Environmental News Highlights – May 26, 2021


AASHTO Applauds Senate EPW Leaders’ Bipartisan Reauthorization Legislation – AASHTO Journal

Bipartisan group of senators introduces surface transportation bill – The Hill

House Republicans unveil $400 billion Starter Act proposal – Land Line

U.S. lawmakers to propose tax credit for sustainable aviation fuel – Reuters

Fixing Transit Is More Than Just Infrastructure – CityLab (Opinion)


California To Provide COVID-19 Relief For Ports – Escalon Times


Infrastructure Funding Options Debated at Senate Hearing – AASHTO Journal

State DOTs Share Transportation Resilience Strategies – AASHTO Journal

Pipeline Security Act Reintroduced in House – Nextgov

Colorado Is Sure It Can Expand Highways While Also Meeting Climate Goals. History Suggests That’ll Be A Tough Climb – Colorado Public Radio

Electric vehicle charging: Can Michigan meet the demand? – Michigan DOT’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast


Environmental Trade-Offs of Autonomous Vehicles: Convenience Will Likely Come at a Cost – SciTechDaily

Inslee signs climate bills, but vetoes parts that tie them to passage of a transportation package – Seattle Times

Crackdown on Emissions ‘Defeat Devices’ Has Amateur Racers Up in Arms – New York Times

Living walls installed to tackle roadside emissions – Highway News

Vermont makes progress in carbon reduction in new state report Vermont Business Magazine

A ‘narrow’ pathway to a net zero future for greenhouse gases, IEA says – Washington Post


New Environmental Justice Measures Might Revive Cap-and-Trade – Stateline

How electric cars can advance environmental justice: By putting low-income and racially diverse drivers behind the wheel – The Conversation


Act now to save salmon, regardless of dams’ fate – Daily Herald (Editorial)


How Parking Destroys Cities – The Atlantic (Commentary)


Oregon Transportation Commission approves more than $233 million for public and active transportation projects – Mass Transit

Metro Detroit’s bike infrastructure is growing. Here’s how. – Model D

Orlando exploring noise ordinance – WOFL-TV

When Cities Say No to New Transportation Technology – CityLab

Health and the city: using urban design to promote heart health – European Society for Cardiology (Press release)


TRB Webinar: Redesigning Transit Networks for the New Mobility Future – TRB

TRB Webinar: Not Easy Being Green–Colorizing Bicycle Lanes to Enhance Safety – TRB

Pedestrian Resources to Help Talk the Walk – TRB

Pedestrians and Cyclists: Better Information to States and Enhanced Performance Management Could Help DOT Improve Safety – GAO


Notice of Funding Opportunity for America’s Marine Highway Projects – Maritime Administration (Notice of funding opportunity)

Limitation on Claims Against Proposed Public Transportation Projects – FTA (Notice)

Reissuance and Modification of Nationwide Permits; Correction – Army Corps of Engineers (Final rule; correction)

Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM), Glades, Martin, Palm Beach, Hendry, Lee, St. Lucie and Okeechobee Counties, Florida. Effects May Extend to Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Collie – Army Corps of Engineers (Notice of intent)

Federal Plan Requirements for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills That Commenced Construction On or Before July 17, 2014, and Have Not Been Modified or Reconstructed Since July 17, 2014 – EPA (Final Rule)

National Institute of Standards and Technology National Conference on Weights and Measures 106th Annual Meeting – National Institute of Standards and Technology (Notice)

Taking of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specific Activities; Taking of Marine Mammals Incidental to Pile Driving and Removal Activities During Construction of the Hoonah Marine Industrial Center Cargo Dock Project, Hoonah, Alaska – National Marine Fisheries Service (Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization)

Hawaii DOT’s Sniffen: Formula Funding Critical for Resilience Efforts

Formula funding mechanisms are critical to building more resilience into the nation’s transportation system, argued Edwin Sniffen (seen above), deputy director of highways for the Hawaii Department of Transportation, during a May 13 Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Appearing before the subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, and related agencies, Sniffen said transportation resilience is about “balancing today’s needs with the future and setting the plans and processes so that addressing adaptation is the default.”

That is why, he said, all of Hawaii DOT’s operational divisions have initiated climate adaption studies in response to ongoing and forecasted climate change.

“When your transportation systems are surrounded by water, like ours, climate adaptation is a must. However, I would like to make the argument that climate adaptation is necessary for all, regardless of their geography,” Sniffen explained in his written testimony. Yet simply moving transportation infrastructure out of “harm’s way” is neither the most practical nor economical solution.

“The 2017 ‘Hawaii Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report’ forecasts one meter of sea level rise affecting the Hawaiian Islands by 2100. If we took a traditional approach of relocating transportation facilities, we would be looking at an estimated $30 billion to relocate or elevate state roads and bridges, address impacts to airports, and protect the state’s commercial harbor facilities,” he explained.

