Environmental News Highlights – April 7, 2021


Biden Harris Infrastructure Plan Allocates $621B for Transportation – AASHTO Journal

How Biden plans to tackle the climate crisis in his $2 trillion infrastructure plan – Vox

Oil Giants Win Climate Suit as Judges Push For Political Fix – Bloomberg Green

An Essential Ingredient for Getting Infrastructure Done: Pork – Governing (Commentary)

White House Announces Environmental Justice Advisory Council Members – The White House (Press release)


The Environmental Implications of the Return to the Office – CityLab


FHWA Lays Out Next Step for NYC Congestion Pricing – AASHTO Journal

DOT halts Texas highway project in test of Biden’s promises on racePolitico


Transportation And Climate Initiative Passes Legislative Hurdle In Connecticut – WSHU Radio

N.C. Ports Works On Next Steps For Wilmington Harbor Navigational Project – WilmingtonBiz

California to Test Whether Big Batteries Can Stop Summer Blackouts – Bloomberg Green

The Northwest Seaport Alliance recognizes 2020 North Star Award winners – American Journal of Transportation


Cruise ship emissions have short-term effect on downtown Juneau air quality, Alaska DEC says – KTOO Radio

EPA Reinforces Position that Certain Types of ECM Changes in Road-Certified Vehicles Constitute “Tampering” Under the Clean Air Act – National Law Review


Oregon Bill Proposes New Statewide Land Use Planning Goal for Climate Justice – JDSupra

Environmental justice symposium to activate green community “hubs” around the state – The Burg

EPA to start environmental justice training program in Dayton – WDTN-TV


Planning continues to curtail invasive plants along state roads and highways – Newton County Times

Cost of litter cleanup delays other NCDOT projects – WRAL-TV

State environmental regulators fine Department of Transportation for Preston permit violations – Charleston Gazette-Mail

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards v. Red River Coal Company, Inc., No. 19-2194 (4th Cir. 2021) – Justia (Summary and link to decision)

New Mexico tribes sue US over federal clean water rule – AP


Four environmental projects receive extra funds from PitCo commissioners – Aspen Times


Community Spotlight: Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition – WHSV-TV

An idea for bringing life back to the Loop? Close State Street to vehicle traffic – REJournals

Transport Troy unveils trails map – The Record

E-Bikes Force Reconsideration of Old Bike Trail Rules – Bakersfield Californian


Transportation Recovery from COVID-19 Changes Takes Research and Planning – TRB

Transportation Research Record Special Issue on COVID-19: Deadline Extended to April 30 – TRB

Seeking Panel Nominations for Supplemental National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Synthesis Projects: Nominations due April 28 – NCHRP

Webinar: Geochemistry and Mineralogy in Chemical Soil Stabilization – TRB

Project Called International Model for Environmental Justice and Revitalization – ReGenesis Economic Development Corporation and MDB, Inc. (Press release)


Administrative Rulemaking, Guidance, and Enforcement Procedures – Office of the Secretary of Transportation (Final rule)

Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel Expansion Project in Norfolk, Virginia – National Marine Fisheries Service (Final rule; notification of issuance of Letters of Authorization)

Hazardous Materials: Notice of Public Meetings in 2021 for International Standards on the Transport of Dangerous Goods – Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (Notice of 2021 public meetings)

Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for Ocean Wind, LLC’s Proposed Wind Energy Facility Offshore New Jersey – Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (Notice)

Request for Nominations of Candidates to the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) – EPA (Notice)

Request for Nominations of Candidates to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) – EPA (Notice)

United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Mitigation of Contaminated Transboundary Flows Project – EPA (Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement; notice of virtual public scoping meetings; request for comments)

Community Forest Program – Forest Service (Final rule)

Small Alabama Town Overcomes Barriers to Establish All-Electric Ferry

For two years, the Alabama Department of Transportation has quietly run an all-electric passenger and vehicle ferry, giving a tiny African-American community the distinction of having the only such vessel in the United States.

[Photo courtesy of the Alabama DOT.]

The story of how this unique ferry wound up in Gee’s Bend exemplifies the fundamental role transportation plays in civil rights, environmental, and social justice issues.

In the 1900s, Gee’s Bend had a hand-powered ferry – a wooden raft tethered to a cable stretched across the Alabama River. The old ferry linked Gee’s Bend – a community of about 300 people – to Camden, the county seat, where most of the grocery stores, schools, medical facilities, and government offices – including the voting registrar – are established. Without it, a 15-minute drive from Gee’s Bend to Camden turns into an hour-long journey.

