Environmental News Highlights – August 12, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


House Passes Fiscal 2021 Transportation Funding Bill – Transport Topics

At EPA, coronavirus disrupts research and raises questions over air quality impact – McClatchy

Climate Hawks Urge Biden to Shun Obama-Era Energy Moderates – Bloomberg Green

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

Harris, Ocasio-Cortez introduce environmental justice bill – The Hill


Is the Subway Risky? It May Be Safer Than You Think – New York Times

New York City sets up quarantine checkpoints as it toughens state travel restrictions – CNBC

Chicago-Area Transit Agency Bosses on COVID-19’s Impact on Transportation – WTTW-TV


Podcast: AASHTO’s Tymon Talks National Infrastructure Needs – AASHTO Journal

AASHTO’s Tymon Named a ‘Top 25 Newsmaker’ by ENR – AASHTO Journal

What’s in store for the future of infrastructure? – Infrastructure

Road Revenue Plummets – New Ways To Fund Infrastructure Projects Needed – CleanTechnica

NVTA adopts $539M funding program to reduce congestion in the region – Fairfax County Times

FEMA Offers $500M in Resilience Grants. An Opportunity for Microgrids & DERs? – Microgrid Knowledge

Florida Gov. DeSantis: 50 transportation projects were accelerated saving 650 calendar days of construction during COVID-19 pandemic – WTLV-TV


The EPA is taking a ‘first step’ toward addressing Chelsea’s air quality problems – Boston.com

Why climate change is about to make your bad commute worse – Washington Post


Across America, Five Communities in Search of Environmental Justice – Great Lakes Now


With wildlife corridor plan, Virginia officials hope to reduce highway collisions with animals – Virginia Mercury

Finger Lakes Land Trust says toxic and harmful HABS most pressing threat to water quality – WHCU

New EPA guidelines on cost-benefits analyses are path to better forestry and much more – Crain’s Cleveland Business (Blog)

Judge Tosses Ranchers’ Challenge to Weakened Clean Water Rules – Courthouse News Service


Historic preservation at Pima Air & Space is Absolutely Arizona – KGUN-TV


Going Dutch? New bicycle signal is part of a study on bike infrastructure – KGW-TV

Residents complain crosswalks are consuming curb space in ‘parking deprived’ Stamford – Stamford Advocate

The Problem With ‘Mobility as a Service’ – CityLab

Micromobility Isn’t Dead – Bloomberg


TRB Webinar: Public Transit Ridership Trends – TRB (Webinar announcement)

Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes, Volume 2: Research Overview – TRB TCRP (Report availability)

TRB Webinar: How Women Fare in the Transit Industry – TRB (Webinar announcement)

Conference on Health and Active Transportation Circular – TRB

National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) soliciting FY2022 problem statement submittals by November 2, 2020 – TRB NCHRP

Rescheduled: Advancing Demand Management in Resort Towns and Communities – FHWA Office of Operations


Proposed Information Collection Request; Comment Request; General Administrative Requirements for Assistance Programs – EPA (Notice)

Notice of Availability of One Updated Chapter in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Pollution Control Cost Manual – EPA (Notice of availability and public comment period)

Public Water System Supervision Program Approval for the State of Illinois – EPA (Notice of tentative approval)

Requests for Nominations: National and Governmental Advisory Committees to the U.S. Representative to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation – EPA (Notice of request for nominations)

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Regulations for Listing Endangered and Threatened Species and Designating Critical Habitat – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Proposed rule)

Notice of Indirect Cost Rates for the Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program for Fiscal Year 2018 – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Notice)

Caltrans Commits an Extra $100 million to Bicycle/Pedestrian Projects

The California Department of Transportation plan to invest an extra $100 million into active transportation projects aims to build more non-motorized links between neighboring communities that, for years, have been connected mainly by freeway exit ramps.

[Above photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.]

Some of the funds will be used for stand-alone active transportation projects, while some will go toward introducing walking and biking infrastructure into existing highway projects. Caltrans noted it already has identified 22 projects that now will have additional walking and biking improvements.

The plans “represents a critical step in our effort to build and enhance a transportation system for all users and make our communities more livable and vibrant places,” explained Toks Omishakin, director of Caltrans, in a statement.

Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bike Coalition (CBC), added that the story behind this “active transportation” investment effort by Caltrans is just as significant as the $100 million the agency is offering to facilitate more walking and biking activity.

Caltrans “already had their set of projects for the next two years approved, and they were ready to go with their package,” Snyder noted. “Then this new director comes in and says, ‘I think we can do better for bicycling and walking.’”

