Environmental News Highlights – May 5, 2021


Biden Pushes Infrastructure Investment during Joint Address – AASHTO Journal

Republicans hammer Biden on infrastructure while administration defends plan – The Hill

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on finding a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure – CNBC

14 Infrastructure Weeks: Assessing Biden’s First 100 Days – Regional Plan Association

Q&A with Stanford experts: Why is climate change at the center of a $2.3 trillion federal plan? – Stanford University

Republican AGs Press Supreme Court on EPA Climate Authority – Bloomberg Law


State’s transportation commissioner talks COVID, tolls and access with NE CT chamber members – The Bulletin

2020 Motor Vehicle Fatalities Estimates and COVID-19 Safety with Lorraine Martin, National Safety Council President and CEO – ITE Talks Transportation (Podcast)

Can ‘Open Streets’ Outlast the Pandemic? – CityLab


NEPA and State Law Condemnation in Pennsylvania – National Law Review


AASHTO’s Tymon Discusses Infrastructure on C-Span – AASHTO Journal

U.S. Cities Offer Guideposts for Federal Infrastructure – Government Technology

Unsnarling Traffic Jams Is the Newest Way to Lower Emissions – E&E News

Amtrak Releases FY20 Sustainability Report – Amtrak


EPA moves to give California right to set climate limits on cars, SUVs – Washington Post

New USDOT drive for more roadside solar panels – Transportation Technology Today

The U.S. Will Need a Lot of Land for a Zero-Carbon Economy – Bloomberg Green

On Earth Day, Wu Calls for End of Dirty Diesel Polluting School Bus-Fleet, Full Electrification by 2030 – Charlestown Patriot-Bridge

Colorado Democrats’ Fight Over Environmental Policy Plays Out in the Headlines – 5280


Environmental justice advocates plan to hold Massachusetts officials accountable – Energy News Network

Max & Murphy Podcast: An Environmental Justice Agenda for the Next Mayor – Gotham Gazette (Podcast)

Chronic health problems linked to pollution fuels environmental justice movement – Great Lakes Echo


Maine DOT works to help endangered turtles in Eliot – WGME-TV

Revised NC highway litter bill drops higher fines but adds money for inmate cleanups – News & Observer

Without Commuter Traffic, Pandemic-Era Boston Drivers Are Speeding Up, Increasing Noise Pollution – Boston University


UCLA professors use art and technology to increase bike commuting in L.A – Transfers


NYC hits new Citi Bike rival with cease and desist order – New York Post

Closed walkways force pedestrians into the road at Hains Point. Now, two people are dead – WUSA-TV

Putnam Valley Residents Oppose Latest Noise Ordinance Proposal – The Examiner

Does Virginia need an Office of Trails? – Virginia Mercury

May is Bicycling Safety Month: A message for all road users – Oregon DOT (News Release)


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

Transportation in the Face of Communicable Disease – TRB

Transportation System Resilience: Research Roadmap and White Papers – TRB


Response to Clean Air Act Section 176A Petition From Maine – EPA (Notice of proposed action on petition)

Proposed Consent Decree, Clean Air Act Citizen Suit EPA (Notice of proposed consent decree; request for public comment)

Proposed Consent Decree, Clean Air Act Citizen Suit – EPA (Notice of proposed consent decree; request for public comment)

Moore County Solar Project – Tennessee Valley Authority (Notice of Intent; request for comments)

Incorporating ‘Green Infrastructure’ into Transportation Projects: Part 1

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) released a report in February 2021 highlighting several state agency efforts to incorporate Green Infrastructure (GI) solutions into transportation drainage and landscaping design. 

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials helped research and publish that report – entitled Landscape Design Practices for Roadside Water Management: Domestic Scan 16-02 – as part of the joint AASHTO and Federal Highway Administration’s NCHRP “Domestic Scan Program.” That program helps speed up the transfer of information and technology among transportation agencies. 

This article is the first in a two-part series – focusing on the state of the practice in GI in several agencies, as well as policies in place and challenges found in the industry. The second article will focus on recommendations for the future of GI implementation state transportation agencies.

According to the FHWA, “green infrastructure” is defined as “strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, working landscapes and other open spaces that conserve ecosystem values and functions and provide associated benefits to human populations.” It also applies to various water management approaches where transportation infrastructure is concerned, including technologies that “infiltrate, evapotranspire, capture, and reuse stormwater to maintain or restore natural hydrologies.”

[Above photo by the Virginia DOT]

The NCHRP’s new report — Landscape Design Practices for Roadside Water Management: Domestic Scan 16-02 – developed a more specific definition for GI. That definition included “roadside stormwater management, Low Impact Development or LID, hydro-modification, and watershed actions that conserve water, buffer climate change impacts, improve water quality, water supply, public heath, and restores and protects rivers, creeks and streams as a component of transportation development projects and operations.”

