ETAP Podcast: Oregon DOT Discusses Wildlife Crossings

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Cidney Bowman (above) – wildlife passage program coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation – discuss the different types of projects deployed by the agency to help prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions while at the same time improving habitat connectivity.

[Above photo by the Oregon DOT]

The ETAP podcast – a technical service program for state departments of transportation provided by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – explores a wide array of environmental topics that affect transportation and infrastructure programs.

During this month’s podcast, Oregon DOT’s Bowman also digs into what the U.S. Department of Transportation calls a “first-of-its-kind” pilot program that makes $350 million available over the next five years.

That includes more than $111 million in grants through its first round of funding in 2023, to support projects that prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity on a national basis.

[Editor’s note: In the video below, Bowman explains how wildlife undercrossings improve safety for animals and motorists alike.]

That federal funding supports both construction and non-construction projects, Oregon DOT noted – covering research, planning, and design endeavors that increase animal safety on roads.

Wildlife-vehicle collisions represent a major challenge across the country, according to USDOT data, totaling roughly 1 million to 2 million large animal impacts per year, which injure 26,000 people, cause 200 deaths, and results in $8 billion in property damage.

Oregon DOT has successfully enacted a variety of wildlife-collision prevention projects over the past several years, which reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions statewide by 86 percent

To listen to this podcast, click here.

Study Identifies Ways to Help Roadside Plantings Thrive

recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota and funded by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board determined that roadside plantings, particularly “turfgrass,” tend to do better when they are both biodiverse and carefully matched to their ideal growing conditions.

[Above photo by the Minnesota DOT]

University researchers noted in a blog post that roadside turfgrass serves the important roles of reducing soil erosion, pollutant runoff, and the spread of invasive weeds, as well as adding visual appeal. However, maintaining it along Minnesota roadsides is difficult because of the harsh climate and roadway maintenance practices, such as road salting and snow plowing in the winter.

“That’s why developing tools for practitioners to make better decisions on revegetating roadsides will save financial resources for Minnesota DOT, practitioners, and local communities,” noted Eric Watkins, a professor with the school’s Department of Horticultural Science and the principal investigator for this study.

The university’s researchers set up 14 test plots along Minnesota roadways and tested 44 treatments mixes. What they found matched up with existing literature compiled from similar reasearch: Biodiversity correlates to better vegetation cover and a decrease in weeds.

“The use of species mixtures, compared to monocultures, has been shown to have multiple benefits,” Watkins noted. “These include more coverage of the seeded species, reduced disease frequency and severity, and extended green color.”

The reason is likely because, within the diverse species mix, the plants have a variety of adaptations and tolerances and thus can survive a wider array of conditions than a single species could, he said.

Yet one “immediate downside” of biodiversity is complications arising from every plant species and subspecies having “wildly different germination rates, rooting depths, and moisture and temperature tolerances,” with interaction among species changing those things even further.

To make it easier for practitioners to implement biodiverse seed mixes, University of Minnesota researchers categorized state roads into three “seeding clusters” – regions based on growing conditions such as temperature, moisture, and soil quality. Two of the seeding clusters are geographic (north Minnesota and central/south Minnesota), with the third is categorized as “poor soil quality” or soil that is sandy, low in organic matter, etc.

“Establishing these test plots with seed mixes that vary by region was an important step in finding the most effective and climate-resistant roadside turfgrass,” explained Dwayne Stenlund, erosion control specialist with Minnesota DOT’s Erosion Control and Stormwater Management unit and the study’s technical liaison.

Moving forward, Watkins said his research team plans to make a web-based version of this seeding “budgeting tool” so it’s easier for local government agencies and the Minnesota DOT to use. They also plan to do more long-term studies at the test plots – their current research only lasted two year – as future seed testing will need to take climate change into account.

“Implementing these mixtures will reduce soil erosion, improve aesthetics, save local communities’ financial resources, and improve the overall environment we occupy,” Watkins added.

Many states are involved in an array of roadside vegetation research to make a variety of environmental improvements.

For example, the Illinois Department of Transportation recounted in a November 2022 blog post how it changed its mowing practices over the years to better protect roadside landscapes that are vital to pollinators and native planet life.

The agency said it adopted mowing policies to protect the habitat and migratory patterns of the monarch butterfly and other pollinators that use it as a food source. That policy allows for mowing of the state’s roads in a four-year rotation during the summer.

