FHWA Starts Low Carbon Transportation Materials Program

The Federal Highway Administration has officially launched its Low Carbon Transportation Materials Program, which aims to lower air pollution – specifically greenhouse gas or GHG emissions – via “reimbursement and incentive funding” for low carbon construction materials and products used in transportation infrastructure projects.

[Above photo by WVDOT]

Established by the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the FHWA’s low carbon program will make $2 billion available to state departments of transportation, Native American tribes, Metropolitan Planning Organizations or MPOs, and transportation other agencies to buy materials that create less pollution – including steel, concrete, and asphalt.

In a statement, the FHWA explained that it will use a “hybrid approach” to implement the program:

  • First, FHWA is making $1.2 billion available to states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico through a Request for Applications or RFA to fund activities and projects that reduce pollution, including carbon emissions, through the use of low-embodied carbon materials and products. The agency said this approach allows it to quickly provide reimbursement or incentive funds to states to begin eligible activities and incorporate low-embodied carbon materials on construction projects now.
  • Second, later in 2024, FHWA said it will make $800 million available for “non-state” applicants, including cities, Native American tribes, MPOs, and other transportation agencies through a notice of funding opportunity or NOFO. That NOFO will encourage applicants to partner with states where appropriate and will include offers of technical assistance for applicants, FHWA noted.

In addition to funding the use of cleaner construction materials that reduce pollution and carbon emissions for transportation projects, FHWA said its new low carbon program will provide resources for agencies to implement processes and coordinate with industry to quantify the emissions of construction materials.

That information will allow substantially lower carbon materials to be identified by comparing emissions to established thresholds, the agency pointed out, with funding also allowed for the development of specifications for low-embodied carbon materials that ensure adequate engineering performance for appropriate use on federal-aid projects.

Pete Buttigieg, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, explained his agency’s perspective regarding the “climate benefits” from expanded use of low carbon materials during a panel discussion in January at the Transportation Research Board’s 2024 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

“Our aim is to make infrastructure materials like pavement more effective, resilient, durable, and longer lasting than ever before,” Buttigieg explained at that session. “It’s about making the right kind of investments not just to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure but to redefine how it is built.”

He added that while only 60 years separated the first airborne flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., and America putting a man on the moon, the transportation industry still relies on infrastructure materials in use during the Roman Empire.

“Our role, then, at USDOT, is to make sure we have a good understanding of the role of materials we use in transportation and how they are encoded into the decisions we make,” the secretary said. “There is a very low level of attention paid to materials research, but an even marginal change in quality could be massive if multiplied out among all the projects we work on.”

Podcast: Hawaii Paving Industry Talks Plastic Roads

Two bonus episodes of the AASHTO re:source podcast follow up with different perspectives on the recent “plastic roads” project initiated by the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

[Above image by Hawaii DOT]

AASHTO re:source – which launched this podcast series in September 2020 – is a major technical service program of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. It provides services and tools through three major programs: the Laboratory Assessment Program, the Proficiency Sample Program, and the AASHTO Accreditation Program.

Part one and part two of this special “plastic road” podcast series covered Hawaii DOT’s effort to test the incorporation of recycled plastics into its road paving processes. Now the two follow-up bonus episodes provide exterior perspectives on the agency’s project.

The first bonus episode talks with Jon Young, executive director of the Hawaii Asphalt Paving Industry, about how the paving contractors and contractors his organization represent desire to be part of such projects at the front end so they can help develop “good plans” in order deliver good outcomes from such research. The second bonus episode will follow in the next few weeks.

“Such projects have to make sense economically [and] definitely must make the world better,” Young explained on the AASHTO re:source podcast. “We’re just trying to help them implement [this project] it smoothly as possible and we think it is great the [Hawaii] DOT is so innovative.”

To listen to more of this podcast episode, click here.

AASHTO Re:source Podcast: Hawaii DOT & ‘Plastic Roads’

The AASHTO re:source podcast recently interviewed Ed Sniffen (above), director for the Hawaii Department of Transportation, for a two-part episode about how his agency is testing the incorporation of recycled plastics into its road paving processes. To listen to part one of this two-part podcast episode, click here.