The team compiling the report found, however, that the practice of incorporating GI is inconsistent among state departments of transportation – employed only when required. Overall findings suggest GI is not yet a part of the state DOT stormwater management toolbox and is not routinely employed as a standard stormwater management method. 

That team included:

  • Jennifer Taira, senior landscape architect for the California Department of Transportation and chair of AASHTO’s NCHRP committee.
  • Ken Graeve, erosion and stormwater management unit supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Transportation
  • Charles Hebson, manager of the surface water resources division for the Maine Department of Transportation
  • Garrett Jackson, a hydrologist with the Washington State Department of Transportation
  • Laura Riggs, LRSP and SRTPP program manager for the Louisiana Department of Transportation
  • Brian Smith, ecologist and biologist for the FHWA
  • Lucy Joyce, former landscape architect supervisor with the Nevada Department of Transportation

That team further investigated how leading transportation agencies are applying principles and practices of GI for roadside water management and then planned to develop recommendations to help agencies look to the future of a higher level of implementation. 

A central finding of this report is that, historically, managing the “peak flow” of water off roads to nearby waterways has been the traditional focus of transportation infrastructure design via techniques such as “gray infrastructure,” which includes culverts and pipes, to move the water offsite quickly. However, the report found that approach is sometimes neither the most efficient nor cost-effective in terms of managing that water flow.  Newer GI techniques – such as water harvesting, landform grading, rain gardens, micro-catchment basins in arid climates, and large-watershed – are proving to be more efficient “green solutions.” 

Photo via WSDOT

On top of that, many of the GI practices in use today resulted from various regulatory requirements for clean water/clean air imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency as well as state departments of environmental protection/quality. Yet the report discovered that many of those regulatory efforts – typically at the state level – often included barriers that hindered a state DOT’s ability to fully or successfully implement the switch to more efficient and low cost GI practices. 

For example, the “gray” approaches to managing stormwater runoff from roads and highway can actually contribute to the problems of flooding and stormwater pollution in some cases.

To discern what GI practices work best, the report team sent out a survey to seven state DOTs (Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington) and five cities, counties, or regional agencies (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York City, New York; Long Creek Watershed Management District, Maine; Southeast Michigan Council of Governments [SEMCOG], Michigan; and King County, Washington).

Photo via Maryland DOT

In addition to the survey responses, the team met directly with several of them during a series of three-day workshops.

The survey and workshop discussions resulted in a series of key GI implementation focal points:

  • “Intensity of regulations really affects what gets implemented.”
  • “Technology matters, especially geospatial data management.”
  • “Training/education is important in implementing effective maintenance”
  • “Watershed approach is key.”
  • “Planning level of DOTs is important to coordinate stormwater needs and optimize opportunities.”
  • “Maintenance is important; we could have an entire scan on maintenance of these solutions”
  • “Standards, codes, policy, ordinances as important tools for driving/enabling green stormwater infrastructure”

While the survey answers and workshop discussions highlight “significant movement” toward more use of GI solutions in landscaping and storm water management, the funding, support, construction, and maintenance practice for GI remained inconsistent.

As a result, the report team outlined eight recommendations to promote GI practices among state DOTs in the future — recommendations detailed in part two of this series next week.

Ohio Agencies Join Forces on Anti-Litter Campaign

The Ohio Department of Transportation is joining forces with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources to conduct a statewide anti-litter campaign.

[Above image via the Ohio DOT]

The campaign – called “A Little Litter is a Big Problem” – aims to show state residents the negative impact litter has on the state’s transportation system, parks, beachfronts, and waterways.

“Litter is ugly and costly,” explained Governor Mike DeWine (R) in a statement. “One of the things we can all do is help clean up litter, because a little bit of litter is a big problem.”

He pointed to recent research that shows 42 percent of state residents admitted littering in the past month.

The Ohio DOT noted that it alone has spent at least $48.6 million to deal with litter since 2011. Last year, its staff spent 151,410 hours picking up trash, the agency said.

“Every year [our] crews have to divert their attention from important maintenance work to pick up other people’s trash,” emphasized Ohio DOT’s director Jack Marchbanks – noting that the agency spent at least $48.6 million to deal with litter since 2011 and that its staff spent 151,410 hours picking up trash in 2020 alone.

“If we can work together to reduce the amount of litter that collects on our roadways, our crews can spend less time picking up trash and more time on critical maintenance work like pothole and guardrail repairs,” he said.

State departments of transportation across the country are conducting similar anti-litter campaigns.

For example, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee (D) recently helped the Rhode Island Department of Transportation officially launch a new “Clean Rhodes” anti-litter initiative on April 22.

Gov. McKee and wife collecting trash/photo via the Rhode Island Governor’s Office

“Litter is one of the biggest sources of complaints for RIDOT and has us spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in a seemingly never-ending battle of picking up trash along our roads,” Peter Alviti, Jr., the agency’s director, said in a statement. “We’re upping our game and enlisting the help of the business and volunteer community to help us address this blight on our roads.”

