Environmental News Highlights – November 11, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


Key House transportation figures win reelection – Trains

Biden to Move Fast to Strike Down Trump’s Environmental Agenda – Bloomberg Law

Public transit emerges a big winner in election – Marketplace

President Biden Promises To Boost Transit And Build For Bicyclists But Won’t Tackle Car DependencyForbes (Op-ed)


Supporting healthy urban transport and mobility in the context of COVID-19 – World Health Organization (Report)

Ontario allocates roughly $1 billion for COVID-19 resilience projects – REMI Network


Video: How State DOTs Work to Ensure NEPA Compliance – AASHTO Journal


AASHTO’s ETAP Podcast: Georgia DOT’s Innovative PEL Study – AASHTO’s ETAP Podcast

USDOT loan to aid rural California infrastructure project – Transportation Today

Proposition B: Austin approves $460M in transportation infrastructure bonds – KVUE-TV

Unmanned Aerial Systems Support Flood Management Activities – Innovator (FHWA)

What we’re voting for: infrastructure – The Verge (Commentary)


Why IKEA is investing in sustainable mobility – GreenBiz

Port of L.A. seeks input on zero-emission technology from private companies – City News Service


How one San Diegan uses his bicycle obsession to make the sport more inclusive and accessible to others – San Diego Union-Tribune

Hurricane Relief Through Mutual Aid – Yes!

National E-Mobility Equity Virtual Conference – Forth Mobility Fund (Blog)


If Florida takes over permitting, its life-giving wetlands will be lost to development – Miami Herald (Opinion)

It’s not too late to protect Northern New Mexico – Santa Fe New Mexican (Op-ed)


Parks Canada to create expert panel to advise on a long-term framework for how visitors will get around the Bow Valley and experience Banff National Park in the future – Parks Canada (Press release)


State DOTs Issue Transportation Alternatives & Trail Grants – AASHTO Journal

The Capital of Sprawl Gets a Radically Car-Free Neighborhood – New York Times

Bike Shortages Will Likely Last Until Next Year, and Possibly into 2022 – Bicycling

Boulder talks transportation: Future of bike share, which wheels go where – Boulder Beat (Blog)


(Date Correction) TRB Webinar: Planning an Effective Airport Deicing Runoff Management Program – TRB

Improving Mid-Term, Intermediate, and Long-Range Cost Forecasting for State Transportation Agencies – NCHRP

Improving Mid-Term, Intermediate, and Long-Range Cost Forecasting: Guidebook for State Transportation Agencies – NCHRP

TRB Webinar: Rail in the Time of Coronavirus – Planning, Operating, & Constructing Rail – TRB

TRB Webinar: Cross-Cutting Issues in Urban Congestion Pricing – TRB

Webinar – Protecting Traffic Infrastructure with Weigh In Motion (WIM) – CS2SMART (Link to registration)

2020 Moving Together Conference – UMass Transportation Center


Deepwater Port License Application: Blue Marlin Offshore Port, LLC (BMOP) – Maritime Administration (Notice of intent; Notice of virtual public meeting; Request for comments)

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore; Snowmobiles – National Park Service (Proposed rule)

Noise Abatement Part 1: State DOTs Developing New Analytical Tools

State departments of transportation across of the country are looking at new and better ways to predict traffic noise levels, as well new materials for highway sound barriers, in order to reduce the overall cost of noise abatement efforts.

[Photo courtesy of the Ohio Department of Transportation.]

The first article of this two-part series will examine some of the new tools state DOTs are developing to better gauge the impact of noise on communities near transportation infrastructure such as highways. 

First, some background: According to the noise barrier inventory maintained by the Federal Highway Administration, more than 3,000 linear miles of noise wall barriers have been built since the 1970s across the United States.

Such sound barriers remain an essential part of highway design and construction as the World Health Organization determined that prolonged exposure to high levels of noise “interferes with people’s daily activities … disturbs sleep, causes cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduces performance and provokes annoyance responses and changes in social behavior.”

Photo courtesy of the Iowa Department of Transportation

The Noise Pollution and Abatement Act of 1972 requires state departments of transportation to monitor and manage highway traffic noise generated by federally funded projects on existing and planned roadways. When that sound exceeds certain thresholds, 23 CFR 772 specifies mitigation efforts must be undertaken to reduce highway traffic noise.

