Environmental News Highlights – December 23, 2020


AASHTO Comments on the Nomination of Pete Buttigieg as U.S. Transportation Secretary – AASHTO (News release)

Department of Energy Announces $128 Million for Sustainable Transportation Research – AASHTO Journal

Buttigieg would bring his agenda and Biden’s to Department of Transportation – Roll Call

Historic Picks for EPA, Interior Complete Biden Climate Team – Scientific American

Passing Infrastructure Policies in New Congress – Transport Topics

FTA Awards $6.2MM in TOD Grants – Railway Age

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao Announces $544.3 Million in Federal Funding Allocations for Seven Transit Infrastructure Projects – USDOT (Press release)


The future of airport design after COVID-19 – Construction Specifier

SEPTA and Drexel team up to stop the spread of COVID-19 on public transit – WHYY

Imagine How COVID-19 Could Reshape Mobility for People Who Rely on Transit – Mass Transit

The ‘Highway Boondoggles’ That the Pandemic Hasn’t KilledCityLab

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Additional Administrative Relief for Transit Agencies During COVID-19 Public Health Emergency – FTA (Press release)


Over 100 Vermont organizations support Transportation & Climate Initiative – Vermont Business Magazine

Transportation leaders discuss need for more infrastructure funding to spur economic growth – Northern Kentucky Tribune

U.S. Department of Transportation Launches New Regional Infrastructure Accelerators Program – USDOT (Press release)

Biden Must Look to Cities and Embrace ‘Resilience’ in His Climate Strategy – US News and World Report (Commentary)


50 years in, the Clean Air Act’s societal benefits still outweigh costs 10 to 1, research finds – University of California

ADOT: 2020 brings first-of-its-kind dust detection and warning project – KVOA-TV

Getting U.S. to Zero Carbon Will Take a $2.5 Trillion Investment by 2030 – Bloomberg Green

Mass., other states near historic agreement to curb transportation emissions – Boston Globe

Report outlines solutions for curbing U.S. carbon emissions – University of Colorado Boulder


Environmental justice groups see ally in Biden’s EPA nominee – E&E News


The Largest Wildlife Bridge in the U.S. Opens in San Antonio – Route Fifty

Targeting U.S. wetland restoration could make cleaning up water much cheaper – Science

Caltrans Uses New Tree Removal Technology – Safer, Faster and Efficient – Caltrans (News release)


New Report Highlights History of Clashes Between Civil Rights and Historic Preservation in Alexandria – ALXnow


KDOT kicks off first Active Transportation Plan in 25 years – Kansas DOT (Press release)

Philadelphia installs the first in-street bicycle counters in the region – City of Philadelphia

Abandoned South Austin railroad on track to become city’s newest urban trail – CutureMap Austin

New pedestrian, bike trail to open Tuesday in Moline – KWQC-TV

Ocean City aims to get bicycles off dangerous Coastal Highway – WTOP Radio

A new app is geared for e-scooter riders – WDVM-TV

Active rail lines pose new challenges for Atlanta Beltline northside trail routes – Atlanta Business Chronicle

Hickory adopts plan for bike, pedestrian improvements – Hickory Daily Record


Improving the Health and Safety of Transit Workers with Corresponding Impacts on the Bottom Line – TCRP

Advanced Ground Vehicle Technologies for Airside Operations – ACRP

Updated Survey of Laws and Regulations Applicable to Airport Commercial Ground Transportation – ACRP


Notice of Final Federal Agency Actions on Proposed Highway Projects in Texas – FHWA (Notice of Limitation on Claims for Judicial Review of Actions by TxDOT and Federal Agencies)

Hazardous Materials: Editorial Corrections and Clarifications – Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (Final rule)

Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Long Beach Cruise Terminal Improvement Project in the Port of Long Beach, California – NOAA (Notice; issuance of incidental harassment authorization)

Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental To Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Washington State Department of Transportation Purdy Bridge Rehabilitation Project, Pierce County, WA – NOAA (Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments on proposed authorization and possible renewal)

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Regulations for Designating Critical Habitat – Fish and Wildlife Service (Final rule)

Reauthorization of Permits, Maintenance, and Vegetation Management on Western Area Power Administration Transmission Lines on National Forest System Lands, Colorado, Nebraska, and Utah (DOE/ EIS–0442) – Western Area Power Administration (Record of decision)

State DOTs Net $10B in Aid from COVID-19 Relief Legislation

State departments of transportation are getting $10 billion in long-awaited emergency aid from a $900 billion COVID-19 relief measure passed by Congress late on December 21 as part of a final year-end legislative package. President Trump is expected to sign the measure later this week.

The House of Representatives passed the legislative package that included the COVID-19 rescue bill by a vote of 359 to 53, with the Senate passing it by a vote of 92 to 6.

“Since the early response to the pandemic, state DOTs have faced severe losses in state transportation revenues as vehicle travel declined. This COVID relief bill enables state DOTs to stay on track and support the efficient movement of critical goods and services as they maintain their transportation systems,” noted Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in a statement.

“Furthermore, this timely federal support will help state DOTs to retain their institutional capacities and to be prepared to deliver future infrastructure investment driving economic recovery and growth,” he added.

The massive 5,593-page bill that includes the $900 billion COVID relief measure also includes a $1.4 trillion fiscal year 2021 omnibus appropriations package and various other pieces of pending legislation – including the reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act.

According to an analysis by AASHTO’s policy team, the $10 billion worth COVID-19 relief set aside for state DOTs must be apportioned by the Federal Highway Administration within 30 days of the bill’s enactment and will be based on each state’s share of obligation limitations within the recently extended Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act.

