AASHTO Hosting Environmental/Sustainability Webinar Series

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Environment & Sustainability (CES) and its subcommittees are hosting five webinars this September to discuss a wide array of recent trends, including those concerning environmental justice and transportation electrification at both the federal and state level.

[Above photo by the Missouri DOT]

Those webinars will occur each Thursday in September from 1:00-4:30 pm EST, with each session including a half-hour break.

The main purpose is to bring together all of AASHTO’s environmental members to analyze current and future environmental, sustainability, and equity policy efforts at the federal level along with a review of the latest “best practices” in those areas from participating state departments of transportation.

  • September 2: The “Opening Session” webinar will cover ongoing efforts regarding surface transportation reauthorization and include an update from the Federal Highway Administration. To register for this session, click here.
  • September 9: The Environmental Process subcommittee will cover environmental justice projects in both Minnesota and Oregon, as well as engage in regulatory discussion with participating state DOT attendees and FHWA officials. To register for this session, click here.
  • September 16: The Natural Resources subcommittee will cover a variety of topics including reduction of micro plastics from erosion and sediment control products, wildlife crossings, soil reuse, and stream mitigation. To register for this session, click here.
  • September 23: The Air Quality, Climate Change and Energy subcommittee will cover project level analysis and federal updates, as well as moderate a roundtable discussion regarding transportation electrification trends. To register for this session, click here.
  • September 30: The final session in this webinar series, hosted by the Cultural Resources subcommittee, will take a deep dive into post World War II construction and properties aging into National Register of Historic Places eligibility. To register for this session, click here.

Minnesota DOT Issues Fifth Sustainability Report

The Minnesota Department of Transportation released its fifth annual “Sustainability and Public Health Report,” documenting the agency’s progress towards its sustainability and climate goals. Based on data through 2020, the report now also includes additional public health and transportation resilience measures.

[Above photo by the Minnesota DOT]

The Minnesota DOT noted that state law directs it to reduce carbon pollution from transportation, prioritize walking, bicycling, and transit – all while meeting a variety of Minnesota energy and environmental goals.

“Transportation remains the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and Minnesota, which is why MnDOT is committed to doing our part to create a low-carbon future for our state,” said Tim Sexton, assistant commissioner and chief sustainability director, in a statement.

According to the 65-page report, the Minnesota DOT has reduced emissions from its facilities by 39 percent since 2019 – exceeding its 30 percent reduction goal – while reducing water use by 27 percent (exceeding its 15 percent goal) and converting 97 percent of all highway lighting to energy-conserving and longer-lasting light emitting diodes or LEDs.

However, the agency noted in the report it is not on track to meet its 30 percent emission reduction goals for the transportation sector by 2025. The Minnesota DOT added that its report also highlighted the need to include more active transportation options on its projects and achieve its goal of meeting 90 percent of needs for bicycling. Right now, the agency said it is at 62 percent.

The Minnesota DOT also noted in its report that it plans to redouble efforts to reduce non-motorized serious injuries and fatalities, which began trending upwards in 2020 – reflecting national uptick in pedestrian fatalities and injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, pedestrians comprised 17 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2019. Additionally, 6,205 pedestrians died in traffic crashes, which is 44 percent more compared to 2010.

To help address that issue, the agency released its first Statewide Pedestrian System Plan on May 26 – a plan that provides policy and investment guidance to improve places where people walk across and along Minnesota highway – followed by a new statewide pedestrian safety campaign launched in late July called “Let’s Move Safely Together.” 

Minnesota DOT’s efforts are also reflective of a broader push among state departments of transportation to reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries.

Minnesota DOT to Add Two ‘Living’ Snow Fences to U.S. 12

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is in the process of installing “living snow fences” near two bridges on U.S. Highway 12 in partnership with the Kandiyohi Soil and Water Conservation District.

[Above photo by the Minnesota DOT]

Made up of trees, shrubs, native grasses and/or wildflowers to trap snow before it reaches a bridge or roadway, “living snow fences” provide an array of benefits over time compared to fences made from wood, steel, and other inert materials. Though they require two to three years of growth to become effective Minnesota DOT noted on its description page that living snow fences help control soil erosion, reduce spring flooding resulting from snow melt, and serve as grassland nesting birds and pollinator habitats. They also reduce the need for road salt deployment and plow truck operation – reducing winter operation expenses – while helping increase crop yields by 10 percent or more.

“A living snow fence is more than landscaping and highway beautification, it serves a purpose,” explained Dan Gullickson, Minnesota DOT’s blowing snow control shared services program supervisor, in a statement. “We engineer blowing snow control using nature; we use plants to mitigate the wind.”

Photo by Minnesota DOT

He noted that this particular living snow fence installation project aims to counter the winter road hazard of blowing ice, which forms on roadways and bridge decks when snow blows onto the surface then melts and refreezes, creating icy patches.

