Environmental News Highlights – December 16, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


Congress Passes One-Week Extension of CR – AASHTO Journal

Report urges Congress to reform surface transportation funding – Transportation Today

Final WRDA package leaves clean water out – WaterWorld

Transit systems nationally – including UTA – beg Congress for emergency pandemic aid – Salt Lake Tribune

The Emergency Funding Ideas That Could Help Keep Transit Alive – CityLab

EPA Announces $17.7 Million in Grants to Support Water Systems Rural and Small Communities – EPA (Press release)


FedEx, UPS to ‘split country into two’ for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, UPS exec says – USA Today

‘Very High Risk’: Longshoremen Want Protection From the Virus So They Can Stay on the Job – New York Times


How Disasters Can Spur Resiliency in the Gulf – National Academies

Congress Eyes Support for Busy Ports – Transport Topics

Nashville mayor proposes $1.6 billion transportation plan – WKRN-TV

Benefits of Ports-to-Plains hailed – Amarillo Globe-News

International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure Celebrates Growth in First Year – American Society of Civil Engineers (Press release)


Trucking Takes Initial Steps Toward a Zero-Emission Future – Transport Topics


Xavier Becerra Brings Environmental Justice to Forefront – New York Times

Biden can’t move the needle on environmental justice without these 2 things – Vox

Growing Opposition To Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) From Environmental & Social Justice Groups In New Jersey And Nationally – Insider NJ (Press release)


How one city plans to recover from losing most of its trees – National Geographic

The North Carolina hog industry’s answer to pollution: a $500m pipeline project – The Guardian

Senate passes priority bill improving water quality, sustainability – Sentinel-Tribune

Eroding coast paves the way for ‘managed retreat’ – Los Angeles Times (Link to video)


To Rethink the School Run, Get Rid of the Cars – CityLab

Area universities, Texas Research Alliance to provide innovative transportation assistance – Blue Ribbon News

Research recommends additional support for innovative shared-mobility services in Minnesota – University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies

DelDOT Launches Report a Pedestrian Issue Feature on Website & App – DelDOT (Press release)

MnDOT invites public comment on first Statewide Pedestrian System Plan – MnDOT (Press release)


Permissible Uses of Airport Property and Revenue – TRB

Protecting Wildlife Habitat is a Robust Slice of Transportation Planning – TRB

Register for UC ITS and TRB Webinar on COVID-19, Transit, and Shared Mobility – TRB (Webinar)

Pedestrian Resources to Help Talk the Walk – TRB


National Standards for Traffic Control Devices; the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways; Revision – FHWA (Proposed rule; notice of proposed amendments)

Environmental Impact Statement: Collin County, Texas – FHWA (Federal notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement)

Adoption of the Federal Highway Administration’s Nationwide Section 4(f) Net Benefit and Historic Bridges Programmatic Evaluations – FRA and FTA (Notice)

State Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Action Plans – FRA (Final rule)

Applying the Supreme Court’s County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund Decision in the Clean Water Act Section 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit Program – EPA (Notice of availability of draft guidance and request for comment)

Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of CCR; A Holistic Approach to Closure Part B: Alternate Demonstration for Unlined Surface Impoundments; Correction – EPA (Final rule; correction)

Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals From Electric Utilities; Legacy CCR Surface Impoundments; Extension of Comment Period – EPA (Advance notice of proposed rulemaking; extension of comment period)

Air Plan Approval; Pennsylvania; Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Under the 2008 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) – EPA (Final rule)

Criminal Negligence Standard for State Clean Water Act 402 and 404 Programs – EPA (Proposed rule)

Technical Mapping Advisory Council; Meeting – FEMA (Committee Management; Notice of Federal Advisory Committee meeting)

Minnesota DOT Unveils Statewide Pedestrian System Plan

The Minnesota Department of Transportation unveiled its first Statewide Pedestrian System Plan, which provides policy and investment guidance to improve places where people walk across and along Minnesota highways.

[Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.]

The agency said the plan “identifies priority areas for investments” and lays out specific strategies to improve walking availability and accessibility now and for the next 20 years to help Minnesota’s communities plan for the future. It will be accepting public feedback on this plan through January 11, 2021.

“Our state’s quality of life depends on creating safe places for people to walk—to work, to the doctor, to the grocery store, anywhere. We know safety is a priority every time you walk,” explained Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minnesota DOT’s commissioner, in a statement. “MnDOT’s first Statewide Pedestrian System Plan serves as a framework for how we plan to meet pedestrian needs and interests in our state, and we welcome public feedback on the plan.”

The agency said it began work on its Statewide Pedestrian System Plan in February 2019, building it in part on two public engagement efforts that reached 2,700 people statewide. The Minnesota DOT said it also installed seven pedestrian safety demonstrations projects across Minnesota to highlight specific pedestrian safety measures in action, with “all of that feedback” going through an internal process of evaluation to help the agency achieve “better outcomes” for people when walking.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Transportation

“This effort will help MnDOT identify opportunities and implement the right strategies on projects to make walking safer and more convenient for Minnesotans,” added Jake Rueter, pedestrian and bicycle planner for the agency. “The plan doesn’t tell us exactly what to do in every situation, but it provides the tools we need to make those decisions and create better places for people to walk statewide.”

Meanwhile, on the national level, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued what it is calling a “first-of-its-kind” Pedestrian Safety Action Plan on November 23 – a plan that will be overseen by the Federal Highway Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“This unprecedented comprehensive safety effort is focused solely on protecting pedestrians because crossing a street should not be lethal for thousands of adults and children every year,” noted U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in a statement – adding that USDOT’s plan will promote the expanded use of countermeasures, technology, and data-driven practices to address pedestrian fatalities and injuries.