[Above image by AASHTO]

AASHTO re:source – which launched this podcast series in September 2020 – is a major technical service program of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. It provides services and tools through three major programs: the Laboratory Assessment Program, the Proficiency Sample Program, and the AASHTO Accreditation Program.

Sniffen – who previously appeared on the AASHTO re:source podcast in February to discuss his agency’s resiliency planning efforts – said using recycling plastics as part of Hawaii DOT’s mix of paving materials is “part our never-ending quest to be greener” in its road construction and maintenance operations.

“When we started looking back at the pavements on our system, [we saw] that every seven to 10 years, we have to rip out that upper layer and process another layer in. So we tried to see how we can do better,” he explained.

“We started using better materials and making sure that we reconstructed roadways rather than just putting in a ‘mill and fill.’ And that’s helped us tremendously in ensuring that we don’t have to do as much work as CO2 [carbon dioxide] intensive as often,” Sniffen noted. “Now we’re starting to use a stone matrix, asphalt, and polymer mix to create ‘modified asphalts.’ It’s going to give us that 20 to 25-year lifespan we’re looking for.”

Appointed to lead Hawaii DOT in December 2022, Sniffen is a recognized state DOT leader on the topic of resilience and “green” construction initiatives.

He serves as the chair of the Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and has testified on Capitol Hill about a variety of infrastructure resiliency issues as well.

Sniffen also participated in a knowledge session on infrastructure resilience hosted during AASHTO’s 2022 Spring Meeting in New Orleans.

Video: New Jersey DOT’s Use of Foamed Glass Aggregate

The New Jersey Department of Transportation recently released a video detailing how its use of “foamed glass aggregate” provides a multitude of green benefits to the state – especially as the material is made from recycled glass bottles.

[Above photo by the New Jersey DOT]

Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, commissioner of the New Jersey DOT, noted in testimony before a state assembly hearing on her agency’s fiscal year 2024 budget plan that foamed glass aggregate is one of the “new innovations” her department is using to build resiliency into the state’s transportation projects.

“[We] recently started using ultra-lightweight foamed glass aggregate made from 99 percent recycled glass bottles [as] it is up to 85 percent lighter than traditional aggregate, which makes it a good material for projects that require fill on soft soils, areas with underground utilities, and embankments,” she explained.

She pointed to a recent example of a project – the Route 7 Wittpenn Bridge project, which connects Jersey City and Kearney over the Hackensack River – that used 32,000 cubic yards of foamed glass aggregate, repurposing more than 27 million bottles. 

“As the effects of climate change, sea level rise, and increasingly severe weather continue to impact New Jersey, resiliency projects will become even more important,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “We cannot control Mother Nature, so we are doing more to build resiliency into our projects and to safeguard our infrastructure for the future–not just a few years into the future, but for decades to come.  It is about supporting today’s critical transportation infrastructure needs while laying the foundation for the next generation of transportation advancements in New Jersey.”

Many state departments of transportation are experimenting with ways to use recycled materials in roadway and other pavement designs to help boost their resiliency and sustainability.

For example, the Illinois Department of Transportation began working with the Illinois Center for Transportation in December 2021 to develop more “sustainable pavement practices,” which includes ways to incorporate more recycled materials such as plastic into asphalt mixes.

Both are working on a joint project – dubbed “R27-196-HS: Rheology-Chemical Based Procedure to Evaluate Additives/Modifiers Used in Asphalt Binders for Performance Enhancements: Phase 2” – to investigate methods to “soften” asphalt binder to reduce pavement cracking.

As recycled materials are added to hot mix asphalt, the asphalt tends to harden and become brittle, potentially leading to premature cracking. As a result the project’s researchers began testing the use of different “modifiers” or softening additives to asphalt binders to improve long-term pavement performance, especially when recycled materials are used in the mix.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation wrapped up a pilot project in 2021 that used pellets made from grocery bags, milk jugs, and other recyclable plastics in an asphalt reconstruction project.

Those pellets were added to the asphalt in two quarter-mile test sections of the project at the entrance to Ridley Creek State Park, about 15 miles west of Philadelphia.

