Iowa DOT Rest Area also a Native American Museum

One of the newest “next generation” highway rest areas built and maintained by the Iowa Department of Transportation also doubles as a museum of Native American culture.

[Above photo by the Iowa DOT]

In a blog post, the agency said each of its “next generation” rest areas features a specific “theme” to help travelers learn more about what makes Iowa unique.

Traveling northbound on Interstate 29 in western Iowa, the agency’s newest rest area is nestled near the Loess Hills just west of Glenwood and highlights the history of the Native American tribes of that area and how they are connected to what archaeologists call the “Central Plains Tradition.” 

In 1968, archeologists spent about four years uncovering 19 earth lodge homes in advance of the construction of U.S. 34. Those archaeologists also discovered that about 300 of these structures once dotted the landscape near modern-day Glenwood.

“What we did at the rest area was use the information from those excavations to tell the history of the area,” noted Brennan Dolan, cultural resource project manager for Iowa DOT’s District 2.

“It’s less about the artifacts that were uncovered, and more about the context they provide and the dynamic stories they tell about the people who lived here,” he added. “I think it’s really cool that 50 years after these excavations, we finally get to tell this story of this human experience through transportation and contemporary art.”

Inside and outside of the rest area, interpretive plaques, statues, and murals commissioned by four Native American artists describe the history of the Native American tribes that resided in the area. 

Iowa DOT added that this rest area – like all of its “next generation” models – is as “functional as it is beautiful,” offering free Wi-Fi and an observatory balcony at the rear of the building to give you a glimpse at the Loess Hills.

Archeological teams working for state departments of transportation across the country uncover and preserve a wide range of important historical finds.

In October 2022, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet helped establish a new website highlighting more than 100 prehistoric and historic archaeological sites across the state’s 64 counties.

In August 2022, archaeologists from the Maryland Department of Transportation helped excavate two small Colonial-era cabins near the historic Elkridge Furnace in Howard County, MD, located on land originally purchased for a highway project.

In January 2022, the Colorado Department of Transportation debuted a documentary called “Durango 550 – Path of the Ancestral Puebloans” to show how the agency worked with archaeologists and regional Native American tribes to document, study, and ultimately share the discoveries unearthed near Durango in southwest Colorado.

And in July 2023, the Washington Department of Transportation illustrated in a blog post the important connections between the sciences of archeology and transportation infrastructure construction.

New York Offers $165 Million for Community-Based Projects

Governor Kathy Hochul (D) recently announced $165 million in new funding is available to support community-based investments designed to strengthen the cultural, aesthetic, and environmental aspects of local and regional transportation systems while promoting safety and mobility.

[Above photo by NYSDOT]

Those funds come from the Federal Highway Administration and will be administered by the New York State Department of Transportation through its Transportation Alternatives Program or TAP, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program or CMAQ, and the Carbon Reduction Program or CRP.

Gov. Hochul said in a statement that funding will support projects that create new and enhance existing bicycle and pedestrian facilities, improve access to public transportation, create safe routes to schools, convert abandoned railway corridors to pedestrian trails, and help reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

In addition, these funds may be used by municipalities to support activities that meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the governor’s office noted.

“These community-based projects reaffirm New York’s nation-leading commitment to the environment while facilitating local economic development and improving public health,” Gov. Hochul said. “It’s imperative that we continue to make investments in clean, environmentally-friendly transportation alternatives.”

“[These] smart transportation policies afford all New Yorkers safe and environmentally sound opportunities for work, recreation, and social connectivity,” added NYSDOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez. “These critical community-based investments will provide positive impacts for regions all across New York, enhancing the overall safety and quality of life for residents and visitors, while continuing the fight against global climate change.”

NYSDOT will accept project applications for that funding through January 9, 2024; noting that projects applying for funding must be related to the surface transportation system and provide full access to the public. They’ll also be rated based on established criteria that include public benefit, air quality improvements, cost-effectiveness, and partnerships, the agency noted.

NYSDOT added that TAP-CMAQ-CRP project awards will amount to no less than $500,000 and no more than $5 million for any single project, with the agency providing up to 80 percent of the total eligible project costs with a minimum 20 percent match provided by the project sponsor.

Federal Funds Helps Wisconsin DOT Create Tribal Center

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation noted that federal funding is helping it create a Tribal Technical Assistance Program or TTAP Center for 65 tribal nations across 30 states.

