Tennessee DOT Helps Turn Old Tires into Walking Trail

An eyesore of thousands of dumped tires were recently recycled into material for a hard-surface walking and biking trail at the Tennessee state park in Memphis they once littered, thanks in part to a grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

[Above photo by the Tennessee DOT]

The Tennessee DOT and Tennessee State Parks recently opened the 2.5-mile-long walking and biking trail at T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis. Billed as one of the longest rubber-bearing trails in the country, the new trail is primarily composed of 24,000 recycled tires.

Tennessee DOT issued a $200,000 litter grant to support the trail project, which shredded those 24,000 abandoned tires into quarter-inch pieces of crumb rubber. A federal recreational trails program provided another $280,000, with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation or TDEC providing an additional $250,000 grant.

“Litter and illegal dumping are costly and damaging to Tennessee,” explained Joseph Galbato, III, who until recently served as Tennessee DOT’s interim commissioner, in a statement.

[In May, Governor Bill Lee (R) appointed Deputy Governor Butch Eley to serve as the agency’s commissioner in addition to Eley’s current duties.]

“We are thankful for collaborative partnerships like the ‘Tires to Trails’ project which not only addresses the litter problem but turns it into a meaningful and positive long-lasting resource for the community,” Galbato added.

Michael McClanahan, an outreach specialist with Tennessee DOT, getting his hands dirty to help pull tires out of the park.

The crumb rubber from the old tires – mixed with a rock aggregate and a polyurethane binder – does not include the metal from those tires, noted Brent Miller, manager of Patriot Tire Recycling in Bristol, TN.

Typically, recycled tires are shredded and used as fuel stock for power plants and paper mills, or made into doormats, he explained.

“This was the first time we’ve done a trail,” said Miller, whose company handles about a million tires a year.

Recycled tires can live a useful second life in some transportation applications. The crumb rubber creates a flexible roadway that resists cracking, requires less maintenance, and is easier on the feet of walkers and joggers, said Alle Crampton, environmental scientist, and manager of the Tire Environmental Act Program for the state.

The walkways also are porous, virtually reducing the stormwater runoff problems associated with concrete and asphalt. The water can soak through the trail and reach the root systems of trees, making it less likely that the root systems will expand and crack the walkway, Crampton said.

More than 400 volunteers collected the passenger, commercial truck, and heavy equipment tires from the park, with many of the volunteers coming from Tennessee DOT, TDEC, the City of Memphis, Shelby County, and Memphis City Beautiful.

T.O. Fuller State Park was the first state park open for African Americans east of the Mississippi River. Originally built in 1938, the state later renamed the park in honor of Dr. Thomas O. Fuller, a prominent African-American educator, pastor, politician, civic leader, and author.

Caltrans Highlights Key Stormwater Pollutants

As part of its “Let’s Change This to That” public education campaign, the California Department of Transportation is highlighting the top six sources of stormwater pollution across the state as well as ways to prevent them from contaminating California’s waterways.

[Above photo by Caltrans]

The agency manages stormwater runoff and mitigates potential pollution within its 350,000 acres of right of way, which includes more than 15,000 centerline miles of highways. This effort involves picking up roadside litter and clearing out storm drains to preserve roadway safety and drivability during all types of weather conditions.

Unlike water that goes down the sink or toilet in a home, Caltrans said stormwater is untreated and flows directly into lakes, rivers, and other waterways.

The agency noted that as stormwater travels into storm drains, it captures pollutants from highways, streets, sidewalks, and yards that flow into waterways. The top six pollutants have an outsized impact on the water quality of lakes, rivers, streams, and the ocean, and many are preventable through small actions Californians can take:

  • Trash and litter: Properly secure items in truck beds and put trash and recycling in the correct bin.
  • Sediments: Prevent soil erosion by using mulch in the garden, planting trees and shrubs, and sweeping driveways instead of hosing them off.
  • Nutrients: Avoid over-fertilizing lawns and plants and limit vegetation waste by keeping fallen leaves out of storm drains.
  • Bacteria: Limit pet and Recreational Vehicle or RV waste by picking up after your pet and using appropriate RV dumping stations.
  • Metals: Regularly check tire pressure, change oil and fluids, and use commercial car washes to prevent metals generated from vehicle, tire, and brake wear from ending up on highways.
  • Pesticides: Use organic pesticides and properly dispose of unused portions.

“Preventing stormwater pollution requires the help and support of every Californian, and it starts with keeping highways and roadways clean,” noted Steven Keck, acting director at Caltrans, in a statement.