The expected benefits from this project include diverting waste plastics from landfills, helping to establish a market for recycled plastics, and extending the useful life of asphalt pavements, PennDOT said.

USDOT Issues $185M in ‘Reconnecting Communities’ Grants

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded $185 million in grants to 45 projects through its new “Reconnecting Communities” pilot program – what the agency described as a “first-of-its-kind” initiative to reconnect communities “cut off from opportunity and burdened by past transportation infrastructure decisions.”

[Above photo by USDOT]

Established by $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA, which was enacted in November 2021, the “Reconnecting Communities” program provides technical assistance and funding for communities’ planning and construction projects that aim to connect neighborhoods back together by removing, retrofitting, or mitigating transportation barriers such as highways and railroad tracks.

USDOT noted that this first round of grants – comprised of 39 planning grants and six capital construction grants – will fund construction and planning for transformative community-led solutions, including capping interstates with parks, filling in sunken highways to reclaim the land for housing, creating tree-lined “Complete Streets,” and creating new crossings through public transportation, bridges, tunnels and trails.

“Transportation should connect, not divide, people and communities,” noted Pete Buttigieg, USDOT secretary, in a statement. “We are proud to announce the first grantees of our Reconnecting Communities program, which will unite neighborhoods, ensure the future is better than the past, and provide Americans with better access to jobs, health care, groceries and other essentials.”   

For example, the California Department of Transportation and the City of Oakland received one of those grants – worth $680,000 – to explore ways to reconnect communities divided by transportation infrastructure along I-980; one of five California projects receiving “Reconnecting Communities” program grants.

The I-980 corridor, completed in 1985, ended up dividing communities in West Oakland from downtown Oakland and today acts as a barrier to travel and economic opportunities between these communities. The new grant allows Caltrans and the City of Oakland to study alternatives for reconnecting communities along the corridor with an expanded focus on community integration and environmental justice. 

“Transportation should always improve access to opportunity and be a uniter not a divider,” said Toks Omishakin, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, in a statement. “These awards, coupled with the forthcoming $150 million state investment for a parallel ‘Highways to Boulevards pilot program,’ will allow California neighborhoods divided by transportation infrastructure – particularly historically disadvantaged communities – to take steps to remove literal barriers to opportunity and begin making up for past harms.”

Alaska DOT&PF Collaborating on Low Emission Ferry Project

Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities and the Southeast Conference plan to collaborate on a low emission ferry research project.

[Above photo by the Alaska DOT&PF]

Alternative fuel powered, low emission, and electric ferries could be a game-changer for Alaska’s Marine Highway System, the agency said, as it starts replacing aging ferry vessels in upcoming years.

Fuel-efficient ferries could increase the range and capacity of the fleet, potentially increasing service to communities and reducing AMHS operating costs, noted Alaska DOT&PF Commissioner Ryan Anderson, in a statement.

“Revitalizing the Alaska Marine Highway System is so important to us,” he said. “Pushing forward to see if alternative fuels, low emissions, or electric ferries, could make our vessels more efficient, could potentially allow us to add service to our coastal communities.”

AMHS operates over more marine miles than any other ferry system in the United States, serving 35 communities with 10 ferries spread out over 3,500 marine miles.

The Southeast Conference will support this research project, which will include a detailed examination of the costs, benefits, and overall technical and financial feasibility of low-emission ferry operations within the AMHS service area.

Funding for the research comes from the new $500 million Electric/Low-Emission Ferry pilot program – established by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, enacted in November 2021 – that seeks to spur the transition of ferry propulsion systems to low- or zero-emission technologies.

“Southeast Conference was formed in 1958 to work with the State of Alaska toward the formation of the Alaska Marine Highway System,” noted Robert Venables, the group’s executive director.

“The success of AMHS is still our passion and priority, and we are excited to continue our partnership with the State to pursue implementation of both the Reshaping Committee recommendations and the opportunities that have emerged in the new federal funding programs,” he added. “This pilot program is well-timed given Alaska’s need to plan for new vessels to replace the Alaska Marine Highway’s aging fleet.”

