Environmental News Highlights – September 23, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


Congressional Transportation Leaders Back One-Year Extension of FAST Act – Transport Topics

Groups to Congress: extend surface transportation funding, add emergency funds for states – Transportation Today

House Republicans issue post-election infrastructure plan – American Shipper

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao Announces $1 Billion to Upgrade American Infrastructure – USDOT (Press release)

Space weather bill passed by US Congress to improve forecasting, mitigation – GPS World

Trump Administration’s New Natural Gas Transportation Rule Sparks Safety Concerns – NPR’s Morning Edition


Report: Full return to on-site work in DC area could be a year away – WTOP

Covid-19 could reverse much of the D.C.’s region’s progress on transportation funding, Bowser, Hogan and Northam warn – Washington Business Journal


The New NEPA Regulations Were a “Political Act.” Is That Enough to Invalidate Them? – JD Supra (Opinion)


ASCE: Civil Engineers give Wisconsin’s infrastructure a “C” – WisBusiness

Effects Of Climate Change On Transportation Are Not Always Obvious, Immediate – NPR

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces $1.3 Million for Emergency Repairs to Infrastructure Destroyed by Wildfires in Lassen National Forest – FHWA (Press release)

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces $5 Million in Emergency Relief for Roads and Bridges Damaged by Wildfires in Oregon – FHWA (Press release)

Central Florida Leaders Say Transportation Was Hard Hit By Coronavirus, But Expansion Still Possible By 2030 – WMFE


Metrolink Tier 4 locomotive project receives environmental certification – MetroLink (Press release)

New York State Agencies and Authorities Launch “Car Free for Climate” Campaign – New York State

US reaches $1.5B settlement with Daimler AG over emissions cheating in Mercedes-Benz diesels; civil penalty of $875M – Green Car Congress

Environmental Groups Sue Los Angeles Over Rollback of Port Pollution Rules – Courthouse News Service

Clean truck partnership targets last-mile transportation – DC Velocity


EPA postpones environmental justice training after White House memo – The Hill

California water company withdraws desalination proposal as battle over environmental justice heats up – Los Angeles Times

N.J. Gov. Murphy signs environmental justice law designed to protect minority communities – Philadelphia Inquirer

A Just Transition: Energy Equity – Regional Plan Association (Webinar announcement)


EPA proposes 2020 Financial Capability Assessment for the Clean Water Act – WaterWorld

Can a floating island in the Charles River rescue its water quality? – WFXT-TV

The world is burning and drowning. We have to vote for the planet’s future. – The Washington Post (Editorial)

Fish Exposed to Noise Pollution Likely to Die Early: Study – Courthouse News Service


How Cities Can Reclaim Their Streets From SUVs – CityLab


Maryland gears up for first-ever ‘Walktober’ – NottinghamMD.com

Why San Francisco International Airport is turning off the loudspeaker – CNN


TRB Webinar: Modeling Long-Distance Intercity Travel for Sustainable Global Travel – TRB

18th Biennial National Harbor Safety Committee Conference – TRB

Attitudes and behaviors related to cycling – Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University

What are the barriers to and motivators for walking? – New Zealand Transport Agency


Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Reconsideration – EPA (Final rule)

Surface Transportation Project Delivery Program; Utah Department of Transportation Audit Report – FHWA (Notice; Request for comment)

Revised Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Link Union Station Project, Los Angeles, CA – FRA (Notice)

Florida’s Request To Assume Administration of a Clean Water Act Section 404 Program – EPA (Notice and request for comments)

Creating Advisory Bike Lanes in the Nation’s Capital

Change is in motion in the nation’s capital to see if two different modes of mobility can co-exist – at least on portions of five residential streets in Washington, D.C.

[Photo courtesy of the District of Columbia DOT]

The District Department of Transportation is launching project to study if bicycles and cars can truly share the road, in part by converting a section of E Street SE into an “advisory bike lane,” which features dedicated bicycle lanes near the curbs that bookend one wide vehicular lane split by a centerline. Car drivers avoid oncoming vehicles by easing to their right into the bike lanes while yielding to the bicyclists.

Advisory bike lanes – deployed for decades in Europe and Canada – tend to work best on low-volume roads that are too narrow for bike lanes but have more than enough width for two travel lanes.

Though usage of advisory bikes lanes in the United States remains rare, many transportation agencies – including state departments of transportation – are experimenting more frequently with them. The city of Portland, Oregon, for example, installed one of the first advisory bike lanes in the country several years ago, as have Minneapolis and Alexandria, Virginia.

DDOT officials suspect increased bicycle usage and the drive for lower carbon-emission vehicles could make advisory bike lanes a popular tool for its planners.

“This was part community-driven and part departmentally driven,” explained DDOT’s Will Handsfield, a bicycle program specialist. “As part of our work as planners and engineers, we try to keep our finger on the pulse of things.”

Photo courtesy of the District of Columbia DOT

The pulse was rapid in a few neighborhoods, where residents were complaining about speeding cars and the lack of bicycle lanes, which are more in demand since the pandemic.

