

All nominations must be submitted electronically using the online submission form available via the award’s web portal, FHWA said, but if for any reason the electronic submittal of entries is not possible, faxed and mailed copies are acceptable. For more information about the submission of entries, please contact EEAwardsNomination@dot.gov.

INDOT Uses Dry Ice for Safer Graffiti Removal Operations

Removing graffiti from bridge pillars and other structures can be an arduous and sometime hazardous process, especially when using sandblasting equipment to scour concrete surfaces clean. That’s why the Indiana Department of Transportation is now using dry ice instead.

[Above photo by INDOT]

Compared to traditional scouring methods using salt or sand to remove graffiti, INDOT found that “dry ice blasting” provides a safer and more eco-friendly alternative.

Sandblasting, while effective, can generate significant amounts of dust and debris, the agency noted. Dry ice blasting, on the other hand, works by shooting small carbon dioxide pellets at surfaces at high speeds that evaporate on impact. 

[Editor’s note: The video below shows how dry ice blasting is used in the manufacturing sector as a cleaning method for various types of metal machinery.]

Developed in-house by INDOT employees, the agency said its dry ice blasting method for graffiti removal increases safety for workers by eliminating dust and particles they might breathe in; leaves no residue behind due to the dry ice evaporating on impact; increases efficiency and saves time by eliminating the need for cleanup; and minimizes the impact on the environment and waste production.

DriveOhio Putting Automated Vehicles on Rural Roads

Automated vehicles are slated to begin operating on rural roadways in central and southeast Ohio as part of the Rural Automated Driving Systems or RADS project spearheaded by DriveOhio, a division of the Ohio Department of Transportation.

[Above photo by DriveOhio]

Funded in part by a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, this project aims to demonstrate how connected and automated semi-trucks and passenger vehicles could improve safety for drivers, passengers, and other travelers in rural settings. The project, which focuses on 32 counties in Ohio’s rural Appalachian region, is the most comprehensive testing effort yet to be conducted on rural roads in the United States.

It is focused on gathering data on how automated vehicles operate in rural areas when navigating around curves, over hills, and in and out of shaded areas, according to DriveOhio Executive Director Preeti Choudhary.

“Automated driving systems are expected to transform roadway safety in the future, and the data collected with this project will be used to refine the technology to maximize its potential,” she explained in a statement. “This critical work will provide valuable information to help advance the safe integration of automated vehicle technologies in Ohio and across the nation.”

“The rural Appalachian area surrounding Ohio University would greatly benefit from using autonomous vehicles to deliver goods and transport people, but the road conditions are very different than urban and suburban regions,” said Jay Wilhelm, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the school, which is assisting with the rural road tests.

 “This project gives us an incredible opportunity to test automated vehicles in rural areas and gather data to demonstrate the unique challenges and work towards solutions,” he said. “Our goal is to bridge the technology gap in rural Appalachian communities so automated vehicles can improve quality of life throughout the region.”

[Editor’s note: In October 2021, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials published a policy paper outlining the 10 key policy principles needed for connected and automated vehicles or CAVs – a paper intended to be a “living document,” reviewed and updated every year to reflect changes in technology and policy. To access that paper, click here.]

DriveOhio noted that the vehicles being used in its rural roadway project have already undergone testing at the 4,500-acre proving grounds operated by the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, Ohio –providing closed roadway testing over a full range of navigational situations that are encountered in everyday driving before the driving automation system equipped vehicles are taken onto public roadways and highways. 

In addition to rigorous testing at the TRC, the deployment relies on high-definition mapping of specific routes that is then verified by professional drivers before engaging the automated technology. These maps provide the advanced driving system precise information about the surrounding environment including explicit roadway characteristics such as lane widths and the location of signals, crosswalks, and nearby buildings.

The first part of this rural road test involves three passenger vehicles equipped with AutomouStuff technology traveling on divided highways and rural two-lane roads in Athens and Vinton counties. They will be tested in different operational and environmental conditions, including in periods of limited visibility and in work zones. When the automated driving system is engaged, the technology will control steering, acceleration, and braking. Throughout the year-long deployment, a professional driver will always be in the driver’s seat with their hands on the wheel, ready to take over if needed.

“Many vehicles on the road today already have some degree of automated driving system technologies like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, or emergency braking,” DriveOhio’s Choudhary noted. “Those systems are meant to enhance safety, but they certainly don’t replace the human driver.”

