FHWA Issues Finalized GHG Performance Measurement Rule

The Federal Highway Administration recently issued a finalized performance measurement rule to provide state departments of transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations with a “national framework” for tracking transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions GHGs, along with the requirement to set their own targets for GHG reduction.

[Above image by FHWA]

Entitled “National Performance Management Measures; Assessing Performance of the National Highway System, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Measure,” FHWA’s final GHG performance rule – located in the Federal Register under docket number FHWA-2021-0004 – largely retains what the agency issued in its notice of proposed rulemaking in July 2022, which required state DOTs and MPOs to establish declining carbon dioxide (CO2) targets for the GHG measure on the 223,668-mile National Highway System (NHS) and report on progress toward the achievement of those targets.

The final rule defines the GHG measure to be the percent change in on-road tailpipe CO2 emissions on the NHS, relative to the reference year of 2022 instead of 2021 – a recommendation the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials submitted to FHWA in its commentary on the GHG performance measure.

As a result, state DOTs must establish targets no later than February 1, 2024, with MPOs required to establish targets no later than 180 days after the state DOT.

FHWA Administrator Shailen Bhatt emphasized that this new tool will play a key role in the Biden administration’s effort to cut U.S. carbon pollution in half by 2030.

“Transportation is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and reducing emissions from that sector while ensuring our economy works for everyday Americans is critical to addressing the climate crisis,” he noted in a statement. “We don’t expect state DOTs and MPOs to solve a problem this large on their own, which is why this performance measure does not impose penalties for those who miss their targets.”

AASHTO noted in its commentary on the proposed rule that state DOTs “recognize the urgency and need to address and mitigate climate change given its harmful impacts to both the natural and built environment” and thus “strongly support” FHWA’s overall goal and intent of reducing GHGs.

AASHTO further noted that, regardless of FHWA’s GHG measure, all state DOTs are “addressing extreme weather impacts” as part of their transportation asset management plans which serve to guide their investment decisions.

“In addition, many states are developing resilience improvement plans to holistically understand how they can make the transportation infrastructure more resilient to withstand the effects of extreme weather and climate change,” the organization added.

That being said, AASHTO also noted that not all state DOTs have the same ability to directly affect the reduction in GHG emissions, nor do they have control over certain strategies and tactics that may look promising for reducing GHG emissions.

“These strategies and actions will vary by state and, like other state and federal transportation goals, require different approaches appropriate to the specific state context,” the organization noted.

In addition, AASHTO had expressed in its 2022 comments that it does not agree FHWA was provided the necessary legal authority by Congress to establish this particular performance measure, as the approach to establishing the GHG rule could lead to the establishment of new and additional performance measures without explicit Congressional authorization in the future.

Beyond the development of FHWA’s regulation, several states have been engaging in their own carbon-reduction efforts.

For example, in August 2021, the Colorado Transportation Commission proposed new transportation pollution reduction planning standards on August 16 that seek to cut greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from the state’s transportation sector while improving statewide air quality and reducing smog.

Known as the “Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Planning Standard,” that rule aims to “shape” how state and local governments plan projects to ensure future transportation infrastructure supports cleaner air and fights climate change, all while providing more “travel options” to Colorado residents.

As part of that effort, the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado Energy Office, and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment developed a “Clean Truck Strategy” in March 2022 that seeks to lower greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from heavy- and medium-duty vehicles by at least 45 percent statewide by 2050.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Department of Transportation issued a Carbon Reduction Strategy document in December 2022. That plan recognizes that, while expected economic growth and heavy freight activity across the state are just some of the headwinds the agency will face in achieving its CO2 reduction objectives, technological advances and deepening partnerships with MPOs, logistics industry, transit agencies and other key stakeholders should help cut GHG emissions across Indiana’s transportation system.

USDOT Initiates Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Prevention Project

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently began what it calls a “first-of-its-kind” pilot program to prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity.

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

Created and funded by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021, that pilot program – dubbed the “Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program” and managed by the Federal Highway Administration – will make grant funding available to states and communities to construct wildlife crossings over or below busy roads, add warning signs for drivers, acquire mapping and tracking tools, and more.

FHWA is making a total of $350 million available over five years, including more than $111 million in grants through its first round of funding in 2023. The agency also noted that roughly 200 people are killed – and many more are injured – annually in the United States in more than one million collisions involving wildlife and vehicles.

