Environmental News Highlights – September 9, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


Groups Call for Federal Program Extension, State DOT COVID Aid – AASHTO Journal

U.S. Department of Transportation Seeks Applicants for Railway-Highway Crossings Grants – USDOT (Press Release)

DOT rolls out National Freight Strategic Plan – Freightways

Centering Planning in the Federal Surface Transportation Debate – American Planning Association (Blog)

Trump’s deregulatory disregard for law and science – The Hill (Opinion)

Tribes and Environmental Groups Sue Trump Administration to Preserve Clean Water Protections – Earthjustice

Trump’s U.S. EPA chief claims climate-change fight hurts the poor – Reuters

The Forest Service’s rule changes undercut its once-proud mission – The Hill (Opinion)


Daily Travel during the COVID-19 Pandemic – USDOT Bureau of Transportation Statistics

E-scooters and bikes rebound as COVID-19 crisis keeps on rolling – Marketplace


FAA Releases LaGuardia AirTrain Draft Environmental ReviewFAA (Press release)

21 States Sue Trump Administration for Rollback of NEPA – One Green Planet


ETAP Podcast: Hawaii DOT’s Ed SniffenAASHTO Journal

FAA Disburses $1.2B in Airport Safety/Infrastructure Grants – AASHTO Journal

Large states with small populations use more energy for transportation – Talk Business & Politics

GDC Announces Updated Financial Plan Submission for Hudson Tunnel Project – Gateway Program Development Corporation (Press release)

Virginia rail deal on track with completion of environmental planning for new Potomac River crossing – Richmond Times-Dispatch

MY VIEW: Transportation development districts offer innovative way to fund infrastructure projects – Cincinnati Business Courier (Opinion)


Mid-Atlantic, Northeast states collaborate to cut carbon emissions from transportation – Yale Climate Connections


New Jersey Passes Landmark Environmental Justice Legislation – National Law Review

Can Planting Trees Make a City More Equitable? – CityLab


VTrans Offers Water Quality Improvement Project Grants – AASHTO Journal

Study: Fewer wildlife deaths as traffic dips during pandemic – AP

Goats take a bite out of Brainerd park invasive species – Bemidji Pioneer


A citywide survey is not enough. Philly needs a holistic approach to make historic preservation more equitable – WHYY (Opinion)


Connecticut DOT Offering Community Connectivity Grants – AASHTO Journal

84 Million Trips Taken on Shared Bikes and Scooters Across the U.S. in 2018 – NACTO (Press Release)

GDOT officials explain noise effects of Ga. 400 toll lanes during Q&A session – Reporter Newspapers

‘They seem to be up to no good’: Late-night joyriders led to electric scooters’ suspension in Dallas, officials say – Dallas Morning News

Oregon could better reach out to bike, pedestrian groups before construction projects, audit findsThe Oregonian

San Diego Airport gets $18 million federal grant to reduce noise in nearby homesKUSI-TV


Measuring Quality of Life in Communities Surrounding Airports – TRB ACRP

Webinars: Transportation Planning to the Extreme for Weather and Climate Change – TRB

Future Electric Vehicle Charging Demand at Highway Rest Areas and Implications for Renewable Energy Penetration in California – National Center for Sustainable Transportation (NCST)


Early Scoping Notice for Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) Proposed LYNX Silver Line Project in the Charlotte Metropolitan Area, North CarolinaFTA (Early Scoping Notice)

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles – NHSTA (Interim final rule; request for comments)

National Priorities List – EPA (Final Rule)

Hours of Service of Drivers; Pilot Program To Allow Commercial Drivers To Pause Their 14-Hour Driving Window – Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (Notice of proposed pilot program; request for comments)

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Regulations for Designating Critical Habitat – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Proposed Rule)

After Bush Fire, Arizona DOT Pivots to Address Extreme Weather

When combined with fire-ravaged terrain, heavy rain creates a whole new set of highway maintenance issues.

[Above photo courtesy of Arizona DOT.]

Take California, for starters. Already in the midst of fighting several major wildfires, the state is already gearing up for potentially damaging weather/terrain scenarios that can develop due to post-fire conditions.

The California Department of Transportation dealt with one such situation three years ago when a mudslide covered portions of U.S. 50 following several heavy and wet winter storms.

In Arizona, the infamous Bush Fire in June – a human-triggered inferno that burned more than 193,000 acres of desert and vegetation in Tonto National Forest near the northeast suburbs or Phoenix ― left behind dry, rocky terrain that could not handle the rushing waters of a monsoon, since the fire melted away vital ground cover.

Thus the need arose to craft a faster response effort to address those specific conditions. As a result, the Arizona Department of Transportation created an emergency action plan that dispatches specialized highway crews that can deal with the impact that heavy rain causes on fire-scorched terrain.

