AASHTO NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP COMPETITION

 

Please check the appropriate category for which you are submitting the application:

 

Category:       [   ]  Project       

[X]  Program     

[   ]  Institutionalization/Organization Change

 

Application Title:        THE GREEN RIBBON PROJECT________________________

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Agency Contact:         Emily Margrett, TxDOT  

Address:                     125 East 11th Street

Austin, Texas  78701

Phone Number:          (512) 486-5469 E-mail: emargre@dot.state.tx.us   

 

 

 


In no more than five pages, please provide the following information*.  Although the same questions are asked for each category of application, the answers should appropriately focus on the type of stewardship application being submitted.

 

In answering, please respond in order and number your response to coincide with the numbers of the questions/topics listed below.  Also, please utilize the text boxes that appear beneath each of the questions.  The boxes will expand automatically as you enter your information.

 

 

1.      Describe the project/program/initiative/policy, including when it was initiated and its current status. (adopted plan or policy, completed construction, etc)

 

 

The Green Ribbon Project Corridor Aesthetics and Landscape Master Plan integrates LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE, PUBLIC ART and ARCHITECTURE into the engineered aspects of Texas highways in the Houston area.  The Green Ribbon Project is a blueprint for district engineers and designers to bring continuity roadway enhancements.  The Green Ribbon Project (GRP) was developed by TxDOT-Houston in response to the desires of the political, civic, and ‘green’ leaders of Houston to change the city’s image.  Elected and community leaders complained that visitor’s to Houston remembered the city’s horrific traffic woes and miles of hot highway pavement.   The Image Group, Park People, Trees for Houston, Treescape, and Scenic Houston convinced the Houston District that a minimal investment in “thinking green” would produce maximum benefits.  Today the success of the GRP can be measured in miles – 80 miles of freeways in separate four corridors inside Beltway 8 are targeted for inclusion in the Green Ribbon Project.  This includes the highly traveled portions of IH10, IH610, IH45, and US 59.

 

The product of the community/TxDOT collaboration process is the Green Ribbon Project Corridor Aesthetics and Landscape Master Plan released in December 1999. Public response to the GRP has been overwhelming and regarded as a grand step toward “context sensitive design.”  Throughout the development of the GRP the public was invited to participate.  The public was also educated to the fact that TxDOT does not have the financial resources to implement all the proposed concepts; this agency is responsible to the public for the prioritization of projects that can meet the most public benefit demands.  Public and private organizations have already come forward to form partnerships with TxDOT to accomplish our common goals.  Local governments, communities and commercial associations in Houston have adopted the GRP and integrated its program of public art, architecture and landscape architecture into complimentary landscape projects.

 

In the past four years the Houston District has improved and removed from TxDOT maintenance more than 100 acres of right-of-way through agreements with partners or landscape planting.  Approximately 200,000 trees, shrubs, and vines have been installed on state right-of-way in the same period without increasing maintenance activities. The Houston District has moved to a 100 percent naturally derived non-chemical landscape development and is currently working to reduce our chemical usage for herbicide control, as well.

 

Statewide the GRP is making an impact, too.  Houston was tagged with a notorious national reputation when Los Angeles was pushed into second place and Houston became the ‘bad air’ capitol of America. In 2001, the Texas Legislature, 77th Session, added Rider 57 to TxDOT’s appropriation that required TxDOT to expand the concepts of GRP to other areas of the state.  These improvements were tied directly to air quality measures when funding for landscaping and other enhancement activities was specifically to districts that are non-attainment and near non-attainment counties for air quality degradation. TxDOT’s Design Division (DES) - Landscape Design Section now oversees the Green Ribbon Landscape Improvement Program so the GRP will continue to make a positive impact on TxDOT.  Across Texas, the GRP will influence project development, delivery, maintenance, and environmental awareness for a generation of new highway project.

 

2.      Describe the context within which this project/program/initiative was implemented.  For example, was it implemented in response to public opposition to agency actions, legislative mandate, agency leadership, staff initiative, etc?

 

Beginning in the early 90s, Representative Garnet Coleman and other leaders became concerned about the image Houston projected to the nation.  They became critical of the city’s all too evident freeway system and argued that the freeways were being used as unattractive measures of quality of life in national relocation magazines. Independent of TxDOT, the men and women who ‘sell’ Houston, local chambers of commerce and economic development groups, were increasingly frustrated by outside negative responses to Houston – too hot, too much concrete, man-made.  The freeways were seen as the largest target that could, with local leadership, be influenced to reflect the rich diversity of history, culture and forests that would make Houston attractive to visitors.