“There are proven practices to prevent crashes between vehicles and wildlife, and with this investment, we’re going to take commonsense steps to reduce collisions and make roads safer for rural and urban communities alike,”FHWA Administrator Shailen Bhatt said in a statement.

“Communities that may not previously have had access to funding for these critical projects can finally make roads safer while protecting wildlife and their movement corridors,” he added.

FHWA noted that grants are available for all wildlife-vehicle collision prevention activities, including but not limited to research, planning, design, and construction.

The agency added that it seeks to award funds for both non-construction and construction projects via the new program, including research on safety innovations, mapping and tracking tools, and the design and construction of overpasses and underpasses.

A recent blog post by the Pew Trusts highlights how the growing success of wildlife crossings – bridges, underpasses, and culverts designed to help animals avoid vehicle traffic – across the U.S. is drawing a surge of interest from policymakers seeking to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and protect animals.

Meanwhile, state departments of transportation have already been working on a variety of wildlife-vehicle collision prevention initiatives over the last several years.

For example, to date, Colorado DOT said it has built more than 60 wildlife mitigation structures crossing above or under highways throughout the state. Additionally, it has installed 400 miles of high big game fencing along state and U.S. highways or next to the interstates.

In August 2022, the agency completed a wildlife overpass and underpass on U.S. Highway 160 in the southwestern part of the state; a stretch of road where more than 60 percent of all crashes are due to wildlife-vehicle collisions.

In April 2022, the Oregon Department of Transportation received a special one-time allocation of $7 million in general funds from the Oregon legislature to invest in wildlife corridor projects statewide.

The Oregon DOT said it has had “great success” with wildlife undercrossing structures in recent years, with five crossings built to date in the state, all on U.S. 97, leading to an 86 percent reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions.

Concurrently, a research document released in July 2022 by an international pool funded study led by the Nevada Department of Transportation provides an “authoritative review” of the most effective measures to reduce animal-vehicle collisions, improve motorist safety, and build safer wildlife crossings.

State DOTs Receive FTA Grant Funding for Ferry Service

Several state departments of transportation received grant awards from the Federal Transit Administration as part of $384.4 million in funds issued via the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA, enacted November 2021, for expanding and improving the nation’s ferry service nationwide as well as accelerate the transition to zero-emission propulsion systems.

[Above photo via the FTA]

In total, FTA awarded 23 grants across 11 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands to fund a wide variety of projects, including the replacement of old vessels, fleet expansions, and the construction of new terminals and docks.

Nearly $100 million of the national grants will go toward low- and no-emission ferries, helping decrease greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, it said.

The agency is making all of that funding available through three FTA competitive grant programs:

  • FTA’s Ferry Service for Rural Communities Program provides competitive funding to states for ferry service in rural areas. FTA is awarding $252.4 million to eight projects in four states via this program.
  • FTA’s Electric or Low-Emitting Ferry Pilot Program provides competitive funding for electric or low-emitting ferries and charging equipment that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using alternative fuels or on-board energy storage systems. FTA is awarding $97.6 million to seven projects in seven states via this program.
  • FTA’s Passenger Ferry Grant Program supports capital projects to establish new ferry service, and repair and modernize ferry vessels, terminals, and facilities and equipment in urbanized areas. FTA is awarding $34.4 million to eight projects in six states and the U.S. Virgin Islands via this program.

“Today’s announcement represents a record amount of support for transit ferries in our country,” said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez in a statement. “For the first time ever, we are able to provide competitive grant funds for passenger ferry service in rural areas and help ferry operators reduce their climate impact.”

Seven state DOTs are receiving FTA funds for a variety of ferry projects:  