That is where resiliency comes into play, Sniffen stressed. 

“I believe that the definition of resilience is critical and should not be related simply to the ability of an asset to not fail during certain events such as a bridge strike or a category-five hurricane,” he emphasized. “Rather, it needs to involve the ability of a state department of transportation to anticipate, plan, and adapt to potential risks; withstand, respond to, or recover when an event occurs; and construct and maintain assets that decrease project vulnerability risks.”

Sniffen – who also serves as chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience – said that traditional formula funding processes play a key role helping states implement resiliency plans.

“When considering funding for resilience, the current core formula program eligibility could be expanded to consider resilience improvements,” he said. “Or formula funding could be set aside to focus on resilience-related planning, coordination, and evacuation; or, a discretionary grant program for adaptation strategies could be established. [However] AASHTO generally recommends avoiding new plans, programs, and analysis processes as this increases cost and burden to state DOTs.”

Sniffen added that additional funding and an expedited project delivery process would “greatly aid” getting more resilience initiatives out of the theoretical stages and into practice on the nation’s streets, bridges, runways, and harbors.

“The Hawaii DOT is currently approaching building resilience into our systems using a variety of approaches, including pursuing green infrastructure such as carbon mineralized concrete and adding recycled plastics to asphalt mixes,” he noted. “Investing in resilient infrastructure on a federal level will enable us and other transportation agencies to implement better and greener infrastructure.”

New Website Unveiled by AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence

The Center for Environmental Excellence – a partnership through the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Federal Highway Administration – launched a new website to provide faster and easier access to information for users, available at: https://environment.transportation.org.

Established in 2001, the Center promotes environmental stewardship, encourages innovation and serves as a resource for transportation professionals seeking technical assistance, training, information exchange, and partnership-building opportunities.

The new website presents the Center’s resources in a more visually appealing and organized way – saving time and reducing frustration among users when searching the site for desired information.

The website includes practitioner handbooks; case studies highlighting what state departments of transportation are doing on various environmental topics; news stories; and a listing of upcoming events.

Visitors may also find information in one of several topical areas such as air quality, active transportation, sustainability, environmental justice, traffic noise, climate change, water quality, and many others. The new site also features several resources for researchers, including the Transportation and Environmental Research Ideas or TERI database – a central location for tracking and sharing new transportation and environmental research ideas.

“The Center has always featured an enormous amount of resources relating to transportation environmental topics,” explained Melissa Savage, director of the Center, in a statement. “But we found it could all be a little overwhelming. Now users are able to more clearly see what’s available,” she said. “Those who know what they’re looking for can find it quickly, while those who want to browse resources can do that in a more organized way that makes a lot more sense.

State DOTs Share Resilience Strategies for Transportation Planning

A panel of state department of transportation executives and managers, as well as a team leader from the Federal Highway Administration, recently shared their insights on infrastructure resilience via a peer exchange during the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2021 virtual spring meeting.

[Above photo by the Hawaii DOT]

“We are seeing events such as wildfires, flooding, and hurricanes becoming more extreme and occurring more often,” explained Edwin Sniffen, deputy director of highways for the Hawaii Department of Transportation. “We are also seeing more ‘man-made’ issues, too, such as cybersecurity, terrorist attacks, and the like. So it is super important to make our [infrastructure] systems more resilient.”

Sniffen – who also serves as chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience – added that “emergency response” is becoming a more crucial component of resiliency efforts at the state DOT level. “That’s one reason why we want to try and make FHWA ER [emergency relief] funding more consistent across the nation,” he explained. “Everyone is looking towards how to make things better.”

[Sniffen expanded further on Hawaii DOT’s resiliency philosophy during testimony May 13 before the Senate Committee on Appropriations.]

Michael Culp – FHWA’s team leader for sustainable transportation and resilience – noted during the exchange that his agency is “really focused on integrating resilience across the board. I would expect in the future to see more [resilience] policies coming out on all of these fronts; not just for state DOTs but for FHWA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, too.”

That includes more “technical guidance type work” and pilot projects where resiliency is concerned, he added.

“We’re seeing a ramped up focus on climate/extreme weather and how it impacts the highway system,” Culp noted, emphasizing that there is “a lot of interest” on Capitol Hill in seeing that the federal surface program integrate resilience within the nation’s transportation system.

“Resilience will also definitely have a lot of presence in federal [infrastructure] legislation, whatever it ends up looking like,” he added.

Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Kemp, head of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s resiliency program, noted that her agency “started down the path of resiliency planning” eight years ago in response to major flooding that occurred in 2013.

