Environmental News Highlights – February 16, 2022


USDOT, DOE Launch EV Formula Program – AASHTO Journal

How Billions in Infrastructure Funding Could Worsen Global Warming – New York Times

Secretary Buttigieg talks road safety, self-driving cars, EVs, and unruly airline passengersYahoo Finance Live

USDOT can do more to ensure climate resilience, GAO reports – Government Matters

Congress must find common ground on climate – The Hill (Opinion)


Traffic Remains Below Pre-Covid Levels as Work Habits Change – Bloomberg


Challenges to Electrifying City Fleets – Planetizen

4 federal agencies join Rockford airport asking for dismissal of lawsuit seeking to protect Bell Bowl Prairie – Chicago Tribune

Electric vehicles pose challenges for Montana highway plans – Longview News-Journal

Michigan Moves Ahead With Electric Vehicle Charging Road Project – Route Fifty

Demonstration shows how Washington State’s transportation system can go electric – KIRO-TV

An Infrastructure Bill with a Sustainable Twist – Innovation & Tech Today (Commentary)

CTDOT Releases Updated Five-Year Capital Plan with Renewed Sustainability Commitment – Conecticut DOT (Media release)


Caltrans Helps SBCAG Deploy Zero Emission Bus – AASHTO Journal

Air Board Agrees to Hold Clean Cars Rulemaking Hearing – City of Albuquerque

Are Trains or Buses Better for the Environment? – Governing

New Study Links Traffic Pollution to Pediatric Asthma – Discover


Biden administration seeks equity in guidance for electric vehicle charging network – The Hill

Supervisors Adopt Road Map for Environmental Justice Office to Protect Vulnerable Communities – Times of San Diego


AASHTO Comments on Proposed WOTUS Revisions – AASHTO Journal

How Mapping Beaver Wetlands Can Chart a Path to a Better Water Future – Walton Family Foundation

An unexpected item is blocking cities’ climate change prep: obsolete rainfall records – NPR

FAA Raises Concerns After Sunnyvale Uses Lasers To Keep Crows Out Of Downtown – KPIX-TV

What causes a city to issue a boil water notice? – KXAN-TV

Rhode Island’s CRMC needs fundamental change – Providence Journal (Opinion)


New York City’s Plan for a Queens Greenway Moves Forward, Connects Parks for Bicyclists and Pedestrians – Flushing Post


Burgeoning bike cities emerge across America – Axios

With Bike Buses, Kid Cyclists Dominate the Road – CityLab

Stop, look, go: Project in Jacksonville, NC created to keep pedestrians safety – WNCT-TV

FDOT to update A1A in Brevard County to improve pedestrian safety – WOFL-TV

How Micromobility Impacts Cities…And You – Metro (Blog)

ConnectSmart: Making Houston More Connected and Less Congested
– Texas Department of Transportation (Media release)


Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States: Technology, Policy, and Societal Dimensions: Just Transition Webinar Series – Government Perspectives – TRB


Enhancing Highway Workforce Development Opportunities Contracting Initiative – FHWA (Notice)

Land Uses; Special Uses; Procedures for Operating Plans and Agreements for Powerline Facility Maintenance and Vegetation Management Within and Abutting the Linear Right-of-Way for a Powerline Facility – Forest Service (Final rule; technical amendment)

Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program: Proposal To Find That Texas Has Satisfied Conditions on Earlier ApprovalNOAA and EPA (Notice of proposed finding; request for comments)

National Advisory Council – FEMA (Solicitation; request for applicants for appointment to the National Advisory Council; correction)

Virginia Resource Advisory Committee; MeetingForest Service (Notice of virtual meeting)

Transportation Electrification Focus of NASEO Conference

The National Association of State Energy Officials 2022 Policy Outlook Conference held in Washington D.C. February 8-11 focused in part on the ways states and federal agencies can work together to support transportation electrification.

[Above photo by AASHTO]

Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, participated in a panel discussion on February 10 regarding how states are ramping up support for the construction of a nationwide network of electric vehicle or EV chargers.

[Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Department of Energy formally launched a new National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure or “NEVI” formula program on February 10 as well that will provide nearly $5 billion over five years to help states create a national network of some 500,000 electric vehicle-charging stations.]

