Environmental News Highlights – August 26, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


Q&A with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao – Mass Transit

Trump Reboots Obama Climate Rules by Axing Methane Curbs – Bloomberg Green

Under the radar rollback of stream and wetland protections – The Hill (Opinion)

Trump Administration Finalizes Plan to Open Arctic Refuge to Drilling – New York Times


ETAP Podcast: Arizona DOT Details COVID-19 Impact – AASHTO Journal

SEPTA’s ‘social-distancing coaches’ are the newest part of your commute – Philadelphia Inquirer

Covid Flight From Transit Forces Shift to Riders Without Choices – Bloomberg Government

Partnership Announced To Reduce Litter And Improper Disposal Of PPE – Tennessee DOT (Press release)

Mobility in the Pandemic – and After – UC Davis (Press release)


Our Turn: Miriam Goldstein and Kelly Kryc: Rolling back environmental protections will prove costly – Providence Journal (Opinion)

After Almost Four Decades, White House Issues New NEPA Regulations–Lawsuits Likely – National Law Review


California’s Rich and Desperate Homeowners Are Buying an Unproven Wildfire Cure – Bloomberg Green

Strain on electrical grid shuts down pollution-cutting measure at LA, Long Beach ports – Daily Breeze

Enhanced Vegetation Management Planned For Indy Metro Area Highways – WBIW

As climate change threatens Florida, resilience should not be a part-time job – Florida Times-Union (Editorial)


Watchdogs criticize EPA’s move to approve air quality around Ameren’s biggest coal plant – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Reports Blast Bay States’ Pollution Diet Plans, Lawsuits Loom – Chesapeake Bay Magazine

Agency OKs $27M to Boost Zero-Emission Vehicles in California – Transport Topics

Citi CEO Says Banks Must Walk If Clients Won’t Reduce Emissions – Bloomberg Finance


Mass Transit’s Role in Racial Justice (Podcast) – Bloomberg

How Environmental Justice Fits Into the Democratic Party Platform – WNYC


Google Maps is tracking the spread of America’s wildfires hour by hour – Engadget

EPA administrator sees farm conservation practices up close – Wisconsin State Farmer

Keeping It Blue: Old septic systems pose a threat to water quality – Lake Geneva Regional News (Commentary)

High Time to Tackle Toxic Algae Blooms’ Source – Trade Only Today (Commentary)

Celebrate bi-partisan leadership on resiliency and water infrastructure – News-Press (Opinion)


The impacts of gentrification on transportation and social support – Portland State University


Bird, Lime and Spin hit Chicago and New York – ITS International

Footwear display in Denver is solemn reminder of pedestrians killed by autos – Denver Post

A Controversial Scooter Data Tracking Program Gains Traction – CityLab

Cyclists work on bicycle routes Adding signage, bike lanes, bike racks – Taos News


COVID-19 trends impacting the future of transportation planning and research – TRB

How electric vehicles impact the electric grid – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Advances in Unstable Slope Instrumentation and Monitoring – TRB NCHRP (Report availability)


Streamlining Procedures for Permit Appeals – EPA (Final Rule)

Proposed Consent Decree, Clean Air Act Citizen Suit – EPA (Notice of proposed consent decree; request for public comment.)

Tribal Technical Assistance Program – FHWA (Notice; request for comments.)

Agency Information Collection Activities; Submission to the Office of Management and Budget for Review and Approval: Driver Interactions With Advanced Driver Assistance Technologies – NHSTA (Notice and request for comments on a request for approval of a new information collection.)

State DOTs on the Front Lines of Storm Preparations

State department of transportation crews along the Gulf Coast prepared for the arrival of two potentially dangerous storms this week – highlighting the key ways state DOTs protect critical infrastructure and the residents it serves during severe weather events.

[Above photo courtesy of Louisiana DOTD.]

Crews in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi cleared storm drains and ditches, lowered light masts, paused highway construction projects and pre-positioned barricades, signs, and portable dams to prepare for the impact of hurricanes Marco and Laura – even as forecasts for the intensity and paths those storms changed almost hourly.

“Hurricanes are part of living here,” explained Sarah Dupre, a public information officer with the Texas Department of Transportation.

“We’re treating it just like one big storm,” added Rodney Mallet, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

Photo courtesy of Louisiana DOTD

Part of Louisiana’s preparations means removing tolls on the Louisiana Highway 1 Bridge to accommodate a mandatory evacuation of Grand Isle, the state’s only inhabited barrier island. The Louisiana DOTD also pre-positioned dozens of school buses and motor coaches in other vulnerable areas throughout south Louisiana to aid with potential evacuations.

By Sunday, Mississippi Department of Transportation crews had removed computerized traffic light controllers from major intersections south of Interstate 10 and set the traffic signals to all-flash mode, noted Katey Roh, a public information officer with the agency. That action protects the controllers from floodwaters, while the controllers “flash mode” helps move potential evacuation traffic better than allowing the signals to run on regular cycles.