The project calls for planting 1,644 shrubs – black chokeberry, amur maple, golden current, arrowwood, gray dogwood, common lilac, and red osier dogwood – over 7,089 linear feet within the agency’s existing right of way along U.S. 12. Those shrubs should attain sufficient height within two to three years of platting to start offering protection against blowing snow. Steve Dols – Minnesota DOT’s West Central Region blowing snow control shared services designer – developed the design for the two living snow fences along U.S. 12. The agency added that Dols is currently working on 12 additional snow fence projects across west-central and southwest Minnesota; efforts support by highway safety funds.

State DOT CEOs Talk Transportation Equity at EPW Hearing

Toks Omishakin, director of the California Department of Transportation, and William Panos, director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, highlighted the ways state departments of transportation are incorporating equity into their infrastructure programs during a hearing on Capitol Hill on May 11.

Both virtually joined the hearing – held by the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works – to share their perspectives on how to improve transportation equity for disadvantaged communities, “no matter their race, socioeconomic status, identity, where they live, or how they travel,” noted Omishakin.

Toks Omishakin, Caltrans Director

“Overall, minority and under-served communities experience fewer benefits and take on a greater share of negative impacts associated with our transportation systems,” he explained in his written testimony. “Because of this, transportation equity is not just a transportation issue. To improve equity across the board, we must address transportation equity. To do that, we need to listen to communities affected by inequity and implement change accordingly by altering the ways we evaluate and make investments in transportation.”

As a result, Omishakin said Caltrans is taking several strategic steps to improve equity, including:

  • Expanding public transportation to meet the needs of a diverse and aging population, including quality transit service in rural communities.
  • Developing and investing in passenger rail and transit projects that support inclusive job development opportunities in the trades.
  • Growing the “clean transportation sector” to address the disproportionate effects of pollution on minority and under-served communities.
  • Investing in safer multimodal and active transportation facilities on community highways, trails, and streets.
  • Enhancing maintenance and operational investments on all highways and prioritize under-served and rural communities, including tribal governments.

“We will achieve equity when everyone has access to what they need to thrive,” he stressed.

North Dakota DOT’s Panos added rural communities to that “underserved” list in his written testimony – and stressed that traditional formula funding would provide the means to address their needs.

William Panos, North Dakota DOT Director. Photo from North Dakota DOT.

“In rural America, usually the interest of a disadvantaged community, sometimes a community that has been under stress for a long time, is to be better connected beyond the community,” he said. “Strong formula funding will enhance the ability of states to address these connectivity needs. Regional issues should also be considered in order to optimize investment. Certain investments relative to reconnecting a community should be preceded by giving consideration to the potential impact on other communities or on the transportation system as a whole.”

More generally, Panos noted, federal highway formula dollars are “critical” to the success of state transportation programs serving the public, which includes disadvantaged communities.

“They [formula funds] are deployed widely in all of the states. They are used to improve roads, bridges, bike paths, and sidewalks. They pay for vital safety investments, including guardrails and rumble strips. They can also be transferred to transit projects,” he explained. “Strong formula funding and flexible program eligibilities enable a state to address those circumstances and help people.”

Webinar: State DOTs Detail Current Sustainability Efforts

The American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials Center for Environmental Excellence is hosting a webinar on May 26 to illustrate the current sustainability practices state departments of transportation are deploying across the country.

[Photo by Minnesota DOT]

That one-hour webinar – held from 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm ET – highlights how state DOTs can benefit from prioritizing sustainability across a wide variety of practices and activities. Yet a new national survey by AASHTO’s Sustainability Working Group found that only 16 states have directives from their governors, state legislatures, or other bodies to address sustainability issues.

To kick off the webinar, Madeline Schmitt – program planner at Iowa DOT – will provide a brief overview of the sustainability working group’s activities to date, while Phillip Burgoyne-Allen – AASHTO’s associate program manager for environment and active transportation – offers a brief overview of the survey results.

Several state DOT managers from Arizona, Minnesota, and Washington will then share additional insights and lessons learned from their sustainability experiences to date:

  • Arizona DOT: Steve Olmsted, NEPA Assignment Manager
  • Minnesota DOT: Jeff Meek, Sustainability Coordinator
  • Washington State Ferries: Kevin Bartoy, environmental stewardship & sustainability program manager

To register for this webinar, click here.

Video: Every Day is Earth Day for State DOTs

Founded 51 years ago, Earth Day is now a global celebration that is raising public awareness and support for the protection of the environment. One of the objectives of this annual worldwide campaign is to get everyone to play a role – no matter what they do or where they live and work.

A recent video produced by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials highlights the many ways that the Minnesota Department of Transportation and other state DOTs are leading in the areas of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

The video – entitled “Every Day is Earth Day at Minnesota DOT” – features an interview with the agency’s commissioner, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who details the Minnesota DOT’s successful efforts to shrink its carbon footprint, advance renewable energy consumption, plus safeguard and beautify the environment around the construction sites managed by the agency.

Minnesota DOT Adopting Broad Array of Sustainability Initiatives

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is adopting a slate of recommendations proposed by the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council or STAC in order to create “measurable strategies” to help the state transition to a low-carbon transportation system.

[Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of transportation.]

Those recommendations include:

  • Developing a clean fuels policy.
  • Supporting electric vehicle rebates.
  • Increasing investment in charging infrastructure.
  • Setting a preliminary 20 percent goal of reducing vehicle miles traveled or VMT statewide by 2050.
  • Prioritizing transit and high-occupancy vehicles on agency-owned right of way.
  • Continuing to prioritize other solutions before considering highway expansion

“We are deeply grateful to the members of the STAC for their thorough recommendations as we work collaboratively to reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector,” noted Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minnesota DOT’s commissioner, in a statement.

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota DOT.

“Our climate is changing, and we all share in the responsibility of working harder to achieve Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act emission reduction goals. The recommendations of the STAC will be critical to our success,” she added.

The Minnesota DOT created STAC following its 2019 report Pathways to Decarbonizing Transportation, which identified several actions, recommendations, and opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from surface transportation.

“The MnDOT is leading with action by convening and listening to a diverse group of community leaders on the STAC,” noted Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy and STAC’s co-chair.

“But make no mistake, the MnDOT can’t do this work alone,” he explained, “Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions will require significant public-private and interagency partnerships as well as coordination with municipal and county agencies. Our STAC recommendations are one important step, and we appreciate that the MnDOT is moving forward with many of them.”

Concurrently, the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota is moving into the second phase of a multi-year national pooled-fund study to measure access to destinations, such as jobs, education, and health care as a way to guide transportation investments and land-use planning.

“Measuring access to destinations gives us the clearest possible view of how well our transportation systems connect travelers with important destinations,” explained Andrew Owen, the Observatory’s director, in a statement.

“It can also reveal how transportation and land use planning work together to set the stage for future growth and sustainability,” he added. “Comprehensive accessibility metrics can help planners make wise, cost-effective transportation system investments that will best serve public needs as they evolve through an increasingly uncertain future.”

Arizona DOT Installing New LED Highway Lights to Save Energy, Money

The Arizona Department of Transportation recently started upgrading the lighting system inside the Interstate 10 Deck Park Tunnel north of downtown Phoenix – a project that should save both energy and money.

[Photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Transportation.]

The Deck Park Tunnel – which originally opened in August 1990 – currently uses an “old style” high-pressure sodium lighting system. The Arizona DOT is now replacing that old lighting system with 3,200 new light-emitting diode or LED fixtures; a $1.4 million project that should take several months to complete. The agency said in a statement that the new LED fixtures – expected to last well over twice as long as their sodium predecessors – should result in energy savings worth more than $175,000 per year; savings that, over time, will help pay for the cost of installing the new LED system.

Minnesota DOT Releases Fourth Annual Sustainability Report

The Minnesota Department of Transportation recently released its fourth annual Sustainability Report; a 26-page document based on 2019 data that tracks the agency’s progress towards achieving a number of sustainability and climate goals.

[Above photo courtesy of MnDOT.]

Some of the sustainability achievements cited by the agency include: Reducing energy consumption per square foot by 17 percent between 2008 and 2019; issuing a request for proposal for community solar garden subscriptions that will save the Minnesota DOT more than $1.5 million and account for almost 25 percent of total agency electricity use; increasing the number of electric vehicles within the agency’s fleet from four to 29; exceeding the department’s goal in the 2018-2019 winter season for reducing salt usage.

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
Photo courtesy of MnDOT.

[Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the Minnesota DOT commissioner and chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on the Environment and Sustainability, recently explained Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast that Minnesota looks for the “triple bottom line” when evaluating sustainability: how sustainability efforts affect the health of people, how it impacts the environment, and how it impacts the economy.]

However, the Minnesota DOT also noted a few setbacks in its report as well. Carbon pollution from transportation, for example, continued to increase between 2018 and 2019 – an uptick attributed to low gas prices, increased freight traffic, people driving more miles, and more purchases of low-fuel efficiency pick-up trucks and sport utility vehicles.  In addition, the agency reported higher fuel consumption by agency fleet vehicles in 2019, mostly by its snowplow trucks due to its winter operations needs

“Transportation is the primary source of carbon pollution in Minnesota and the U.S. and MnDOT is committed to address climate impacts and to work with communities throughout the state to develop a sustainable transportation system of the future,” emphasized Tim Sexton, the agency’s assistant commissioner and chief sustainability director, in a statement. The agency added that impacts to the state’s transportation system and its response to recent events in 2020 – including the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest related to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis – may be addressed in future iterations of its sustainability report.

ETAP Podcast: Minnesota DOT’s Margaret Anderson Kelliher

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast, host Bernie Wagenblast interviews Margaret Anderson Kelliher, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, about her state’s perspectives on environmental sustainability.

Anderson Kelliher, who serves as chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on the Environment and Sustainability, explains on the podcast that Minnesota looks for the “triple bottom line” when evaluating sustainability: how sustainability efforts affects the health of people, how it impacts the environment, and how it impacts the economy.

To listen to this podcast episode, click here.