Environmental News Highlights – September 30, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


House’s Continuing Resolution Would Extend FAST Act – AASHTO Journal

Ginsburg left a long environmental legacy – Politico

At a glance: enforcement of environmental law in USA – Lexology


Pandemic not leading to overflow of medical waste, says waste management company – KMOX

What We Actually Know About How Americans Are Moving During Covid – CityLab


House Republicans Unveil NEPA Reform Bill – Transport Topics

Ugly founding of Shenandoah National Park helps explain NEPA’s importance – Daily Sentinel (Op-Ed)


Study: State DOTs Could Gain Revenue from Solar Arrays – AASHTO Journal

Chattanooga to trial energy-saving adaptive traffic control systems – CitiesToday

CU Denver Researcher Analyzes the Use of Solar Energy at U.S. Airports – University of Colorado Denver

Commentary: A strategy for tactics? – Freight Waves

Miami has resilience plans in place. Now it’s time to put them into action – Miami Herald (Op-Ed)

Electrifying California Cars Could Crush the Grid, or Save It – Bloomberg Green


EPA to Defend Clean Air Rule as Compliant With Ozone Limits – Bloomberg Law

California is ready to pull the plug on gas vehicles – AP

Walmart Aims to End Emissions From Global Operations by 2040 – Bloomberg Green

Energy Transitions, Carbon Reduction and Climate Change: Diesel Technology’s Role in the Future – Diesel Technology Forum (Press release)


Transportation linked to push for equity in San Antonio – KSAT-TV

A sustainable new normal doesn’t have to cost the earth – Environment Journal


Social scientists study visitation patterns in Glacier National Park to mitigate environmental damage – KPAX-TV

A new decision support tool for collaborative adaptive vegetation management in northern Great Plains national parks – UC Berkeley

Trump Administration Releases Plan to Open Tongass Forest to Logging – New York Times

Clean Water Act rewrite may leave popular lakes vulnerable to pollution – Detroit News


Discover America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2020 – National Trust for Historic Preservation


Living Sustainably: Green commuting encourages healthier community – Holland Sentinel

State of Oregon to consider new carfree bridge near Willamette Falls in Oregon City – BikePortland

Fine for hitting cyclists while opening car door has quadrupled – Daily Hive Vancouver

Spin app goes live with bike and micromobility lane route optimization – Intelligent Transport

D.C. Council unanimously approves Vision Zero bill aimed at reducing traffic fatalities – Washington Post


Critical Issues in Transportation 2019 – TRB (Report Announcement)

TRB Webinar: Balancing the Scales–Equity Analysis in Transportation Planning – TRB

TRB Webinar: Weathering the Storm – Climate Resilience at Airports – TRB

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao Announces $320.6 Million for Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements – USDOT (Press release)

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces $460,000 for Emergency Repairs to Infrastructure Destroyed by Wildfires in Washington State – USDOT (Press release)

Federal Transit Administration Announces $6.2 Million for Transit Planning in Communities Nationwide – FTA (Press release)


Guidance Procedures – Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Final rule)

Ohio DOT Plant Relocations: Rare, Yet Necessary

Relocating a drove of rare plants from an environmentally sensitive transportation construction site is a meticulous operation – and often state departments of transportation are running the show.

[Photos courtesy of Ohio DOT]

Take Ohio, for example, home to 400 species of rare plants accompanied by a spate of state laws designed to protect rare, endangered species at certain hotspots, like one in the Oak Openings Region of Toledo – an area known for its sandy soil, where only certain varieties of rare plant life thrive.

So when transportation construction beckons in such locations, biologists within the Ohio Department of Transportation suit up for action.

“The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) tells us where to move the rare species,” said Matt Raymond, ecological program manager for the Ohio DOT, who stressed that the federal National Environmental Policy Act as well as state laws help guide such plant relocation endeavors.

The agency started the relocation at the Oak Openings site by excavating the plants, which included Bowles’ golden sedge (Carex aurea), Baltic Rush (Juncus balticus), hairy pinweed (Lechea villosa), Scaly blazing star (Liatris squarrosa), prairie thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica) and wild lupine (Lupinus perennis).

“We moved them to a park that’s located several miles from of the excavation and then helped get them planted,” Raymond said.

Given the delicacy of such operations, he explained that intermittent follow-up on the progress of the plants in their new home occurs at various intervals.

“Just how many plants are moved depends on what’s growing on the site,” Raymond noted. For instance, he pointed to the 2014 Portsmouth Bypass project, a 16-mile, four-lane highway that built to connect U.S. 52 near Wheelersburg to U.S. 23, just north of Lucasville. That job called for the removal of 150 Southern Monkshood (Aconitum uncinatum) and 800 Primrose-leaved Violet (Viola primulifolia) to nature preserves.

