ETAP Podcast: A Look Ahead to TRB’s Annual Meeting

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast focuses on the upcoming Transportation Research Board’s 2022 Annual Meeting, held in Washington D.C. January 9-13, along with a preview for the TRB Sustainability and Emerging Transportation Technology Conference taking place March 15-18 in Irvine, CA.

For this podcast, Tim Sexton (seen above) – chief sustainability officer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Chair of TRB’s Transportation and Sustainability Committee – will provide an overview of both sessions. To listen to this podcast, click here.

[Above image via the Minnesota DOT]

The 101st annual TRB meeting also features U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as the keynote speaker for the plenary session. He will give opening remarks and then participate in a “fireside chat” on stage with the chair and vice-chair of TRB’s Executive Committee.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials along with several state departments of transportation will also be headlining several key sessions at TRB’s annual meeting as well.

Dr. Shawn Wilson – secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development – will lead a state DOT chief executive roundtable entitled “State DOTs: Creating Pathways to Equity.” Wilson has made equity one of his key emphasis areas during his yearlong tenure as AASHTO’s 2021-2022 president.

Roger Millar, secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation, will lead a panel entitled “State DOTs Partnering to Deliver Public Benefits of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” Millar – who serves as AASHTO’s 2021-2022 vice president – will delve into the disbursement specifics of the funding from the $1.2 trillion surface transportation law, passed in November 2021.

AASHTO’s Caroline Kieltyka will lead a session on “Supply Chain Disruptions: Public Agency Perspectives,” focusing on freight and maritime issues.

Additionally, AASHTO’s Matthew Hardy will lead a session entitled “Embracing the Triple Bottom Line: Incorporating Social Equity and Environmental Sustainability into Your Asset Management Program,” with a particular focus on infrastructure-related concerns.

TRB also plans to host a special session honoring the legacy of Francis B. Francois, who served as AASHTO’s executive director from 1980 to 1999. Francois passed away in February 2021 in Chicago at the age of 87.

ETAP Podcast: A Conversation with AASHTO President Shawn Wilson

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast revolves around a conversation with Shawn Wilson, Ph. D., (seen in above photo standing at podium) secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2021-2022 president. He is the first African-American elected to serve as AASHTO’s president in the organization’s 107-year history.

Dr. Wilson plans to use his one-year tenure as AASHTO’s president to “address the issues that matter” in the transportation industry, especially when it comes to promoting equity and encouraging participation in what he calls “non-traditional partnerships.”

One of Dr. Wilson’s his primary emphasis areas – entitled “Pathways to Equity” – is designed to intentionally expand opportunities within the state DOT community by creating a culture that identifies, trains, and empowers individuals in under-represented populations covering age, gender, ethnicity, and race.

“I’m interested in how we sustain that opportunity to achieve equity,” Dr. Wilson said. “How are we, as state DOTs, building a bench of leaders that reflects the population in the communities we serve? How do we diversify, not just with race, but also with gender, with disciplines? How do we change what we do as a department of transportation in a way that opens up the opportunity to recruit and retain a more capable, qualified, and inclusive professional workforce?”

His second emphasis area – “Partnering to Deliver” – is an AASHTO and state DOT initiative designed to create partnerships with non-traditional organizations, both transportation-related and non-transportation specific. The idea is to embrace the richness of differing perspectives represented in the broader transportation community, enhance awareness and strengthen understanding.

Dr. Wilson has a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Louisiana, a master’s degree in public administration from Southern University, and a doctorate in public policy from Southern University. A native of New Orleans, Dr. Wilson and his wife, Rocki, live in Lafayette, Louisiana. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.

To listen to this podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Reducing Negative Impacts of Traffic Noise

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Noel Alcala – noise and air quality coordinator at the Ohio Department of Transportation – discusses the negative impacts that traffic noise has on humans and the cost-effective solutions designed to mitigate it.

[Above photo of highway sound barrier construction by the Ohio DOT]

From loss of sleep to loss of hearing, excessive noise can pose a real threat– with recent reports identifying a possible link between noise exposure and dementia.

Traffic noise is a major contributor to such “noise pollution” that can contribute to negative health outcomes. However, better highway designs and sound barriers can mitigate the negative impact of traffic noise– and state departments of transportation are working on such solutions for those living near high-level traffic noise areas.

According to the noise barrier inventory maintained by the Federal Highway Administration, more than 3,000 linear miles of noise wall barriers have been built since the 1970s across the United States.

Such sound barriers remain an essential part of highway design and construction as the World Health Organization determined that prolonged exposure to high levels of noise “interferes with people’s daily activities … disturbs sleep, causes cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduces performance and provokes annoyance responses and changes in social behavior.”

Yet the cost of meeting those regulations and protecting the public against a vehicle’s roar— the predominant sound for cars is that of tire-pavement; for trucks, engine, and stack sounds – takes considerable funding.

For example, between 2014 and 2016, FHWA found that total construction costs for noise barriers topped $671 million in just a three-year period – an average of $2 million per mile of noise wall.

That’s why many state DOTs are trying to find ways to reduce the cost of noise abatement efforts, noted Alcala – who also leads the Noise Working Group with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Environment and Sustainability.

“The main goal of more accurate noise abatement modeling can result in cost reduction,” he explained. “Modeling noise levels more accurately can likely reduce costs noise wall in construction.”

To listen to the full podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Noise Working Group with Noel Alcala

From loss of sleep to loss of hearing, noise can pose a real threat. Recent studies have even identified a possible link between noise exposure and dementia. Traffic noise is a major contributor to noise pollution that fuels these negative health outcomes. Tires hitting pavement make up the majority of highway noise. Better modeling and barriers can work to mitigate this for folks living near areas with high levels of noise- and DOT practitioners are working toward such solutions for all affected.

