USDOT Advisory Committee to Draft Equity Recommendations

Following its first meeting in late September, a revived U.S. Department of Transportation equity advisory committee plans to recommend new federal policies and practices aimed at making transportation systems more equitable to more people by June 2024.

[Above photo by USDOT]

The USDOT’s 24-member Advisory Committee on Transportation Equity or ACTE – which formally relaunched in August – is made up of representatives from state departments of transportations, private industry stakeholders, and nonprofit transportation groups.

According to the USDOT, the committee’s objective is “provide advice and recommendations” about:

  • Practices to institutionalize equity into programs, policies, regulations, and activities;
  • Establishing and strengthening partnerships with “overburdened and underserved communities” that the department hasn’t reached in the past;
  • Offering a forum about equity concerns in local and regional transportation decisions;
  • Providing “strength, objectivity, and confidence” to the department’s decision-making process.

The state DOT representatives on the committee are Roger Millar – secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation and president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – and Tunya Smith, director of Office of Civil Rights for North Carolina Department of Transportation.

USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg asked the committee at its inaugural meeting to “deliberate bold ideas…not as a theoretical exercise of what may be, but as a real opportunity to shape real work.” Buttigieg added that he wants the committee to join him in “working to change patterns of exclusion that literally have been cemented into American life for generations.”

Former USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx – selected by Buttigieg to chair the re-constituted committee – originally established the ACTE during his 2013-2017 tenure. While the committee took no action at its first meeting, remarks from the members set the tone for committee’s work, which will include documenting past examples of inequity in transportation planning to inform future policies and practices.

“The promise of our democracy depends, in part, on correcting past mistakes,” Foxx said. “Transportation errors, as all of you know, can last a long time. Our responsibility will be not to engineer history but to tell it as pure and straight as it can be told.”

WSDOT’s Millar agreed that transportation “is not an end unto itself; it is a means to a lot of things, to economic prosperity, to social equity, to environmental justice, things that matter to our communities.” But he also reminded committee members that “the actions of transportation agencies did not happen in a vacuum…It’s really important that we remember that and we are not alone in our ability to do harm or to do good.”

Many comments from ACTE members focused more on the practical nature of the task at hand. NCDOT’s Smith, for example, said the ACTE should create dashboards and metrics “to look at how we evaluate these programs and how we frame and structure our policy decisions to lead to sustainable change.” She also said discussions of climate change should translate into actions to help communities, “particularly communities of color that are often impacted more heavily from storms, in not having proper drainage systems.”

Smith, who also manages the NCDOT Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, urged the committee to include feedback from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority Serving Institutions, and faith-based organizations “to really help us inform the work.”

The USDOT has not announced when the next ACTE meeting will take place.

Iowa DOT Details Wetlands Preservation Efforts

The Iowa Department of Transportation recently detailed in a blog post the “balancing act” required in order to minimize the impact of road and bridge construction projects on the environment.

[Above photo by the Iowa DOT]

That “balancing act” can also result in environmental revitalization as well, the agency stressed, such as for wetland areas that improves wildlife viewing, hunting, and other outdoor activities.

“By law, we are required to avoid and minimize impacts to water resources if we can. If that’s not possible, we will work to mitigate any impacts, often going above and beyond what is required if there is a cost-effective way to get that done,” explained Brandon Walls, a project manager in the water resources section of the Iowa DOT’s Location and Environment Bureau.

“In a nutshell, it means we can’t avoid impacts to water resources in the construction area, so we make up for the damage to the wetlands or streams in the construction area somewhere else,” he said.

Walls pointed to an Iowa DOT-constructed wetland mitigation site near Steamboat Rock in Hardin County as an example of the agency’s mitigation efforts. That site, called Hoover Ruby Wildlife Area, is owned by the Hardin County Conservation Board and was constructed to offset wetland impacts associated with two U.S. 69 Bridge replacement projects in Wright and Hancock counties.

“Because the impacted areas contained both emergent and forested wetlands, we [Iowa DOT] were responsible for re-creating those types of wetlands in this area owned by Hardin County,” he noted.

“We also work with the Army Corps of Engineers on mitigation sites to ensure we are developing enough wetland areas of a certain quality to meet the permit requirements,” Walls pointed out. “This specific permit required us to build 1.76 acres of emergent wetland and 0.4 acres of forested wetland, but we thought it was necessary to go beyond those baseline requirements to provide an area that would be more useful.”

He said that a successful forested wetland can be particularly challenging to reconstruct. Although the emergent wetland at Steamboat Rock is thriving, the trees originally planted in the forested wetland portion didn’t survive after they were planted, so Walls and his team engaged in a second round of seedling planting.

[Editor’s note: The Wyoming Department of Transportation is engaged in a similar wetlands restoration effort as part of its Snake River channel project.]

