Sustainability: State DOT Perspective

The idea of tackling sustainability from a state department of transportation perspective can evoke as many questions as ideas; what should be done, who should do it, and how can anyone tell if it’s working?

DOTs in at least two states – Arizona and Minnesota – have been addressing sustainability issues for a few years now, but each is taking a different approach to altering traditional transportation activities’ impact on the environment.

“Climate change is happening in Minnesota, and we want to do our part,” explained Tim Sexton, assistant commissioner and chief sustainability officer of the Minnesota DOT.

A Minnesota state law – The Next Generation Energy Act – put the onus on the MnDOT to lead the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote transit, biking and walking. “There was some work done here prior to 2014, but it was not coordinated between departments,” Sexton said. Though the department lacked specific resources dedicated to the effort, “we started a high-level strategic planning committee on sustainability, and we saw it as an opportunity to be more strategic.”

The committee created an initiative called Pathways to Decarbonizing Transportation, began working with experts to create sustainability models and held a series of meetings around Minnesota to get public feedback. Out of that exercise, MnDOT developed incentives of up to $250 in toll credits for new EV buyers and planned a $2 million clean transportation funding pilot program.

MnDOT also created a Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council, an 18-member group of executives from the public, private and non-profit sectors tasked with overseeing and evaluating Minnesota’s sustainability efforts and making recommendations to MnDOT. Its first meeting is scheduled for March 2020.

While Minnesota focused on the user-end of the sustainability spectrum – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting greener transportation modes – Arizona put its efforts into its core functions.

“There are a number of different approaches to sustainability” said Steven Olmsted, Arizona DOT’s NEPA assignment manager. “If you look at the material from AASHTO, it runs the gamut. We’re still adding a lot of new highways because of our growth so it made sense to look at sustainability from that point of view.”

ADOT began partnering with construction groups and industry and “really tied the effort to design engineering, construction and maintenance,” Olmsted said. “We’ve also gotten into design guidance and scoping considerations.”

Olmsted said many sustainability efforts can be justified from an economic standpoint, “but it still remains that you must make a qualitative business case.

“At the end of the day, we are not going to spend ten times the cost of a unit just to be sustainable,” he said “We’ve tried to address the social pillar of what sustainability means in a DOT. At the same time, there really has to be a business case.”

In a recent report ADOT filed on its sustainability efforts, Olmsted and his staff noted that integrating such a program inside a DOT is “a particularly complex undertaking” and “a daunting effort.”

“It’s not for the faint of heart; I guess I’m a glutton for punishment,” Olmsted said. “But at some point, one person or a group of persons has to decide, ‘What’s the lowest hanging fruit where we can gain some traction?’ That’s how you get started.”

Sexton with MnDOT agreed that “there’s a ton of opportunities for states to take advantage of lowering emissions and saving money,” but he said the issue goes beyond dollars and cents. “We really view this as a crisis,” Sexton said. “This is a scientific issue and a moral or even an existential issue. We want our kids to enjoy the wonderful things Minnesota has to offer. There’s a culture in Minnesota that is committed to our environment. For us, it’s not a political issue.”

Environmental News Highlights – March 25, 2020


Why Is It So Expensive To Build Things In America?Forbes

Developers Know How to Dodge Environmental Reviews; Now They Might Have Help From the Federal GovernmentInside Sources

National Environmental Policy Act – Counsel on Environmental Quality Proposed Rule Revisions: Examples of Opponent/Proponent CommentsJD Supra

Infrastructure spending as an economic stimulus requires a NEPA fix, tooThe Hill


Coronavirus forces changes in forest plan public meeting scheduleCarolina Public Press

California Environmental Bills for 2020National Resources Defense Council

DC-area leaders concerned about auto pollution post-coronavirus crisisWTOP Radio


AASHTO Seeks Elimination of Temporary Discharge RuleAASHTO Journal

$1M awarded to wetlands restoration project on Chicago’s Southeast SideChicago Sun-Times

