Environmental News Highlights – October 14, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


Elaine Chao: Long-Term Plan Needed for US Infrastructure – Transport Topics

White House Blocked C.D.C. From Requiring Masks on Public Transportation – New York Times

New York Transit Authority Taps Into Federal Reserve Borrowing Program – Pew

Where the 2020 Election Is a Referendum on Public Transit – CityLab

EPA Authority Over Power Sector’s Climate Impacts Heads to Court – Bloomberg Law


Mobility Analytics in the Era of the COVID-19 Pandemic – AASHTO Journal

Study: COVID-19 Changing Commuter Traffic Patterns – AASHTO Journal

Covid, science and urban legend – an interview with Greg Winfree – Traffic Technology International (Podcast)

Second phase of VDOT commuter survey open to help gauge coronavirus impact on travels – WAVY-TV


Philadelphia’s traffic congestion was bad before the pandemic. It could get worse. – Philadelphia Inquirer

Washington DC airport operator unveils new sustainability plan – Airport World

Amazon to deploy 10K electric last-mile vans en route to net-zero carbon – Retail Dive


Studies Examine Benefits, Hurdles of ‘Decarbonization’ Strategies – AASHTO Journal

San Diego Utility Company Launches Program to Build Charging Infrastructure – Transport Topics

Why Is the EPA Really Repealing Methane Emissions Regulations? – Sierra

Exxon’s Plan for Surging Carbon Emissions Revealed in Leaked Documents – Bloomberg Green


On equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice in transportation – Roads & Bridges (Column)

For Some Near the Cross Bronx Expressway, COVID-19 is an Environmental Justice Issue, Too – The City

NJDEP Issues Environmental Justice Guidance for Entire New Jersey Executive Branch – Lexology


Cargill salt ponds subject to Clean Water Act protections, judge rules. – Climate Online

USDA Seeks New Partnerships to Safeguard, Restore Wetland Ecosystems – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service

70th Annual Washington State Weed and Invasive Species Conference Going Virtual on November 3-6 – Big Country News

When it comes to our water quality ‘challenge the messenger’ – News-Press (Opinion)

Homes complicate Arizona wildfire response – Arizona Public Media


After 25 years, Houston’s historic preservation law faces Supreme Court test Community Impact Newspaper


New TRECH Project Research Update on Health Benefits of TCI Policy Scenarios – Harvard University

Missoula planners consider road safety improvements for bicycles, pedestrians – NBC Montana

Women have been biking in record numbers during the pandemic. As traffic returns, will they keep riding? – New York Times

Lime adds Wheels shared e-bikes to its app as it seeks to become a one-stop shop for mobility – The Verge

Bicycles And Buses Will Be Future’s Dominant Modes Of Urban Mobility, Predict 346 Transport Experts – Forbes


Transportation’s Roles in Equitable Vaccine Allocation – TRB

TRB Webinar: Make it Count–Estimating Market Values for Small Airports – TRB

TRB Webinar: Wetland Mitigation at Airports – TRB

TRB Webinar: Finding the Path–Messaging Before, During, and After Weather Events – TRB

TRB Webinar: Advancing Innovative Automated Vehicles and Shared Mobility Research – TRB


Competitive Funding Opportunity: Public Transportation COVID–19 Research Demonstration Grant Program – FTA (Notice of funding opportunity)

Port Access Route Study: Seacoast of New Jersey Including Offshore Approaches to the Delaware Bay, Delaware – Coast Guard

Request for Comment; Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for Ocean Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone – NOAA (Notice of public comment)

Request for Information; Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone – NOAA (Notice of public comment)

Connecticut DOT Helps Local Transit With EV Bus Purchases

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is helping “plug in” two all-electric buses into local transit routes in Bridgeport – with more on the way – as part of the agency’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions across the state.

[Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Governor’s Office.]

The Connecticut DOT also is helping to finance charging stations, project management, and training for mechanics to maintain the new buses by tapping into Federal Transit Administration (FTA) 5307 Formula Funding, which helps cities and states with capital and operating costs for transportation-related planning.

Proterra manufactured those two all-electric battery-powered buses – the first ever deployed in Connecticut – which feature 440 kilowatt-hour (kWh) batteries, allowing them to operate up to 150 miles between charges. At a later date, Proterra plans to deliver three ZX5 model buses to that state; models equipped with 660 kWh batteries that can run up to 200 miles between charges.

“This is very much for us a test,” explained Doug Holcomb, general manager of Greater Bridgeport Transit (GBT). “We want to make sure the zero-emission buses work as well as a (diesel-powered) city bus.”