“We’re trying to keep as much of this work in-house to replant the forested wetland so we can to keep the costs down,” he explained. “We worked with the State Forest Nursery to get seedlings, which cost less than $300. I asked for volunteers from our bureau to help me plant the seedlings. Nine of us planted 225 trees of four species that like to have their feet wet.”

In another cost-saving measure, Walls and the team recycled tree tubes used to support the young saplings and protect them from being eaten by deer. “The saplings are very small and hard to see,” he added. “We went out and collected protective tubes from another wetland mitigation site that had grown up enough to not need them anymore.”

Walls will be responsible for monitoring this site for the next few years to make sure it succeeds and grows into a successful wetland area. “I have trail cameras out there and one of the coolest things I’ve seen is a pair of Sand Hill Cranes,” he said. “They haven’t been spotted much in Hardin County, so seeing them use our site is exciting.”

Once the entire wetland is functioning as it should, the Hardin County Conservation Board will take over the monitoring and maintenance long-term. “This is going to be a really nice resource for the public to hunt and view wildlife,” Walls noted.

Environmental News Highlights – October 11, 2023


Active Transportation Reshaping Communities -AASHTO’s ETAP Podcast

USDOT Equity Committee Working on Recommendations -AASHTO Journal

Senators Propose EV Fee for Highway Trust Fund -Transport Topics

USDOT Announces New Climate and Transportation Research Funding -USDOT (media release)


NCDOT’s flood-warning system up for national award, $10K for charity -Port City Daily

Congestion Pricing: Current Status and Key Policy Choices -Regional Plan Association

In Santa Monica, Calif., officials will pay you not to drive your car -Los Angeles Times

Amtrak switching to fuel made from cooking oil for Pacific Surfliner service -KSWB-TV

MTA says New York’s mass transit is in dire need of climate resilience upgrades –Gothamist

The Quest for the Low-Budget Park –Bloomberg


Texas sues EPA over emissions standards -Axios Texas

Virginia begins crafting new plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -Virginia Mercury

How the Seattle Department of Transportation plans to reduce travel emissions -KING-TV

Proposed wildlife crossing in Southern Oregon seeks federal funding -Jefferson Public Radio

TxDOT urges drivers to be extra vigilant about protecting pedestrians -TxDOT (media release)


US DOT Launches Awareness Campaign On Disabled Rights -Simply Flying

Iowa DOT changing restroom accessibility in state -WOI-TV

Potential for hazmat transport accidents higher in low income areas in Midwest -WYSO Radio

DEP Announces Public Comment Meetings Series for Interim Final PA Environmental Justice Policy -Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (media release)


Arizona DOT Hosts Highway Litter Cleanup Event -AASHTO Journal

They Dredged the Mississippi River for Trade. Now a Water Crisis Looms –CityLab

The costs of wildlife vehicle collisions in the West are astounding. These crossings could help -Deseret News

WYDOT to host ribbon cutting on Dry Piney wildlife crossing project -Oil City News

EPA Finalizes Cleanup Plan for Lehigh Valley Railroad Derailment Superfund Site in Genesee County, New York -EPA (media release)


US government agrees to help restore sacred Native American site destroyed for Oregon road project –AP

Seats are for butts not bags’: MTA’s cheeky message encourages subway ‘courtesy’ -WNBC-TV

Scenic Los Angeles Raises Concerns Over Metro’s Transportation Communication Network -City Watch


Tampa Bay Area students skip the bus to pound the pavement on National Walk to School Day -WTVT-TV

Building a bike-friendly city -Smart Cities Dive

E-bike popularity is surging, creating regulatory challenges on U.S. roads -PBS News


Collective and Individual Actions to Envision and Realize the Next Era of America’s Transportation Infrastructure: Phase 1 -AASHTO and NCHRP

Travel Time Reliability Reference GuideFHWA Office of Operations

Rebound effects undermine carbon footprint reduction potential of autonomous electric vehicles –Nature


Request for Nominations for the Federal System Funding Alternative Advisory Board to the Federal Highway Administration -FHWA (Notice)

Approval of Air Quality Implementation Plans; New York; Emission Statement Program -EPA (Proposal rule)

Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) and Small Communities Advisory Subcommittee (SCAS) Meeting -EPA (Notice)

National Chemical Transportation Safety Advisory Committee; November 2023 Meetings -U.S. Coast Guard (Notice)

Notice of Intent To Prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the December 2016 Record of Decision Entitled Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan -Bureau of Reclamation (Notice and request for comments)

Forest Service Proposed New Recreation Fee Sites -Forest Service (Notice)

Regional Meeting of the Binational Bridges and Border Crossings Group in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico -Department of State (Notice)

Meeting of the Regional Energy Resource Council -Tennessee Valley Authority (Notice)