During the panel, Tymon noted that AASHTO has formed two inter-committee “working groups” to aid efforts by state departments of transportation around the country to support the Biden administration’s plan to build 500,000 EV chargers by 2030.

Those two AASHTO-led groups – the EV Inter-Committee Working Group and EV Practitioner’s Working Group – seek to address what Tymon called the “technical and logistical challenges” facing the administration’s plan to build 500,000 EV chargers within the next eight years. He noted that AASHTO addresses many of these issues in letters sent to the Federal Highway Administration on January 14 and January 28.

AASHTO Executive Director Jim Tymon speaking to NASEO

“Our members … understand that the [EV charger] buildout needs to be consistent and coordinated across the country in order to provide reliable and accessible service to all EV drivers,” Tymon explained in written remarks prepared ahead of the conference.

“For example, chargers need to be universal so that any vehicle can use them; the chargers need to be reliable with uptimes of at least 95 percent; and payment methods need to be consistent, uniform, and available to all members of the public,” he said.

Moreover, while consistency is important, he said this build-out effort requires “flexibility” in certain areas. “For example, rural communities are going to have different needs than urban corridors,” he emphasized. “In order for efficient implementation to occur, states will need the flexibility to implement plans that meet the needs of their communities, while keeping the bigger picture in mind.” 

Tymon pointed out that collaboration between state agencies such as state DOTs and state energy offices “will be instrumental” in achieving the goals set out in the $7.5 billion EV program established by the $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in November 2021.

“AASHTO looks forward to doing what we can to support our members as they continue these successful relationships with their sister agencies and regionally with their peers across state lines,” he said. “No one sector can be successful on its own. This is a massive undertaking and continual communication – of challenges and concerns, best practices and lessons learned – will be key to the success of this huge implementation project.”

State DOTs ‘Plow Ahead’ With Plow Naming Contests

For those transportation professionals who believe engaging with the public is tantamount to poking a stick at sleeping dogs and hornets’ nests, “Snowprah Winfrey,” “Alice Scooper,” and “Hans Snowlo” insist it really is “Snow Big Deal.”

[Pictured above: South Dakota DOT’s Bruce Thiewes at the wheel of “Control/Salt/Delete,” a truck/tow/plow unit based in the Watertown, SD, area. Photo by the South Dakota DOT.]

Those are just some of the winning entries from citizens in “Name the Snowplow” contests that state departments of transportation have staged this winter. So far, at least seven states – Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont – are holding contests that have produced gems such as “The Scrape Gatsby,” “The Big Leplowski,” and “Snowbegone Kenobi.”

While the contests may seem frivolous, there is a serious purpose behind them, according to Jake Loesch of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Minnesota Department of Transportation

“We’ve been able to have fun with a lighthearted contest but deliver an important message along the way about safety and driving tips when snowplow drivers are out working,” said Loesch, Minnesota DOT’s director of communications and public engagement.

The agency recently wrapped up its second-ever “Name a Snowplow” contest. After plowing through nearly 60,000 votes, the Minnesota DOT noted in a statement that it selected eight winners based on vote totals: Betty Whiteout; Ctrl Salt Delete; The Big Leplowski; Plowasaurus Rex; Scoop Dogg; Blizzard of Oz; No More Mr. Ice Guy; and Edward Blizzardhands.

The snowplow-naming contest trend appears to have begun in Scotland, where every year since 2006, annual public contests come up with names for what the Scots call “gritters,” which explains why “Gritney Spears” is a past winner.

Inspired by the Scots, the Michigan Department of Transportation held its first snowplow-naming contest in 2021, and Jeff Cranson – the agency’s communications director – said the public reaction proved tremendous.

“Levels of community engagement are always difficult to gauge, even if you have the resources to commit to truly scientific surveys,” he noted. “But I would say any [state] DOT initiative that prompts more than 15,000 responses, and counting demonstrates a connection with some part of the audience.”

Sometimes, the connection is an unexpected one. When a South Dakota Department of Transportation crew took a snowplow to an elementary school as part of the contest, they did not know that the teacher was the daughter of a recently deceased South Dakota DOT snowplow driver. The connection resulted in warm memories for the teacher and a favorable article in the local newspaper.