Joining us on the podcast today is Noel Alcala, Noise and Air Quality Coordinator at the Ohio Department of Transportation. Noel also heads the AASHTO Noise Working Group, which operates under the Committee on Environment and Sustainability. The noise working group convenes state DOTs and promotes discourse on, and works in reducing traffic noise and its negative effects.

ETAP Podcast: Identifying the Benefits of the Infrastructure Bill

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Joung Lee (seen above) — director of policy and government relations for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – discusses the potential benefits of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill being debated in Congress.

The House of Representatives currently plans to vote on the infrastructure bill – formally known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA and passed with bipartisan support by the Senate in mid-August – at the end of October. The House delayed votes on the measure originally scheduled on September 27 and then September 30 as factions of the Democratic Party fought over legislative and funding priorities involving the much larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill covering social programs.

Late on October 1, the House passed a 30-day surface transportation funding extension measure, which expires October 31, to provide more time for legislators to find a way around the infrastructure bill impasse. The Senate subsequently passed that extension on October 2, with President Biden signing it into law that same day.

Lee – who also serves as the staff liaison to AASHTO’s Transportation Policy Forum – noted in the podcast that AASHTO has successfully represented the interests of state departments of transportation within the infrastructure bill. He noted, for example, that the most recent version of the bill incorporates four out of five of AASHTO’s core priorities.

To listen to the full podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Reducing Rolling Resistance Lowers Emissions

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Mark Hoffman –assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Auburn University – and Karl Bohnenberger, his research assistant, explain how reducing the amount of energy required to keep a vehicle tire rolling can help lower greenhouse gas or GHG emissions.

[Above photo via Wikipedia Commons]

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, conventionally fueled vehicles use up 11 percent of their fuel to keep their tires rolling, while electric vehicles use up to 25 percent of their energy for this purpose.

Thus, reducing rolling resistance presents a “valuable opportunity” to improve vehicle efficiency and reduce the transportation sector’s carbon footprint simultaneously, argue Hoffman and Bohnenberger. To listen to this podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Arizona DOT Talks Monarch Butterfly Needs

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Kris Gade, Ph.D. – a roadside resource specialist with the Arizona Department of Transportation – discusses Monarch butterfly conservation efforts; a butterfly species that’s experienced a dramatic dip in population over the past few decades.

[Above photo via Wikimedia Commons]

Once ubiquitous in North America and known by its striking orange and black wings. Monarch butterflies play a vital role as pollinators – helping support healthy plant ecosystems from the Great Smoky Mountains to Zion National Park.

[Editor’s note: In December 2020, the Transportation Research Board published a resource guide for state departments of transportation in their efforts to preserve and expand monarch butterfly habitat and support migration support efforts.]

As the eastern members of this iconic butterfly species prepare for their annual migration to Mexico, Gade explains on the podcast the ways state DOTs are helping support the Monarch’s survival and growth as a species.

To listen to this podcast, click here.

In March 2020, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials sent a two-page letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior supporting “expedited approval” of the voluntary national Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances or CCAA to further encourage the creation of pollinator habitats in highway rights-of-way – especially where the Monarch butterfly is concerned.

“The regulatory protections provided by this CCAA allow transportation agencies to continue vegetation management practices with less concern that these actions will lead to an increase in the costs of regulatory compliance if the monarch is listed under the Endangered Species Act,” AASHTO said in its letter. “We see the CCAA as advancing … guidance developed by the Federal Highway Administration on practices to support pollinator habitat,” the group added.

AASHTO’s ETAP Podcast: Monarch Butterfly Conservation with Kris Gade

Once ubiquitous in North America, the Monarch’s striking orange and black wings are likely the first image that comes to mind when picturing a butterfly. The Monarch is famed not only for its beauty but also for its role in a healthy ecosystem- the pollinators are a critical support to some uniquely American landmarks: from the Great Smoky Mountains to Zion National Park. Yet, over the past few decades, the Monarch has experienced a dramatic dip in population.

As the eastern members of this iconic species prepare for their annual migration to Mexico, we’ll sit down with Arizona Department of Transportation’s Roadside Resource Specialist, Kris Gade– one of the professionals leading the charge for Monarch conservation.

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.

ETAP Podcast: State Agency Partnerships and Transportation Climate Initiatives

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast explores how state agency partnerships are helping Connecticut achieve climate goals while also implementing the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program or TCI-P.

TCI-P is a multi-state effort to cap and reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from the transportation sector while at the same time generating revenues from carbon taxes to reinvest in cleaner transportation infrastructure.

In Connecticut, for example, TCI-P should generate roughly $1 billion in revenues from carbon taxes over the next decade, much of which will go towards supporting transportation systems.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D) added in a December 2020 statement that the TCI-P should reduce transportation-related GHGs in his state by at least 26 percent from 2022 to 2032. Meanwhile, he plans to re-invest revenues generated through TCI-P carbon taxes in “equitable and cleaner transportation options,” creating an employment program across transit, construction, and green energy – efforts that should serve as a “catalyst” for infrastructure development through the next decade and beyond.

State departments of transportation will play a critical role in deciding how to re-invest revenue-generated caps on emissions, according to Connecticut agencies involved with implementing TCI-P protocols.

Katie Dykes, Connecticut’s commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection or DEEP and Garrett Eucalitto, the deputy commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, explain during this episode of the ETAP podcast how their ongoing collaboration will help implement the TCI-P agreement and how it will affect the state’s transportation sector and, ultimately, benefit the public.

Click here to listen to this podcast.