Letter Outlines AASHTO, State DOT Equity Efforts

A comment letter sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation on June 29 outlines how the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and its members are working to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion or DEI protocols within the transportation industry – and recommended ways USDOT could support such DEI-focused efforts now and in the future.

[Above photo by AASHTO]

“In order to improve safety, mobility, and access for everyone, we are promoting diversity in all AASHTO activities and collaborating with traditional and non-traditional partners to support equity and social justice objectives,” AASHTO noted in its letter.

The foundation of the organization’s ongoing DEI initiatives is an “Equity Resolution” passed unanimously by the AASHTO Board of Directors in November 2020. That resolution affirms AASHTO’s commitment to anti-discrimination in the delivery of all programs and services. That “affirmation” included improving contracting and procurement practices to assist disadvantaged business enterprises or DBEs, focusing efforts on recruitment, promotion, and training so that the state departments of transportation can “better reflect the communities they serve” while also ensuring establishment of inclusive workplaces.

To implement the Equity Resolution, AASHTO developed a multimodal, multidisciplinary Equity Task Force that has provided equity resources and information to state DOT executive leadership, developed partnerships with equity stakeholders, and obtained funding for equity research.

In 2023, the Task Force focused on improving internal and external state DOT equity communications; helping state DOTs develop diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforces, while also enhancing public engagement to improve transportation decision-making. The Task Force developed an Equity Communications Work Group – consisting of equity and communications staff within the state DOTs – to assist states with internal and external equity communications and messaging.

That Work Group is developing the Task Force’s web presence, collecting successful practices for making intentional choices to use inclusive communications in language, style guides, images and media, and then developing model language and templates for strategic internal and external agency communications. Additionally, the Task Force is working with the AASHTO Subcommittee on Transportation Workforce Management Subcommittee and the AASHTO Committee on Human Resources to collect and share successful strategies to improve recruitment, hiring, promotion, training, leadership development and retention of—and support for—a workforce at all levels that reflect the communities served by the state DOTs.

AASHTO noted in its letter that all of the information being collected will be integrated into a new Transportation Workforce Management Playbook – a publication currently under development – to ensure that equity is a key component of transportation workforce planning and management. The Task Force will also partner with the AASHTO Committees on Planning, Environment, Civil Rights, and others, as well as external stakeholders, to collect and compile effective public engagement practices in underserved and marginalized communities. That includes practices related to developing ongoing community and stakeholder relationships, as well as developing community partnering agreements for all stages of a particular transportation project or program.

The organization also noted in its letter that USDOT’s “Power of Community” focus area directly aligns with the AASHTO Equity Resolution, and also can help advance equity at the local level. AASHTO also recommended that USDOT consider ways to support broader community engagement on transportation related priorities and needs – particularly on long-term relationship building and partnerships, especially in underserved and marginalized communities.

“Such an expanded approach will support increased and more active participation of underserved and marginalized populations, which may not have the tools, resources and/or ability to have a voice in decisions that impact their communities,” AASHTO said. “USDOT should further support these efforts through increased funding flexibility for long-term public community engagement and partnerships.”

That includes tapping into specific equity-focused datasets, said AASHTO, such as United for ALICE – short for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” – data, which looks at employed community members that are unable to afford housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and technology.

AASHTO also recommended that USDOT explore using “County Health Rankings and Roadmaps” datasets, which support community-based efforts to improve health equity. That group’s 2023 National Findings Report explores several measures related to civic infrastructure and census participation across the country. This report could be used to enhance USDOT’s Equitable Transportation Community or ETC Explorer Tool as well, AASHTO said.

Finally, the Washington State Department of Health created the Washington Environmental Health Disparities or EHD Map Tool; an interactive mapping program that compares demographic and ecological data in communities across the state to identify environmental health disparities.

That map program provides insight into where public investments may be prioritized to mitigate environmental health impacts. USDOT could use the EHD Map Tool to update and enhance its environmental justice screening and mapping or EJScreen tool.

AASHTO also suggested that USDOT provide guidance to state DOTs regarding which tools should be used for various transportation planning, programming and project evaluation efforts. That guidance should outline the circumstances for appropriate use of the USDOT ETC Explorer, the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, the Transportation Disadvantaged Census Tracts Tool, the Electric Vehicle Charging Justice40 Map, the EJScreen, and other relevant tools.  

For example, AASHTO noted that Washington State’s EHD Map Tool provides example of how federal agencies can partner with state agencies in using local tools to supplement nationwide demographic tools and more accurately identify and address disparities in the health sector and beyond. For instance, using such “local tools” to enhance the Four Factor Analysis could provide more accurate identification of Limited English Proficiency or LEP populations, which would better allow important documents to be translated and better support public engagement.

FTA Issues $20M from Persistent Poverty Program

The Federal Transit Administration plans to award $20 million to 47 communities to help improve public transportation options in areas that are experiencing, in the agency’s words, “long-term economic distress.”

[Above image by the FTA]

The FTA said its Areas of Persistent Poverty or AoPP program provides support to state and local governments, transit agencies, and nonprofit organizations to create better transit for residents with limited or no transportation options.