Since then, the Colorado DOT has developed a tool to calculate infrastructure risk while assessing the potential benefits of resiliency investments. “We’ve started looking at this from the planning perspective – deploying resilient designs in high risk areas where benefit costs support it,” she explained. “It is not an easy process to develop such tools, as the data are not always there. We have spent the last three or so years developing a robust tool kit to improve our resiliency decision-making in a day-to-day way. That is the key: getting better data for our tool kit and then integrating its findings into our day-to-day decision-making process.”

Yet Jennifer Carver – statewide community planning coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation – cautioned that incorporating resilience into infrastructure planning “is not a quick thing.” It also involves all of the infrastructure-related processes within a state DOT: long-range planning, construction and design, plus maintenance.

“Over the last few years we set up a framework on how to ‘name’ resilience and point to where we are incorporating it in our infrastructure efforts,” she said. “That’s helped energize our agency around resilience and make it part of what we do. It makes every project into a resilience project.”

Gregg Brunner, director of bureau of field services for the Michigan Department of Transportation, said efforts like Florida DOT’s are vital to “bring more folks to the table” within a state DOT “from an educational standpoint in order to create awareness of the resiliency terminology.”

Developing agency-wide risk assessment and management process is the next step, he said. “It’s about breaking down risk management into two parts – agency risk, or how it impacts Michigan DOT as a whole, and then project-level risk.”

Brunner added that “agency level threats” include things that affect the department’s labor force, technology, and financial health. Project level risks, by contrast, include things like extreme weather events. “From there we develop a risk matrix: Examining likelihood of things like flooding or cyberattacks occurring in different areas around Michigan.”

Geography makes a big difference, too, he noted. For example, while six inches of snow in the Upper Peninsula region of the state would be a non-event – “business would carry on as usual,” Brunner said – six inches in Detroit would shut down the city. “Developing a risk assessment matrix is what helps us pinpoint locales with highest risk factors,” he said.

Chris Engelbrecht, assistant to the chief safety and operations officer at the Missouri Department of Transportation, stressed that planning ahead for disaster is crucial – especially when trying to build in more infrastructure resiliency. 

“The hardest time to incorporate resilience is in the disaster recovery phase – that is when we’re stressed with reopening closed roads as fast as possible,” he said. “Thus it is a struggle to bring resilience into the repair process.”

That’s why predictive tools are so important when it comes to planning resiliency improvements. “Looking at historical data does not always give us the full risk picture either,” Engelbrecht noted. “We need to look to the horizon, to examine changing weather patterns so we obtain ‘leading indicators’ before extreme events happen.”

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is already doing that to a degree, noted Tim Sexton, the agency’s assistant commissioner for sustainability and health.

“Right now Minnesota is forecasted to be the number one or two state in the nation affected by climate change; it’ll be getting warmer and wetter for us,” he said. “So the first risk we face is more flooding – and that directly impacts things like slope failures along our highway and railroad networks.

By contrast, warmer winters create more freeze and thaw cycles, which affect pavement durability. “Climate change shines a spotlight on inequities in all states,” Sexton noted. “That’s why we are adjusting resilience to be part of our long-range policy and infrastructure investment plans.”

NCDOT Collecting Record Amount of Litter in 2021

The North Carolina Department of Transportation said that as May 19 its crews, contractors, and volunteers have collected 6.3 million pounds of litter from along the state’s roads – putting them on pace to exceed the record for litter collection set in 2019.

[Above photo by the NCDOT]

That 6.3 million pounds of trash is roughly the same amount collected in 2020 and puts the agency on track to surpass its 2019 record, when NCDOT crews, contractors, and volunteers collected 10.5 million pounds of litter.    ​

“We are on track to pick up more litter in 2021 than in any year previous,” noted Eric Boyette, NCDOT secretary, in a statement. “But to truly solve this problem, North Carolina must begin dealing with litter proactively. Secure your load, don’t throw trash out the window and do your part to make sure others know this too.”

He added that NCDOT’s litter management programs are “multifaceted” as the department makes use of both state-owned resources and contract services. NCDOT’s Sponsor-A-Highway Program allows businesses, organizations and individuals to sponsor litter removal along roadsides. The agency also partners with more than 120,000 participants in the Adopt-A-Highway Program​, where volunteers pledge to clean a section of our highways at least four times a year.

State departments of transportation across the country are ramping up similar anti-litter outreach and cleanup efforts.

In April, the Ohio Department of Transportation joined forces with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources to conduct a statewide anti-litter campaign – called “A Little Litter is a Big Problem” – to highlight the negative impact litter has on the state’s transportation system, parks, beachfronts, and waterways.

The Ohio DOT noted in a statement that it alone has 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.

Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation launched a new “Clean Rhodes” anti-litter initiative on April 22.

“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, 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.