WSDOT Illustrates Archeology, Transportation Connections

A recent blog post from the Washington Department of Transportation illustrated the important connections between the sciences of archeology and transportation infrastructure construction.

[Above photo of Jason Cooper by WSDOT]

Federal and state laws mandate that all transportation projects, particularly ones that disturb the ground, be evaluated for their effects on cultural resources. WSDOT goes a step further with a policy commitment to avoid, minimize or mitigate its adverse impacts on “cultural resources” – which include areas, structures, and objects that are at least 50 years old – and help preserve such historical finds as well.

Enter Jason Cooper, WSDOT cultural resources lead. A veteran archeologist with 32 years of experience, Cooper has spent the last six working for WSDOT and leads a team that studies human history and pre-history on and below state roads and waterways, helping WSDOT construction and environmental teams preserve culturally important places.

WSDOT’s cultural resources team also works closely with tribes in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, along with cities and counties across the state to preserve things like historic bridges and landmarks, archeologically and anthropologically sensitive sites and spaces/things of cultural significance. WSDOT noted that they research, for example, whether a highway project might trample on old tribal burial grounds or anything else of historical value.

Photo by WSDOT

Cooper explained in the blog post that he is “driven by the belief” that every artifact, no matter the size or shape, has a story to tell and that his team’s cultural resources work provides valuable insights into the lives of “those who came before us.”

After getting a bachelor of arts in history and minor in anthropology at San Diego State University – and later a master’s in anthropology from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas – Cooper worked on archeological excavations in the U.S. and worldwide spending time in in Jordan and Cyprus studying the Neolithic period (some 6,000 years before today) and, in Egypt, focused on old stone age, early “hominid” survey work. Hominids are all modern and extinct Great Apes, Cooper noted – that is, modern humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, etc., plus all their immediate ancestors.

Cooper noted that the WSDOT cultural resources team operates on a three-part system as part of the pre-planning process for transportation construction work. The work entailed by those steps includes: 

  • Identification: Before any large-scale ground disturbance is planned, Cooper and his team identify areas with possible archeological significance through desktop research (checking maps, combing through archives, reading books, scanning online records, etc.) and surveying (digging holes or test probes to examine a site). Frequently, Cooper and a team of subcontractors will do several shovel probes of the ground. Sometimes only a few dozen probes are dug, other times there can be hundreds or thousands.
  • Evaluate: Next, WSDOT archeologists and subcontractors evaluate by screening the soils removed from these test probes or holes to see if they find anything historical or “pre-contact” – a term used to describe times before Europeans arrived and contacted Native Americans already living in North America.
  • Determine for Eligibility: Cooper and his team determine if any items found during the digging process are eligible as an archeological finding. If so, he writes reports on which the culture the artifact/object belongs to and next steps, such as returning it to the ground, relocating the construction project or finding a new home for the object.

WSDOT noted that while this three-step system typically takes place before ground is disturbed, it can take place at any time, particularly if something unusual is discovered by our crews during excavation.

As an aside, WSDOT’s Cooper has written more than 150 cultural resources reports for Washington State alone and has come across “numerous” interesting archeological discoveries, such as:

  • In 2022, as part of a debris flow project on SR 410 near Crystal Mountain Resort where the washed-out road was repaired, Cooper and his team studied if the temporary repairs would affect cultural resources after the Nisqually Tribe requested a survey. During the work, Jason’s team found pre-contact impacts (such as a piece of a stone tool), culturally modified trees (a tree Native Americans had removed bark from) and a segment of the old McLellan Highway, which was the old state route to Crystal Mountain.
  • While new culverts were being installed under SR 169 between Renton and Maple Valley in 2021, Cooper was brought in after on-site crews discovered a long section of buried wood planks. He determined the planks belong to an original road built by King County in the 1920s between Renton and Maple Valley.
  • Recently, at the I-90/SR 18 Deep Creek Interchange Improvements project work site near Snoqualmie, a bone was discovered by work crews. Cooper was able to determine the bone likely came from a quadruped/ungulate (likely elk) and was not human – and that quick determination helped keep the project on schedule, WSDOT added.
  • While the tree is no longer there as of July 2023, five years ago Cooper determined that a willow tree on Seattle Housing Authority land near I-5 and James Street was a cloned descendant of a willow tree that is near the French dictator Napoleon’s grave site at St. Helena’s Island.
  • Historical records determined the site of SR 92 roadwork near Granite Falls likely had archeological sites, so the road was routed around the city instead through those sites. Cooper – at the time still an on-call consultant – and his team found thousands of human-made artifacts – human manufactured stone tools, arrow heads, cutting devices, etc. – many of them thousands of years old. The sites were part of the Olcott archeological sites, which predates the first known pyramids in Egypt.

Other state departments of transportation are engaged in a variety of archeological endeavors as well.

For example, in October 2022, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet helped establish a new website highlighting more than 100 prehistoric and historic archaeological sites across the state’s 64 counties. KYTC launched the new website – Discover Kentucky Archaeology – in collaboration with the Kentucky Heritage Council-State Historic Preservation Office, an agency of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet.

And in January 2022, the Colorado Department of Transportation debuted a documentary called “Durango 550 – Path of the Ancestral Puebloans” to show how the agency worked with archaeologists and regional Native American tribes to document, study, and ultimately share the discoveries unearthed near Durango in southwest Colorado. That archaeological excavation took place in 2018 and 2019 ahead of construction on the US 550-US 160 Connection South project in 2020.

USDOT, DOE Issue EV “Tool Kit” as a Free Resource

The U.S. Department of Transportation, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, released a new free technical resource to help larger communities take full advantage of federal funding for electric vehicle charging stations and other forms of electric transportation.