Photo courtesy of Arizona DOT

Part of the good news, explained Kevin Duby, statewide road weather manager for the agency, is that the Arizona DOT created this response plan at minimal cost plan by piggybacking off an initiative of the Federal Highway Administration’s Pathfinder Program. An offshoot of the Every Day Counts innovation recognition initiative, the Pathfinder Program, keeps travelers informed, and improves safety, mobility and the movement of goods during storms via enhanced collaboration between federal, state, and local agencies.

“We utilized previous plans obtained by research on the topic, which resulted in better use of time and cost savings for taxpayers,” said Duby.

With the help of the National Weather Service or NWS, the Arizona DOT identified “areas of the watershed where problems could arise and cleaned out the drainage ditches,” Duby emphasized, noting that no major construction was necessary because cleared culverts were already in place.

“They can accommodate the water in the normal flow from the steep slopes of the Mazatzal Mountains,” he said; a range known locally as the Four Peak Mountains.

Duby added that the Arizona DOT “already had a great relationship” with NWS via several groups from within the agency, from regional districts to operations to public relations.

The depth of those collaborations proved more advantageous and timelier than originally imagined.

“The plan was completed on July 28,” Duby said. “Then about a week later we had a mudslide on State Route 188,” which connects the towns of Globe and Payson, near Roosevelt Lake, which had been identified as a flood problem area.

“We worked with NWS to come up with protocols when a storm was imminent,” Duby noted. “One was for the NWS to call our traffic operations center,” to warn representatives of the impact of the rain.

At that juncture, the traffic operations center and public information offices broadcast the information on social media. Once the flooding occurred, the Arizona DOT executed its plan and was able to respond quickly with heavy equipment in a pre-staging area. That included vehicles such as loaders, skid-steers, and backhoes; as well as barriers and portable message boards. The agency also identified alternate highway routes – notably State Route 87 and U.S. 60.

Photo courtesy of Arizona DOT

“Part of the initiative is to be proactive about getting messages out to the travelling public, with the best information we can offer,” Duby pointed out.

While he said there is also an estimated cost savings aside from avoiding the commuter delays due to the Arizona DOT’s approach, it also helped alleviate the environmental issues that are part of any major weather event.

Without the efforts of the parties involved, “taking care of that sudden real world event would have been more complicated,” explained Duby. “We had to be sure that all three Arizona DOT districts are in sync, because they all have separates staffs,” adding that Phoenix and Flagstaff – about two hours away – both have NWS offices, so keen communication between the two proved critical.

Today, the focus is on taking what’s been learned from the Bush Fire and the mudslide and use that information to prepare for the next potential weather disaster. “We’ve refined our approach and that’s making traveling safer for our citizens,” Duby emphasized.

Rhode Island DOT Launches EV Recharging Project

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation will provide free access to electric vehicle (EV) recharging stations situated at two of its park and ride commuter lots as part of a pilot program to encourage and support broader use of EVs across the state.

[Above photo via WJAR.]

The program – operated by the Rhode Island DOT in conjunction with the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources and National Grid – is offering free EV recharging via those two sites through the end of 2020 in order to evaluate energy “usage patterns” to help plan more recharging system deployments in the future.

Director Alviti Jr.; photo courtesy of
Rhode Island DOT

“Electric cars are becoming more common on our streets, and the commuter parking lots we own are a perfect test bench for us to evaluate the demand for this service,” noted Peter Alviti, Jr., Rhode Island DOT’s director, in a statement. “There are a number of barriers to electric car adoption, among them concerns about range and access to fast, convenient charging stations. These stations help alleviate those concerns.”

The charging stations – which cost $300,000 – feature 240-volt Level II and direct current fast charging or DCFC options. The agency said Level II chargers provide 25 miles of range per hour of charging, while the DCFC chargers provide approximately 250 miles of range in an hour of charging. Each park and ride lot recharger accommodates up to six cars charging on the Level II chargers and two cars using the DCFC fast chargers, the Rhode Island DOT noted.

The agency added that the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority services both of the lots hosting those rechargers, allowing electric car users to repower their vehicles while using transit service for work or school. The Rhode Island DOT emphasized that transit users should not use the DCFC fast chargers for extended periods, as they are more suited for use by travelers seeking a brief stop to recharge their vehicles while on long trips.

Analysis conducted by the Idaho National Laboratory using Nissan Leaf all-electric vehicles found that where recharging was fast, public stations were popular – as long as the price to do so is low. The INL report also noted DCFC fast chargers use increased when located near highway interstate exits; giving EV drivers “more confidence” to take longer trips, while local drivers could re-power quickly on days when recharging at home or work proved less convenient.