Environmental News Highlights – August 5, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


COVID-19 Relief Stalls, House Passes THUD Appropriations – AASHTO Journal

New DOJ Guidance Seeks to Limit Federal Enforcement under the Clean Water Act – National Law Review

House Passes New Water Resources Development Bill – Engineering News Record

Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill – The Hill


Israel’s ‘smart commuting’ shows what public transport could be like after COVID-19 – World Economic Forum

Transit-Based COVID-19 Monitoring Pilot Launched in Mission District – University of California San Francisco

MTA Announces Installation of Mask Dispensers Inside Buses for Customers to Easily Access Masks When Boarding – MTA (Press release)

G7 High-Level Transportation Principles in Response to COVID-19 – US Department of State

There Is Little Evidence That Mass Transit Poses a Risk of Coronavirus Outbreaks – Scientific American

COVID-19 AND TRANSPORTATION CONSTRUCTION Part 8: Lessons Learned – Getting Prepared for Possible Stimulus Funding – Roads and Bridges

COVID-19 and the Future of Transportation in California – JD Supra


Caltrans Repaves Roadway with Recycled Plastic Bottles – Caltrans (Press release)

Pritzker administration announces $250 Million in infrastructure grants to Illinois counties, municipalities and townships – Illinois DOT (Press release)


California’s Air Pollution Cops Are Eyeing Uber and Lyft – Wired

Los Angeles Accelerates Efforts to Electrify Its Infamous Traffic – Scientific American


‘Who’s this for?’: Without looking at Richmond’s racial disparities, some worry push for ‘open streets’ could widen inequities – Richmond Times-Dispatch

Pollution Is Killing Black Americans. This Community Fought Back. – New York Times


New port brings tourism hope and pollution fears to Alaskan town – Thomson Reuters Foundation


Why Historic Preservation Needs a New Approach – CityLab


Revel is shutting down its NYC moped service after another death – CBS News

New Orleans mayor releases updated plan on making French Quarter pedestrian-focused – WDSU-TV

Shared-use roads improve physical distancing, research shows – University of Alberta

From ‘smart mobility hubs’ to crowdsourcing traffic data, Columbus tests new transportation tech – Statescoop

SamTrans Launches Ride Now Taxi Subsidy Pilot Program – SamTrans (Press release)

Electrifying transportation will jumpstart the U.S. economy and protect public health – The Hill (Opinion)

Lyft seeks to ease return-to-work woe with custom ride-share benefit – HR Dive

Mineta Transportation Institute releases study showing carpooling for cash could help clear congestion – Mineta Transportation Institute


A Guide to Emergency Management at State Transportation Agencies – TRB

Developing a Guide to Emergency Management at State Transportation Agencies – TRB

Arizona DOT’s Approach to Virtual Public Involvement – AASHTO’s ETAP Podcast

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Nearly $5 Million to 4 New University Transportation Centers – USDOT (Press Release)

Two AASHTO Management Courses to go Virtual– AASHTO


Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council – USDOT (Request for comment)

Discretionary Funding Opportunity: Grants for Pilot Program for Expedited Project Delivery – FTA (Notice of funding opportunity)

Environmental Impact Statements; Availability, etc.: Jefferson National Forest; Monroe County, West Virginia; Giles and Montgomery County, Virginia; Mountain Valley Pipeline and Equitrans Expansion Project – EPA (Notice of intent to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement)

Colorado DOT Works to Minimize Monsoon Impact on Roadways

As state departments of transportation along the East Coast sharpen their disaster plans ahead of the peak point of the 2020 hurricane season – with mid-Atlantic and Northeastern state DOTs already grappling with flooding and high-wind damage cause by tropical storm Isaias – the Colorado Department of Transportation is deploying strategies to combat the summer monsoon season, which typically runs from mid-July until mid-September.

[Above photo courtesy of Colorado DOT.]

Monsoons – a term coined in the 19th century by the British in India to describe the big seasonal winds and heavy rainfall coming from the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea – can create flash flooding, mudslides, and rock falls that can severely damage affect Colorado roadways; causing major dilemmas for the traveling public and Colorado DOT maintenance crews.  

For example, a seven-day-long flood event in September 2013 left behind a path of destruction over an area of 2,380 square miles, causing $700 million in roadway damage. Colorado also endured a major rock fall event in 2016 during monsoon season that closed I-70 in the Glenwood Canyon for approximately two weeks. 

Those events encouraged state officials to take a deeper look into improving the resilience of Colorado infrastructure. As a result, the Colorado DOT and the Colorado Division Office of Federal Highway Administration worked to develop a plan to proactively identify and address vulnerabilities of the state’s roadway system to threats like flooding and landslides. 

