Environmental News Highlights – January 13, 2021


USDOT Sec. Elaine Chao Resigns over Capitol Hill Riot – AASHTO Journal

How will Pete Buttigieg sell Congress on infrastructure? – E&E News

How Merrick Garland could figure into Biden’s climate plans as attorney general – Grist

Congress authorizes water infrastructure projects – Agrinews


Breaking Down State DOT COVID-19 Relief Funding – AASHTO Journal

New York car ownership jumps nearly 40% as pandemic creates mass transit worries – CNET

Transit agencies join forces to promote mask usage – Mass Transit

Requiem for the Super CommuterCityLab


AASHTO Comments on NEPA Revisions, Highway Design Standards – AASHTO Journal

Federal pilot to allow some projects to avoid NEPA – Progressive Railroading


Rail shippers give policy wish list for 2021 – FreightWaves

Sustainability director retires as two major projects near completion – Park Record

Slow Streets Disrupted City Planning. What Comes Next? – CityLab

The South’s communication infrastructure can’t withstand climate change – Southerly

National Security Implications of Deferred Maintenance in Infrastructure – Lawfare

Multibillion-Dollar Transportation Program Will Create America’s Most Connected Urban Center In National Landing – National Landing Business Improvement District (Press release)


Can a future ban on gas-powered cars work? An economist explains – The Conversation

EPA decision on National Ambient Air Quality Standards praised by business group – Pennsylvania Business Report

Modern Mobility: Regional Bodies Can Have a Big Impact – ARLnow (Opinion)


Maine Board Adds New Environmental Justice Standard – AP

From the Left: M-CORES options for new highways threaten another environmental debacle – Daily Commercial (Opinion)


Why the American West is fighting for water protections – Vox


Four finalists in running to claim and reuse historic Minnesota bridge – Minnesota Public Radio

MTA Metro-North Railroad Announces Opening of Major Segment of Empire State Trail in Putnam and Dutchess Counties – Putnam County, NY (Press release)


ODOT Strategic Action Plan promises ‘ambitious transformation’ – BikePortland

Old railroad corridors near Chicago transformed into all-weather trails for hiking, cycling and cross-country skiing – Chicago Tribune

Effort underway to make bike, pedestrian wayfinding easier across the valley – Daily Sentinel

Here’s Why You Can’t Judge Honolulu’s Bike-Share Program On Public Costs Alone – Honolulu Civil Beat

Colorado initiative to fund Safer Main Streets projects – Transportation Today

Governor Cuomo Announces Completion of 750-Mile Empire State Trail – New York State (Press release)


Environmental Topics at the Virtual TRB Annual Meeting – AASHTO’s ETAP Podcast

TRB Webinar: Driving Toward the Truth – Dispelling the Myths About Cannabis Products – TRB

TRB Webinar: A Two-Way Ticket – Collaborative Planning Among Airports and Public Agencies – TRB

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Research Topics for Upcoming Small Business Innovation Research Program Solicitation – USDOT (Press release)


Revisions to Civil Penalty Amounts – Office of the Secretary, FAA, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, FRA, Maritime Administration, NHTSA, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (Final rule)

Pipeline Safety: Gas Pipeline Regulatory Reform – Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (Final rule; withdrawal of enforcement discretion)

Guidance on the Preparation of Clean Air Act Section 179B Demonstrations for Nonattainment Areas Affected by International Transport of Emissions – EPA (Notice of availability)

Official Release of the MOVES3 Motor Vehicle Emissions Model for SIPs and Transportation Conformity – EPA (Notice of availability)

Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information – EPA (Final rule)

Agency Information Collection Activities: Submission for OMB Review; Comment Request; Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA); Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC); Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) – FEMA (30-Day notice and request for comments)

Real-Time Storm Force Prediction Model for Coastal Bridges

Dr. Teng Wu, Mr. Shaopeng Li, and Dr. Kallol Sett from the Institute of Bridge Engineering at University at Buffalo recently unveiled a new model to improve extreme damage “risk evaluation” for coastal bridges due to hurricane wave force and storm surge. 

That research focuses first on using a synthetic 10,000-year hurricane record, together with a deep neural network-based framework to predict surge and wave forces on the bridges located in specific areas. It then taps into the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study or NACCS database – built to identify flood risk and mitigation strategies – which uses damage outcomes from 1,050 “synthetic hurricanes” to provide storm surge elevation and significant wave height predictions for pre-determined locations. 