“God blessed us to be able to have this ferry,” said Mary Ann Pettway, a champion African-American quilter and lifelong resident of Gee’s Bend. “That ferry is very important to all of us.”

Photo courtesy of the Alabama DOT.

However, as the civil rights movement rippled through Gee’s Bend in the 1960s, the ferry disappeared without explanation. The truth of its demise is as murky as the river it crossed, but the loss symbolized a host of injustices heaped upon the people of Gee’s Bend, who had limited access to jobs, education, medical care or emergency services.

That all began to change one night in 1993 when Hollis Curl – owner of The Wilcox Progressive Era, the county newspaper – looked across the river toward Gee’s Bend and saw smoke rising from a house fire. He knew the house was doomed and everyone inside was in danger because there was no ferry to get firefighters there in time.

“When I was a child, I remember him talking about it,” said Ethan Van Sice, the grandson of Curl, who died in 2010. “People’s houses were being burned down. He saw that smoke across the river and I think something in him clicked.”

Curl penned a front-page editorial, arguing that re-establishing the ferry would be good for both communities. The increased mobility, Curl wrote, would provide the children in Gee’s Bend with a chance at a better education and a better quality of life for everyone.

People in Camden were astonished at the newspaper’s editorial shift, but Curl’s words left them unmoved.

“It wasn’t totally received well,” Van Sice said.

Undeterred, Curl started a crusade to re-establish the ferry – and he found a willing partner in the Alabama DOT or ALDOT.

“We saw a need there,” said Josh Phillips, a public information officer for the agency. “We said, ‘We need to find a way to make this happen.’ It became a special project for ALDOT.”

Photo courtesy of the Alabama DOT.

After years of planning and some federal funding, the Alabama DOT finished the ferry in 2006, reconnecting Gee’s Bend to the rest of the world.

The ferry broke down often, however, and the service was unreliable. Ultimately, the agency decided to convert the ferry from diesel to electric power, replacing all the diesel components electric parts, lithium-ion batteries, cooling systems, and a computer and software package to orchestrate the operation.

The Alabama DOT also negotiated with two power companies to get sufficient electricity to each landing to re-charge the ferry’s massive batteries between trips.

In spring of 2019, it all came together, and the first all-electric ferry in the United States purred across the Alabama River from the Camden terminal to Gee’s Bend.

Mike Wilson of the Alabama DOT said other state departments of transportation can make the conversion to all-electric in certain situations.

“The technologies are pretty much off-the-shelf technologies, so it’s doable in the right circumstances,” he said. “Most operations that are trying to do something like this go to a hybrid boat simply because the routes are longer. Our route is such that we didn’t need to do that.”

Tim Aguirre, general manager of HMS Ferries Alabama, said the first lesson is “don’t start from scratch. There’s a lot of experience out there on this, and there are engineering firms that know how to do this.” Having the nation’s first all-electric ferry in Gee’s Bend is “a fascinating story with a neat outcome,” Aguirre said. “Ferries connect communities; they always have.”

ETAP Podcast: Managing the Transition to Electric Vehicles

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Shoshana Lew – executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation – discusses the critical role state DOTs are playing in helping electrify the nation’s transportation system.

[‘Photo by the Colorado DOT.]

Prior to heading the Colorado DOT, Lew worked for nearly two years as the chief operating officer of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. She also spent eight years serving the Obama Administration, including a stint as chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“My career has been at the nexus of finance and infrastructure issues,” she explained on the podcast. “It’s provided an interesting vantage point to see how investment in infrastructure impacts the economy on a ‘macro’ scale as well as how it impacts everyone’s daily lives.”

Moving from the federal level to the state level added another level of detail to that transportation discussion, Lew said. When she first joined the Colorado DOT, she visited all 64 counties across the state to talk about what transportation issues they experienced. That also provided her with insight into the challenges of electrifying the state’s transportation system.

“This is something we are hugely focused on; it is kind of the moment for this,” Lew emphasized. “I think what you’ve seen last five years is the tipping point for electric vehicles (EVs) – we are at the cusp of the transition but makes the challenges very different. To get people where they need to go – for EVs to work in this space – we need to build out the EV recharging network. That has to happen now so state residents can have the option of using EVs and traveling to farthest reaches of the state.”

She pointed out that it cannot be understated how big the transition to EVs will be – especially in terms of how it will help everyone rethink mobility.

“The state DOT cannot do it all by itself – there are huge roles to be played by the private sector, public utilities, the state department of energy, and others,” Lew said. “You need to have everyone thinking about this.” To hear the full podcast, click here.