Chris Clark, Caltrans media relations manager, said Snyder’s account is “100 percent accurate. In truth, Toks wanted more than $100 million.”

Photo courtesy of Caltrans

Omishakin, who was appointed director of Caltrans in September 2019 and is widely recognized as an active transportation advocate, told his staff to “value engineer” $4.2 billion of transportation projects in order to get an extra $100 million for bicycling and walking.

“That’s a very significant step,” CBC’s Snyder said.

The exact project identification process will take place at the local level, with each of California’s 12 districts holding public engagement sessions to help develop the District Active Transportation Plans and guide which projects will be constructed.

“They have made a strong statement, and I am impressed,” Snyder added. “What I can’t say yet is that they’re significantly changing the culture in the mid-levels of the agency, where important decisions get made. They have to be willing to prioritize the convenience of walking and biking over the convenience of highways.”

Caltrans’ Clark said he understands Snyder’s reticence, but he stressed that Omishakin has made it very clear “that active transportation is a top priority for the department.”

Other state departments of transportation are also increasing their support for more bicycle and pedestrian options in a number of ways.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation, for one, issued more than $2 million worth of Transportation Alternatives or TA grants to help fund a variety of urban and rural active transportation improvement projects across the state in July.

And in July 2019, the Ohio Department of Transportation noted that ongoing trends in safety, demographics, and demand spurred it to develop its first-ever policy plan for walking and biking – a plan the agency hopes to craft with public input gleaned from a series of stakeholder meetings and online surveys.

report issued by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in October 2019 highlighted that there is an overall monetary benefit from investing in projects that shifting short trips from driving to walking and biking via connected active-transportation infrastructure. The organization argued that funding such a “shift” could help generate a return on investment of $73 billion to $138 billion per year in the United States – if such active transportation infrastructure is connected to public transit systems.

However, the organization emphasized in a statement that shifting short car trips in both urban and rural areas to non-motorized ones “will take policy, behavior, and perception change, which can only occur if connected networks of safe and protected walking and bicycling facilities are built all across the nation.”

ETAP Podcast: Arizona DOT’s Steve Olmsted Discusses the Impact of COVID-19

One impact from COVID-19 pandemic being felt by state departments of transportation is the temporary cessation of “traditional” face-to-face public meetings to discuss upcoming transportation projects – with most of such gatherings going virtual.

In this podcast, Steve Olmsted – senior program manager at the Arizona Department of Transportation – discusses how his agency is handling the challenge of engaging the public and moving forward transportation projects during a time of social distancing.

“We call them virtual call-in public hearings,” he said on the podcast. “The meeting was presented by phone only and callers could verbally submit comments … with a court reporter transcribing the comments. The meeting was also simultaneously broadcast on free public radio stations – that is a novel thing for us and credit goes to our community relations team for that.”

To hear more about the “lessons learned” by the Arizona DOT from this process, click here.

Center for Environmental Excellence Updating PAL Database

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Center for Environmental Excellence (CEE) is looking for state assistance in updating the contents of its Programmatic Agreement Library or PAL database.

[Above photo courtesy of Oregon DOT.]

The PAL database functions as a “central library” or “one-stop-shop” for programmatic agreements between state departments of transportation and/or the Federal Highway Administration in partnership with resource agencies that help streamline compliance with federal environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act.

The PAL contains not only the programmatic agreement information; it contains a link to the full agreement and provides on-going access for practitioners to research agreements that meet specific requirements.

However, most of the agreements within the database are 10 years old, so the CEE is asking states to review the documents within the PAL to see if they are still valid, need to be updated, or removed entirely.

State agencies willing to help review those PAL documents can contact the CEE at environment@aashto.org.

Video: Volunteers Help Oregon DOT with Wetland Renewal

Volunteers with Klamath Wingwatchers recently helped the Oregon Department of Transportation resettle “sedges” from the Lost River Wetlands to the Lake Ewauna Trail in Klamath Falls.

“Sedges” are grass-like plants with triangular stems and inconspicuous flowers that typically grow in moist, wet ground. They are a major – often the dominant – plant of many wetland ecosystems throughout the world and their long, strong densely tangled stems and roots can help with erosion control. They also help improve water quality by acting as filters to remove pollutants and sediments; demonstrating the ability to remove a large percentage of nitrogen and significantly sequester metals such as copper.

Moving sedges to the Lake Ewauna Trail – Oregon DOT