[Above photo by Wisconsin DOT]

The Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory or TOPS Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently received a two-year $625,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Wisconsin DOT said it will work with the school to create a TTAP Center to support transportation investments on tribal lands and other tribal initiatives related to training, technical assistance and technology services.

Upon renewal by the FHWA, the TOPS Lab could receive $300,000 each year for three years to continue the work of the TTAP Center. Due to the large geographic service area, the TOPS Lab has partnered with Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University and New York State Local Technical Assistance Program Center housed at Cornell University.

“Wisconsin has the highest concentration of tribal communities in any state east of the Mississippi River,” noted Wisconsin DOT Secretary Craig Thompson in a statement.

“We are proud of our government-to-government relationships with the 11 federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin. This federal grant will help strengthen those partnerships and allow us to continue making strategic transportation investments on tribal lands,” he said.

“We’re excited to see how this federal funding can leverage Wisconsin as a leader to implement solutions to roadway safety on tribal lands not only in our state, but across 30 states,” Thompson added.

“This really underscores that we’re not just working within university or state boundaries but across the United States,” emphasized Andi Bill, manager of the TOPS Lab research program.

“We’re bringing high-quality research to the local level, and we’re very excited to work with our partners across the Tribal communities,” Bill said. “Wisconsin DOT has been an active leader in tribal coordination and we’re ready to add to some of the wonderful work that they’ve done.”

WSDOT Coordinates with City to Improve Green Space

The Washington State Department of Transportation, in coordination with the city of Des Moines, will provide a “much-needed makeover” to a popular 14-acre green space along Barnes Creek – an area used by local residents for a variety of outdoor activities.

[Above photo by WSDOT]

The agency described this particular green space in a blog post as a “well-loved unofficial neighborhood trail” where people are often seen walking their dogs, running, or enjoying nature with their families. This natural corridor includes a series of wetlands along Barnes Creek that have been degraded over time by invasive plants. To better protect native plant species and wildlife in the area, invasive species will be removed and wetlands will be enhanced, the agency said.

This project also supports the city’s future plans for trail improvements through this corridor and should also help reduce impacts on wetlands and vegetated areas surrounding streams from the New Expressway Project. That endeavor represents Stage 2 of the State Route 509 Completion Project – an effort to connect State Route 509 where it currently ends at the southwest corner of Sea-Tac Airport to I-5.

WSDOT noted an updated plan for this green space focuses on wetland preservation and enhancement, with the goal to protect what native plants and soil are already there, planting new native plants, and preventing disturbance of the wetland.

Wetland preservation and enhancement at Barnes Creek will revitalize the wetland habitat for wildlife and native plants like Oregon Ash trees and slough sedge plants. To preserve the wetland area, the Barnes Creek natural corridor includes four types of restoration ranging from simple invasive species removal to habitat enhancement and planting new native species.

The stage of the SR 509 Completion Project which includes the Barnes Creek restoration work is scheduled to be awarded to a contractor in 2024. At that point, the contractor will develop a detailed timeline for construction, and – once construction is done – the agency will turn the revitalized green space over to the city.

State departments of transportation across the country are involved in similar efforts to enhance green space for a variety of communities – efforts that include everything from beautification projects to litter removal.

For example, in February 2022, the California Department of Transportation recently awarded $312 million for 126 beautification projects along the state’s highway system – part of the landmark $1.1 billion Clean California initiative.

Developed in close collaboration with tribal and local governments, non-profits, and businesses, those 126 beautification projects 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 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.

Meanwhile, in August 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently joined several fellow state agencies to help launch a new anti-litter campaign entitled “PA Fights Dirty: Every Litter Bit Matters.”

The creation of this campaign is one of the many recommendations made by Pennsylvania’s first-ever Litter Action Plan, released in December 2021. That plan also won a Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Excellence in May.

Concurrently, in July 2022, Ohio launched a new litter control program launched, one administered by the Ohio Department of Transportation, that seeks to broaden engagement by the business community in its trash removal efforts.

That new Ohio program allows businesses and groups to fund litter removal services along one-mile, one-direction segments of state highways. In exchange for their sponsorship, Ohio DOT displays the name of the business or group on a sign within their sponsored segment.

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.