“Californians must work together to take necessary steps to prevent pollution at the source and keep our waterways clean,” he said.

With the intensify drought conditions predicted to increase statewide this year, Caltrans noted it is amplifying water quality as a top priority.

During a drought, the state’s lakes, rivers, and streams have lower water levels, which leads to a higher concentration of pollutants. By preventing a buildup of metals, trash, and other pollutants on highways and roadways in dry conditions, Californians can help keep pollutants from traveling into local waterways during rainstorms.

AASHTO Comments on Latest Proposed WOTUS Revisions

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials submitted a seven-page letter on February 2 to the Department of the U.S. Army and the Office of Water Oceans, Wetlands, and Communities Division within the Environmental Protection Agency to comment on the latest proposed revisions to Waters of the United States or WOTUS regulations.

[Above photo by the Ohio DOT]

The foremost concern expressed by AASHTO in its letter focused on the “need to clarify the standards used for determining the jurisdictional status of roadside ditches” so that the latest proposed WOTUS rule changes “clearly exclude” the overwhelming majority of roadside ditches.

“Unlike previous iterations of regulations defining WOTUS for which the agencies extended the public comment period, this proposed rule makes numerous changes to the pre-2015 definition of WOTUS, and relies on supporting documents including a 250-page Technical Support Document and 177-page Economic Analysis,” AASHTO emphasized. “But [it] does not give the public sufficient time to fully digest and understand the agencies’ proposal and submit comments.”

The debate over changes to WOTUS regulations spans several years. In September 2019, EPA and the Department of the Army – representing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – repealed and ended what they described as a “regulatory patchwork” that required implementing two competing sets of Clean Water Act rules, which created a regulatory burden across the United States, especially for transportation projects.

The EPA and Department of the Army published a proposed rule in February 2019 as part of the second step in this process – developing a new WOTUS definition that would “clearly define” where federal jurisdiction begins and ends in accordance with the Clean Water Act and Supreme Court precedent.

In that proposal, the agencies said at the time they would provide a “clear definition” of the difference between federally regulated waterways and those waters that rightfully remain solely under state authority.

EPA and the Department of the Army then published a final rule in April 2020 defining the scope of waters federally regulated under the Clean Water Act, while adhering to Congress’ policy directive to preserve states’ primary authority over land and water resources.

When that new final rule went into effect, it replaced the rule published in 2019 that formally repealed a regulatory effort initiated in 2015 to expand the WOTUS definition under the Clean Water Act.

However, the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – via a broad environmental directive issued by President Biden in January 2021 – began an entirely new WOTUS revision process in November 2021, first to repeal the 2020-era rule and then to design a brand new WOTUS regulatory framework.

The constant back-and-forth changes to WOTUS regulations are the main concern of AASHTO and state DOTs, as it impedes the ability to effectively plan transportation projects. 

“We caution that any final rule should truly be final, to the extent possible,” AASHTO said in its February 2 letter. “Frequent rule changes – especially of the magnitude characterizing the WOTUS definition – can be damaging to our members, because uncertainty has a substantial impact on transportation projects that often have a long lead time.”

AASHTO also expressed “concern” with the suggestion by the EPA and Department of the Army that an “anticipated second rule” would seek to “further refine” the test for WOTUS and “build upon the regulatory foundation” of the initial rule now being proposed.

“A second rule that does not focus solely on clearly defining WOTUS but instead introduces new concepts, standards, or requirements that go beyond the case law will increase the probability of confusion, additional lawsuits, and the need for additional changes in the future, further harming our members’ ability to plan for projects,” the organization said.

AASHTO Sends Floodplain Management Comments to FEMA

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials sent a five-page letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on January 27 to provide feedback on floodplain management standards for land management and use; a key part of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program or NFIP.

[Above image via FEMA]

Developed with the assistance of the AASHTO Technical Committee on Hydrology and Hydraulics, the letter cautions against creating more requirements for specific threatened and endangered “T&E” species as that could create a “patchwork of complex regulations” among multiple federal agencies that would further complicate floodplain permitting.

”Additional impact restrictions imposed by a change to the NFIP minimum floodplain management standards could potentially delay or prevent fish passage projects at some [state] DOTs that have their own environmental regulations and requirements regarding T&E,” AASHTO said.

The organization also recommends that the NFIP focus on floodplain management while other agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service focus on T&E.

On another front, AASHTO pointed out that improving the distinction between river and coastal standards is critical as environmental and climate concerns are much different between them.

