Louisiana DOTD Wins Award for Brine Management

Scott Boyle (seen above), assistant administrator of operations for District 2 of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, recently received an award on behalf of his district’s handling of brine disposal.

[Above photo by the Louisiana DOTD. Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng (at left) presents a ‘Certificate of Merit’ to Louisiana DOTD’s Scott Boyle.]

Louisiana DOTD’s District 2 received the 2022 Environmental Leadership Award from the Jefferson Parish Department of Environmental Affairs for its efforts to dispose of excess brine used in winter road clearing operations to minimize the impact on the local water table.

In January, in preparation for an anticipated ice storm in the greater New Orleans area, Louisiana DOTD produced nearly 1,800 gallons of brine to combat ice on the region’s most critical roads and bridges. However, once the weather event was over, a surplus of brine remained.

“In the past, we have tried to store the brine in stationary tanks, but algae growth and the degradation of the solution from heat and sunlight prevented us from re-using the brine for future winter events,” said Boyle in a statement. “Knowing that this material needed to be disposed of responsibly, we contacted the Jefferson Parish Storm Water Management team for guidance.”

Louisiana DOTD then worked with the Jefferson Parish Bridge City Wastewater Treatment Plant – located next to District 2’s headquarters – to dispose of the brine. The mixture was disposed of on a drying bed located on the treatment plant property, filtering out a portion of the salt before introducing the salted water into the plant slowly so it would not shock or upset the wastewater treatment process.

According to Jefferson Parish, these awards recognize those individuals, businesses, or organizations that strive for environmental leadership through programs and actions that improve stormwater quality and/or quantity, thereby reducing the amount of pollution that enters Jefferson Parish waterways.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be recognized for our partnership with Jefferson Parish as [Louisiana] DOTD ensures that we are doing our part to improve our surrounding waterway quality,” Boyle said. “Actions can have significant impacts on the region that we love to live and play in.”

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.

Tennessee DOT Helping Deploy ‘Seabins’ for River Cleanup

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has teamed up with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTRB) and other partners to establish a network of 17 “Seabin” automated litter and debris removal devices across the Tennessee River watershed.

[Above photo by the Seabin Project]

Seabin devices work continuously to skim and collect marine debris from the surface of the water. Each receptacle can remove up to 3,000 pounds of marine debris annually, while also filtering out gasoline, oils, and “micro-plastics” from the water.

Grants from the Tennessee DOT and the national Keep America Beautiful organization provided the funds supporting this deployment of the Seabin devices.

The Tennessee DOT’s contribution includes the purchase and installation of 10 devices at locations throughout Tennessee, as well as funding for two years of water-based cleanups of the river and its tributaries within the state – funding made in conjunction with the agency’s “Nobody Trashes Tennessee” litter prevention campaign.

“[Our] partnership with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful demonstrates the link between roadside litter and debris that ends up in our waterways,” explained Joseph Galbato, Tennessee DOT interim commissioner, in a statement. “Investing in this substantial network of litter removal devices is another example of how TDOT promotes innovative solutions to making our state cleaner and keeping our waterways clear.”

In addition to the 17 Seabins deployed in Tennessee, another two will deploy on the Tennessee River in Alabama, with one other placed on one of the river’s tributaries in North Carolina.

“Until now, all of our work has only been able to prevent micro-plastics in our waterways, so we are thrilled to the Tennessee DOT and Keep America Beautiful for these – as I see it – revolutionary grants and to our partners who will be maintaining the Seabins to make this trailblazing project possible,” added Kathleen Gibi, KTRB’s executive director.

The Tennessee DOT is an agency known for funding different and innovative ways to reduce littering.

For example, in April 2021, the agency helped fund a pair of new exhibits at the Tennessee Aquarium illustrate how micro-plastics and other roadside trash can negatively affect the health of the ocean as well as rivers, lakes, and streams.

The new exhibits – housed in the Aquarium’s “River Journey” and supporting the Tennessee DOT’s “Nobody Trashes Tennessee” litter reduction campaign – include actual debris taken from the banks of the Tennessee River: the focus of its current Seabin deployment project.

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.

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.

Colorado DOT Helping Reduce Impact of Firefighting Foam

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics recently wrapped up a two-year effort to help certified commercial service airports statewide acquire equipment to minimize the environmental impact of aircraft firefighting foam containing toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS.