“We asked DDOT to come up with something for an east-west bike path and to slow down the traffic,” explained Corey Holman, an elected advisory neighborhood commissioner; a post that serves as a liaison between residents and local Washington D.C. officials. “Will came up with a plan that creates opportunities for people to slow down, maintains parking and gives us a new bike route. I think that’s the value of this.”

The one-third mile segment of E Street SE from 11th Street to Potomac Avenue provides an “ideal candidate” to create an advisory bike lane, DDOT noted. At 35 to 40 feet wide, it is too narrow to accommodate on-street parking and dedicated bicycle lanes, while street-side parking spots left two 13-foot travel lanes that encouraged drivers to speed through the residential neighborhood.

The advisory bike lane on E Street SE has only been open since around Labor Day, but Holman said initial neighborhood reaction has been positive. He credited DDOT with “coming up with answers that no one else thought of. DDOT is good at letting their people on the front lines use their creativity to come up with their own solutions.” DDOT plans to study the performance of its new advisory bike lane installations, monitor how well drivers and bicyclists adjust to the new configurations, then share reports of its observations with the Federal Highway Administration to provide information to other communities considering implementation of such lanes.

Website Tool Created to Support Roadside Solar Array Establishment

The Ray – a corporate venture devoted to roadway technology testing – and the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas-Austin are creating an interactive web-based tool to help state departments of transportation map out potential highway right-of-way (ROW) locations for solar energy arrays.

[Photo courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration]

According to the Webber Energy Group’s recent analysis, most states have more than 200 miles of interstate ROW suitable for solar energy development, which combined could generate up to 36 terawatt hours (TWh) per year of clean energy – providing approximately $4 billion in economic value to state DOTs.

The group analyzed the unpaved roadside areas at exits on the U.S. interstate system for solar energy generation potential and through this new interactive web-based tool hosted at www.TheRay.org, each of the lower 48-states now have access to projections of how much solar energy could be generated on their interstate exits.

“Interstate solar just makes sense,” said Harriet Langford, founder and president of The Ray, in a statement. “As our transportation systems become smarter and electrified, we will need more energy available, closer to the interstate and interstate exits, and more funding to support the infrastructure demands. By enabling renewable energy generation using the idle roadsides, our state DOTs can help to fill this gap.”

Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

“The aim of this project is to provide a report and mapping tool by which state DOTs or other interested parties can assess the potential for installing solar in the interstate ROW in all contiguous 48 states,” added Michael Webber, a professor of mechanical engineering at UT. “Our goal with this study: to help people understand the potential for interstate solar so that policymakers, developers, and investors have a clearer view of the opportunity.”

Interstate roadsides are appealing areas for renewable energy development for many reasons, he said, including: unshaded acreage; ease of access; public ownership status; and lack of competing development efforts. Because exits have more room to accommodate the transportation safety requirements, such as safety setbacks, they are ideal locations for solar development, Webber noted.

Individually, most states have interstate solar potential in the thousands of gigawatt hours (GWh) per year. At a typical retail price for electricity of roughly 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (KWh) and a wholesale price of two cents per KWh, this means states could generate carbon-free electricity with millions of dollars’ worth of value – anywhere from $2.5 million to $181.4 million annually, the group’s research indicated.

State DOTs can also take advantage of operational cost savings, the Webber Energy Group noted – such as through reduced roadside maintenance and reduced energy costs – and even build new revenue streams over the lifetime of such solar array projects, which could be 30 years or more.

“On day one of these projects, state DOTs win,” emphasized Laura Rogers, director of strategic partnerships at The Ray. “State DOTs have a lot of options when structuring ROW renewable energy projects.”

Depending on their priorities and goals, state DOTs can own the renewable energy system and use or sell the clean energy generated, she said – or they can work with a solar developer who owns the system and collect a land fee, while at the same time transferring land maintenance obligations to that developer. “No matter how they decide to structure the deal, state DOTs win on all fronts by optimizing underutilized land to generate clean renewable energy that benefits their communities, the environment, and their budgets,” Rogers added.

NOAA Research Grants Include Surface Transportation Focus

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science – a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – recently issued a notice of funding opportunity for the fiscal year 2021 Effects of Sea Level Rise (ESLR) program; one with two surface transportation focal points.

The ESLR Program is soliciting proposals to evaluate and quantify the ability of natural and nature-based features to mitigate the effects of sea level rise and inundation – including storm surge, nuisance flooding, and/or wave actions. The NOFO focused on two areas: coastal resilience and surface transportation resilience.

It aims to support research to inform adaptation planning and coastal management decisions in response to sea-level rise and coastal inundation via the advancement of models of physical and biological processes capable of evaluating vulnerability and resilience under multiple sea-level rise, inundation, and management scenarios, including evaluation of nature-based solutions. A letter of intent is required prior to submission of a full proposal and those letters are due to NOAA by October 16. For additional information, visit the ESLR website.