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.

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.