The second part of the test features a pair of 53-foot platoon-equipped tractor-trailers connected by technology that enables them to travel closely together at highway speeds. When the trucks are connected, the lead vehicle controls the speed, and the following vehicle will precisely match braking and acceleration to respond to the lead vehicle’s movement.

The trucks used in this project are equipped with radar to detect other vehicles. This technology allows the trucks to monitor and react to the environment around them in certain ways, such as following the lead vehicle and responding to slower-moving traffic; however, human engagement in the driving task is critical. Like the first deployment, a professional driver will always be in the driver’s seat with their hands on the wheel, DriveOhio said. 

The trucks will first be deployed on the 35-mile U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor, specifically designed for testing smart and connected vehicles. Later in 2023, a private fleet will begin using the trucks in their day-to-day business operations.

In addition to benefits like increased efficiency and reduced fuel consumption for fleets, the development of this technology ultimately aims to reduce human error, making Ohio’s roads safer, Choudhary stressed.

Other state departments of transportation are engaged in similar automated vehicle testing.

For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is participating in autonomous transit vehicle testing in Philadelphia, along with researchers from Drexel University and consulting firm AECOM. The testing involves a mid-size electric autonomous shuttle bus shuttling passengers from the Philadelphia Navy Yard to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s NRG Station through the spring of 2023.

Meanwhile, in August 2022, the Minnesota Department of Transportation helped launch a free, low-speed, driverless, all-electric, multi-passenger shuttle service called “Bear Tracks” for the city of White Bear Lake.

In March 2022, the North Dakota Department of Transportation issued funds to support a range of autonomous systems research aimed at helping the agency develop and maintain the state’s transportation system.

Additionally, the Virginia Department of Transportation helped vehicle maker Audi of America test a cellular vehicle-to-everything or C-V2X system over a two-year period that incorporated autonomous operations as well as other safety innovations.

Utah DOT Preps Howitzers for Avalanche Control

Crews with the Utah Department of Transportation recently test-fired howitzers used to create controlled avalanches on state routes in the Big and Little Cottonwood canyons; part of the agency’s plan to ensure motorist safety on roads potentially threatened by avalanches, while also protecting said roads from avalanche damage.

[Above photo by the Utah DOT]

“Our goal is to make sure people can travel safely in our canyons throughout the winter,” said Steven Clark, Utah DOT avalanche program manager, in a statement. “We’re always working to keep these vital highways open as much as possible.”

[Editor’s note: A panel discussion held at the 2019 TransComm meeting in Indianapolis stressed that more public outreach on the part of state departments of transportation regarding snow and ice removal operational needs is critical to creating a safer and more efficient highway system during the winter season.]

During the test-firing process, he said crews verify predetermined targets in known avalanche areas. This ensures the agency can fire the howitzers in inclement weather when targets are not visible – using target information confirmed during the test-firing process.

In addition to howitzers, Utah DOT avalanche control methods include explosives placed by hand or dropped by helicopter and ‘Avalaunchers,’ which use compressed gas to launch a small explosive. Agency crews also use remote avalanche control systems or RACS, which are small towers installed on known avalanche paths that use fuel/air mixtures to create small, pinpoint explosions when remotely activated by Utah DOT crews.

Those various tools provide several options for controlling avalanches on the approximately 70 avalanche paths in Little Cottonwood Canyon that cross SR-210, as well as other highways with avalanche risk such as SR-190 in Big Cottonwood and US-189 in Provo Canyon.

“Utah DOT is one of the leaders in transportation avalanche mitigation,” Clark said. “We utilize the newest technologies and are always looking to incorporate new techniques and equipment to ensure safety for all canyon travelers.”

Several state DOTs with mountain roads in their care tap into various avalanche control methods similar to those used by Utah DOT and different techniques.

For example, the Washington State Department of Transportation uses several “passive” control methods to manage snow slides. These include elevated roadways so avalanches pass under them and catchment basins to stop the avalanche before snow reaches the highway. WSDOT also uses use diversion dams and snow berms to keep the snow off the highway, the agency said.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Transportation coordinates with its sister agency, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center or CAIC, to regularly monitor and control 278 of 522 known avalanche paths located above highways across the state. Their joint weather forecasting effort helps prevent avalanches from affecting drivers and passengers on the roads within those avalanche zones.

How Arizona DOT Reuses Materials

The Arizona Department of Transportation recently outlined how it reuses a variety of highway construction materials – such as asphalt, concrete, and steel – to reduce overall transportation project costs and preserve the environment.

