Environmental News Highlights – January 18, 2023


State DOTs Discuss ‘National Vision’ for Transportation – AASHTO Journal

Federal climate forecasts could help prepare for extreme rain. But it’s years away – NPR’s Morning Edition

Biden-Harris Administration Releases First-Ever Blueprint to Decarbonize America’s Transportation Sector – USDOT (media release)

FTA Announces Approximately $20 Million Funding Opportunity to Help Communities Prosper Through Access to Transit – FTA (media release)


Federal COVID Aid to be Allowed for Disaster Infrastructure Use – AP


I-24 Motion Project with Lee Smith and Dr. Dan Work – AASHTO’s ETAP Podcast

Michigan chief mobility officer: ‘States need to write the playbook’ on EV charging – Smart Cities Dive

Lawmakers look to shape future of electric vehicle charging in North Dakota – Forum News Service

E-Bikes and the Bike Infrastructure of the Future – Planetizen


Virginia Governor Wants To Cut Ties With California’s Electric Vehicle Plan – WJLA-TV

NYU researchers confirm ‘river-tunnel effect’ where air quality degrades in subway stations near river crossings – Mass Transit

Children living near airports may be exposed to high levels of lead: study – The Hill

U.S. Carbon Emissions Grew in 2022 – New York Times

Jersey City Joins Global Pledge to Reduce Emissions – City of Jersey City (media release)


Urban flooding research focused on climate equity in southeast Michigan – MLive

Taking Aim at Climate Injustice: US Focuses on Environmental Racism in 2023 – CNET

Achieving Equitable Mobility – Mass Transit (commentary)


Montana DOT Proposes Fences, Gates, Warning Signs To Curb Wildlife Deaths Caused By Vehicle Crashes – Nature World News

MoDOT volunteer shortage leads to trash build-up on I-70 – KTVI-TV

Your Questions Answered: Managing invasive plants in Florida’s natural areas – Southwest Florida Water Management District

A new bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers wants to highlight the state’s fragile water infrastructure – The Texas Tribune

California’s dilemma: How do you harness an epic amount of rain in a water-scarce state? Let it flood, scientists say – CNN


SEPTA working to bring historic trolley rides back to Philly – KYW-TV

Bringing a Guitar to a Highway Fight – CityLab

PSU artists and transportation researchers team up on new comic book – BikePortland


TxDOT investing $250 million in bicycle and pedestrian programs – KETK-TV

Electric scooters and bikes could soon return to downtown St. Louis – KSDK-TV

Newtown Rail Trail Chugs Ahead With $2.5M In Grants For Bucks County – Newtown Patch

Feasibility study underway for Washington-Greenville greenway in North Carolina – WITN-TV


Assisted Resettlement and Community Viability on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast: Proceedings of a Workshop – National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Smart Mobility Connection Webinar: Uber & Lyft in U.S. Cities: Findings and Recommendations – Mobility21, the National University Transportation Center for Improving Mobility (link to registration)


Notice of Availability of Final Initial Updated Policy Guidance for the Capital Investment Grants Program – FTA (Notice)

Guidance on Development and Implementation of Railroad Capital ProjectsFRA (Notice)

Partial Approval, Conditional Approval, and Partial Disapproval of Air Quality State Implementation Plans; Nevada; Infrastructure Requirements for Ozone EPA (Proposed rule)

Designation of Areas for Air Quality Planning Purposes; California; Coachella Valley Ozone Nonattainment Area; Reclassification to Extreme – EPA (Proposed rule)

Approval and Promulgation of Air Quality Implementation Plan; Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut – EPA (Proposed rule)

Commercial Diving Operations – Coast Guard (Notice of proposed rulemaking; withdrawal)

Port Access Route Study: Approaches to Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts – Coast Guard (Notice of availability of draft report; extension of comment period)

Request for Nominations for Members To Serve on the National Volcano Early Warning System Advisory Committee – Geological Survey (Request for Nominations)

State DOTs Participate in Resiliency Roundtable

Five state transportation agency executives shared their thoughts on how to make the nation’s mobility networks more resilient to a variety of challenges during a roundtable discussion at the 2023 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting.

[Above photo by AASHTO]

Roger Millar – secretary of the Washington Department of Transportation – moderated the roundtable. He has also made improving resiliency a key emphasis area for his one-year term as the 2022-2023 president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

That session – entitled “Developing a Resilient Transportation System for a Rapidly Changing World” – featured four other state agency executives: Toks Omishakin, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency or CalSTA; Patrick McKenna, director of Missouri Department of Transportation; Marc Williams, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation; and New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

“Resilience is a broad part of what we do in my world,” Millar said. “Many think of resilience in the context of climate change and natural disaster response, but to me, it is also about the need to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions such as shifting demographics, an aging population that will drive fewer cars, and economic changes such as moving from extraction industries like forestry and mining to technology and software companies.”

He said resilience also encompasses the need for transportation systems to become “smarter” as well. “Now we are moving to be stewards of our multimodal transportation system rather than builders,” Millar added. “There is no way that we can grow our highway system to keep up with increasing congestion and [travel and freight] demand – there is no way we can build our way out of this. So we need to think about our transportation infrastructure in smarter ways – ways to get more out of what we have. When we need to add capacity, we need to be strategic about it and multimodal about it.”

Yet when it comes to “smart,” that can mean many things, noted Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

“Being ‘smart,’ for example, is using glass-infused foam concrete for key bridge deck replacements,” she said. “That helps improve bridge decks while diverting glass from our landfills. It’s an example of doing all we can to use natural and recycled materials in our work to reduce our impact on the environment.”

Gutierrez-Scaccetti also emphasized that state DOTs today are taking a much more multimodal view of the transportation world versus the past – developing a broader range of transportation options for people and goods; options that give the overall system more resiliency.