  • The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, which is receiving six grants for nearly $286 million, will build passenger ferries to replace or modernize older vessels and make critical dock upgrades in several communities. The grants will improve the condition and quality of the Alaska Marine Highway System, which runs 3,500 miles and serves 35 communities, particularly for people in remote locations with high transportation costs.
  • The Georgia Department of Transportation will receive $4 million on behalf of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to buy a new electric ferry to replace an older vessel for the continuation of daily transit services in McIntosh County. The DNR operates passenger ferry service between Meridian, and Sapelo Island, ensuring residents have access to medical, education, shopping needs and other mainland points of interest.
  • The Maine Department of Transportation will receive $28 million through the Electric or Low-Emitting Ferry Pilot Program to build a hybrid-electric vessel to replace a 35-year-old ferry. The new hybrid-electric vessel will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote environmental sustainability for the roughly 600 residents of the island of Islesboro, a rural community in upper Penobscot Bay that relies on passenger ferry service.
  • The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will receive $6.6 million through the Passenger Ferry Grant Program to modernize the Hingham Ferry dock to improve safety and accessibility and ensure it stays in a state of good repair. MBTA will stabilize the ferry dock, reconstruct walkways, upgrading lighting, safety and security systems and facilitating back-up power, allowing for an increase in ferry capacity, operational flexibility, and resiliency.
  • The Michigan Department of Transportation will receive $6.6 million to renovate docks and build a new ferry for the Charlevoix to Beaver Island route. Beaver Island is the largest island in Lake Michigan and the most remote inhabited island in the Great Lakes.
  • The North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division will receive $1.34 million to modernize the NCDOT Manns Harbor Shipyard paint facility, increasing safety and bringing it up to a state of good repair. Modernization work at the shipyard, built in the 1960s, will include replacing interior lighting with LED, installing explosion-proof lighting and using fire-retardant paint to increase efficiency and provide a safe working environment.

The Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division will receive $11.6 million for three projects: building a new Southworth Ferry Terminal; construction of an electric charging facility at the Clinton Ferry Terminal; and upgrades for its electronic payment system for passenger fares.

FTA Makes $1.7B Available for Transit Investments

The Federal Transit Administration recently issued a notice of funding opportunity for nearly $1.7 billion in discretionary grants to support state and local transit fleet modernization efforts as well as to support transit workforce development programs. Applications are due by April 13.

[Above photo via the FTA]

This funding opportunity engages two major FTA programs, the agency said. The first is its Low or No Emission (Low-No) program, which helps transit agencies buy or lease U.S.-built zero-emission and low-emission transit buses along with charging equipment and supporting facilities. The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA, enacted in November 2021, provides $5.5 billion over five years for this program, with approximately $1.22 billion will be available for grants in fiscal year 2023.

The second is the FTA’s Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities program, which supports transit agencies in buying and rehabilitating buses, vans, and related equipment as well as constructing bus facilities. The IIJA provides nearly $2 billion over five years for the program. For FY 2023, roughly $469 million in grant funds are available via this program, FTA said.

Finally, the agency noted that those grant funds will also go towards workforce training and development programs aimed at helping “upskill” transit maintenance personnel on new clean bus technologies. Consequently, five percent of each grant for zero-emission projects must be used for workforce development and training, the agency said.

“Buying new buses, including many vehicles that use new technology to fight climate change, will promote cleaner, faster, and safer rides as we move toward a better future,” said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez in a statement. “We will be able to connect more people in their communities and improve the reliability of transit service.”

In August 2022, FTA announced the first round of selections for both its Low-No and bus facility grant programs, which the agency said should put roughly 1,800 new American-made buses on the roads, with over 1,100 of those using zero-emissions technology.

USDOT Seeks Input for Thriving Communities Initiative

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a request for information or RFI on August 5 to get feedback from industry stakeholders regarding its new Thriving Communities Initiative, which the agency plans to launch this fall. Comments are due by August 26.

[Above photo by New Jersey DOT]

The agency said this new program – created by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in November 2021 – seeks to provide technical assistance and “hands-on” planning to support “transformative infrastructure projects” serving disadvantaged communities across the country.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD is providing complementary technical assistance as part of the Thriving Communities program, USDOT added, to improve the coordination of housing and transportation planning to advance residents’ access to opportunity and increase housing supply. 

USDOT said it defines “technical assistance” to include programs, processes, and resources that provide targeted support, knowledge, or expertise to a community, region, organization, or other beneficiary to help access and successfully deploy funding and build local capacity to develop, design, and deliver transportation plans and projects.

The agency noted that it is interested in learning more about best practices in technical assistance delivery approaches from non-federal providers and those federal agencies disadvantaged communities feel have been successful in meeting their needs. USDOT is also interested in the technical assistance challenges disadvantaged communities face or anticipate facing when seeking to access its technical assistance and capacity-building opportunities.