“State DOTs across the country are struggling with the best method to address climate change,” the letter explained. “[Yet] climate science regarding future flooding events is in a very immature state and is not well developed. Incorporation into the NFIP should not be considered until the science has stabilized and an acceptable design method is available to [state] DOTs.”

AASHTO added that a memorandum of understanding between FEMA and the Federal Highway Administration regarding hydraulic modeling within the special hazard flood area or SFHA within the NFIP would be beneficial to state DOTs.

That would be especially true when it comes to handling minor culvert and bridge maintenance, as well as ways to improve hydraulic models to limit any potential damage to streams, creeks, or other bodies of water in and around transportation projects, the organization noted.

Maryland Works to Reduce Road Salt’s Environmental Impact

In conjunction with several state agencies, including the Maryland Department of Transportation, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is spearheading an effort to reduce the amount of salts entering rivers, streams, and groundwater while also ensuring roads remain safe for winter travel.

[Above photo by the Maryland DOT]

MDE has been working for several years with state agencies and local jurisdictions on new salt application strategies, including use of improved weather forecasting, using the right amount of salt, targeting roads in most need of treatment, using brine to reduce overall salt usage, and increasing training for employees and contracted equipment operators.

The agency noted that Maryland DOT’s State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) has used those and other strategies over the past five years to reduce its overall salt usage up to 50 percent.

MDOT SHA has moved to use salt brine – a liquid solution that is 22 percent salt and 78 percent water – before, during, and after winter weather events. Pre-treating roads with salt brine prevents the initial bonding of snow or ice, thus giving road crews time to mobilize. The agency now has two “tow plows” – separate plows towed behind a salt/plow truck to clear an additional travel lane – which enhance snow-clearing operations and reduce the need for road salting.

MDOT SHA has also designated salt brine-only routes for the duration of winter storms, resulting in less overall salt use when compared to routes where only rock salt is used. The agency pre-wets rock salt with salt brine to reduce the “bounce and scatter” effect of salt solids ricocheting off the highway.

MDOT SHA also works with weather forecasters to develop a treatment plan and employs more than 100 mobile infrared sensors at key locations, along with mobile sensors, to determine conditions and target its storm deployment – greatly contributing to salt reduction efforts.
“[We] congratulate and thank the Maryland Department of Transportation for leading by example when it comes to reducing the use of road salts that can threaten public health and our environment,” said Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s secretary of the environment, in a statement.

While sodium chloride or salt is effective, relatively inexpensive, readily available, and easily stored, it can destroy a soil’s structure and cause erosion, damage, and kill vegetation, while contributing to the corrosion of metal bridges and motor vehicles, MDE said. It can also seep into groundwater and runoff into surface waters, contaminating wildlife habitats and potentially affecting drinking water.

The agency noted it has increased monitoring for sodium chloride in the environment to gain information to help develop restoration plans. However, MDE noted that once salt has entered the environment there is no effective way to remove it. Thus, the best solution is a widespread, decreased use of road salt, it noted.

Nevada DOT Supports Stormwater Pollution Awareness Month

The Nevada Department of Transportation and Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful are teaming up to observe Stormwater Pollution Awareness Month this October to educate the public about the importance of preserving stormwater quality. 

[Above photo by the Nevada DOT]

Stormwater Pollution Awareness Month encourages communities to make smart choices when it comes to preserving the quality of stormwater in the desert, the two organizations explained in a statement – noting that simple actions can make a huge difference in terms of preventing stormwater contamination.

The public outreach campaign includes a poster contest for kids, as well as an educational webinar about how residents can prevent stormwater pollution through the “Love NV Waters” Facebook page. 

The contest is for elementary children in grades kindergarten through sixth, with the winners featured in a 2022 calendar with the first-place poster appearing as the cover art in the calendar. The Nevada DOT will then distribute those calendars to participating schools statewide.

The poster contest wraps up on October 15 with first-, second-, and third-place winners announced on October 22, the agency added.

Editor’s note: The Center for Environmental Excellence developed a practitioner’s handbook to assist transportation agencies in developing and/or implementing a stormwater management program that satisfies the requirements of the Clean Water Act. For those agencies already with a program already in place, the handbook offers useful tips and transportation-specific references to assist program implementation.

State DOTs Bracing for Highly Active Hurricane Season

As forecasters predict a particularly active hurricane season for 2021, state departments of transportation from Texas to New Jersey are preparing for worst-case scenarios to help citizens get out of town if a big storm ends up heading their way.