ITD Shares Award for Eco-Friendly Bridge Work

The construction of the new Rock Creek Bridge to replace a culvert on US-20 recently won an engineering excellence award from the American Civil Engineers Council of Idaho – an award shared by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) and Jacobs Engineering.

[Photo by the Idaho Transportation Department.]

The new bridge now allows wildlife to pass under the highway, reducing the risk of possible collisions involving wildlife and vehicles on the roadway. The ITD added in a statement that this particular section of US-20 witnessed 64 vehicle-wildlife collisions over the last five years, which totals a “societal cost” of approximately $2 million when adding together the cost of vehicle repair or replacement, medical bills, and increased insurance rates – not to mention the cost to wildlife.

The project also allowed the ITD to restore the streams forded by the new bridge to a more natural condition, which in turn should positively benefit the surrounding ecosystem by encouraging safer fish passage under the highway.

Building a bridge also reduced the impact on the local environment versus replacing the existing multi-plate culvert with a similar culvert design, ITD added.

This was one of ITD’s first projects incorporating ‘fabric encapsulated soil lifts’ into a design – a way to ensure streambank stability as water levels rise and fall while still promoting vegetative growth. The project has already improved the environment while enhancing the safety and the natural beauty of the project area, ITD added. Just a few months after construction, the agency spotted fish swimming upstream to spawn, while noting several deer – and a moose – traveled along the channels under the bridges.

Louisiana DOTD Kicks off ‘Take 10’ Trash Removal Effort

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development recently implemented a new policy for its field crews to pick up trash in the footprint where they work for the day. Called the ‘Take 10’ campaign, it commits agency work crews to take 10 minutes per day at their job sites to pick up highway litter.

[Photo by the Louisiana DOTD.]

“I try to never ask anyone to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself,” said Shawn Wilson, Ph. D., Louisiana DOTD’s secretary, in a statement. “I know I’m asking my employees to stop doing necessary maintenance work for 10-15 minutes a day to remove trash that should’ve never been put there in the first place. But my long-term vision is to get to a point where this policy is no longer necessary and that we’re no longer spending millions to help correct a 100 percent preventable problem.”

The agency noted it spends approximately $9 million per year on trash-removal efforts, which includes mowing/litter contracts, sweeping contracts, municipal agreements, sheriff’s office agreements, and in-house removal costs.

Louisiana DOTD added that roadway litter also often washes into lakes, bayous, and other state waterways – which is not only unattractive but also potentially deadly for wildlife. Such trash can also clog drainage systems and lead to flooding of streets and homes, the agency said.

The Louisiana DOTD is also issuing a challenge to local municipalities to implement the same ‘Take 10’ policy for their field crews.

“For the local entities that may already be doing this – I say, ‘thank you.’ And I challenge the others to join us in the fight against litter to help keep Louisiana beautiful,” Wilson noted.

Photo by the Louisiana DOTD.

“The goal is to improve the communities where we work, play, and live, but governmental agencies can’t do it alone,” he emphasized. “We also need commitments from the general public to not litter in the first place, as well as to pick up trash when you see it and when it’s safe to do so.”
State departments of transportation are regularly engaged in a variety of trash-removal efforts and litter education campaigns.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is gearing up for its annual Spring Litter Sweep​ to remove trash from along the state’s roadways, which will run from April 10-24 this year. To date, the agency said its crews, contractors, and volunteers have already collected some 1.8 million pounds of litter from roadsides statewide since January 1.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation noted that 1,700 of its employees picked up 13,130 bags of roadside trash weighing 209,725 pounds on November 17, 2020, in support of Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette’s “Grab A Bag SC 2020” statewide cleanup program.

In October 2020, the Georgia Department of Transportation launched a new anti-litter campaign – called “Keep It Clean Georgia” – focused on preventing and eliminating litter along 50,000 miles of interstates and statewide routes.

The Virginia Department of Transportation launched a public outreach campaign entitled Virginia is for Lovers, Not Litter in September 2020; noting that it spends nearly $3.5 million annually to remove litter from Virginia’s roadways, with more than half of that litter coming from motorists with another 25 percent from pedestrians.

The cost of litter removal from state roadways does not come cheap. In February 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation released the results of a Pennsylvania Litter Research Study – conducted from 2018 through 2019 in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Keep America Beautiful, and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.

That study found that Pennsylvania’s cities collectively spend more than $68 million annually on cleanup, education, enforcement, and prevention efforts related to litter and illegal dumping, the study found, with PennDOT spending upwards of $13 million per year on staff and resources to pick up litter along state-owned roadways.