Yet the cost of meeting those regulations and protecting the public against the roar of the vehicles — the predominant sound for both cars and trucks is that of tire-pavement interaction – takes considerable funding.

For example, between 2014 and 2016, FHWA found that total construction costs for noise barriers topped $671 million in just a three-year period – an average of $2 million per mile of noise wall.

That’s why many state DOTs are trying to find ways to reduce the cost of noise abatement efforts, noted Noel Alcala.

“The main goal of more accurate noise abatement modeling can result in cost reduction,” explained Alcala, the noise and air quality coordinator at the Ohio Department of Transportation and noise work group coordinator on behalf of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in an interview. “Modeling noise levels more accurately can likely reduce costs noise wall in construction.”

States currently use the FHWA Traffic Noise Model 2.5 to predict noise levels that will occur once a road is built or expanded – even if that expansion occurs several decades in the future.

That complex formula includes the mixture of cars and trucks expected on the road; the buildings and vegetation in the area that would block some sound; the configuration and ground quality of the land between the road and the homes; the ways the sound is expected to diffract around the wall; and other key factors.  Other weather factors can also play a role, such as wind direction and ground and air temperatures. Also considered is the height where the noise is actually originating – at roadway level or top of truck stacks. 

Courtesy of Caltrans

The overall goal of some states, such as California – which sports over 750 miles of highway sound walls – is lowering the noise level at the transportation infrastructure source – a far-cheaper effort than blocking the noise with a more expensive sound wall. 

To that end, the California Department of Transportation has worked over the last few years to implement the most recent National Cooperative Highway Research Program or NCHRP findings into newer modeling techniques.

Caltrans relied on documents such as NCHRP Report 635Acoustic Beamforming: Mapping Sources of Truck Noise, which experimentally validated a practical acoustic “beamforming” measurement technique.

“Beamforming” uses a type of camera that takes pictures (or video) of soundwaves and illustrates that very little acoustic energy comes from tall truck exhaust stacks. Meanwhile, it shows that most highway noise is tire/pavement related and usually occurs very close to the pavement.

NCHRP Project 1-44, reported in NCHRP Report 630, also proved valuable to Caltrans efforts as it proposing a test method for measuring tire-pavement noise at the source using the on-board sound intensity (OBSI) method.

The agency also is implementing AASHTO T 360-16 (2020) – the Standard Method of Test for Measurement of Tire/Pavement Noise Using the On-Board Sound Intensity (OBSI) Method – to reevaluate noise modeling efforts and improve modeling to provide more accurate results. Caltrans has also moved to use more precise noise measurement processes, which it believes will lead to lower community noise levels.

“The AASHTO Standard which precisely measures pavement acoustics, allowed a lot of this work to be accomplished, explained Bruce Rymer, senior engineer in the Hazardous Waste, Air, Noise, & Paleontology Office within Caltrans.

“Using this new measurement technology, we found pavement acoustics had a much larger influence on roadside noise levels than previously acknowledged,” he said, “This is important for state DOTs because noise impacts of transportation projects on roadside communities have to be quantified and analyzed in order to receive federal funding.”

Other states are looking at ways to more accurately predict the costs of sound mitigation as well – now and in the future.

Iowa, for example, is looking at developing a new noise wall cost GIS-based prediction tool that incorporates residential lot information while ensuring that projects requiring noise abatement are properly planned and funded.

Charles Bernhard, Iowa DOT’s Traffic Noise Engineer, said those new processes include five distinct efforts:

Mapping out five-year highway project plans.

  • Eliminating highway projects that do not have an annual average daily traffic or AADT of greater than 10,000.
  • Eliminating projects by “work type” that do not meet the definition of a Type I project for noise
  • Creating a “parcel layer” that includes all residential parcels within 200 feet of the “edge of pavement” of the remaining highway segments.
  • Visually evaluate each remaining highway segment to determine if the segment has a “cluster” of seven or more residential parcels within the 200-foot “buffer.” 

Part 2 of this noise abatement series will examine some of the new types of sound wall materials some state DOTs are studying.

Video: Virginia DOT Uncovers Spooky Artifact During Highway Dig

The Virginia Department of Transportation recently made a major historical discovery at an old Civil War fort uncovered in the median of Interstate 64 near Williamsburg: A “witch bottle.” The superstition surrounding this rare artifact dates back hundreds of years to 17th century England when such “counter magical devices” served as “protection” against witchcraft and evocation.

[Photo courtesy of the Virginia Department of Transportation.]