Environmental News Highlights – September 2, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


Court for second time strikes down Trump admin rollback of automaker penalties – The Hill

Climate Change Debate Adds to Busy Fall Congressional Agenda – Transport Topics

Green groups fight EPA rollback limiting states from blocking projects – The Hill

American Highway Users Alliance encourages FAST Act extension – Transportation Today


Avoiding Gridlock: Strategies to Keep Cities Moving in a Pandemic & Beyond – September 3 – NACTO (Webinar announcement)

IBTTA releases five-month update to State of US Transportation during COVID-19 – Transportation Today

Safety, Data, and Green: Transport Sector’s Sustainable Recovery from COVID-19 – Modern Diplomacy


NEPA Rules Rewrite: Public Involvement Process – JD Supra

U.S. Chamber coalition to defend NEPA in court – Transportation Today

Trump Touts Infrastructure Permitting Reforms – Transport Topics


Dairy Farmers Of America Sets Sustainability Goal To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 30% For The Decade – Dairy Farmers of America (Press Release)


Coalition Releases New Sustainable Aviation Fuel Guide – Renewable Energy

A Look at Title V Permits for MSW Landfills Under the Clean Air Act.EHS Daily Advisor


Marsha Jackson Is Trying to Move Shingle Mountain – Texas Observer


Are abandoned mines affecting our drinking water or could they soon? – Deseret News

‘I’m not the bad guy here’: Eastern Oklahoma mine operator stands firm against Clean Water Act legal challenges – KMIZ-TV


Virginia Coastal Policy Center announces partnership with tribes, N.C. institutions – William and Mary

Historic Landmark Commission vetoes skyscraper design for historic building – Austin Monitor

Trump Administration Invests $4.8 Million in Grants to Support Historic Preservation in Rural Communities – National Park Service (Press release)


Bicycles: A Refuge for Transit Commuters? – New Geography

Ann Arbor’s 4M campus to mix health living, working and mobility practices – ClickOnDetroit

How accessible is active travel infrastructure? – BikeBiz

Calif. Shared Mobility Bill Amended to Remove Liability Waiver Ban – Law Street


TRB Webinar: Stay Current on Research in Progress – TRB

Proposed AASHTO Guidelines for Performance-Based Seismic Bridge Design – TRB

TCRP 2019 Annual Report of Progress – TRB/TCRP

Shared Mobility and the Transformation of Public Transit – TRB/TCRP

New Review Finds NYC Watershed Protection Program Successful in Maintaining and Enhancing Water Quality – National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (News Release)

Providing opportunities to learn about transportation-related careers – Mineta Transportation Institute

The Future of Transportation – San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association


Revised Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the California High-Speed Rail System, Los Angeles to Anaheim Project Section, CA – FRA (Notice)

Notice of Final Agency Actions on Proposed Railroad Project in California, on Behalf of the California High-Speed Rail Authority – FRA (Notice)

Public Hearing for Control of Air Pollution From Airplanes and Airplane Engines: GHG Emission Standards and Test Procedures – EPA (Notice of public hearing)

Information Collection Request Submitted to OMB for Review and Approval; Comment Request; The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan Regulation, Subpart J (Renewal) – EPA (Notice)

Administration of Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Trading Program Assurance Provisions for 2019 Control PeriodsEPA (Notice of date availability)

Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities; A Holistic Approach to Closure Part A: Deadline to Initiate Closure – EPA (Final rule)

Draft National Spatial Data Infrastructure Strategic Plan; Comment Request – Geological Survey (Request for public comment)

FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance and Planning Regulations – FEMA (Notice of proposed rulemaking)

Broadband in the Right of Way: Ohio DOT’s Experience

Learning and working during the COVID-19 pandemic has made connectivity to the Internet more important than ever. That is why access to broadband service across the country is becoming essential for almost every communizing – providing critical virtual links to everything from online schooling to work-from-home opportunities. Those needs are not lost on the transportation industry.

[Photo courtesy of the Ohio DOT.]

That’s one reason why the Federal Highway Administration issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would amend existing regulations governing the installation of broadband infrastructure on the right-of-way of Federal-aid or direct Federal highway projects.

According to the proposed rule, “highway rights-of-way are commonly used to accommodate public utilities, such as phone lines, electrical lines and pipelines. Expanding their use to include wireless broadband technology is a ‘critical next step’ in advancing connectivity in rural America.”

[Editor’s note: The FHWA is accepting comments on its proposed rule until September 14.]

Many state departments of transportation across the country are already participating in local efforts to improve and expand broadband access.

While states do not support a strict federal preemption on how states manage broadband deployment on their own properties, Carlos Braceras – executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation and the 2018-2019 president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – noted in Congressional testimony that speeding up the federal permitting process would help facilitate “the merger of technology between motor vehicles and infrastructure.”

Photo courtesy of the Ohio DOT

To that end, InnovateOhio – in partnership with the Ohio Department of Transportation – issued a 16-page broadband access report in September 2019 to provide a strategic plan for providing more broadband access to citizens and businesses.  “Whether it’s connecting children to information at school or connecting smart vehicles to infrastructure, access to broadband is vital in the 21st Century,” said Jack Marchbanks, Ohio DOT’s director. “ODOT has always played a role in helping connect our state and this is just another opportunity to do that.”

That report highlighted that efforts to utilize right-of-way come with “special environmental” considerations. For example, the FHWA recommends the best practice of resource sharing in order to avoid repeated excavation. For instance, Dig Once initiatives have led to agreements between state DOTs and broadband contractors that allow use of right of way for fiber installation in exchange for broadband installation for highway message signs and autonomous and smart roadway transportation innovations. FHWA also encourages the use of trenchless technologies for broadband installation to minimize erosion and destruction of the area from construction.

When state DOTs need to issue permits for broadband installation on highway rights-of-way, categorical exclusions can typically be used when a request is for underground or above ground power, telephone, or pipelines, where no new structures, facilities, or major improvement to those facilities are required. Generally, buried communication lines fit this category. 

As part of Ohio DOT’s strategic plan for broadband, the agency launched an E-Permitting System for right-of-way access that aims to be more convenient for permit requesters; especially in terms of saving time when requesting to install broadband fiber optic cable. This centralized, digital system replaces a paper-only right-of-way permitting system that the Ohio DOT managed across all 12 of its district offices. 

[Details are available online at transportation.ohio.gov/permits.]

The agency also noted that partnerships in Ohio are fostering “environmental innovations” when increasing broadband installation in the right-of-way.

For instance, the City of Defiance proposed using sensors to monitor chemicals that can lead to harmful algal blooms in the local watershed. Yet those sensors needed a robust internet connection to allow researchers access to algal bloom data in real time. As a result, the city proposed installing concentric “fiber rings” connected to the monitoring stations via the existing infrastructure right-of-way – eventually expanding those fiber rings to provide high-speed internet services to residential and business customers.

That is an example of a right-of-way project that not only expanded broadband to underserved areas but also simultaneously helped solve real-world environmental problems, the Ohio DOT noted.

ETAP Podcast: Hawaii DOT’s Ed Sniffen

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast, host Bernie Wagenblast interviews Ed Sniffen (seen above), deputy director for highways at the Hawaii Department of Transportation, regarding how his agency is focused on improving infrastructure resilience.

Sniffen also serves as the chair of the Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The mission of the TSSR committee is to coordinate national response efforts, identifies best practices, and fills research gaps to promote resilient and secure transportation systems across the country. To listen to the podcast, click here.