“Transportation is a means to an end, so when we build today, we need to be more holistic about the process,” she explained. “When we build light rail, we look at it as a way to improve access while relieving congestion on our roads. We have to think differently to be successful.”

“Resilience is a huge topic state DOTs deal with every day,” echoed Williams. “If our system is unable to function during severe weather and other catastrophic events, then we’ve failed. Energy, emergency services, and food products desperately need an efficient and reliable transportation system, especially as we deal with more extremes in weather.”

From that perspective, planning for disaster is becoming an even more critical discipline for state DOTs. “One of the things we talk about is that the time to figure out what to do in a disaster is not when a crisis happens,” he said. “We must plan ahead in terms of coordination with other state agencies and local governments – and we must do it every year, as we always have new people coming into our organizations.”

That’s why McKenna emphasized that finding the next generation of transportation workers, while improving support for current employees, is absolutely critical from a resiliency perspective.

“It is very important to develop the next generation of transportation workers, whether they go into the public or private sector,” he stressed. “This is the generational challenge. It is so easy to look [at] how to fund capital improvements, but it can oftentimes be very difficult to find the right support for the people doing that work. If we do not support them, we will not have the resiliency we need.”

McKenna added that the total state DOT workforce nationwide consists of only about 200,000 employees who help run the vast multimodal expanse of the U.S. transportation system. “We have to be able to make an investment in the people that do this critical work,” he pointed out. “We must never forget they are the ones that are going to drive us forward.”

State transportation agencies must also never forget that safety must remain their number one priority as they work to make mobility systems more resilient, emphasized Omishakin.

“Everyone on this panel is very concerned about safety; just two states up here [California and Texas] represent 20 percent of all roadway fatalities in America,” he said. “In California, we are up to 12 people a day killed on the transportation system, and statewide 30 percent of those fatalities are vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and bicyclists.”

That’s why Omishakin stressed that safety must become more than “talking points” in the transportation community – they must become “living points.” “Every single thing we do we must do through the lens of safety,” he said. “We all need to take responsibility and design roads that are safe for people inside and outside of vehicles.”

Illinois DOT to Help Improve Chicago Street Safety

The Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation recently signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will help “streamline and accelerate” the deployment of safety measures on local roads and state routes within Chicago to better protect bicyclists and pedestrians.

[Above photo by the City of Chicago]

“[This] MOU builds on our partnership and outlines concrete steps that we are taking to address safety, while further enhancing our ongoing collaboration and joint commitment to making roads safer for all users,” said Illinois DOT Secretary Omer Osman in a statement.

“Together, we will continue to work towards our joint goal of zero fatalities and to make Chicago and Illinois roads as safe and accessible as possible,” he said.

“This MOU is an important step forward in creating safer streets for our most vulnerable road users, such as children, people with disabilities, older adults, and people walking, biking, and rolling,” added Chicago DOT Commissioner Gia Biagi.

[Editor’s note: In December 2021 the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials released the second edition of its “Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities,” which provides guidance on the planning, design, and operation of pedestrian facilities along streets and highways.]

The MOU applies to the approximately 400 miles of road that are under state jurisdiction in Chicago, excluding expressways; roads that include some of the most heavily traveled streets in the City. Illinois DOT noted that MOU goes into effect immediately and establishes:  

  • A standardized list of traffic safety infrastructure designs routinely submitted by CDOT that will not be subject to comprehensive IDOT review prior to installation. This will allow the city to design and self-certify curb cuts and other sidewalk improvements to make streets more walkable and accommodating for non-vehicular traffic, establishes 10 foot-wide vehicular lanes as the minimum lane width. 
  • Clarifies “Design Vehicle” standards to emphasize pedestrian safety at intersections. A design vehicle is the largest vehicle that is likely to use the facility with considerable frequency and its selection can significantly impact a road’s design and geometry. By agreeing to a more appropriate design vehicle for urban streets, certain state routes will be able to add safety features, such as curb extensions and bump crossing distances for pedestrians.
  • Creates an Illinois DOT-Chicago DOT working group to help formulate future agreements and improve upon existing interagency collaboration.

That effort also comes as the U.S. continues to experience year-over-year increases in pedestrian fatalities. For example, a report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association in April 2022 projected that U.S. motorists struck and killed 3,441 pedestrians in the first six months of 2021, an increase of 17 percent or an additional 507 fatalities compared to the first six months of 2020.

This “troubling projection,” GHSA said, continued what the group called a “decade-long trend” of rising pedestrian deaths on U.S. roadways and comes as speeding, impaired and distracted driving, and other dangerous driver behaviors remain at unacceptably high levels.

Illinois DOT’s efforts to improve street safety for bicyclists and pedestrians in Chicago also mirror similar efforts being undertaken by state departments of transportation across the country.

For example, in September 2022, a team of researchers from the University of Florida Transportation Institute or UFTI began working with the Florida Department of Transportation and others to study a suite of emerging technologies that provide more “timely warnings” regarding potential collisions between motorists and pedestrians – with the goal of reducing injuries and fatalities.

Concurrently, in October 2022, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet issued a new version of its “Complete Streets” roads and highways manual; a revision that represents the first update in more than 20 years to the state’s pedestrian and bicycle travel policy.

“Today, our transportation planners and designers approach their tasks holistically, taking the needs of all users into account and building accordingly,” noted Jim Gray, KYTC’s secretary, at the time. “There’s no one-size fits all recommendation as roadway features must be tailored to fit the community context.”

Also in October 2022, University of Connecticut Professor John Ivan received a $200,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Transportation to investigate the safety of a proposal to improve the “uniformity” of pedestrian crossing signals statewide.