[Above photo by the Arizona DOT]

“We reuse as much as we can so nothing goes to waste,” explained Kole Dea, senior resident engineer with the Arizona DOT, in a blog post. “If something can’t go back into the project, then it’s recycled.”

Dea used the I-10 Broadway Curve Improvement Project to highlight how the agency reuses and recycles highway construction materials – both as part of the same project as well as externally on different projects.

For example, when construction began on the I-10 Broadway Curve project in summer 2021, crews removed the rubberized asphalt from the surfaces of I-10 and US 60 in the project area. That work created 1.3 million square yards of asphalt millings, which then formed the base layer for temporary haul roads in the project area. Millings provide a strong base for trucks and equipment to drive on, and they reduce dust – another plus for the environment. Furthermore, the agency mixed those millings with dirt to build embankments to provide additional support to those temporary roadways. Outside of the project area, Arizona DOT said it uses millings on maintenance roads in unpaved areas. 

As the agency removes walls and other concrete structures to make way for new construction, they are broken up to serve a new purpose. Arizona DOT said its crews use equipment to break each piece into sizes no larger than 24 inches. Those pieces then become fill material for building up approaches for new bridges. They also fill in holes or otherwise supplement unstable materials in the project area.

The agency also removes steel rebar and other metal materials and takes them to a recycling facility – pointing out that recycled steel is as strong and durable as new steel made from iron ore.

Arizona DOT stressed that it works in compliance with state and federal regulations to ensure all reused materials do not threaten the environment. For example, the agency tests the paint stripes on milled asphalt to ensure it does not contain lead, and that old pipes or bridge structures are free from asbestos.

Several state departments of transportation have reused materials left over from highway and other transportation infrastructure projects for a variety of purposes – especially environmentally focused ones.

For example, in 2021, the Maryland Department of Transportation began oversight of contracts with two Maryland companies to make bricks, pavers, concrete highway barriers, and shoreline supports – among other structures – from dredged material cleared from a shipping channel within the Port of Baltimore.

In addition, in early 2022, the North Carolina Department of Transportation provided more than 1,000 tons of damaged concrete pipe to help the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries shore up two artificial reefs.

FHWA Issues ‘Climate Challenge’ Funds to 25 State DOTs

On October 20, the Federal Highway Administration provided $7.1 million in total funds to 25 state departments of transportation involved in the agency’s ‘Climate Challenge’ program. This is the program’s first funding cycle, FHWA said.

[Above photo by the Oklahoma DOT]

The agency launched its Climate Challenge initiative to quantify the impacts of sustainable pavements and to demonstrate ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in highway projects using sustainable construction materials. That effort is part of a broad array of climate-focused programs FHWA kicked off in April.

“As the sector of the U.S. economy that produces the most carbon emissions, transportation must be a central arena for solutions in our fight against climate change,” said Pete Buttigieg, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, in a statement.

“Sustainable pavement may not sound glamorous, but it’s an example of the kind of creative and important work needed at this moment, and we’re proud to support innovative efforts in this field across the country,” he noted.

State DOTs that received awards include:

  • The Rhode Island Department of Transportation received a $312,000 grant to support a $1 million project to coat a 2,000-foot section of North Road where it crosses Great Creek with permeable pavement. This project seeks to demonstrate the viability of using permeable pavement as a way to mitigate the impacts of coastal flooding on low-lying roads.
  • The Hawaii Department of Transportation received a $312,000 grant to help build a $6 million plastic recycling research facility. Expected to be up and running within two years, the facility seeks to convert waste plastic into new products for use in transportation infrastructure projects.
  • The Maryland Department of Transportation received a pair of grants to investigate the service life and environmental performance of products and materials used in highway projects, such as asphalt and concrete, as well as how dredged material from port construction could create vegetated earth berms to help control erosion at highway project sites.

The Climate Challenge Initiative is part of an FHWA-wide effort announced during Earth Week 2022 to identify innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from the transportation sector. It also supports the new Carbon Reduction Program FHWA rolled out in April that provides $6.4 billion in formula funding over five years for states and localities to develop carbon reduction strategies and other climate change issues.

FHWA’s Climate Challenge program provides funding, training, and technical assistance to help state DOTs and other public sector stakeholders explore the use of Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). Together, LCAs and EPDs illustrate the environmental impacts of pavement materials and products, including quantifying GHG emissions. These standard practices can inform decisions for highway construction projects, pavement material, and design.