NRCS accepting applications for Conservation Easement ProgramNorth Texas e-news


Coronavirus Creating Solar Industry ‘Crisis’: U.S. Trade GroupReuters


Historic Preservation Myths: It Cost Too MuchAdirondack Almanack

A Plan to Develop Farmland in Amish Country Meets ResistanceThe New York Times

Historic homes in Philly can now add garage or basement apartmentsThe Philadelphia Inquirer


AASHTO Backs Effort to Advance Pollinator Habitat CreationAASHTO Journal

Prescribed fire benefits landowners, ecosystems – Lincoln Journal Star

Rocky Mountain animals will move as the climate changes. These corridors could give them a safer path.The Washington Post


Fire, Forests, and Our Lands: An Indigenous Ecological PerspectiveNonprofit Quarterly

Government bemoans lack of environmental expertise in justice systemThe Jakarta Post

DEC and NYSERDA Announce $24 Million in Volkswagen Settlement Funds to Support All-Electric Transit Buses in Environmental Justice CommunitiesNew York State Energy Research and Development Authority (press release)


Social Distancing? You Might Be Fighting Climate Change, TooThe New York Times


Stefanik introduces bipartisan bill to promote use of native plant materialsThe Ripon Advance


California’s strict air quality regulations help farmers prosper, study findsUniversity of California, Irvine

Why cutting car and truck emissions is so

Do urban speed limit reductions improve air quality? Experts say not so fastEnergy News Network

As Amazon speeds up, a warehouse community braces for a deadly combo: air pollution and coronavirusGrist


Air Force base decision raises F-35A noise debate in TucsonThe Brownsville Herald


Coronavirus Forces Us To Rethink Infrastructure For An Age Of Biological RiskForbes

More Than $43 Million in Coastal Resilience Grants Announced for Communities Devastated by 2018 Natural DisastersYahoo Finance

Mississippi Mayors Push for Flood ResilienceENR Midwest

Maine voters will decide two bond measures, totaling $120 million, on June 9Ballotpedia

How Power and Gas Utilities Keep Energy Flowing in the Pandemic – Bloomberg Green


Georgia DOT recognized for making transportation more humanTransportation Today

Lime is yanking its electric scooters from California and Washington due to

San Mateo County Active Transportation Plan Draft Recommendations Now OnlineStreetsblog SF


Coastal NC to get environmental grantsThe Daily News (Jacksonville, NC)


DOT holds first GPS backup technology demonstrationGPS World

U.S. government, tech industry discussing ways to use smartphone location data to combat coronavirusThe Washington Post


2020 Conference on Sustainability and Emerging Transportation Technologies Transportation Research Board (Call for abstracts)

TRB Webinar: What role does ecology have in sustainable transportation?Transportation Research Board (Webinar Announcement)

TRB Webinar: Sustainable highway constructionTransportation Research Board (Webinar Announcement)


Florida, Utah, Washington approve bills to boost EVs, including $50M Rocky Mountain Power charging planUtility Dive

California should reset its ambition and unleash the next wave of clean energy to combat climate changeCalMatters

He Set Up a Big Solar Farm. His Neighbors Hated It.The New York Times


Pittsburgh recycling startup includes Phoenix in its expansion plansPhoenix Business Journal

Delaware solid waste center makes changes (Delaware County, NY)The Daily Star (Oneonta, NY)

31 years on, hazardous waste pact needs improving (Basel Convention)Anadolu Agency (Turkey)

Environmental News Highlights – March 25, 2020


Proposed changes in environmental review hit home in TaosTaos News

Op-ed: Environmental racism in actionEnvironmental Health News

Farm Bureau Backs Proposal for More Efficient and Effective NEPA RulesFarm Bureau

The Bad, the Ugly and the Good; The Trump Administration Proposes Changes to the National Environmental Policy ActJD Supra

State of New Mexico opposes changes to federal law regulating oil and gas operationsCarlsbad Current Argus

Rollback of federal review could mean less scrutiny on critical SC infrastructure projectsThe Post and Courier


Eversource substation would add to E. Boston environmental problems, face flooding, critics sayThe Boston Globe

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Lawmakers give $10 million for air quality but advocates worry of complacencyDeseret News


Where Mermaids Play, A Nasty Water FightThe New York Times

New Weather Patterns Are Turning Water Into a WeaponBloomberg Green


Public works expansion pits Minneapolis vs. environmental justice concerns of East Phillips neighborhoodStar Tribune