Although Mississippi does not have a contraflow plan – a situation in which vehicles travelling on a main road in one direction must use lanes normally used by traffic travelling in the opposite direction – it works closely with Louisiana DOTD’s contraflow plan. That plan uses all northbound and southbound traffic lanes on Interstate 55 and Interstate 59 to evacuate the greater New Orleans area into central and north Mississippi. As of Tuesday morning, neither Louisiana nor Texas had implemented a contraflow plan.

“Contraflow is a last resort,” explained TxDOT’s Dupre. “Right now, our crews are preparing for evacuations, and we have dispatched courtesy patrols to help motorists.”

Those three state DOTs also stressed that personnel and equipment must be pre-staged in relatively safe locations to respond to the most vulnerable, low-lying areas in the wake of a storm’s passage. “The most important thing is to make sure our resources are in the right places,” Mississippi DOT’s Roh said. “We’ve been through a number of storms like this, and we know which areas tend to flood, so our first responders are ready to go.”

Lake Resiliency Project in New York Relies on Storm Drain Improvements

A new $2.67 million project designed to boost flood resiliency at Irondequoit Bay State Marine Park in upstate New York is relying in part on storm drain system improvements being made by the New York State Department of Transportation.

[Above photo courtesy of New York State DOT.]

The project – part of the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative – aims to repair damage from flooding in 2017 and 2019, plus raise the boat launch, docks and parking lot so they can continue to operate during times of high water. In addition to elevating the parking area and boat launch, the project will consist of additional transient docks, a playground, an American with Disabilities Act-accessible fishing pier, and a recreational pavilion.

“This project will bolster Irondequoit’s ability to withstand increasingly frequent high waters, helping New York’s first responders during emergencies on the lake and incentivizing recreational boaters who make critical contributions to the regional economy,” explained Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) in a statement.

But to provide long-term resiliency for those marine park improvements, the Town of Irondequoit – in partnership with the the NYSDOT – is breaking ground on a project to improve storm drainage sewers as part of an upgrade to Culver Road, which serves as the transportation “gateway” to Irondequoit Bay State Marine Park. NYSDOT is providing the know-how and part of the storm drain project’s $500,000 funding to mitigate roadway flooding while reducing the need for road closures during high water events as keeping the road open is vital for maintaining access to local businesses and emergency services in the area.

The storm drain project also involves installing new check valves and creating permanent connections for temporary water pumps, as necessary, as well as re-direct floodwaters away from homes in the area to prevent flooding of residential households, NYSDOT noted.

“Through our work as part of Governor Cuomo’s REDI [Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative] Commission, [we are] ensuring the safety of residents and businesses along the southern shores of Lake Ontario, one community at a time, while also increasing resiliency and building back better with every project,” noted Marie Therese Dominguez, NYSDOT commissioner.

“This project to improve storm drainage will help mitigate future flooding and promote sustainability so that the Town of Irondequoit, with its beaches, marinas, and breathtaking views, continues to be a wonderful summer destination for thousands to enjoy every year,” she added. Governor Cuomo’s office noted that New York’s 250 individual parks, historic sites, recreational trails, and boat launches generate critical economic activity for the state. His office said all four combined were visited by a record 77 million people in 2019, with a recent university study indicating that spending by state parks and its visitors supports $5 billion in output and sales, 54,000 private-sector jobs and more than $2.8 billion in additional state gross domestic product.

CES to Hold Five Annual Meeting Sessions in October

The 2020 annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Environment & Sustainability will take place over five virtual sessions in October.

To register for these free meeting sessions please click here.

CES monitors national trends, promotes research on significant environmental issues, and acts as a forum to disseminate and exchange information and experiences among state departments of transportation and various other AASHTO committees and subcommittees, including the sharing of best practices and other innovations. CES also monitors federal environmental laws, regulations, procedures, and guidance related to air quality, cultural resources, environmental processes, and natural systems and ecological communities; recommending and supporting programs and initiatives to streamline the environmental review process and promote environmental stewardship.

[Above photo courtesy of Missouri DOT.]

State DOTs Win Regional Awards for Transportation Projects

Thirty-one transportation projects from 27 state departments of transportation around the country earned regional recognition in the 2020 America’s Transportation Awards competition for providing solutions that increase safety and save lives, make infrastructure more resilient, while improving the quality of life for their communities.

[Above photo courtesy of Montana DOT.]

“The people who planned, engineered and built these projects deserve recognition for the positive impacts they have provided through these investments in local communities,” said Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2019-2020 president, in a statement.

“Their work represents a dedication to connecting people and improving local economies while implementing creative solutions.”

Broken down by region, the winners are:

  • Five projects from four state DOTs (Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin) received top honors in the Midwest region.
  • Seven projects from five state DOTs (Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) received top honors in the Northeastern region.
  • Eight projects from five state DOTs (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia) received top honors in the Southern region.
  • Eleven projects from eight state DOTs (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington State) received top honors in the Western region.

The three highest-scoring projects from each regional competition earn a place on a “top 12” list of projects that will compete for the national Grand Prize – selected by an independent panel of industry judges – and the People’s Choice Award, which is selected by the general public through online voting.

Those top national winners each receive $10,000 cash awards that will be donated to a charity or scholarship of their choosing. Online voting for the People’s Choice Award began in August, with the top 12 national award winners to be announced later this year.