[Above photo by the Louisiana DOTD]

The Atlantic hurricane season began on June 1 and lasts through November 30. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts a “likely range” of six to 10 hurricanes with winds of at least 74 miles-per-hour to form this year, with three to five major hurricanes with wind speeds of at least 111 mph developing as well.

Even relatively “minor” hurricanes can cause significant damage, especially to transportation systems, as the impact of Hurricane Sally – which struck the Alabama and Florida border in September 2020 – demonstrates.

Five hurricanes made landfall in Louisiana in 2020, prompting evacuations ahead of the storms and road closures in their aftermaths. To ensure quick evacuation of citizens from low-lying, flood-prone areas ahead of such storms, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has a longstanding partnership with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to activate contraflow operations for removing people from New Orleans and coastal areas rapidly.

“The pinnacle of our cooperative efforts come out during an emergency evacuation,” Louisiana DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson explained. “This region has a very cooperative history. We were in Beaumont (Texas) last year after one of the hurricanes, and we brought in personnel from the Tennessee DOT to help us. We all help each other as the circumstances warrant.”

Photo by Louisiana DOTD

When activated, the Southeast Louisiana Evacuation Plan calls for the Louisiana DOTD and Louisiana State Police to reverse traffic on the southbound lanes on Interstates 55 and 59. Once traffic reaches the Mississippi state line, the Mississippi DOT takes over traffic control and guides the combined eight lanes of traffic well into the heart of Mississippi.

The Mississippi DOT held a contraflow drill on June 3 to practice moving equipment into place and communicating with each other along the 86 combined miles of “contraflowed” interstate lanes.

“We go through all the motions except actually closing the exits on the interstates,” said Jas Smith, Mississippi DOT’s communications director. “The intention is to quickly evacuate the New Orleans and coastal residents. We want to get them out as quickly as possible.”

The Alabama Department of Transportation also has an interstate contraflow plan ready to go during daylight hours, according to Tony Harris, the agency’s media and community relations bureau chief.

“We only contraflow Interstate 65, north of Mobile, to Montgomery,” Harris explained. “We have a deployment rehearsal where we do everything but stop traffic. It’s like a military operation with about 120 defined steps and procedures.”

The South Carolina Department of Transportation recently released an animated video that explains how its intrastate contraflow works on Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Transportation recently added several new features to its 511 site along with a new mobile application to assist motorists during hurricane evacuations.

States even as far north as New Jersey are holding evacuation drills “to practice and refine response activities in the event of a major hurricane,” according to a news release from the New Jersey Department of Transportation. “This annual drill is to practice a worst-case scenario in which New Jersey shore communities would need to be evacuated in a short period of time due to a hurricane or other natural disaster,” noted Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, the New Jersey DOT’s commissioner. “This gives crews from the New Jersey DOT, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and the South Jersey Transit Authority, along with the State Police, an opportunity to test our plans and make sure our emergency personnel are able to quickly and efficiently get people out of harm’s way.”

Georgia DOT Deploys ‘Lessons Learned’ for 2021 Hurricane Season

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s state maintenance office is tapping into five years’ worth of “lessons learned” to help fine-tune its storm response capabilities ahead of the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season – which lasts from June 1 through November 30.

[Above photo by the Georgia DOT]

“Over the last five years, after each weather or emergency event, Georgia DOT conducted after action reviews to address key takeaways, identify gaps in operations and brainstorm best practices for moving forward,” explained Larry Barnes, Georgia DOT’s assistant state maintenance engineer of emergency operations, in a statement.

“This effort has allowed us to continue to build up resources and develop more effective weather and emergency response plans to ensure that we are able to clear roads and restore mobility to Georgians as efficiently and safely as possible,” he said.

Photo by the Georgia DOT

Some of the storm response tactics developed from those takeaways include: 

  • Each of Georgia DOT’s seven districts now features a “Chainsaw and Emergency Response” trailer stocked and ready to go for debris removal operations. 
  • A hurricane gate contract for continued maintenance on all gates statewide to ensure they are ready for contraflow operations, if needed. 
  • Upgrading the agency’s WebEOC system – originally deployed in 2015 and used by its emergency operation center – to improve incident management, resource tracking, and mapping capabilities.
  • Securing debris clean-up contractors to clear both state routes and interstates post disaster, allowing Georgia DOT forces to work more efficiently and to provide off-system assistance to counties and local municipalities who request it. 
  • Improved communications through Sonims: rugged mobile devices that more robust communication capability for in-field teams during disaster recovery operations. Sonims can also track where crews have been working resulting in more efficient clean up, the Georgia DOT said. 
  • Increasing the number of mobile message boards, barrels, and cones available for hurricane-response needs.

