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.

ETAP Podcast: Minnesota DOT’s ‘Rethinking I-94’ Project

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast focuses on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s “Rethinking I-94 project.” The agency started that program in 2016 with the intent of reconnecting neighborhoods and revitalizing communities sundered by the original construction of Interstate 94 back in the 1960s. The program also seeks to ensure residents “have a meaningful voice” in transportation decisions that affect their lives today and into the future.

[Above photo of I-94 construction by the Minnesota DOT]

Margaret Anderson Kelliher – commissioner of the Minnesota DOT – and Gloria Jeff, director of the Rethinking I-94 project for the agency, discuss the long-term effort to improve the department’s engagement and relationships with communities along I-94 between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“Environmental justice brings forward attention to the disproportionate outcomes for low-income and communities of color in the case of transportation,” said Kelliher. “It includes the burdens those communities have to face in terms of air and noise pollution from transportation. It is also a little broader in terms of race, geographies, and income disparities.”

That then draw in transportation equity, whereby the need for transportation systems need to “level up” and provide better mobility options to low-income and communities of color.

For example, Kelliher noted that a recent study found that a person living in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region who does not have access to a car or public transit has access to less than 10 percent of the jobs in that region. “That’s a major example of a transportation equity issue,” she said.

Minnesota DOT’s Jeff went on to explain that “transportation equity” issues is not a “quality,” not the idea that everybody gets “everything in the same way.”

It isn’t, “do I have a transit route operate near my home,” said Jeff but rather, “does it operate at the time that I need.” Jeff added that transportation equity is more than race and ethnic background, but that “this is where the current challenges exist” and why the current equity focus is on those two areas. To listen to the full podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Managing the Transition to Electric Vehicles

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Shoshana Lew – executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation – discusses the critical role state DOTs are playing in helping electrify the nation’s transportation system.

[‘Photo by the Colorado DOT.]

Prior to heading the Colorado DOT, Lew worked for nearly two years as the chief operating officer of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. She also spent eight years serving the Obama Administration, including a stint as chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“My career has been at the nexus of finance and infrastructure issues,” she explained on the podcast. “It’s provided an interesting vantage point to see how investment in infrastructure impacts the economy on a ‘macro’ scale as well as how it impacts everyone’s daily lives.”

Moving from the federal level to the state level added another level of detail to that transportation discussion, Lew said. When she first joined the Colorado DOT, she visited all 64 counties across the state to talk about what transportation issues they experienced. That also provided her with insight into the challenges of electrifying the state’s transportation system.

“This is something we are hugely focused on; it is kind of the moment for this,” Lew emphasized. “I think what you’ve seen last five years is the tipping point for electric vehicles (EVs) – we are at the cusp of the transition but makes the challenges very different. To get people where they need to go – for EVs to work in this space – we need to build out the EV recharging network. That has to happen now so state residents can have the option of using EVs and traveling to farthest reaches of the state.”

She pointed out that it cannot be understated how big the transition to EVs will be – especially in terms of how it will help everyone rethink mobility.

“The state DOT cannot do it all by itself – there are huge roles to be played by the private sector, public utilities, the state department of energy, and others,” Lew said. “You need to have everyone thinking about this.” To hear the full podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Women in Transportation with Paula Hammond

In this episode of the ETAP Podcast, Paula Hammond – market leader-multimodal at consulting firm WSP USA and a former secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation – talks about the career challenges and opportunities for women in the transportation industry.

[Photo of Paula Hammond courtesy of WSP USA.]

Hammond – a civil engineer who spent 34 years at WSDOT, eventually becoming the state’s first woman secretary – said on the podcast she joined the transportation industry right out of college because “transportation touches people’s lives every single day. And while I never knew I would stay in this field as long as I have, every position I’ve held has been different and gratifying.”

Hammond said that America is now in a “transformational period” when it comes to transportation, which is providing a wider array of professional disciplines and job choices than ever before to women – everything from “planning and communicating positions to environmental and scientific fields.”

She added that state departments of transportation around the country now have CEOs and top lieutenants in place with “expectations” regarding the advancement of women in the transportation industry and are providing provide resources and mentorships to help further those advancement efforts.

“That is how I progressed in my career – I had great opportunities and mentoring along the way, supporting my progression through the agency,” she said. “I paid my dues and got my experience.” 

Hammond – who also serves as the chair for the WTS International board of directors – also helped lead a survey of anti-human trafficking efforts among state DOTs for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, which is overseen by the Transportation Research Board. “We’ve found that state DOTs can supply data, knowledge, and expertise to law enforcement to help stop human trafficking,” she explained in a presentation two years ago. “So our next step, as we move from the broad survey to more detailed interviews and case studies with state DOTs active in this area, is to help others learn ‘best practices’ from them as well as how to fill any existing gaps.”