AASHTO’s analysis also indicated that the relief money can be used by state DOTs to fund Surface Transportation Block Grant-eligible projects as well as for preventive maintenance, routine maintenance, operations, and personnel – including employee and contractor salaries – along with debt service payments, availability payments, and coverage for other revenue losses.

The organization added that the relief funds – available for obligation until September 30, 2024 – could be transferred to public tolling and ferry agencies for costs related to operations, personnel, salaries, contractors, debt service payments, availability payments, and coverage for other revenue losses, and are not subject to existing federal restrictions on tolling revenues.

Additionally, funds spent on maintenance and administrative expenses are not required to be included in either metropolitan or statewide long-range transportation improvement programs.

In terms of the FY 2021 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development funding approved as part of this broad fiscal package, some $46.365 billion is provided for Federal-aid Highways obligation limitation along with a nearly $2 billion in general fund supplement to help support a highway bridge rehabilitation program. That supplemental program based on 2018 National Bridge Inventory data for calculation purposes similar to prior fiscal years, AASHTO noted.

Finally, the approval of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 within this broad legislative package includes key points for state DOTs as well, AASHTO said. For starters, it fully authorizes water infrastructure and navigation programs including for dredging needs of emerging harbors, donor and energy transfer ports, commercial strategic ports, and Great Lakes Harbors. It also authorizes 46 water resources projects along with eight project modifications for previously authorized projects and allows for spending down of existing balances – amounting to roughly $10 billion in total – within the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

Filling Pavement Temperature Data Gaps to Prevent Overuse of Road Salt

Could more accurate and consistent pavement temperature data held reduce the overuse of salt and other ice-melting chemicals during winter operations? The Iowa Department of Transportation plans to find out via a new one-year pilot program it recently launched.

[Photo courtesy of the Iowa Department of Transportation.]

Road salt – also known as sodium chloride – is widely used as a pavement deicer in the United States and other countries, yet it is an increasing source of concern as it accumulates in lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. In 2017, the Minnesota Department of Transportation released a 128-page study that sodium chloride infiltrated pervious areas adjacent to the streets after being plowed or splashed over curbs by traffic. That report showed, in part, that reducing the amount of sodium chloride and other road-clearing chemicals deployed by snowplows depends on the broad availability and accuracy of road temperature data.

Tina Greenfield, who works in the Iowa DOT’s maintenance bureau, noted in a blog post that its highway maintenance supervisors rely on pavement temperature data to determine what treatment options to deploy during winter storms – such as granular salt or brine – and in what quantities to either pretreat the roads or break up snow and ice.

Currently, the Iowa DOT collects pavement temperature via more than 70 Roadway Weather Information System, or RWIS, stations positioned around the state – stations owned and maintained by the agency.

However, those stations cannot collect data on every stretch of highway maintained by the Iowa DOT – leaving a number of large “data gaps” throughout the system.

To close those gaps, the agency is conducting a pilot project to purchase “data as a service.” The project will collect data recorded by smaller, privately owned battery-operated units using infrared technology to sense pavement temperatures and relay the data over a cellular connection.

“This is very similar to the sensor technology we have in our snow plow trucks,” Greenfield explained “Since we’re just purchasing the data, we don’t incur any of the cellular or power costs,” she added. “By using infrared technology, there are no sensors in the pavement to install or maintain.”

[Want to know more about snow and ice fighting tactics? Check out the winter operations podcast put together by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Snow and Ice Pooled Fund Cooperative Program, known as “SICOP.”]

She noted that the pilot project also allows her agency to choose the vendors supplying and maintaining this data collecting and reporting equipment “We simply purchase that data that equipment gathers,” Greenfield emphasized. “If these work out, this can be a very affordable way to get the data. This allows us to gather more data without having to invest in hardware and technology.”

Video: Caltrans Using Special Saws for Safer Tree Removal

The California Department of Transportation and its contractors are deploying a new tool to safely speed up the removal of dead, dying, and diseased trees throughout the state: Telescoping grappling saws.

[Photo courtesy of the California Department of Transportation.]

The agency said in a statement that such saws allow its crews and contractors to take trees down at a faster pace than traditional tree removal processes; completing that process with greater safety from the ground via remote control, well outside the fall zone for trees being removed.

Kansas DOT Seeks Feedback on Active Transportation Plan

The Kansas Department of Transportation is seeking public feedback in the state’s first Active Transportation Plan or ATP in 25 years. Funding for active transportation – which refers to “human-powered” modes of transportation such as walking or cycling – is included within the state’s 10-year Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program, or IKE, signed into law in early April.

[Photo courtesy of the Kansas Department of Transportation.]

The Kansas DOT said it is seeking public input through January 31, 2021, on its ATP via an online survey. Meanwhile, it said the planning process for the ATP will continue through 2021 and will involve national and local experts in planning, design, and safety. The final plan will also serve as a “key tool” for agency staff and local officials on how to include active transportation infrastructure when planning roads, bridges, and various improvement projects.

“We know that over the last several months, many people have discovered walking, cycling, rolling and other forms of active transportation are fun and healthy ways to get around,” noted Julie Lorenz, Kansas DOT secretary, in a statement.

“For others, active transportation has long provided an essential need, an affordable way to get to work, school, transit, the store and other destinations,” she added. “We are committed to providing transportation options that help people travel safely and conveniently – and to do that well, we need to hear from Kansans.”

“Providing access to safe, direct, continuous and pleasant routes whether driving, walking or cycling is essential for a healthy multi-modal transportation system,” added Matt Messina, Kansas DOT’s comprehensive planning unit manager. “Our intent is for Kansas residents to have a direct voice in development of the ATP.”