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

The Colorado Aeronautical Board, which oversees the Colorado DOT’s Division of Aeronautics, approved $400,000 in state aviation funding to assist with this equipment swap effort – only the second such program in the nation – in collaboration with state airports and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

This effort comes amid an increasing environmental focus on PFAS chemicals, which pose challenges to drinking water reserves.

For example, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing in October to assess ongoing and proposed responses to the presence of PFAS chemicals in the environment, particularly in U.S. waters, by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Radhika Fox, the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, noted in her testimony at that hearing that a “growing body of scientific evidence” shows that exposure at certain levels to specific PFAS can adversely affect human and ecological health. Studies indicate that two common

PFAS – perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate – can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals also caused tumors in animal studies, she said. Fox added that the most consistent findings from human epidemiology studies are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations as well as some cases where that chemical family affected birth weights, the immune system, caused cancers, and thyroid hormone disruption.

Currently, commercial service airports certified under Federal Aviation Administration regulations are required to use PFAS-based foam and to annually test and certify aircraft rescue firefighting equipment and the foam utilized.

Under the provisions of this new statewide aviation initiative, however, the Colorado Division of Aeronautics said in a statement that it provided 100 percent funding for the acquisition of specialized testing and containment equipment designed to allow FAA-compliant firefighting foam testing to take place without the need for regular foam discharges. 

In total, 12 eligible airports participated in the division’s program, with the exception of Denver International Airport, as it already had the equipment, and Colorado Springs Airport, where the U.S. Air Force provides aircraft rescue and firefighting services.

MnDOT Trying to Cut Back on Its Salt

When it snows in Minnesota, drivers want the roads and bridges cleared – now.

However, simply dumping mass amounts of salt on the roads is an outdated practice for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Today, the agency is taking a new strategic – and more environmentally friendly – approach to how it removes snow and ice.

[Above photo by the Minnesota DOT]

“We want to minimize what we use,” explained Sue Lodahl, Minnesota DOT’s acting state maintenance engineer. “It’s about using the right chemical at the right time in the right location.”

During the 2020-2021 winter season, the agency spent $116 million and used more than 800 plow trucks and 354 million pounds of salt to combat 53 inches of snowfall, according to the department’s Annual Winter Maintenance Report. The salt usage was down about 15 percent from the previous year.

[To learn more about snow and ice fighting tactics, check out the winter operations podcast put together by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Snow and Ice Pooled Fund Cooperative Program, known as “SICOP.”]

The Minnesota DOT has also published “Winter Maintenance Best Practices,” a guide for using salt, with an emphasis on sustainable practices. “MnDOT seeks to reduce the use of salt on roadways while maintaining a high level of performance with regard to level of service recovery in winter operations,” the guide states.

The department’s Salt Solutions Program helps operations personnel make good decisions about selecting the best and safest materials for clearing the roads. As a result, the Minnesota DOT’s maintenance crews now have an arsenal of tools to fight snow and ice – including salt, potassium acetate, calcium chloride, sodium acetate and even beet juice.

[Editor’s note: The Minnesota DOT also began testing the technology on 10 of its snowplows in January that allows operators to activate digital highway signs to warn motorists when slow-moving vehicles are ahead on the road. That technology activates digital message signs to display certain messages as they pass, such as “Snowplow ahead, use caution” or “Maintenance vehicle ahead, use caution” during non-snow events. The message stays activated for several minutes after the snowplow passes the sign.]

[Above photo by the Minnesota DOT]

Even with all the chemical options available, plain road salt – sodium chloride – is still the “go-to” material, yet it has its limitations. Salt is not effective if the temperature drops below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Moreover, if salt washes off the road, it can harm water, vegetation, and wildlife.

“We’re always going to use granular salt, but we’re trying to keep it on the road,” Lodahl said. “You can’t just put down salt. Otherwise, it will go into the environment.”

The Minnesota DOT also “pre-wets” the salt with truck sprayers just as it hits the road. The water helps the salt stay on the roadway, where it reacts to the heat from vehicle tires. “But if the temperature is less than 15 degrees, that’s when we move into calcium chloride,” Lodahl pointed out.

The department’s top priority is to achieve what it calls “bare lanes,” a condition in which 95 percent of the lane between the wheel tracks is free of snow and ice and travel speeds are not impacted. Last winter, the Minnesota DOT saw bare lanes 87 percent of the time. The Salt Solutions Program’s goal is to strike a balance between achieving bare lanes and protecting the environment.

In 2020, the agency also studied using potassium acetate almost exclusively on roads in Duluth, where the average daily winter temperature is 23 degrees. The study showed promise, but there are still some environmental unknowns about the long-time use of potassium acetate, Lodahl said.

