Caltrans Awards $312M for Beautification Projects

As part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s landmark $1.1 billion Clean California initiative, the California Department of Transportation recently awarded $312 million for 126 beautification projects along the state’s highway system.

[Above photo by Caltrans]

Developed in close collaboration with tribal and local governments, non-profits, and businesses, those 126 beautification projects – due to begin in April – include art installations, green space (such as parks or community gardens), and proposals that “improve safety and promote community connections.”

Designed to foster cultural connections and civic pride, Caltrans noted in a statement that those projects should generate 3,600 jobs as part of the governor’s multi-year cleanup initiative to remove trash and beautify community gateways and public areas along highways, streets, and roads. The agency added that roughly 98 percent of those beautification projects would benefit historically underserved or excluded communities.

“With Clean California projects transforming more and more sites across the state, we’re taking the next step to create enriching public spaces that serve the needs of our diverse communities and that all of us can take pride in – starting in the neighborhoods that need it most,” said Governor Gavin Newsom (D) in a separate statement. “Working together, the state and local governments are advancing unique beautification projects that will make a positive impact for years to come.”

In addition to these awards for Clean California projects along the state right-of-way, the governor announced in December 2021 the availability of almost $300 million in grants to cities and counties for local projects that “clean and beautify” neighborhood streets, parks, and transit centers throughout California.

Caltrans will review the project proposals from cities, counties, transit agencies, tribal governments, and other governmental entities, then announce grant recipients on March 1.

Over the next three years, Caltrans estimates that the “Clean California” program will remove an additional 1.2 million cubic yards, or 21,000 tons, of trash from the state highway system alone. The initiative has already resulted in 6,300 tons of litter being removed from the State Highway System and, to date, Caltrans has hired 528 new team members, including 428 maintenance workers who collect litter and perform maintenance duties like graffiti removal.

Colorado DOT Issues Transportation Demand Grants

The Colorado Department of Transportation recently awarded $492,000 in grants to communities and organizations statewide in support of “transportation demand management” strategies that help relieve traffic congestion and lower greenhouse gas or GHG emissions.

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

“We’ve known for a long time that we can’t simply build our way out of congestion, and we’re proud to help these pioneering communities and organizations give people more options for traveling,” explained Shoshana Lew, Colorado DOT’s executive director, in a statement.

“Transportation demand management strategies can help manage congestion, restore air quality and reduce emissions,” she said. “They can also make communities more thriving and sustainable.”

Colorado DOT explained that transportation demand management seeks to provide travelers with more travel choices instead of relying on single-vehicle occupancy vehicles. Such choices can include mode, route, time of travel, and work location, the agency added.

Common transportation demand management strategies focus on transit, “micro-mobility” such as bikes and scooters, improvements to pedestrian infrastructure, smart growth policies, intelligent transportation systems, managed lanes, and the encouragement of “e-work” or remote work options. While such approaches are more common in large urban areas, Colorado DOT said many smaller communities could benefit from them as well – with its grant program designed to help them do so.

“There are organizations in the metro area that have been doing great work on these strategies for many years,” noted Kay Kelly, chief of innovative mobility for Colorado DOT. “We’re excited to see these grants help existing groups scale up successful projects and to be encouraging innovation and expansion of transportation demand management efforts to new audiences statewide.”

Other state departments of transportation are engaged in similar efforts.

For example, the Vermont Agency of Transportation awarded roughly $500,000 in grants via the Mobility and Transportation Innovation or MTI program in December 2021 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 GHGs.

The agency noted that Vermont’s legislature specifically created that program with the passage of the state’s 2020 Transportation Bill in June 2020.

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.