During this cycle of Climate Challenge funding, FHWA plans to host peer exchanges and webinars and develop case study reports to share lessons learned, outcomes, and next steps for further implementation. Over the next two years, participants will receive training and work with various stakeholders including industry and academia to implement projects that quantify the environmental impacts of pavements using LCAs and EPDs.

USDOT, DOE Help Push Sustainable Aviation Fuel Development

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Department of Energy recently released the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge Roadmap as part of what they dubbed a “government-wide strategy” for scaling up sustainable aviation fuel production across the country.

[Above photo by DOE]

That roadmap – a collaboration between USDOT, DOE, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency – outlines actions designed to spur technological innovation to produce sustainable aviation fuel or SAF, reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions, and enable the United States to meet its domestic climate goals. It also seeks to position the United States as a “global leader” in the emerging SAF market.  

Made from renewable biomass and other resources, including winter oilseed crops, agricultural and forestry residues, and municipal solid waste streams, USDOT said there is enough collectible biomass available in the U.S. to produce 50 billion to 60 billion gallons of low-carbon fuels annually.

According to a joint USDOT and DOE statement, the SAF Grand Challenge Roadmap aligns government and industry actions to achieve the three major goals of the SAF Grand Challenge outlined by those agencies in 2021: 

  • Achieve a minimum of a 50 percent reduction in life cycle GHG emissions compared to conventional fuel; 
  • Produce three billion gallons of SAF per year by 2030; and 
  • Supply sufficient SAF to meet 100 percent of aviation fuel demand by 2050. 

USDOT noted that U.S. commercial aviation currently consumes approximately 10 percent of all transportation energy and is a significant contributor to domestic GHG emissions. SAF has the potential to deliver the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel, but with a fraction of its carbon footprint, USDOT added – adding that “emerging SAF” pathways even offer the potential for a “net-negative” GHG footprint.

State departments are engaged in similar sustainable aviation promotion efforts.

For example, on September 23, the aviation division of the Washington State Department of Transportation began accepting applications for a new airport grant program that funds sustainable aviation projects.

The agency said in a statement that such projects may include electrification of ground support equipment; electric aircraft charging infrastructure; airport clean power production; electric vehicle charging stations or fuel cell electric vehicle hydrogen stations whose infrastructure may also support ground support equipment and/or electric aircraft charging; and sustainable aviation fuel storage.

Landscaping Key Part of RIDOT Airport Connector Project

A $12.9 million Airport Connector resurfacing project in Warwick, RI, is going to include a “massive” landscaping effort that will provide more than 400 plants and trees in both the median and the shoulder of the new roadway.

[Above photo by RIDOT]

Governor Dan McKee (D) and Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti, Jr., hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the new project for a variety of federal, state, and local officials on July 18.

The governor noted in a statement that RIDOT is blending the Airport Connector’s landscaping “seamlessly” with similar plantings around Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport to create a more “visually appealing” gateway for the state.

“For thousands of visitors to Rhode Island, the Airport Connector is Rhode Island’s welcome mat,” Governor McKee said. “These improvements will make vital safety improvements while providing a great first impression of our great state.”

The new road surface will give the 20,000 vehicles a safer riding surface when traveling the one-mile Airport Connector and three miles of Route 1 and Route 1A (known as the “Post Road”) from Coronado Road to Warwick Avenue.

In addition to new pavement, the project design eliminates hazardous drop-offs and includes new high-visibility pavement markers while improving pedestrian access conditions along Post Road with new sidewalks and pedestrian ramps.

On the I-95 southbound ramp, the project – scheduled for completion in June 2023 – will replace the median guardrail and install a grass swale, RIDOT said.

“Rhode Islanders have seen the transformation in our roads and bridges, and thanks to the new [$1.2 trillion] Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, we will be kicking our paving program into high gear and providing the type of safe, smooth roadways Rhode Islanders and all visitors to Rhode Island expect and deserve,” noted RIDOT Director Alviti.

He added that this project is part of the $92 million RIDOT plans to spend on paving projects in 2022 as well as part of the $492 million slated for statewide paving work over the next five years.

The incorporation of landscaping efforts as part of this RIDOT roadway project is something other state departments of transportation are mimicking in other parts of the country.

For example, in November 2021, the Ohio Department of Transportation made final changes to its Opportunity Corridor Boulevard Project in Cleveland; an undertaking specifically designed to revitalize the neighborhood between I-490 and University Circle once known as the “Forgotten Triangle” due to the lack of economic activity.

The new 35-mph boulevard-type road includes a median, traffic signals, new pedestrian and bicycle paths, tree lawns, and landscaping. It also includes a collection of vehicular, pedestrian, and railroad bridges.

