ETAP Podcast: COMTO and Equity in Transportation

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, April Rai (seen above) – president and CEO of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) – provides an overview of efforts to promote equity in the transportation sector.

[Above photo by COMTO]

Though equity in transportation has become a major topic of interest in the past few years, it is not a new issue.

For example, COMTO – founded in 1961 – has sought to ensure opportunities and maximum participation in the transportation industry for minority individuals, veterans, people with disabilities, as well as minority, women, and disadvantaged business enterprises over the last 50-plus years.

In this podcast episode, Rai talks about how equity in transportation is becoming a “mainstream concern” and how COMTO seeks to show how equity heavily intersects with other key topics such as environmental justice, workforce diversity, public involvement, and more.

To listen to this podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Joint Office of Energy and Transportation

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Rachael Nealer (seen above) – deputy director for the newly formed Joint Office of Energy and Transportation – discusses the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula program (NEVI) created by the $1.2 trillion infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA, enacted in November 2021.

[Above photo via John Hopkins University]

The Joint Office of Energy and Transportation – created by the IIJA – aims to “facilitate collaboration” between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Transportation; aligning resources and expertise across the two departments to help build a national network of electric vehicle chargers, zero-emission fueling infrastructure, and the deployment of zero-emission transit and school buses.

Nealer holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Carnegie Mellon University, respectively, along with a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from Carnegie Mellon.

In addition to stints with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, Nealer worked as an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University. For the last year, Nealer served as deputy director for transportation technology and policy at Council on Environmental Quality. To listen to this podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: School Bus Electrification

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Sue Gander (seen above)  – director of the electric school bus initiative for the World Resources Institute – talks about how funds from the $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA signed into law in November 2021 can help expand school bus electrification initiatives.

The ETAP podcast – a technical service program for state departments of transportation provided by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – explores a wide array of environmental topics that affect transportation and infrastructure programs.

WRI’s Gander explains in this episode of the ETAP podcast that 20 million children, or about half of all American public school students, ride on a school bus every day. Children from coast to coast board one of the country’s nearly 500,000 school buses each morning and ride to class while those vehicles consume diesel, gasoline, natural gas, or propane at an average rate of seven miles to the gallon.

She notes on the podcast that electrification presents a major opportunity to reduce if not eliminate such fuel consumption by school buses – and the $5 billion contained within the IIJA offers an opportunity to state departments of transportation and other state agencies to replace existing buses with electric models and build EV recharging infrastructure to support their operation.

To listen to this podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Preserving Post-WW2 Historical Homes

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast discusses ways state DOT cultural resources programs within state departments of transportation are exploring to identify and preserve homes built in the 30 years following World War II that may have potential historical significance.

[Above photo of Levittown, NY, circa 1948]

At the end of World War II, a huge demand for housing ensued. With the help of the G.I. Bill and Federal Housing Administration loans, many returning soldiers were in the market for a new home. The construction boom contributed to what is now termed “post-war” architecture.

However, as those homes – built in the late 1940s through the 1970s – begin to age into potential historical significance, cultural resource practitioners have their work cut out for them.

Scott Williams, cultural resources program manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation, explains how his and other similar groups at state DOTs across the country are trying to post-war home historical preservation demands.

On the podcast, Williams explains how the cultural resources subcommittee within the AASHTO Committee on Environment and Sustainability is conducting a nationwide survey of state DOT post-war practices and protocols when it comes to housing preservation.

Click here to listen to the full podcast.

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.