The environmental benefits of replacing diesel-engine buses with all-electric vehicles can be significant. Even after factoring in emissions from the electricity generated to run the buses, switching two diesel-engine buses to electric buses can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 450,000 pounds a year, according to GBT.

The start-up costs can be steep, however. The 40-foot electric battery buses cost about $200,000 more than their traditional diesel counterparts, a 125-kWh charger runs about $60,000, and mechanics need training on how to maintain those new buses. “It’s a whole different animal, from the monocoque body to the different components it has,” Holcomb said.

Yet GBT believes lower operating costs will balance the ledger over the long haul. Electricity costs for two electric buses are around $36,000 a year, compared to about $58,000 a year to fuel two diesel buses for the same number of miles, according to the agency. Plus, maintenance costs are expected to drop by about 30 percent because of fewer moving parts, fewer lubricants, and improved brake life.

Battery life may be affected by colder weather, Holcomb said, but GBT is installing heaters that don’t run off the main batteries to maximize miles.

Other state departments of transportation are also sponsoring a variety of electric bus initiatives.

The New York State Department of Transportation, for example, is providing $7 million in funding to support the deployment of 10 all-electric buses for the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority’s Regional Transit Service or RTS fleet that serves more than 1.1 million New Yorkers in eight counties of the Finger Lakes Region.

“New York State continues to make smart, sustainable investments in our transportation systems that will result in a reduced carbon footprint across the Empire State benefiting generations to come,” explained Marie Therese Dominguez, commissioner of the New York State DOT, in an October 7 statement. “We are excited to lead the way in addressing our changing climate and supporting the electrification of public transit systems here in Rochester and across the state.”

The FTA also continues to provide state DOTs with funds to make further investments in electric buses and related systems. In June, the agency issued $130 million in grants via its Low- or No-Emission program that provided the Colorado Department of Transportation, Idaho Transportation Department, and Massachusetts Department of Transportation – among others – with funds to acquire and/or expand electric-powered buses for local transit fleets.

Two Studies Examine Benefits, Hurdles of ‘Decarbonization’ Strategies

Efforts to “decarbonize” America’s transportation system to reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions could produce widespread health benefits, according to one report, but simultaneously face major cost and technological hurdles, a separate study noted.

[Photo courtesy of the New York State Department of Transportation.]

First, a report by the Transportation, Equity, Climate and Health or TRECH project headed by Harvard University analyzed the potential benefits of GHG reduction efforts being considered by the Transportation Climate Initiative – a regional coalition of 12 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, along with the District of Columbia, that is expected to finalize a memorandum of understanding this fall.

According to a statement, the TRECH project report said the estimated health benefits from changes in active mobility and on-road emissions under the TCI policy scenarios include up to about 1,000 deaths avoided and nearly 5,000 childhood asthma cases avoided annually, if full implementation of those policies occurs in 2032. Furthermore, the “monetized value” of the subset of total health benefits included in the report are “larger than the estimated annual TCI program proceeds in 2032” under all of the TCI policy scenarios.

The TRECH Project added that its analysis “does not include climate-related health benefits and other potential health benefits from improving transportation systems” such as those from reduced traffic congestion and noise pollution as well as improved traffic safety and access to jobs, healthcare, and education.

However, a separate study conducted by the Brookings Institution cautioned that there are major “decarbonization challenges” when it comes to transitioning medium- and heavy-duty vehicles away from petroleum-based fuels and propulsion systems, which generate large amounts of carbon emissions.

“The degree of difficulty in decarbonizing transport varies across the sector. Electrification is relatively easy for smaller vehicles that travel shorter distances carrying lighter loads,” the organization noted in a statement. “For these vehicles, the added weight of a battery is less of a hindrance and the inherently simpler and more efficient electric motor and drivetrain make up for some of the weight penalty. However, the heavier forms of transportation are among the fastest growing, meaning that we must consider solutions for these more difficult vehicles as well.”

The Brookings Institution noted in its report that while “technology exists to decarbonize the heavy transport sector,” many of those advanced technologies “are expensive and not proven at scale.”

The report added that the challenge for policymakers will be keeping technology advances and policy in alignment as the technology advances. “The COVID-19 pandemic adds a degree of difficulty since it is unclear how it may shift demand and consumer preferences in transport,” the group noted. “For example, consumers may remain reluctant to use urban public transport, and shorter supply chains may be attractive to businesses seeking to become more resilient in the face of a global disruption.”