According to NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, pedestrians comprised 17 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2019. In 2019 – the most recent year in which data is available – 6,205 pedestrians died in traffic crashes, which is 44 percent more compared to 2010.

Concurrently, the Transportation Research Board released a new National Cooperative Highway Research Program report – Availability and Use of Pedestrian Infrastructure Data to Support Active Transportation Planning – that documents the ways state departments of transportation are collecting, managing, sharing, and analyzing pedestrian infrastructure data.

The group said case studies in the report cover a diverse group of states, such as Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Utah, and Washington State. By looking at current practices, TRB said in a blog post that state DOTs “can move forward in tailoring the data collection process to build infrastructure that will lead to more consistent and efficient planning and management of pedestrian infrastructure.”

TRB Provides Support Resources for Butterfly Conservation Efforts

The Transportation Research Board recently highlighted a bevy of resources available to state departments of transportation to support monarch butterfly habit and migration support efforts.

[Photo courtesy of the Virginia Department of Transportation.]

A new report from the TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program – Evaluating the Suitability of Roadway Corridors for Use by Monarch Butterflies – provides guidance for roadside managers to determine the potential of their roadway corridors as habitat for monarch butterflies.

The report also includes several tools and decision-support mechanisms to optimize habitat potential in a manner that is compatible with the continued operation and maintenance of the roadside.

TRB noted in a blog post that a 2014 Presidential Memorandum “influenced” its recent research on monarch butterfly conservation – a memorandum that encouraged the Federal Highway Administration to work with state DOTs, transportation associations, and roadside managers as part of a holistic approach to promote the health of pollinators.

TRB added that forthcoming research from NCHRP will help craft a “guidebook” to help decision-makers tailor programs to maximize insect pollinator habitats along roadways. That guidebook will consider additional public benefits, roadway characteristics, and safety, as well as the geographical, adjacent land use, and ecological contexts. Butterflies and other pollinators are only a small subset of the wildlife benefiting from informed transportation planning.

In April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Illinois-Chicago signed what they called a “historic agreement” to encourage transportation and energy firms to voluntarily participate in monarch butterfly conservation by providing and maintaining habitat on potentially millions of acres of rights-of-way corridors on both public and private lands.

Both signed an integrated, nationwide candidate conservation agreement (CCA) and candidate conservation agreement (CCAA) for the monarch butterfly on energy and transportation lands throughout the lower 48 states.

The USFW noted that those formal yet voluntary agreements between the agency and both public and private landowners aim to conserve habitats that benefit at-risk species. It also “integrated” both CCA and CCAA programs so energy and transportation partners and private landowners can provide conservation seamlessly throughout their properties where there may be a mix of non-federal and federal lands.

Virginia DOT Launches Second Major Anti-Litter Initiative

The Virginia Department of Transportation recently began its second major anti-littering effort on December 7 – the Beautify Virginia program – that is part of its support for keeping Virginia’s roadways litter-free.

[Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Transportation.]

Through the new Beautify Virginia program – which is part of the agency’s broader Environmental Stewardship Initiative – the Virginia DOT said it seeks to engage community and civic organizations, businesses, non-profit companies, and residents that can sponsor litter pickups along segments of eligible highways and interstates, with an approved contractor performing the work on their behalf. To support this effort, the agency will place signage with the respective sponsor’s name and official logo along the sponsored roadways. 

“Across Virginia’s transportation sector, we are integrating environmental stewardship and creating sustainable policies that support mobility, access, and our quality of life,” explained Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s secretary of transportation, in a statement. “Investing in safe, healthy communities is our commitment to all who call Virginia home.” 

“The value of the partnerships created by the Beautify Virginia program is twofold,” added Rob Cary, Virginia DOT’s chief deputy commissioner. “There is value in forging new and sustaining existing relationships within our communities and also in leveraging the strength of those relationships to serve as good stewards of our environment.” 

The Beautify Virginia program follows the Virginia is for Lovers, Not Litter public outreach campaign launched by the agency in September to raise awareness about Virginia’s roadway litter problem. The Virginia DOT noted that it 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.

VTrans Awards Mobility and Transportation Innovation Grants

The Vermont Agency of Transportation recently awarded $500,000 in grants via the Mobility and Transportation Innovation or MTI program, which seeks to support “innovative strategies” that improve both mobility and access for transit-dependent Vermonters, reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles for work trips, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions of GHGs.

[Photo courtesy of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.]

“Innovation like this is essential to meeting the transportation needs of Vermont’s rural population and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Russ MacDonald, public transit manager for VTrans, in a statement. “This is another exciting step forward for the diversification of our state’s transportation system.”

Created by Vermont’s legislature with the passage of the state’s 2020 Transportation Bill in June, VTrans said it awarded 13 grants via its MTU program to fund a variety of projects, including:

  • Extension of existing transportation demand management or TDM programs, such as bike share, and purchase of electric bicycles
  • Creation of new TDM programs such as micro-transit services and car sharing
  • Creation of TDM materials and outreach efforts to promote alternative and efficient commuting options and tools, including teleworking resources such as a telework program guide, telework program planning baseline assessment, and telework best practices resources.

In a related effort, VTrans issued a grant solicitation for new infrastructure projects to improve statewide access and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians in July.

The agency noted that in 2019, it awarded a total of $3.6 million for construction and planning projects throughout Vermont via its Bicycle and Pedestrian grant program.