The agency said AoPP-funded investments can be used to support efforts to initiate transit service as well as improve service and modernize transit vehicle fleets, from procuring low- and no-emission buses to launching scheduling applications for smart devices and improving bus stops.  
“Transit is the great equalizer, providing rides for those who do not have a car or cannot drive, and particularly in rural and Tribal areas, having access to an affordable, reliable bus ride can mean the difference between isolation and opportunity,” said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez in a statement. “[Our] AoPP program is about forging connections for people who need accessible transit the most.”

The grants are specifically awarded for studies to improve transit in Census-defined low-income areas, the agency added, while also supporting coordinated human service transportation planning to improve mobility and access or provide new services – including paratransit services. 

Three state departments of transportation and one state DOT transit division received funds from this round of AoPP disbursements:

  • The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities received $785,400 to conduct a statewide transit study that assesses transportation needs statewide, with a focus on small, tribal and disadvantaged communities. The assessment will list barriers to access and recommend solutions to reconnect communities and will identify capital projects alongside equity considerations.
  • The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority – a division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation – received $127,367 to complete the design of on-route battery-electric bus chargers at the Ashmont bus station. This station serves as a major transportation hub, facilitating connections between the subway, trolley, and 11 bus routes. The project will support transit reliability for the neighboring disadvantaged communities these stations serve and contribute toward the MBTA’s ambitious target of electrifying the entire bus fleet by 2040.
  • The Maine Department of Transportation received $650,462 to help two rural public transit agencies create a community-based transportation model that will aggregate transportation services, including non-emergency medical transportation and taxi companies. It will also automate its dispatch operations and fare card system with real-time data, which will allow the systems to expand and provide more service.
  • The Montana Department of Transportation received $451,500 to plan for new transit services in the city of Bozeman. The project will incorporate climate change, racial equity, and environmental justice into the transit development plan, as well as generate a financing plan that will provide a long-term sustainable funding source for these new services.

Environmental News Highlights – July 26, 2023


New Jersey Sues Federal Government Over Congestion Pricing in New York City -New York Times

House Republicans propose ambitious reforestation plan in response to climate change -AP

‘Massive emissions ramifications’: Forthcoming hydrogen policy stirs intense debate -The Hill

Resilience Improvement Plans: Best Practices & Requirements -FHWA (webinar)

Federal Fleets: Zero-Emission Vehicle Implementation -GAO (media release)

U.S. Should Expand and Standardize Plastics Collection and Recycling, Study Potential Uses in Infrastructure, Says New Report -National Academies (media release)


State DOTs Respond to Major East Coast Flooding -AASHTO Journal

Nevada roads, highways can withstand extreme heat due to NDOT planning -KVVU-TV

Is the Sumner Tunnel closure a transit success story? -WGBH-TV

Major U.S. cities leading in transit electrification -Mass Transit

Study addresses safer oil rail transport -Oak Ridge National Laboratory

A Charging Facility in Michigan Aims to Reinvent the American Truck Stop -Government Technology

CSX yields encouraging results from soybean oil-based fuel tests -Progressive Railroading


Oregon joins West Coast states seeking millions to create zero-emission truck fueling network -Oregon Capital Chronicle

N.Y.’s public transit systems display alerts as state’s air quality concerns continue -Spectrum News 1

EPA Gets Tougher on Truck Emissions. Are Its Targets Achievable? -SupplyChainBrain

Nevada Residents – and Programs – Push for Cleaner Transportation and Air -Las Vegas Weekly

What Is the Most Eco-Friendly Way to Travel? -Wanderu (blog)


Connecticut mapping tool aims to bring visibility to environmental justice communities -Energy News Network

Turning a desert into an oasis; how transportation deserts are impacting Milwaukee – WTMJ-TV

EVs Are Sending Toxic Tire Particles Into the Water, Soil, and Air -The Atlantic

More money going toward electric vehicle infrastructure in New York State -WCAX-TV


Freshwater management techniques can benefit both inland and coastal wetlands stressed by climate change Phys.org

Los Angeles World Airports prohibits sale of single-use plastic water bottles -LAWA (media release)


Recycling America’s Railroads into Trails – Urbanist (podcast)


Bike lane on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge seen as major cause of pollution – PIX-TV (video)

The many benefits of more walkable streets -American City & County

Disability advocates push for robotaxi expansion -Axios San Francisco

Improving Transit Access to Parks and Trails -Planetizen


TRB Webinar: Successful Environmental Justice Planning -TRB

Recycled Plastics in Infrastructure: Current Practices, Understanding, and Opportunities -TRB

Integrating Freight and Active Transportation into Policies, Programs, Plans, and Project Development -NCHRP

Leveraging Social Media Data for Emergency Preparedness and Response -NCHRP

Telecommuting, Remote Work, and Hybrid Schedules: Managing the Shift to a Flexible Work Future -NCHRP

Valuation and Compensation for Accommodating Utility and Communications Installations in Public Rights-of-Way -NCHRP

PFAS Source Differentiation Guide for Airports -ACHRP


Limited Approval, Limited Disapproval of California Air Plan Revisions, Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District -EPA (Proposed rule)

National Advisory Council -FEMA (Committee management; request for applicants for appointment to a subcommittee of the National Advisory Council)

Call for Nominations for the California Desert District Advisory Council, the Central California Resource Advisory Council, and the Northern California Resource Advisory Council -Bureau of Land Management (Notice)

Streamlining U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Permitting of Rights-of-Way Across National Wildlife Refuges and Other U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Administered Lands -Fish and Wildlife Service (Proposed rule; revisions and reopening of the comment period)