Pitting Environmental Preservation Against Historic

Historic Preservation: What’s on Dr. Steven Hoffman’s mindSoutheaster Missourian

Old Public Square building’s next life may loomCrain’s Cleveland Business


The decline of hunting shouldn’t be a crisis for wildlife conservation The Missoulian

Effects of wildfires are far ranging for local ecosystemsKVII-TV (Amarillo)

An emerging threat to conservation: fear of natureSalon

Climate change is causing bears to come out of hibernation a month early — which can be dangerous for humansCBS News


Missouri road projects at risk if federal spending plan not renewedNews Tribune

Stakeholders’ Input Key to Shaping AV 4.0, Says USDOT Nominee Finch FultonTransport Topics

Civic group calls on Congress to rethink $305B transport bill Smart Cities Dive


Whose is the European Green Deal?Social Europe

Environmental justice documentary puts spotlight on HoustonHouston Chronicle

Vulnerable communities continue to bear greater pollution burdenSan Diego Union-Tribune


Oregon Governor signs executive order to reduce the state’s impact on global warmingFortune

Court Approves Settlement Requiring EPA Rules on Most Dangerous Chemical SpillsNational Resources Defense Council (Press release)

The coronavirus is deadly enough. But some experts suspect bad air makes it worse.The Washington Post

Study draws Southern California coastal light pollution into focusUCLA Newsroom


Noxious weeds an environmental threat Great Bend (KS) Tribune

County to tackle a development side effect: invasive plantsThe Daily Herald (Everett, WA)


Scientists will soon be able to monitor air pollution hourly from space The Verge

San Diego region failing to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, report findsThe San Diego Union-Tribune

Why European Parents are Suing Their Cities Over Poor Air QualityNext City

McKinley Park Neighbors Prep for Showdown With EPA Over Asphalt PlantWTTW (Chicago)

This Proposed Bill Could Supercharge How Colorado Monitors Its Air QualityColorado Public Radio

Nine Counties Sue Colorado Health Department Over Air-Quality Rules Courthouse News Service


‘Gabriel’s trumpets’: Highway noise causes disruption for some city residentsJohnson City (TN) Press

Wood Asks Board of Health To Address Noise PollutionThe Intelligencer. Wheeling News Register

Defending Municipal Noise Complaints Against Outdoor New Jersey Law Journal


Environmental Commission recommends city develop holistic resilience planAustin Monitor

‘We’re crossing our fingers’: Iowa has shored up Interstate 29 against floodingThe Daily Nonpareil


More Pedestrians and Cyclists are Dying in N.Y.C. Drivers are Often to Blame.The New York Times

Minneapolis bets on walking, public transit to overtake driving by 2030Star Tribune

Florida House passes Sophia Nelson Pedestrian Safety Act by 118-1 marginFlorida Today

City eyes increased enforcement as Lime scooters returnThe Spokesman-Review

Complete Streets Plan to be reviewed by Burbank officials Los Angeles Times/Burbank Leader

Coronavirus has caused a bicycling boom in New York CityThe Grist


Iowa and Nebraska DOTs working together to mitigate potential spring floodingIowa DOT (News Release)


Be careful what you’re learning from those coronavirus mapsThe Washington Post

How GIS tech can be used to control locust menace Daily Nation (Kenya)


L.A.-Long Beach ports approve truck fee too low to clean smog, groups chargeLos Angeles Times


London’s Trees Are Saving the City BillionsCity Lab

L.A. Aims to be First to Power U.S. City With Green HydrogenBloomberg Green

Gov. Brown signs executive order to fight climate change in OregonKGW-TV

Social Distancing? You Might Be Fighting Climate Change, TooThe New York Times

Boeing Joins Renewable Energy Buyers AllianceBoeing (Press Release)

For Environmentalists, a ‘Monumental’ Legislative Session (Virginia)Associated Press

Hydropower plan faces opposition The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, MA)


Cost of Recycling Hits US Cities and TownsBioplastics News

Norwalk kick-starting food waste program, better recycling guidelines this springCT Insider