All of that information is then used to determine the probability of bridge failure dependent on how susceptible a bridge deck is to being lifted off its foundation structure, those researchers said; an event known as “bridge deck unseating” that is highlighted in the video below:

Dr. Wu — associate professor at the University of Buffalo’s department of civil, structural, and environmental engineering – said during a recent presentation that the reason a new coastal bridge failure model is needed centers on the rising number of Americans living in coastal regions and their corresponding exposure to severe weather.

According to a 22-page report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, almost 40 percent of the United States population – some 127 million people — now live in coastal areas that are increasingly vulnerable to severe hurricanes.

For example, Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall in New Jersey in 2012, caused $70 billion worth of damage to densely developed areas in New Jersey and New York – with the damage to roads and bridges representing a large portion of that monetary loss.

Dr. Wu noted that the training of deep neural network focuses on damage to bridges due to bridge deck unseating as that is the most common occurrence during hurricane storm surge. 

Graphic image provided by the University of Buffalo

For example, during Hurricane Ike in 2008, some 53 bridges in the Houston/Galveston region suffered damage – and many of those damaged structures either were constructed of timber or were low-clearance water-crossing bridges. That’s why analyzing the type of bridge, bridge clearance, and the predicted storm surge and wave height for hurricane storm season in a particular coastal area can give valuable sustainability information and aid in risk planning and emergency response, Dr. Wu noted.

The University of Buffalo research included a case study on “simply supported” coastal bridges in New York State – a study that included a risk assessment for bridge deck unseating caused by storm surges and waves. Three different “clearances” of coastal bridges – which is the distance between the bottom of the bridge deck to the mean water level – were considered in that risk analysis, with the resulting case study looking at bridges in two different areas of the region: one close to the coastline and one in the Hudson River. 

That case study found that the annual damage rate to bridges decreases as the clearance increases, and bridges at the coastline are more vulnerable to storm surges and waves due to the larger surge/wave level, as expected. What the risk analysis framework does, explained Dr. Wu, is pinpoint where risk reduction strategies will be most effective – highlight those coastal bridges with the highest risk of damage from storms, allowing for more targeted mitigation planning. Dr. Wu added that this research can also help in emergency management disaster response by highlighting the infrastructure most at risk for damage and allowing for more focused traffic management and operations planning.

New Renewable Energy Contracts in Effect at MBTA

Two 100 percent renewable energy contracts between the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and BP Energy Company and Direct Energy LLC recently went into effect – reducing the agency’s carbon footprint and saving it over $3 million per year.

[Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts Governor’s Office.]

“These important investments in fully renewable energy, highlighted by the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits for the entirety of our electricity load, mean that the T has a dedicated commitment to electricity produced from renewable energy sources,” explained Steve Poftak, MBTA’s general manager, in a statement. “With the beginning of these new contracts, the T continues to expand its use of renewable energy in its portfolio, and furthers its commitment to supporting sustainable transit.”

MBTA – the public transit division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which provides subway, bus, commuter rail, ferry, and paratransit service to eastern Massachusetts and parts of Rhode Island – finalized those two contracts in October 2020.

Steve Poftak (r) with MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack. Photo by Joshua Qualls/Massachusetts Governor’s Office.

The total cost for those two contracts – which make the MBTA the largest transit agency in the United States to be 100 percent renewable – is approximately $12.13 million annually for a three-year term. The contracts include the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits or RECs for 100 percent of the MBTA’s electricity load as well as provisions for providing 70 percent of the electricity at a fixed price.

Purchasing RECs means the MBTA has bought electricity from a renewable power source with each certificate equivalent to the generation of one-megawatt hour or MWh of electricity, the agency said.

The MBTA added that it has a number of additional renewable energy projects completed and currently underway. One involves using two wind turbines in Kingston and Bridgewater help power MBTA facilities with electrical power; with the capability to sell unused power back to the electrical grid. Another involves small scale solar projects are complete at Orient Heights and Braintree Stations with solar canopy installation recently completed at three additional MBTA sites and more sites currently being explored.

Upcoming renewable energy projects to develop include the launch of a new solar power purchase agreement, the development of solar arrays at bus garages and train stations, along with further research into the potential for the MBTA to become an “anchor customer” for upcoming offshore wind projects.