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.

ETAP Podcast: How Texas DOT Implements ‘Environmental Justice’

In the latest episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Carlos Swonke – environmental affairs division director for the Texas Department of Transportation – explained how his agency implements environmental Justice or “EJ” strategies within its transportation project work.

[Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Transportation.]

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “EJ” refers to the process by which both the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people – regardless of race, ethnicity, income, national origin, or educational level – is integrated into the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Texas DOT’s Swonke noted during the 25-minute podcast that the National Environmental Protection Act or NEPA plays an important role in the EJ process.

“NEPA talks about addressing the natural and human environment,” he said. “More recently, in the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve looked harder at the social and economic impacts of transportation projects, especially on urban streets. NEPA is the umbrella law that puts us in the position of looking at those issues and conducting analysis to look at impacts on communities – especially minority and low-income populations.”

Swonke offered up an example of how EJ works within transportation project planning by highlighting the $7 billion North Highway Improvement Project, which seeks to reconfigure four interstates in and around the city of Houston.

“We’ve been working on this project for almost 10 years now and it will result in 160 single-family home relocations, 463 apartment unit relocations, 486 low income, and public housing relocations, and 344 businesses being displaced,” he said. “Along with public meetings to hear directly from affected communities, we engaged in technical analysis using 2010 census data and on-the-ground work to identify populations and neighborhoods considered to be EJ neighborhoods—information we just published in the final report on this project.” To listen to this podcast, click here.

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.

ETAP Podcast: Caltrans’ Toks Omishakin

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast, host Bernie Wagenblast interviews Toks Omishakin (at left in photo above), director of the California Department of Transportation or Caltrans.

Omishakin – who chairs the Council on Active Transportation for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – is considered a national leader in policies that promote safe and equitable “active transportation opportunities,” especially biking and walking.

“When you think about transportation in this country, the one thing that has remained constant is that people walk and bike to get to a variety of places,” he explained on the podcast. “In fact, 30 percent all trips in this country are of one mile or less, with 50 percent three miles or less. So it is clear that there are many opportunities to walk and bike, but have to build the facilities and infrastructure to support those trips.”

Omishakin also pointed out that, “if I could go back in time,” he would not term biking and walking as “active transportation” but rather “transportation essentials” to reflect their modal importance.

“They are a central part of how people live and get about in their communities across the country,” Omishakin said. “Look at the areas of the country where people do not own a car. In New York City, 50 percent of residents do not own a car. In Washington D.C. the rate is 40 percent. In Philadelphia, it is 30 percent. Yet this is not all about big cities. In Akron, Ohio, 15 percent of residents do not own a car. In Mobile, Alabama, 10 percent do not own a car. In Pasadena, California, it is 12 percent.”

Director Toks Omishakin
Photo courtesy of Caltrans

That is why he believes it is critical that the “multimodal focus” of AASHTO and other transportation organizations gets incorporated into key transportation system design guides.

“I’ve been in transportation for 20 years, and whether it is a city, state, or federal transportation agency I’ve encountered, the ‘green books’ on the shelves of their engineers represent the ‘holy grail’ of their decision-making,” he explained. “That’s why the meat, if you will, of what AASHTO’s Active Transportation Council will be focused on in the months and years to come is the incorporation of active transportation within those guidance documents. This is a chance to influence transportation more than ever before. I am really excited by this opportunity.”

Click here to listen to the entire podcast.

ETAP Podcast: Hawaii DOT’s Ed Sniffen

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast, host Bernie Wagenblast interviews Ed Sniffen (seen above), deputy director for highways at the Hawaii Department of Transportation, regarding how his agency is focused on improving infrastructure resilience.

Sniffen also serves as the chair of the Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The mission of the TSSR committee is to coordinate national response efforts, identifies best practices, and fills research gaps to promote resilient and secure transportation systems across the country. To listen to the podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Arizona DOT’s Steve Olmsted Discusses the Impact of COVID-19

One impact from COVID-19 pandemic being felt by state departments of transportation is the temporary cessation of “traditional” face-to-face public meetings to discuss upcoming transportation projects – with most of such gatherings going virtual.

In this podcast, Steve Olmsted – senior program manager at the Arizona Department of Transportation – discusses how his agency is handling the challenge of engaging the public and moving forward transportation projects during a time of social distancing.

“We call them virtual call-in public hearings,” he said on the podcast. “The meeting was presented by phone only and callers could verbally submit comments … with a court reporter transcribing the comments. The meeting was also simultaneously broadcast on free public radio stations – that is a novel thing for us and credit goes to our community relations team for that.”

To hear more about the “lessons learned” by the Arizona DOT from this process, click here.