“Transportation is about connecting people. This isn’t just an investment in asphalt, concrete, and steel, this is an investment in people, business, and opportunity,” said Governor Mike DeWine (R) at the time.

Tennessee DOT Helps Turn Old Tires into Walking Trail

An eyesore of thousands of dumped tires were recently recycled into material for a hard-surface walking and biking trail at the Tennessee state park in Memphis they once littered, thanks in part to a grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

[Above photo by the Tennessee DOT]

The Tennessee DOT and Tennessee State Parks recently opened the 2.5-mile-long walking and biking trail at T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis. Billed as one of the longest rubber-bearing trails in the country, the new trail is primarily composed of 24,000 recycled tires.

Tennessee DOT issued a $200,000 litter grant to support the trail project, which shredded those 24,000 abandoned tires into quarter-inch pieces of crumb rubber. A federal recreational trails program provided another $280,000, with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation or TDEC providing an additional $250,000 grant.

“Litter and illegal dumping are costly and damaging to Tennessee,” explained Joseph Galbato, III, who until recently served as Tennessee DOT’s interim commissioner, in a statement.

[In May, Governor Bill Lee (R) appointed Deputy Governor Butch Eley to serve as the agency’s commissioner in addition to Eley’s current duties.]

“We are thankful for collaborative partnerships like the ‘Tires to Trails’ project which not only addresses the litter problem but turns it into a meaningful and positive long-lasting resource for the community,” Galbato added.

Michael McClanahan, an outreach specialist with Tennessee DOT, getting his hands dirty to help pull tires out of the park.

The crumb rubber from the old tires – mixed with a rock aggregate and a polyurethane binder – does not include the metal from those tires, noted Brent Miller, manager of Patriot Tire Recycling in Bristol, TN.

Typically, recycled tires are shredded and used as fuel stock for power plants and paper mills, or made into doormats, he explained.

“This was the first time we’ve done a trail,” said Miller, whose company handles about a million tires a year.

Recycled tires can live a useful second life in some transportation applications. The crumb rubber creates a flexible roadway that resists cracking, requires less maintenance, and is easier on the feet of walkers and joggers, said Alle Crampton, environmental scientist, and manager of the Tire Environmental Act Program for the state.

The walkways also are porous, virtually reducing the stormwater runoff problems associated with concrete and asphalt. The water can soak through the trail and reach the root systems of trees, making it less likely that the root systems will expand and crack the walkway, Crampton said.

More than 400 volunteers collected the passenger, commercial truck, and heavy equipment tires from the park, with many of the volunteers coming from Tennessee DOT, TDEC, the City of Memphis, Shelby County, and Memphis City Beautiful.

T.O. Fuller State Park was the first state park open for African Americans east of the Mississippi River. Originally built in 1938, the state later renamed the park in honor of Dr. Thomas O. Fuller, a prominent African-American educator, pastor, politician, civic leader, and author.

Colorado Moving Forward with Clean Truck Strategy

The administration of Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) recently finalized its Clean Truck Strategy – initially unveiled in March – after what the governor described as “extensive public input.”

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

Developed by the Colorado Energy Office, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, the 27-page Clean Truck Strategy seeks to encourage the adoption of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks statewide, potentially reducing greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from those vehicles by at least 45 percent in Colorado by 2050.

Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles covered by Colorado’s Clean Truck Strategy include tractor-trailers, school buses, snowplows, delivery vans, large pick-up trucks, and many different vehicle types in between.

A separate 147-page study compiled by the Colorado Energy Office found that medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are the second-largest source of GHG emissions in the transportation sector, producing 22 percent of on-road GHG emissions despite making up less than 10 percent of the total Colorado vehicle population.

That study found if Colorado pursues an “accelerated transition” to zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicle models, it could cut GHG emissions by 45 percent to 59 percent, reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 percent to 93 percent, and reduce particulate matter emissions by 53 percent to 68 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

Those three state agencies said they would continue collaborating with stakeholders and initiating implementation on “near-term” actions over the next few months, including:

Those agencies also expect to update the Clean Truck Strategy every two years to respond to “evolving market and lessons” learned from implementing the plan’s near-term requirements. “Colorado has enormous opportunities to reduce pollution and improve quality of life by transitioning from diesel to zero-emission trucks and buses,” explained Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, in a statement. “This strategic plan creates a framework for achieving big things through investment, collaboration, and regulation.”