However, there was a fear among community leaders that any attempt to enhance the roadways piecemeal would result in, at best, a desultory hodge-podge.  The leadership desired a clearly unified plan so that when enhancements were made to the highways they would conform to a larger coherent design framework. 

 

 

3.      Describe the process that was followed in implementing the project/program/initiative, with special emphasis given to participation of key partners.

 

 

In 1996, Mr. Gary K. Trietsch, P.E., District Engineer for the Houston District, initially convened a Green Ribbon Committee composed of Representative Coleman, City of Houston Mayor Lee P. Brown, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and 16 committed and interested persons/agencies.  These persons represented leaders of influence, persons who had worked with TxDOT and recognized the limitations and responsibilities imposed on a public agency.

Through a series of Texas Transportation Institute scoping meetings concluded in November 1997, the committee membership and process was defined.  Beginning in 1998, the consultant team of HNTB Architects Engineers Planners, SWA Group, Rey de la Reza Architects, Inc., and the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County established a two-year calendar of committee meetings, sub-committee meetings, workshops and public involvement meetings. It was important to the elected representatives on the committee that the general public was aware of the purpose of the committee and it progressive achievements.  The final presentation of the master plan was an opportunity to demonstrate effective government management.

Elected leaders and community representatives viewed the creation of the GRP as a breakthrough in the incorporation of aesthetic values.  By addressing these issues in the earliest stages of development, enhancements were incorporated in TxDOT development with a minimal expense.  In addition, the agency demonstrated responsive accountability to the public will.

 

 

4.      What are the major characteristics of this project/program/initiative that relate most readily to environmental stewardship?

 

 

The Green Ribbon Project determined early in the planning phase that the framework should provide continuity throughout the district, such as emphasizing bayou crossings, and yet reflect the varied geography of the area.

Each crossing of a major bayou will be highlighted by a common bridge design and lighted name plate, i.e., Buffalo Bayou, Greens Bayou, Hunter’s Bayou.  The city’s bayous are linear green spaces and are in many instances historically significant, such as Vince’s Bayou, site of an early Texas-Mexican skirmish

Harris County has three distinct regions – pine forest, prairies and coastal plains. To reflect this ecological distinction, three simplified elements were chosen to represent the three regions – vertical striation (pine forests), horizontal striation (prairies), and undulating line (the coastal plains).

In addition, the framework consists of general GOALS and DESIGN PRINCIPLES. There are five DESIGN PRINCIPLES to guide the Green Ribbon Project.  These are:

Green First--make new plantings or the preservation of existing plantings the first priority in recommended improvements;

Integration--consider all improvements in context with each other and design solutions to emphasize the visual, as well as the physical, integration of all components;

Continuity--design all improvements to create a continuous appearance;

Freeways are Public Space--the freeway rights-of-way belong to the public and should provide a visually pleasing experience; and

Maintenance--the planning and implementation of all improvements should include long-term maintenance costs with respect to plantings, structures, surface treatment and other materials along roadways.

 

 

5.      Describe why you believe this project/program/initiative represents a long-term commitment to environmental stewardship in your agency.

 

 

The Green Ribbon framework provides workable and pragmatic GOALS. 

 

The GOALS of the Green Ribbon Project are to:

 

1)       establish a higher level of visual appeal along the corridors through landscape and architectural improvements (aesthetics);

2)       promote and enhance highway safety and maintain traffic flows (mobility);

3)       promote fiscal responsibility in capital investments and reduce maintenance costs by the use of sustainable plantings, including the use of native trees, shrubs and grasses (sustainability);

4)       reduce implementation and maintenance costs through the  design of sustainable landscapes (sensibility);

5)       promote public/private partnerships for implementation and maintenance of improvements (partnerships);

6)       develop unifying themes through the use of art and neighborhood gateway markers to express the cultural uniqueness of adjacent neighborhoods (expression);

7)       develop functional and innovative design solutions for architectural elements, including bridge components, walls, railings, barriers, sign supports, and lighting (innovation); and

8)       integrate civic art of any material or medium that is permanent in nature and integral to the environment in which it is placed (artistic expression).

 

 

6.      What measures of success have been used to determine overall effectiveness of the project/program/initiative in meeting environmental stewardship goals.  If the project/program/initiative has not yet been implemented, what measures will be used to determine such effectiveness?