Caltrans Issues Funds for Local Transportation Projects

The California Department of Transportation has awarded $34.7 million in state and federal funds to cities, counties, tribes, and transit agencies statewide to support a variety of locally focused sustainable transportation projects.

[Above photo via Wikimedia Commons]

Those projects include efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve the state highway system, enhance access to safe walkways and bike paths, and increase natural disaster preparedness.

“These grants are funding the planning for sustainable and more resilient transportation projects that will prepare the state for rising sea levels, wildfires, and other climate-related impacts,” noted Steven Keck, interim director for Caltrans, in a statement.

“By collaborating with local communities, we are working together to achieve both our climate goals and an equitable transportation infrastructure for people who rely on transit and intercity bus service,” he said.

In total, Caltrans is allocating:

  • $18.4 million in Sustainable Communities Competitive and Technical Grants to 57 local, regional, tribal, and transit agencies for climate change adaptation, transportation, and land use planning, plus natural disaster preparedness. This includes more than $4.5 million to fund planning for 14 projects that improve safety and access for people who walk and bike.
  • $3.8 million in federally funded Strategic Partnership Grants to 10 projects that will plan for zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, sustainable goods movement, wildlife connectivity, intercity bus systems, and other sustainability initiatives.
  • $12.5 million in Sustainable Communities Formula Grants to metropolitan planning organizations to further regional transportation plans and sustainable community strategies. Caltrans will formally award those grants later this spring.

This local transportation funding follows the adoption of a new “complete streets” policy by Caltrans in December 2021 for all new transportation projects it funds or oversees in order to provide “safe and accessible options” for people walking, biking, and taking transit.

A “complete street” policy seeks to expand mobility options for people of all ages and abilities, particularly those who are walking, biking, using assistive mobility devices, and riding transit.

Caltrans said its “complete streets” requirement offers several benefits, including enhancing safety and creating more sustainable transportation options to decrease dependence on driving and improving public health by encouraging more active transportation options.

The agency added that its new policy ultimately aims to “expand the availability” of “sustainable transportation options” to help meet the state’s climate, health, and equity goals.

Connecticut DOT Makes Sustainability Central to Capital Plan

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is making sustainability central to its new interim five-year Capital Plan, covering fiscal years 2022 through 2026.

[Above photo by the Connecticut DOT]

The agency said the interim plan includes $2.25 billion in total capital program funding for the fiscal year 2022, which began October 1, 2021, including approximately $1.36 billion for roadway and bridge infrastructure, $844 million for bus and rail, and $49 million in support of agency facility repairs and improvements.

Connecticut DOT added that its “new focus” within the new interim plan is on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting natural and community resources, and improving the health and safety of residents – a focus that includes investments in public transportation plus bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

“Strategic investments in infrastructure, increased access to public transportation, and new initiatives that reduce our carbon emissions are critically important to economic growth in Connecticut and the health and safety of residents,” explained Joseph Giulietti, commissioner for the Connecticut DOT, in a statement.

“Our interim five-year plan demonstrates our ongoing commitment to safety, equity, and resiliency,” he said. “As we emerge from the pandemic, we will do so stronger and with the support we need.”

The Connecticut DOT also noted it operates more than 2,500 traffic signals – more than all other New England states combined – and is embarking on a 10-year program to upgrade the system to reduce transportation emissions and better meet the mobility needs of all roadway users.

Where public transportation is concerned, the agency said ridership continues to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, with rail ridership at approximately 50 percent and bus ridership over 70 percent of pre-COVID levels. Given new trends in commuter needs, such as more telework options, Connecticut DOT said focusing its transit funding on “service improvement and customer experience” projects. 

Finally, the agency is aligning its funding with an executive order signed by Governor Ned Lamont (D) in December 2021 directing Connecticut DOT and all other state agencies to take “actionable steps” to reduce carbon emissions. 

As a result, projects included in Connecticut DOT’s interim five-year plan that directly reduce emissions and improve air quality include installing more electric vehicle charging stations, installing solar power at agency facilities, plus expanding the Community Connectivity Grant Program to build-out accessible sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike infrastructure, while converting its transit fleet to electric buses.

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.