As a part of that plan, the two agencies kick-started the I-70 Risk and Resilience or R&R pilot project August 2016; examining 450 miles of I-70 from the Utah border in the west to the Kansas border to identify the potential for future damage and roadway closures due to extreme weather-related events such as monsoons.

The R&R pilot project – completed in the fall 2017 – provided risk and resilience information for assets along I-70 and helped the Colorado DOT prioritize work at key locations where risk is high and resiliency is currently low. 

One of the areas identified as an important risk factor to road closures was culvert risk mitigation planning. Lizzie Kemp, Colorado DOT’s resiliency program manager, said that the study found flooding is the largest corridor risk when looking at user costs due to delays, with 80 percent of that risk due to minor culvert failure. 

She noted that Colorado has nearly 60,000 culverts that fall into this “minor” category – under 4 feet long – and so the agency first prioritized repairing and/or replacing such culverts found in poor condition along critical routes. To help with that prioritization effort, the agency uses a Geographical Information System or GIS-based Culvert Risk Assessment tool (created by Gerry Shisler for the Colorado DOT) that takes data available statewide and uses it to identify culverts, their condition, and whether they are located on “critical” roadways. 

The Colorado DOT found approximately 1,000 culverts across the state were in poor condition on critical routes and the agency than used that information to development and implement a three-step mitigation plan:

  • Step 1: Maintenance patrols complete an inspection of identified high-risk culverts and update the condition in the minor culvert database tool.
  • Step 2: Identify and document specific proposed mitigation actions for each culvert based on inspection, which could include replacing the culvert or making minor repairs.
  • Step 3: If replacement or repair is too costly or not possible, identify and document a specific operations plan which may include increased cleanout frequency and installation of technology to monitor hydraulic flows.

The Colorado DOT also found that minor culvert damage caused more than $94 million to roadway users from delays on the I-70 corridor alone; representing 80 percent of all user costs due to flooding.  As a result, the agency expects that preventing minor culvert failure during monsoon flooding events should save hundreds of millions in highway user delay costs across the state.

Caltrans Repaves Road with Completely Recycled Material

The California Department of Transportation recently repaved a three-lane, 1,000-foot long section of Highway 162 using recycled asphalt pavement and liquid plastic made with single-use, plastic bottles – the first time the department said it has paved a road using 100 percent recycled materials.

[Above photo courtesy of Caltrans.]

The agency noted that such “plastic” roadways in previous test projects were found to be more durable and last two to three times longer than traditional hot-mixed asphalt pavement.

Using new technology developed by TechniSoil Industrial of Redding, CA, a recycling train of equipment grinds up the top three inches of pavement and then mixes the grindings with a liquid plastic polymer binder that comes from a high amount of recycled, single-use bottles. The new asphalt material is then placed on the top surface of the roadway, eliminating the need for trucks to bring in outside material for a paving operation. By eliminating the need to haul asphalt from the outside, this process can also help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“This pilot project underscores the department’s commitment to embracing innovative and cost-effective technologies while advancing sustainability and environmental protection efforts,” noted Toks Omishakin, director of Caltrans, in a statement.

“Using waste plastic that was otherwise destined for a landfill will not only reduce the cost of road repair and construction, but also increase the strength and durability of our roads,” added California State Senator Ben Hueso, who has advocated that Caltrans test this material. “California is uniquely positioned to transform the transportation industry once again by using this new technology that could revolutionize the way we look at recycled plastic.”

Caltrans noted currently has a cold in-place asphalt recycling program that uses large machines to remove three to six inches of roadway surface and grind up the asphalt while mixing it with a foamed binding agent made of bitumen, a leftover sludge from oil refining. However, that recycled material used in this process is only durable enough to serve as the roadway base – and trucks must deliver hot-mix asphalt from a production plant located miles away and place a final layer over that base.

That’s why Amarjeet Benipal, director of Caltrans’ District 3, said the new plastic roadway process is better for the environment versus the cold in-place program. “It keeps plastic bottles out of landfills and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels,” he noted.

Several state DOTs are testing a variety of different products to help make roadway pavements more durable and environmentally-friendly.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation, for example, began testing a new asphalt additive along with two private companies in late 2018 along a stretch of Interstate 94 outside Albertville, MN, near the MnROAD research facilities – an additive designed to help highway agencies and contractors use more recycled asphalt and less “virgin” products. That additives – called a “rejuvenator” and made by agricultural conglomerate Cargill and aggregate supplier Hardrives – is a substance that promises to reverse the effects of aging when the existing asphalt roadway is recycled back into the new road.