ETAP Podcast: Revisiting Roadside Vegetation Management

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Matthew Quirey (seen above) – a  landscape design and research fellow with The Ray – explains how roadside landscapes, more often termed the “right-of-way,” are now being viewed as “habitat assets” instead of maintenance burdens among state departments of transportation.

[Above photo via The Ray]

“In general, we are thinking more about how right-of-ways are being redesigned to bring habitats back together – to serve not just as transportation corridors but ecosystem corridors as well,” he explained on the podcast.

In his work for The Ray – a public-private venture devoted to roadway technology testing along Interstate 85 in West Georgia – Quirey is studying how state DOTs are viewing roadside landscapes with a “stronger interest” toward ecological impacts, creation of wildlife habitat, and increased human well-being.

That includes how right-of-ways can serve as habitats for pollinators, contribute to better stormwater management in order to lessen pollution risks for nearby streams and rivers – incorporating sustainability and resiliency factors within more “environmentally sensitive” planning and design processes. To listen to this podcast, click here.

Georgia DOT Deploys ‘Lessons Learned’ for 2021 Hurricane Season

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s state maintenance office is tapping into five years’ worth of “lessons learned” to help fine-tune its storm response capabilities ahead of the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season – which lasts from June 1 through November 30.

[Above photo by the Georgia DOT]

“Over the last five years, after each weather or emergency event, Georgia DOT conducted after action reviews to address key takeaways, identify gaps in operations and brainstorm best practices for moving forward,” explained Larry Barnes, Georgia DOT’s assistant state maintenance engineer of emergency operations, in a statement.

“This effort has allowed us to continue to build up resources and develop more effective weather and emergency response plans to ensure that we are able to clear roads and restore mobility to Georgians as efficiently and safely as possible,” he said.

Photo by the Georgia DOT

Some of the storm response tactics developed from those takeaways include: 

  • Each of Georgia DOT’s seven districts now features a “Chainsaw and Emergency Response” trailer stocked and ready to go for debris removal operations. 
  • A hurricane gate contract for continued maintenance on all gates statewide to ensure they are ready for contraflow operations, if needed. 
  • Upgrading the agency’s WebEOC system – originally deployed in 2015 and used by its emergency operation center – to improve incident management, resource tracking, and mapping capabilities.
  • Securing debris clean-up contractors to clear both state routes and interstates post disaster, allowing Georgia DOT forces to work more efficiently and to provide off-system assistance to counties and local municipalities who request it. 
  • Improved communications through Sonims: rugged mobile devices that more robust communication capability for in-field teams during disaster recovery operations. Sonims can also track where crews have been working resulting in more efficient clean up, the Georgia DOT said. 
  • Increasing the number of mobile message boards, barrels, and cones available for hurricane-response needs.

The Georgia DOT added that, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 2021 hurricane season is expected to be “above average” with an anticipated 13 to 20 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and three to five “major” hurricanes –defined as Category 3 or greater – predicted to develop over the next six months.

California Transportation Commission Recommends $2B in New State Projects

The California Transportation Commission released recommendations on November 16 for a $2 billion three-year program to fund new projects to reduce traffic, improve goods movement, increase transit service, and invest in bicycle and pedestrian improvements across the state – projects that also would create more than 100,000 jobs statewide.

[Photo courtesy of the California Department of Transportation.]

The commission said that $2 billion in funding comes from three programs created by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 – the Solutions for Congested Corridors Program, the Trade Corridor Enhancement Program, and the Local Partnership Competitive Program.

Overall, approximately 60 percent of the $2 billion funding recommendation would go to areas in Southern California and 40 percent to areas in Northern California, which reflects the funding distribution historically used for transportation projects in California. This “geographic balance” ensures communities throughout the state share equitably in the transportation benefits and the jobs created, which will help the state’s economic recovery, the commission said.

“The projects we’re recommending will boost the state’s economy and help transform our transportation system to become more efficient,” said Mitch Weiss, the commission’s executive director, in a statement.

Mitch Weiss, Executive Director, California Transportation Commission. Photo courtesy CTC.

“We’re proposing large investments in transit and bicycling projects that will take cars off our roads, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in support of our climate goals,” he added. “We’re proposing investments in new lanes at choke points where trucks get stuck trying to move the goods our economy depends on, as well as carpool, express, and bus rapid transit lanes so people can get home from work faster to spend more time with their families.”

The proposed transit projects within that $2 billion program aim to make public transportation more accessible and reliable by adding new transit stations and modernizing and expanding services, the commission noted – pointing to the Bay Area Rapid Transit Train Control Modernization project as an example.

Transit projects such as that one are “critical for getting more people out of their cars and moving California toward its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030,” the commission stressed.

The freight sector, which is responsible for an estimated one-third of the state’s economy and jobs, also would benefit from projects to improve highway interchanges; add lanes at choke points for trucks; and upgrade truck inspection and border crossing facilities. For instance, the I-80 Cordelia Vehicle Enforcement Facility project would replace an outdated truck inspection facility along I-80 in Solano County with a new facility using “weigh-in-motion” scale technology, increasing freight volume by 8 million trucks over two decades. More broadly, the commission noted that it fit a variety of “multimodal” corridor projects within its $2 billion recommendation package – combining highway improvements, such as adding new merging lanes to smooth the flow of traffic and improve safety, with increased transit service and bicycle and pedestrian improvements on nearby streets to provide a safe alternative to driving.

State DOTs Win Regional Awards for Transportation Projects

Thirty-one transportation projects from 27 state departments of transportation around the country earned regional recognition in the 2020 America’s Transportation Awards competition for providing solutions that increase safety and save lives, make infrastructure more resilient, while improving the quality of life for their communities.

[Above photo courtesy of Montana DOT.]

“The people who planned, engineered and built these projects deserve recognition for the positive impacts they have provided through these investments in local communities,” said Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2019-2020 president, in a statement.

“Their work represents a dedication to connecting people and improving local economies while implementing creative solutions.”

Broken down by region, the winners are:

  • Five projects from four state DOTs (Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin) received top honors in the Midwest region.
  • Seven projects from five state DOTs (Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) received top honors in the Northeastern region.
  • Eight projects from five state DOTs (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia) received top honors in the Southern region.
  • Eleven projects from eight state DOTs (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington State) received top honors in the Western region.

The three highest-scoring projects from each regional competition earn a place on a “top 12” list of projects that will compete for the national Grand Prize – selected by an independent panel of industry judges – and the People’s Choice Award, which is selected by the general public through online voting.

Those top national winners each receive $10,000 cash awards that will be donated to a charity or scholarship of their choosing. Online voting for the People’s Choice Award began in August, with the top 12 national award winners to be announced later this year.

Webinar Series Focuses on Community Outreach Techniques

A webinar series sponsored by Smart Growth America is examining virtual public engagement practices for community outreach, examining a range of online platforms, as well as email and social media, as means of public involvement on projects and programs.

The group is holding three webinars on the subject, the first of which was held on April 28 and is now available via recording. The next two webinars are in June and cover:

“Online engagement might not be the best platform for every community to engage every citizen on every topic,” Smart Growth America noted. “But necessity is often the mother of invention and the need to stay home has exposed inequities and fostered innovations that have started many community leaders thinking about new and better ways to achieve wider and more meaningful representation in public decision-making.” For more information, registration, and recordings, click here.