“So we moved 950 endangered plants,” said Raymond. “We sent our biologists to oversee the excavation, because the crew needed direction as to what to look for and where to dig. We also received help from ODNR employees of the preserves that receive the plants, too.”

Lastly, Raymond offered the example from 2012, where ODOT relocated the threatened Drummond’s aster (Symphyotrichum drummondii) from the construction limits of a federally sponsored bike/towpath project along the historic Ohio and Erie Canal, in Stark and Tuscarawas counties. During the ecological survey, the agency’s team also documented in detail about 500 of the plants living throughout the project area before relocating them elsewhere along the towpath site.

Relocating sensitive plants is only been required in Ohio “every three or four years,” Raymond explained said, “but it’s easy to know when it’s the right move to make. It’s basically the same thing we’ve done in other efforts with ODNR to support the environment with various animals and insects, like the Monarch Butterfly, the bee population, animals, etc.”

It all comes down to common sense and having the laws in place to take appropriate action, he pointed out.

“Right-of-ways are typically not the best places for plants, due to road salts, [vehicle] exhaust, mowing, and other disruptive activity,” Raymond emphasized. “So we re-plant in areas where new pollinator programs reduce the frequency of mowing and heighten the effectiveness of the native habitat.”

Other state DOTs are also engaged in similar efforts.

For example, biologists from the Arizona Department of Transportation conducted a multi-day mission in 2018 to protect native hedgehog cactus from a bridge replacement project on U.S. 60 – carefully relocating them to local greenhouses for two-year stay well away from the bridge construction site.

The biology team at the California Department of Transportation also performs another key duty: overseeing the removal of invasive plant species, ones that that threaten California’s sensitive natural areas and complete with native plants. To do that, Caltrans coordinates with various state and federal agencies including the California Invasive Plant Council, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

At the Texas Department of Transportation, another key role performed by its biologists is the planting and nurturing of more than 5,000 species of wildflowers along with native grasses that flourish along the state’s roadsides. “TxDOT’s wildflower program not only helps our highways look good but also reduces the cost of maintenance and labor by encouraging the growth of native species that need less mowing and care,” the agency noted.

Virginia DOT Launches Anti-Litter Campaign

The Virginia Department of Transportation recently launched Virginia is for Lovers, Not Litter – a public outreach campaign aimed at raising awareness about Virginia’s roadway litter problem.

[Photo courtesy of Virginia DOT]

The agency noted that its spends nearly $3.5 million annually to remove litter from Virginia’s roadways, with more than half of that litter coming from motorists with another 25 percent from pedestrians.

Rob Cary, VDOT Chief Deputy Commissioner
Photo courtesy of Virginia DOT

“Virginia DOT and our partners across the state are committed to promoting ways to reduce litter,” added Rob Cary, Virginia DOT’s chief deputy commissioner and chair of the newly formed Environmental Subcommittee of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. “Having litter-free highways is something we should all be working toward. The first step is to ensure everyone recognizes the role they can play in preserving the beauty of our Commonwealth, which should change the mindset of littering on our roadways.”

He noted that roadway litter negatively affects the environment and the state economy; impacting “our quality of life, safety, economic development, and recruitment of businesses and families to the Commonwealth.”

Shannon Valentine, Secretary, VDOT
Photo courtesy of Virginia DOT

“This campaign is yet another important step in Virginia’s transportation sector to promote environmental stewardship,” noted Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s secretary of transportation, in a statement. “Through his campaign, we are emphasizing the responsibility each of us has to respect and protect the public spaces we share.”

Several state departments of transportation have ramped up litter campaigns in recent months.

The Alabama Department of Transportation initiated an anti-litter campaign entitled “Trash Costs Cash” in early August. That campaign uses television, radio stations, and social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube to highlight a major increase in litter fines and penalties authorized by the state legislature in 2019.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, and Keep Tennessee Beautiful recently joined forces to reduce personal protective equipment or PPE litter during the COVID-19 pandemic, while highlighting the proper ways to dispose of PPE and facemasks.

The California Department of Transportation and the California Highway Patrol resumed litter removal on state highways in mid-June; cleanup activity that has been limited since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Litter increases the risk of fire, pollutes our waterways, threatens wildlife and costs taxpayers millions of dollars to remove,” explained Toks Omishakin, director of Caltrans, in a statement. “We ask all Californians to be part of the solution, dispose of trash responsibly, and secure cargo loads before getting on the road.”