The Georgia DOT added that, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 2021 hurricane season is expected to be “above average” with an anticipated 13 to 20 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and three to five “major” hurricanes –defined as Category 3 or greater – predicted to develop over the next six months.

Nevada DOT Offering “Water-Smart” Advice to State Residents

The Environmental Division of the Nevada Department of Transportation is offering state residents landscaping advice on pesticide and herbicide use as well as “water-smart practices” when conducting residential landscaping activities.

[Above photo by the Southern Nevada Water Authority]

“Most people are surprised to learn that homes can be a source of pollution,” explained James Murphy, the Environmental Division’s program manager within Nevada DOT, in a statement – noting that his division oversees disciplines such as stormwater, air quality, noise, wildlife biology, environmental engineering, and cultural resources.

“We encourage Nevada residents to take steps to avoid polluting our waterways, such as avoiding overwatering and applying pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers sparingly, with caution, and per product labeling,” he said.

Murphy explained that, in Nevada, sewer systems and stormwater drains are separate systems. Water that goes down the drain inside a home via toilet or sink goes to a wastewater treatment plant where it is treated and filtered. Conversely, water that flows down driveways and streets into gutters goes directly into a storm drain that flows untreated into lakes, rivers and streams.

Thus runoff from landscaped areas may contain fertilizers, pesticides or other materials that are harmful to lakes and streams, stressed Charles Schembre, an environmental scientist with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

He explained that the most important thing residents could do to prevent stormwater contamination from landscaping activities is to avoid watering the sidewalk. Installing a buffer between the lawn and sidewalk – such as rocks, woody mulch or plants – will prevent runoff onto the sidewalk. This is a critical component in reducing runoff of pollutants into storm drains, he said.

Other tips include:

  • Use “healthy soil” practices and use organic fertilizers and pesticides sparingly; make sure to follow product label instructions.
  • Consider planting trees, seeds and plants that are native to Nevada, which require less water.
  • Use “selective” herbicide applications to target just weeds and avoid affecting desirable plant species. Avoid spraying during conditions where herbicides may drift to non-target plant species – specifically when wind speeds are greater than 15 mph.
  • Use organic mulch or other pest control methods whenever possible.
  • Install a buffer between the lawn and sidewalk to prevent irrigation runoff onto the sidewalk.
  • Pick up pet waste and dispose of it properly.
  • Use a commercial car wash or wash your car on the grass so the water infiltrates into the ground instead of spilling into storm drains.

Pew Trust: How Flooding Impacts Maryland’s Transportation System

A recent study indicates that major flooding occurring outside designated flood zones is significantly affecting Maryland’s highways, bridges, tunnels, and other roadways. As a result, such flooding “interrupts daily life; delaying or blocking passage of emergency response vehicles and people trying to get to work or school.”

[Above photo by Jay Bock, Flickr.]

The study – entitled “Flooding Impacts on Maryland’s Transportation System and Users” by strategic consulting firm ICF with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts — examines how flooding affects nearly 15,000 lane miles of state-maintained roadways or roughly about 20 percent of Maryland’s overall lane mileage. The findings draw from data collected between 2006 and 2020 by the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The report’s researchers reviewed 2,771 flood-related incidents for which geospatial data was available and found that 78 percent occurred outside the 100- or 500-year flood zones mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Those incidents took place, on average, only about 0.3 miles from the mapped flood areas, but even so, the findings underscore that flooding is not limited to mapped zones.

The report also identified locations along state highways that are especially flood-prone, making them prime targets for infrastructure resilience or relocation investment. Data from the past 15 years shows clusters of flood incidents on state highways, including more than 100 locations with at least five flood events within about 1,000 feet of one another. Seven locations appear to be especially at risk, with at least 30 such incidents among them, the study found.

The report also shows how flooding disrupts travel, causes safety risks, and generates economic productivity losses, among other adverse consequences. Flooding of state-maintained roadways in Maryland accounts for weeks of traffic disruptions annually, averaging 1,582 hours or 66 days per a year. Although most flood-caused lane closures lasted less than four hours, 16 percent of all disruptions lasted longer than 12 hours.

The study found that those incidents affected, on average, more than 480,000 people annually. On top of that, economic impact of lost work time and delayed deliveries cost about $15 million per year in Maryland and totaled more than $230 million during the study period.

Each flood incident resulted in an average of about $80,000 in user delay costs, Pew’s researchers noted – considered “just a fraction” of the fiscal impact because it does not factor in other expenses, such as emergency response and infrastructure repairs.