Environmental News Highlights – November 4, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


The gas tax was already broken. The pandemic could end it. – Smart Cities Dive

What a Senate flip means for transportation – Politico

One-on-one with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao – WAOW-TV

Republicans ready to restart critical infrastructure initiative in 2021 – The Hill (Commentary)

Climate Policymaking in the Shadow of the Supreme Court – Resources Magazine

Lawmakers say infrastructure efforts are falling victim to deepening partisan divide – The Hill


COVID-19 Creating Winter Challenges for State DOTs – AASHTO Journal

Two Reports Offer COVID-19 Transit Recovery Advice – AASHTO Journal

How COVID is paving the way for participatory transit planning – Grist (Commentary)

Economic Consequences of Proposed Pandemic-Related Cutbacks in MTA Transportation Services and Capital Spending – NYU Rudin Center for Transportation


What has four years of President Donald Trump meant for Florida’s environment? – Tampa Bay Times

Former Walmart exec brings ride-share technology to fresh produce transport – Green Biz

Eyes Will Be on Biden to Act Fast on Resilience for NYC – City Limits

Amsterdam will use flowers to keep its bridges clear of locked bicycles – Lonely Planet

Virginia breaks ground on largest infrastructure project in state history – InsideNoVa

Will ‘game-changing’ new runway quiet O’Hare jet noise conundrum? – Daily Herald


GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago – E&E News

Trump administration funds projects to more efficiently charge and deploy electric buses – Utility Dive


How infrastructure improvements can aid inclusive revival – CT Mirror


Clean Water Act rollbacks hurt rivers and drinking water – Baltimore Sun (Commentary)

Moose deaths don’t sway WYDOT on 390 speed – Jackson Hole News & Guide

City plans to reduce sewage discharges into region’s rivers. – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Oregon DOT begins cleanup from wildfires along state highways and private properties – KTVL-TV


What’s behind Virginia’s increasing pedestrian death toll and how to reverse the trend – Virginia Mercury

More streets added to Montgomery County’s ‘Shared Street’ program for pedestrians – WDVM-TV

California Gets an A Grade in Surfrider’s Annual Beach Report – San Clemente Times

Can the Bike Boom Keep Going? – CityLab

Gov. Justice awards over $1.6 million in Transportation Alternatives and Recreational Trails Program grants benefitting Metro Valley region – WV Office of the Governor (Press release)


Transportation Research Record (TRR) Special Issue on COVID-19: Deadline October 31 – TRB

TRB Webinar: Celebrating TRB’s Centennial by Exploring the Future of Transportation Research – TRB

TRB Webinar: Planning an Effective Airport Deicing Runoff Management Program – TRB

AASHTO to Examine Election Impact on Transportation at Annual Meeting – AASHTO Journal


Information Collection: Interagency Generic Clearance for Federal Land Management Agencies Collaborative Visitor Feedback Surveys on Recreation and Transportation Related Programs and Systems – Forest Service (Notice; request for comment)

NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule— Phase 2 Extension – EPA (Final Rule)

National Wildlife Refuge System; Use of Electric Bicycles – Fish and Wildlife Service (Final rule)

Iowa DOT Studies Erosion, Sediment Control Techniques

To determine the effectiveness of its erosion- and sediment-control techniques, the Iowa Department of Transportation recently teamed up with Iowa State University over two construction seasons to establish which ones worked the best and which ones needed improvement.

[Photo courtesy of Iowa Department of Transportation.]

According to an Iowa DOT blog post, Melissa Serio with the agency’s construction and materials group teamed up with Mike Perez, an Iowa State researcher, to examine alternative erosion and sediment control techniques and adaptations used successfully by other transportation agencies to see how well the Iowa DOT’s standard practices.

Some of Iowa DOT’s frequently used erosion and sediment control techniques include: fabric silt fences to slow water flow and collect sediment; porous mesh tubes (called wattles) filled with straw or other material to control storm water flow; sediment basins or small retention ponds to hold water until solid materials can settle; and rock check dams.

“While we were convinced these elements help control erosion and sediment, it wasn’t clear whether these were the most effective or whether there were other approaches that could be undertaken to achieve better or less expensive results,” Serio explained. “It was important to understand the feasibility of possible changes to practice and identify the right improvements that could be put in place at the right price.”

Photo courtesy of Iowa DOT

While some of Iowa’s existing techniques already performed well, several potential improvements became apparent over the course of the two-year study. For example, simple adjustments to silt fences included reducing the space between posts, adding wire support to the fence’s fabric backing, and cutting a notch, or weir, at the top of the fence so that overtopping of water could be directed to the most desired location.