“Given the historic levels of infrastructure funding we have, it is critical that we ensure disadvantaged communities can access those funds,” said USDOT Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg in a statement. “Through the Thriving Communities Initiative and other programs, the Department of Transportation is committed to collaborating with communities to craft technical assistance programs that meet them where they are and meet their needs — helping to create efficient, accessible transportation for all communities.”

USDOT added that it has aligned its Build America Bureau and other programs with the Thriving Communities initiative, including technical assistance programs supported through the Reconnecting Communities pilot program, the Rural and Tribal Assistance pilot program, and the Asset Concession and Innovative Finance Assistance program. 

“Together these critical programs will provide support and access to a diverse set of technical assistance providers to work directly with communities as they identify, develop and deliver infrastructure projects that address critical social, economic, environmental, and mobility needs,” added Morteza Farajian, the Build America Bureau’s executive director.

Committee on Environment and Sustainability Announces Annual Meeting Dates

The AASHTO Committee on Environment and Sustainability is excited to invite you to the committee’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas. The meeting will be held July 11th-14th at the Westin Downtown Austin. The meeting will feature speakers from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, as well as other stakeholders. Registration for the annual meeting and hotel reservations can be completed here. We look forward to seeing you there!

If you have any questions regarding the event or registration, please contact, Jenn Billo (jbillo@aashto.org) or David Peters (dpeters@aashto.org). If you encounter any problems securing a room at the hotel, please contact Meghan Wozniak (mwozniak@aashto.org).

FHWA Now Accepting Nominations for 2022 Environmental Excellence Awards

The Environmental Excellence Awards (EEAs) recognize outstanding transportation projects, processes, and organizations that incorporate environmental stewardship into the planning and project development processes using Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funding sources.

Any organization, agency, group, or individual in the public, private, or non-profit sectors may submit a nomination. Entries are due by December 15, 2021. Please visit the EEA Applications Website to learn more about the EEA process and to submit an application.

Senate Confirms Buttigieg as USDOT Secretary

The Senate confirmed Peter Buttigieg as the 19th secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation on February 2 by a vote of 86 to 13. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the nomination of the former 2020 Democrat presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, IN, to be USDOT secretary on January 27 by a vote of 21 to 3.

[Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.]

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials congratulated Buttigieg upon his confirmation by the Senate as USDOT secretary and looks forward to working with him on a number of critical transportation issues.  

“The nation faces a number of tremendous challenges and we know transportation will play a key role in building America back,” noted Jim Tymon, AASHTO executive director, in a statement.

“AASHTO believes the work being done in transportation should endeavor to improve quality of life for all Americans,” he added. “State DOTs look forward to working with Secretary Buttigieg to make that happen by improving safety; building a more resilient transportation system; and, supporting modally diverse options for people and their communities.”  

Safety and infrastructure investment – along with ways to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund – were key points Buttigieg emphasized during his confirmation hearing before the Senate commerce committee on January 21.

“Safety is the foundation of the department [of transportation’s] mission, and it takes on new meaning amid this [COVID-19] pandemic,” Buttigieg said in his written testimony. “We must ensure all of our transportation systems – from aviation to public transit, to our railways, roads, ports, waterways, and pipelines – are managed safely during this critical period, as we work to defeat the virus.”

“We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this by … creating millions of good-paying jobs, revitalizing communities that have been left behind, enabling American small businesses, workers, families, and farmers to compete and win in the global economy, and tackling the climate crisis,” he added.

“Infrastructure can be the cornerstone to all of this, and you have my commitment that I will work closely with you to deliver the innovation and growth that America needs in this area,” Buttigieg emphasized.

AASHTO also pointed to a recently released list of  2021 policy priorities that will guide the organization’s efforts in support of transportation infrastructure strategies and investments.

Top AASHTO priorities include passage of an infrastructure investment package to help spur the nation’s economic recovery while supporting “timely reauthorization” of a long-term surface transportation funding bill to prevent unnecessary program disruptions and delays in safety and mobility benefits to states and communities.

“As the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, state DOTs will serve as a resource for Secretary Buttigieg and the U.S. Department of Transportation to help address the nation’s transportation challenges,” explained AASHTO’s Tymon. “Like Secretary Buttigieg, state DOTs support equity in transportation investments and decision-making. And, they share a desire to address our nation’s climate crisis and make transportation systems more resilient.”