“Salt is still our biggest tool, our best tool,” she explained. “Everything is going to have some environmental factor. If salt scatters, it’s not doing us any good, and it harms the environment.”

Lodahl added that salt sustainability “is very important to MnDOT. We cherish the environment and try to keep the roads safe.”

Utah DOT Protects Reservoir as it Rebuilds Bridge

The Utah Department of Transportation is taking what it calls “significant steps” to protect the waters of the Starvation Reservoir during a U.S. 40 bridge renovation project in Duchesne County.

[Above photo by the Utah DOT]

The agency noted in a statement that the project’s contractor designed special “catch buckets” to capture demolition debris from the bridge to prevent them from entering the reservoir’s waters.

Excavators lower those 16-foot catch buckets, which are then affixed to the backside of the bridge’s barrier or parapet walls. Outfitted with rubber bumpers to provide a secure seal to the wall and to protect against damage to the existing infrastructure, the bottom of the bucket extends to fit under the bridge deck to capture bridge demolition debris.

The Utah DOT noted that the pan located on the bottom of the bucket is watertight and provides connections to a vacuum port, which pumps out the captured water and slurry materials into a vacuum trailer without any of it leaking into the waterway below.

All demolished materials are transported offsite to be recycled or disposed of in the landfill, the agency said. Duchesne County also plans to recycle the demolished bridge concrete for use as base material for future road projects.

In addition to capturing construction debris, Utah is using other procedures to protect both the project’s workers and the surrounding area. For example, crews working near or around the edge of the bridge are required to be in a harness and tethered to the bridge to prevent falling. That includes their tool and equipment as well – especially concrete saws – to prevent them from dropping into the waterway below. Finally, in case of unforeseen emergencies, the Utah DOT developed a water rescue plan for the project that includes life-preserving flotation devices and a rescue boat.

Tennessee DOT Helps Fund Two Trash Exhibits at Aquarium

A pair of new exhibits at the Tennessee Aquarium funded by the grants from the Tennessee Department of Transportation illustrate how microplastics and other roadside trash can negatively affect the health of the ocean as well as rivers, lakes, and streams.

[Above photo by the Tennessee Aquarium]

The new exhibits – housed in the Aquarium’s “River Journey” and supporting the Tennessee DOT’s “Nobody Trashes Tennessee” litter reduction campaign – includes actual debris taken from the banks of the Tennessee River

The exhibits demonstrate the connection between land-based pollution and aquatic ecosystems through “touchless” interactive elements, informative videos, and an exhibition of invasive aquatic wildlife such as a Northern Snakehead and Grass Carp. Those non-native fish are housed in one of the exhibits, swimming alongside examples — some of them 3D-printed — of common roadside debris such as tires and car batteries, which can wreak havoc on aquatic systems.

“The connections between roadside litter, water quality and aquatic systems cannot be understated,” said Shawn Bible, Tennessee DOT’s beautification office manager, in a statement.

“The ‘Nobody Trashes Tennessee’ campaign aims to educate citizens on the impact of what may be perceived as a minor issue for the state,” Bible added. “In reality, the state spends more than $19 million each year to clean up the more than 100 million pieces of litter on our roadways. We are pleased to partner with the Tennessee Aquarium on these interactive exhibits.”

The exhibits help visitors visualize how trash can imperil aquatic ecosystems and impact waterways that millions rely on for recreation and drinking water, while also demonstrating how changes in behavior on land can benefit the health of nearby waterways, explained Dr. Anna George, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education.

“Anything that is on land moves into our waterways,” Dr. George said. “If a piece of litter is thrown onto a street, wind might carry it to a stream or river. It might get washed or blown into storm drains and deposited in the nearest body of water. It is a safe assumption that any debris on land has a good chance of winding up in our water.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 80 percent of garbage found in the ocean comes from inland sources, such as leaked automotive fluids and littering. “So even though the [Tennessee] Department of Transportation might seem like an odd partner for an aquarium, there’s a fundamental connection between activity on land and the health of waterways,” Dr. George noted.

Video: Caltrans Uses Boat Fleet to Clear Waterways of Trash

The California Department of Transportation recently put together a video highlighting how its boat fleet in the San Francisco Bay Area – typically used to transport engineers, biologists, and maintenance crews to the area’s seven bridges – also helps clean up trash from local waterways and areas that are hard to reach by land.

[Photo courtesy of the California Department of Transportation.]