 

 

Awards by state and national environmental groups recognize the achievements of the Green Ribbon Project during the past two years.  In 1999, the project was recognized with the Highest Honor Award, the American Planners Association, Houston District, for its strategic planning effort.  The Texas Forest Service gave the Texas Community Forestry Award of Merit to the project also in 1999.  The Park People, a Houston civic group, awarded the project its Visionary Award for 2000.  Trees for Houston, another civic group, awarded the project its Arbor Day 2000 Award and the American Society of Landscape Architects-Texas Chapter honored the project with its Merit Award for 2000.  In 2001, the Green Ribbon Project won the National Arbor Day Foundation’s Lady Bird Johnson Award.  It is awarded by the Foundation for individuals and organizations whose work sets a worthy example for others to follow in roadside beautification.

The Green Ribbon Project Corridor Aesthetics and Landscape Master Plan integrates different aspects of art and architecture, landscaping and reforestation along Texas highways in the Houston area.  This project has codified roadway enhancements and was developed in response to the desires of the political, civic, and ‘green’ leaders of Houston, including The Image Group, Park People, Trees for Houston, Treescape, and Scenic Houston.

 

7.      Describe why you believe your project/program/initiative represents “best practice” and should be recognized with a national award.

 

The Green Ribbon Project exemplified ‘best practice’ in three ways. 

First, the GRP is not inventing a mythic green past.  Once, not so very long ago, this part of Texas was a verdant expanse of forest with a canopy of cypress trees that soared 80 feet into the sky. Less than two hundred years ago, this wilderness dazzled visitors.  Since its founding in 1836, Houston has transformed its pristine bayous into international waterways and the nation’s second largest port. The contemporary skyline and the extensive network of highways make it difficult for the modern visitor to see the original forest and waterways beneath a grate of streets. Proudly called the Bayou City, Houston is naturally laced with attractive green belts and waterways now obscured by highway overpasses. The Green Ribbon Project folds back the highway grid and allows the hidden forests and bayous to emerge.

Second, since the establishment of the GRP, the impact to the freeways has been dramatic. The Green Ribbon Project routinely oversees the planting of literally thousands of native trees in intersections, hundreds of oleanders, crepe myrtles, and palm trees, as well as, the installation of irrigation systems. At the intersection of the Gulf Freeway and the Southbelt more than 1200 plants have been installed, including some 80 palm trees, to emphasize the freeways Gulf connections.  On SH 225, palm trees planted in partnership with the community of Deer Park prominently delineate the limits of the quiet suburban community.  In Texas City, a cowboy silhouette chases a herd of steel cattle through the intersection.  On IH 610-South Loop, the City of Bellaire points proudly to its trees, plantings and shrubs next to a faux-Chicago brick wall that separates the busy traffic lanes from the residential areas.   Clearly TxDOT would not have the financial resources to implement all of the proposed design concepts and in response, the GRP manager has facilitated successful public/private partnerships with local governments in the six-county area – in Baytown, La Porte, Clute, Freeport.  Conroe, Texas City and Galveston.  Mr. Dana Coté, Registered Landscape Architect (RLA), is the project manager and has contributed to the national reputation of the Houston District.  His most significant achievements as the GRP manager may be as a change agent and integrating the GRP principles into the project development process. To leverage available funding, the GRP manager has facilitated successful public/private partnerships.  Coté has encouraged this agency forge new and lasting partnerships to enhance the aesthetics, perception, and environmental quality of Texas freeways.  The district landscape architect works with engineers and contractors to design and integrate color and texture alternatives within the GRP framework.  The GRP provides a responsible blueprint for partnerships in roadway enhancements. 

 

And finally, third, the future of the region is exciting because of the GRP.  In a few months the Houston District will award a contract for the reconstruction of the Galveston Causeway.  The City of Galveston, Texas’ largest city and commercial center in the 1800s, is located on a barrier island with only three fixed links to the mainland – a railroad bridge, a little-used remote toll facility, and the Galveston Causeway with an ADT of 64,000 vehicles a day.  The Galveston Causeway is a six-lane bridge carrying IH45 from Virginia Point to the island.  As the city’s main vehicle entrance and exit, the Causeway is more than a link – it welcomes you to the island.  The Causeway will be the first construction project to exhibit the new design standards for projects near the Gulf of Mexico.  Undulating lines, representing the Gulf’s waves, and four towering pillars will mark the construction, while on land, oleanders will line the Causeway reminding every visitor that Galveston is the Oleander City.  TxDOT is very excited about bringing this enhanced level of safety to island residents and visitors through the replacement of the Causeway and latest GRP partnership success. 

The Green Ribbon Project is an extraordinary program that has made a significant change in the department, this state and this city. 

 

The application must be signed by the Chief Executive Officer of the DOT or his or her designee.