The Iowa DOT detailed that and other improvements in its final report and technology transfer summary.

Even as the research pointed to potential new best practices, the Iowa DOT said this study “also challenged our expectations.” For example, sediment basins appeared not to be as effective a sediment control measure as had been previously thought. In fact, some data collected suggested that water leaving the basins might have more sediment than it had when entering.

“Further research in a controlled environment will provide more insight, but these initial findings are extremely valuable as we seek to maximize the effectiveness of our erosion and sediment control measures,” the agency noted. “We plan to include the most effective and cost-efficient erosion and sediment control treatments identified in this research project as part of standard road plans in the near future – mostly likely beginning the spring of 2021,” the Iowa DOT said.

Universities Join Forces to Test Resiliency of Bridge Design

In a study published in the Journal of Structural Engineering, Texas A&M University and the University of Colorado-Boulder researchers have conducted a comprehensive damage and repair assessment of a still-to-be-implemented bridge design using a panel of experts from academia and industry. The researchers said the expert feedback method offers a “unique and robust” technique for evaluating the feasibility of bridge designs that are still at an early research and development phase.

[Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University.]

“Bridges, particularly those in high-seismic regions, are vulnerable to damage and will need repairs at some point,” explained Dr. Petros Sideris, assistant professor in Texas A&M’s Zachry Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, in a blog post.

“Now the question is what kind of repairs should be used for different types and levels of damage, what will be the cost of these repairs and how long will the repairs take — these are all unknowns for new bridge designs,” he added. “We have answered these questions for a novel bridge design using an approach that is seldomly used in structural engineering.”

Most bridges are monolithic systems made of concrete poured over forms that give the bridges their shape: a design strong enough to support their own weight and other loads, such as vehicle traffic. However, Sideris said if there is an unexpected occurrence of seismic activity, such structures could crack and remedying that damage would be exorbitantly expensive.

To overcome such shortcomings, Sideris and his team – with funding from the National Science Foundation – developed a new design called a hybrid sliding-rocking bridge. Instead of a monolithic design, these “sliding rocking” bridges are made of columns containing limb-inspired joints and segments. Hence, in the event of an earthquake, the joints allow some of the energy from the ground motion to diffuse while the segments move slightly, sliding over one another rather than bending or cracking.

Yet despite potential benefits of this design, no data existed about how it would behave in real-world situations. That is where the new testing procedure developed by Texas A&M and the University of Colorado-Boulder comes into play.

“To find the correct repair strategy, we need to know what the damages look like,” Sideris said. “Our bridge design is relatively new and so there is little scientific literature that we could refer to. And so, we took an unconventional approach to fill our gap in knowledge by recruiting a panel of experts in bridge damage and repair.”

Sideris, Dr. Abbie Liel at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and their respective research teams recruited a panel of eight experts from industry and academia to determine the damage states in experimentally tested hybrid sliding-rocking segment designed columns. Based on their evaluations of the observed damage, the panel provided repair strategies and estimated costs for repair.

The researchers then used that information to fix the broken columns, retested the columns under the same initial damage-causing conditions and compared the repaired column’s behavior to that of the original column through computational investigations.

The panel found that columns built with their design sustained less damage overall compared to bridges built with conventional designs. In fact, the columns showed very little damage even when subject to motions reminiscent of a powerful once-in-a-few-thousand-years earthquake. Furthermore, the damage could be repaired relatively quickly with grout and carbon fibers, suggesting that no special strategy was required for restoration. “Fixing bridges is a slow process and costs a significant amount of money, which then indirectly affects the community,” explained Sideris. “Novel bridge designs that may have a bigger initial cost for construction can be more beneficial in the long run because they are sturdier. The money saved can then be used for helping the community rather than repairing infrastructure.”

ETAP Podcast: Georgia DOT’s Innovative PEL Study

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Jannine Miller and Charles Robinson from the Georgia Department of Transportation discuss the agency’s I-85 Corridor Study and how the department is using a new tool as part of that work: Planning and Environmental Linkages or PELs.

Miller and Robinson explain that PELs represents a collaborative and integrated approach to transportation decision-making that considers environmental, community, and economic goals early in the transportation planning process, while using the information, analysis, and products developed during planning to inform the environmental review process required for transportation projects.

The benefits of PRLs, they emphasize, are improved relationships with stakeholders, improved project delivery timelines, and better transportation programs and projects. To listen to this ETAP Podcast, click here.