Meanwhile, ecologists at Idaho State University are working with the Idaho Transportation Department to turn state roadsides into veritable “Swiss army knives” of vegetation so they are both more fire-resistant and more welcoming to pollinating insects.

Those ecologists are working with three different types of ecosystems at those sites, figuring out how to make the land more hospitable to native plants and less so for invasive weeds. That research also includes increasing the habitat’s fire resistance, while becoming a more attractive habitat for pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Environmental News Highlights – May 3, 2023


Senate votes to roll back EPA emissions standard on heavy trucks -Commercial Carrier Journal

EPA’s right to mandate EVs disputed -Odessa American

Plan to build N.J. terminal for trains that carry combustible gases hits federal roadblock

FHWA Opens Applications for First Year of $400M Competitive Grant Program to Reduce Truck Air Pollution at America’s Ports -FHWA (media release)

EPA Issues Emergency Fuel Waiver for E15 Sales -EPA (media release)


Bureau of Land Management to begin NEPA process for the Bonanza Solar Project Application -Bureau of Land Management (media release)


Why Zero-Emissions Fleet Transformation Starts at the Top -Mass Transit

Electrify everything, California says – including trucks and trains -Grist

Counties directly eligible for $848 million through new USDOT PROTECT transportation resilience grants -National Association of Counties (media release)


Connecticut regulators seek more authority to move the needle on climate goals -Energy News Network

The Filthy Truth About Subway Air -Wired

Colorado adopts new zero-emission big truck rules -Land Line

An Oregon City Banned Natural Gas. The Gas Company Fought Back -CityLab

How Tampa Bay’s air quality is declining -Axios


Electric vehicle fleet penetration helps address inequalities in air quality and improves environmental justice -Communications Earth & Environment

Over 1 in 5 skip health care due to transportation barriers -Axios


WSDOT crews to use drones to apply herbicides along section of US 12 -Union-Bulletin

EPA proposes settlement with Virginia, other states in Chesapeake Bay cleanup lawsuit -WHRO

Forest Service admits some Clean Water Act violations with use of aerial fire retardants, but says they are still an important tool -Press Democrat

The science to prevent bird strikes at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport -WKYC-TV

When Marylanders Register Their Vehicles, They Can Now Support the Environment and Statewide Tree Plantings -Maryland Department of Natural Resources (media release)


Detroit Book Depository opening highlights next gen mobility innovation -Axios Detroit

Recreation P.E.I. launches interactive trail map for spring hiking season -SaltWire


Plan OK’d for 20-mile-long pedestrian and bicycle trail in Florida -Miami Today

Oregon DOT wants to help bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees build power statewide -BikePortland

North Carolina DOT Creates Web Page Devoted To On-Demand Microtransit -North Carolina DOT

Miami, Seven Other Cities to Test Cargo Bikes -Transport Topics


Making Travel More Equitable for People with Disabilities -TRB (blog post)

Truck Parking Strategies, Technologies, and Partnerships -TRB (webinar)

Assessing Airport Programs for Travelers with Disabilities and Older Adults -ACRP


Notice of Intent To Amend the Las Vegas Resource Management Plan and Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Golden Currant Solar Project in Clark County, NevadaBureau of Land Management, Interior (Notice)

Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement To Analyze the Potential Environmental Effects From Maintaining Secretary Jewell’s Coal Leasing Moratorium -Bureau of Land Management (Notice)

Joint Federal-State Task Force on Electric Transmission; Notice Announcing Meeting and Inviting Agenda Topics -Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Notice)

City of Nashua, New Hampshire; Notice Soliciting Scoping Comments -Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Notice)

National and Governmental Advisory Committees to the U.S. Representative to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) -EPA (Notice of meeting)

National Wildlife Refuge System; Drain Tile Setbacks -Fish and Wildlife Service (Proposed rule)

Recommendation for the Western Area Power Administration’s Rocky Mountain Region and Colorado River Storage Project Management Center To Pursue Final Negotiations Regarding Membership in the Southwest Power Pool Regional Transmission Organization, and … -Western Area Power Administration (Notice)

Request for Comments on the Federal Aviation Administration’s Review of the Civil Aviation Noise Policy, Notice of Public Meeting -FAA (Notice)

Public Meeting of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Work Group -Bureau of Reclamation (Notice)