[Above photo by the USDOT]

The new guide – called “Charging Forward: A Toolkit for Planning and Funding Urban Electric Mobility Infrastructure” – provides a comprehensive resource for communities, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), transportation providers, businesses, and property owners and developers by including information on how to scope, plan, and identify ways to best leverage billions of dollars in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA.

It follows on the heels of the Rural EV toolkit originally issued by the USDOT in 2022 and later updated in 2023. 

The toolkit builds on the efforts of the Joint Office to provide states and communities across America with information and assistance to accelerate an electrified transportation system that is convenient, affordable, reliable, and equitable. It also includes guidance to help urban areas implement other forms of electric transportation, such as public transit, electric bikes and scooters, and ride-share services, USDOT said.  

In a statement, the USDOT said building an affordable and accessible public charging network will help make electric forms of transportation more convenient for the 71 percent of Americans who live in communities with a population over 50,000. While many EV owners can charge their vehicles at home or work, people who live in higher density areas, especially those living in apartments and condos, may not have easy access to a garage or the space for a private charger, which means they are more reliant on public charging options.  

In 2022, USDOT approved plans from all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico to build a nationwide network of EV chargers, supported by $5 billion from the IIJA’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure or NEVI program.

This spring, USDOT began the application process for the first $700 million of the total $2.5 billion in funding to build EV charging infrastructure in communities and neighborhoods across the country through the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure or CFI grant program.

Environmental News Highlights – July 19, 2023


Northeastern State DOT Projects Win Regional Awards -AASHTO Journal

Judge freezes WOTUS fight until Biden issues new rule -E&E News

We fixed I-95 in 12 days. Here are our lessons for U.S. infrastructure. -Washington Post (opinion)

NPS seeks public input on the potential impacts of e-bikes in parks across the National Park System -National Park Service (media release)

Building on the Success of USDOT’s Rural EV Toolkit to Help Communities Build Out EV Charging Infrastructure, DOT Releases New Edition for Urban Areas -USDOT (media release)



Underground Heat Is Shifting Chicago’s Foundations -New York Times

Colorado DOT installs permanent avalanche control equipment on Red Mountain Pass -Durango Herald

Vermont Prepared for Epic Flooding. It Wasn’t Enough -Bloomberg Green

NH’s infrastructure is aging. How will it hold up with predictions of more flooding and extreme weather? -New Hampshire Public Radio

ADOT plans to add 7 EV charging stations to state highways -KTAR Radio



State AGs at odds over proposed EPA tailpipe emissions rules -Route Fifty

Nevada governor pulls state out of US climate alliance -KSNV-TV

The Wind Is in Hydrogen’s Sails; Politics Could Change That -Government Technology

3 Airlines and the FAA Join Google to Assess Flight Emissions –Skift

FAA Invests Nearly $92 Million to Help Airports Reach President’s Goal of Net Zero-Emissions by 2050 -FAA (media release)



Collective Imagination: A Hopeful Force at the Center of Climate Justice -Harvard University

Transportation Apps Can Help People With Disabilities Navigate Public Transit But Accessibility Lags Behind -The Conversation

Biden’s EV charger rollout has begun. Will it deliver on environmental justice? –Grist



The Real Harm of Dust Storms -WILL Radio (link to audio)

NASA Tests Mobile Air Traffic Kit During Wildfire Prevention Operations -NASA (media release)


Pittsburgh and the Great Migration: Black Mobility and the Automobile -The Frick Pittsburgh

Montreal tourism outlets concerned about halted Amtrak line from New York City -CBC News

Facebook Censors WYDOT For Humorous Sasquatch Post -Cowboy State Daily


Hawaii plans rapid rollout of raised pedestrian crosswalks, citing encouraging new data –Hawaii News Now

San Jose, California Looks To AI To Stop Pedestrian Traffic Deaths -KGO-TV

Mackinac Island Impounded More Than 50 Illegal E-Bikes In Just Three Weeks –Jalopnik

Transit Advocates Fear On-Demand Microtransit Undermines Bus Service –Planetizen

Pilot programs show support for microtransit services in smaller Virginia cities, rural areas -WCAV-TV



TRB Webinar: Climate-Resilient, Low-Volume Road Design and Management –TRB

TRB Webinar: Life-Cycle Assessment for Pavements and Transportation Infrastructure –TRB

TRB International Conference on Low Volume Roads –TRB

An Assessment of Native Seed Needs and the Capacity for Their Supply: Final Report -National Academies



Grant Programs for Urbanized Areas: Program Guidance and Application Instructions, Proposed Circular -FTA (Notice of availability of proposed circular and request for comments)

Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Program: Standards for 2023–2025 and Other Changes -EPA (Final rule)

National Environmental Justice Advisory Council; Notification of Public Meeting -EPA (Notice)

Rescinding the Rule on Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process -EPA (Final rule)

Request for Comments on the Federal Aviation Administration’s Review the Civil Aviation Noise Policy; Extension of Comment Period -FAA (Notice of public meeting; Request for comments)

Notice of Availability of a Joint Record of Decision (ROD) for the Ocean Wind LLC Proposed Wind Energy Facility Offshore New Jersey -Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (Notice)

Board on Coastal Engineering Research -Army Corps of Engineers (Notice of advisory committee meeting)

Safety Zone; Hurricanes and Tropical Storms in Captain of the Port Zone North Carolina -Coast Guard (Notice of proposed rulemaking)

Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction Meeting -National Institute of Standards and Technology (Notice of open meeting)