“That’s why we do the contest,” said Julie Stevenson, South Dakota DOT’s strategic communications coordinator. “We use the contest as a way to share vital information. The ultimate goal is to humanize the snowplow operators.”

The New York State Department of Transportation aimed for a similar goal with its first snowplow-naming contest in 2021. The winning name, “Howe’s Plow,” honors Dennis “Matt” Howe, a highway worker killed in a work zone in 2019. Now, one plow truck in each NYSDOT region will bear the name “Howe’s Plow” in his memory.

New York State Department of Transportation

“It’s a fitting tribute to Matt’s memory that more than two-thirds of the votes cast in this contest went to Howe’s Plow,” said NYSDOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez in a statement. “I hope it serves as a reminder to drivers to slow down and move over for the safety of the mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters driving plows and doing other essential road work year-round to keep travelers safe.”

Other state DOTs are using snowplow-naming efforts in roadway safety campaigns. For example, amid a dramatic spike in snowplow strikes statewide in 2021, the Idaho Transportation Department launched a safety campaign centered on a caricature dubbed “Mr. Snowplow.”

“We were concerned with what we were seeing on the roads, with four hits in the span of just 10 days, so we began a short-term campaign to raise awareness,” explained Justin Smith, the agency’s public information officer for districts 5 and 6 in East Idaho, in a statement.

The campaign included multiple social media posts, press releases, interviews with local media, and a poem written by the spouse of one of the department’s snowplow drivers entitled “Mr. Snowplow, you are loved.” The poem went viral, with shares across the country and in Canada, and helped the agency’s safety campaign not only raise motorist awareness of snowplows and the dangers of passing them but reduced snowplow strikes dramatically as well.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is conducting a similar campaign, issuing a “top 10 list” of things its snowplow operators want motorists to know in regards to driving around snow removal equipment, along with video highlighting how the agency gears up to “fight” snow and ice on the roads every winter.

Michigan DOT’s Cranson said snowplow-naming contests demonstrate that “the majority of people appreciate important work, like clearing roads of ice and snow to assure safe passage.”

Minnesota is just starting its contest this year. Minnesota DOT’s Loesch – who said his agency’s snowplow naming contest received more than 13,000 entries on its first day – would “strongly recommend” that other agencies hold such contests of their own.

“It’s a fun, simple way to engage the public that doesn’t present much risk to the agency,” he noted.

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.

Arizona DOT: Highway Litter Increasing in Maricopa County

The Arizona Department of Transportation, along with its maintenance contractors, picked up 118,578 bags or 811 tons of trash along freeways in Maricopa County in 2021.

[Above photo by the Arizona DOT]

Unfortunately, the agency said that represents a continuing increase in litter collected from 250 miles of state highway in Maricopa County. During the past five years, Arizona DOT litter has steadily increased along state freeways in Maricopa County. In 2017, the agency said it picked up 80,442 bags of litter compared to the 118,578 bags in 2021 – a 47 percent increase.

“Drivers can help out by simply not littering,” said Mary Currie, who manages Arizona DOT’s Adopt a Highway program, in a statement. “Don’t toss that burger wrapper, paper cup or cigarette butt out of the window. All of those seemingly small and insignificant items build up over time creating safety issues.”

Some of those safety issues include blockages of stormwater drainage grates, sometimes preventing water from flowing freely to retention basins, drainage channels or pump stations. That can cause standing water to build in low-lying locations along freeways. Over time, litter also can negatively affect the operation of pumps that remove storm runoff along some Phoenix-area freeways. 

Several other state departments of transportation are also witnessing similar increases in highway litter.

For example, the North Carolina Department of Transportation said that by November 2021, its crews, contractors, and volunteers collected more than 12 million pounds of litter from state roadways, surpassing the previous trash-collection record of 10.5 million pounds in 2019.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation specifically expanded its “routine” litter pickup operations statewide through the Labor Day holiday in 2021, especially on higher-traffic roadways where volunteer groups cannot safely pick up litter, in order to deal with increased trash accumulation along state roadways.

“Every dollar we have to spend on litter cleanup is a dollar we cannot invest in our system,” PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian explained in a statement at the time – noting that her agency spends roughly $14 million annually on statewide litter removal efforts.