RIDOT, which said it spends $800,000 annually to pick up trash on state roads, noted that the goal of this campaign is to remove 1 million pieces of litter. The agency is also seeking to buy specialized litter removal equipment that attaches to its maintenance vehicles for some $750,000 so it can rake and clean litter from strips of land and other larger green spaces along roads more easily.

Meanwhile, the Delaware Department of Transportation, for example, recently renewed focus on its “Keep DE Litter Free” campaign. To date in 2021, the agency said its crewed collected and cleared nearly 16,000 bags of trash from state roadways – adding to the more than 51,000 bags of trash collected and cleared in 2020. That includes more than 6,800 tires, 3,500 signs, and 250 appliances removed from Delaware roads, the Delaware DOT pointed out.

“Even with reduced traffic on our roads for a significant amount of time in the past year, our litter problem has persisted,” noted Nicole Majeski, Delaware DOT secretary, in a statement. “We are committed to reducing the amount of litter along our roads and I am grateful to our employees, partners, and volunteers who continue to work hard collecting litter across the state.”

Finally, the North Carolina Department of Transportation recently noted that its litter removal efforts – including the ongoing Litter Sweep annual trash removal effort – resulted in the collection and clearing of more than 4 million pounds of roadside litter so far in 2021. 

NCDOT said in a statement that its ongoing litter management programs are “multifaceted,” making use of “state-owned forces and contract services.”

That includes its “Sponsor-A-Highway Program” that​ allows businesses, organizations and individuals to sponsor litter removal along roadsides as well as its Adopt-A-Highway Program, where volunteers pledge to clean a section of our highways at least four times a year.

Transportation ‘Equity’ Focus of Proposed Highway Legislation

Legislation recently proposed by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works would seek to “reconnect and revitalize” areas harmed by the construction of the Interstate Highway System over the past six decades.

[Above photo by the Massachusetts DOT]

Dubbed the “Reconnecting Communities Act,” Sen. Carper’s bill would establish a grant program within the U.S. Department of Transportation to help communities “identify and remove or retrofit highway infrastructure that creates obstacles to mobility and opportunity.”

It builds off a “Community Connectivity” pilot program originally proposed two years ago by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. – a program subsequently passed unanimously by the EPW committee as part of the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)

In a statement, Sen. Carper said the Reconnecting Communities Act “would empower communities to reverse this unfortunate legacy by building spaces over and around our highways, revitalizing nearby areas as a result.”

His bill is also solely sponsored by Democrats including: Sen. Van Hollen; Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate’s majority leader; Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif.; Sen Chris Coons, D-Del.; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.; and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

“The development of the Interstate Highway System connected our country in ways it hadn’t been previously, but it also upended neighborhoods and left communities divided, many times over economic and racial lines. In many communities of color, nearby highways continue to represent real barriers for getting around and getting ahead,” Sen. Carper pointed out.

“In cities across the country, communities of color have disproportionately seen their homes and businesses demolished for the construction of highways that in turn separate them from their neighbors and from economic opportunity. This is just one example of how government has disrupted and divided communities through the placement of infrastructure projects,” added. Sen. Padilla. “As we work to rebuild our economy and our infrastructure, we must do so equitably,” he said. “The Reconnecting Communities Act will play an important role in making sure that we don’t return to the status quo, but that we repair the harm and injustice these communities have faced.”

ETAP Podcast: Minnesota DOT’s ‘Rethinking I-94’ Project

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast focuses on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s “Rethinking I-94 project.” The agency started that program in 2016 with the intent of reconnecting neighborhoods and revitalizing communities sundered by the original construction of Interstate 94 back in the 1960s. The program also seeks to ensure residents “have a meaningful voice” in transportation decisions that affect their lives today and into the future.

[Above photo of I-94 construction by the Minnesota DOT]

Margaret Anderson Kelliher – commissioner of the Minnesota DOT – and Gloria Jeff, director of the Rethinking I-94 project for the agency, discuss the long-term effort to improve the department’s engagement and relationships with communities along I-94 between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“Environmental justice brings forward attention to the disproportionate outcomes for low-income and communities of color in the case of transportation,” said Kelliher. “It includes the burdens those communities have to face in terms of air and noise pollution from transportation. It is also a little broader in terms of race, geographies, and income disparities.”

That then draw in transportation equity, whereby the need for transportation systems need to “level up” and provide better mobility options to low-income and communities of color.

For example, Kelliher noted that a recent study found that a person living in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region who does not have access to a car or public transit has access to less than 10 percent of the jobs in that region. “That’s a major example of a transportation equity issue,” she said.

Minnesota DOT’s Jeff went on to explain that “transportation equity” issues is not a “quality,” not the idea that everybody gets “everything in the same way.”

It isn’t, “do I have a transit route operate near my home,” said Jeff but rather, “does it operate at the time that I need.” Jeff added that transportation equity is more than race and ethnic background, but that “this is where the current challenges exist” and why the current equity focus is on those two areas. To listen to the full podcast, click here.