The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is using a self-evaluation tool to assess and improve its projects and programs, helping the agency integrate sustainability into virtually every component of the transportation lifecycle, including planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance activities.
Over the last several years, ADOT increasingly has recognized the importance of delivering transportation solutions in a more sustainable manner to achieve economic, social, and environmental goals.
“After three years of progress, our Sustainable Transportation Program has reached every corner of the agency,” said Steven Olmsted with ADOT’s Office of Environmental Planning. “It has become our standard way of carrying out our work and is bringing multiple benefits.”
History and Program Structure
The roots of ADOT’s sustainability program extend back to 2012 when the agency published two planning documents that both called for sustainability to be a key objective. At that time, it also was adding sustainable land use and urban planning into its Multimodal Planning Division, and beta testing the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool (INVEST).
In 2013, ADOT began incorporating sustainable practices into its project development and construction activities, “cherry-picking” successes and bringing them to the attention of managers to build internal support. For example, by addressing the storm water run-off component of a pavement project during construction, project managers could point out that heavy rains otherwise would have shortened the lifespan of the pavement an added to maintenance costs.
ADOT’s Sustainable Transportation Program was formalized in 2014 and is housed in the Environmental Planning Office, with management and oversight remaining largely centralized. Olmsted described the method as a “bottom up approach.” Since that time, the program has been working through designated milestones to ensure consistent adoption across a balance of disciplines. These have included an ADOT Resilience Program and ADOT’s 2016 Complete Transportation Handbook, which is a foundational resource to guide sustainable project development efforts. The handbook includes a set of strategies and tools to improve transportation system sustainability.
ADOT’s Administrative Services Division is the most recent agency component to be placed under the sustainability program lens. Draft policies are being developed for practices such as fuel efficiency, office recycling, and commuting, and are expected to become standard policy in 2017. Meanwhile, the agency continues to incorporate and assess best management practices for achieving sustainability in every component of the transportation lifecycle. For instance, INVEST has been used to assess the effectiveness of mobile onsite batch plants for cement production in sensitive eco-regions of the state.
Operational Focus Areas
To frame ADOT’s sustainability program for the year ahead, a roadmap containing several dozen “Operational Focus Areas” is agreed upon annually that span the agency’s work: planning, project development, operations, maintenance, and administrative activities. For 2016, focus areas included activities such as:
- sustainable outreach to Arizona tribes,
- upgrading the heavy equipment idling policy,
- developing a reuse policy for millings, and
- assisting the Transportation Research Board (TRB) in framing global sustainable transport.
Efforts also include stand-alone projects such as the Black and Green Sustainable Pavement Pilot Program. Sustainable pavement management enhances roadway safety and optimizes pavement life cycles to reduce costs, while also considering the environmental impacts of construction and material usage. Other projects are on the drawing board, including efforts related to clean energy and sustainable freight.
In addition, ADOT plans to publish a progress report on the three framework components of its FHWA Climate Resilience Pilot Project: storm water, extreme weather, and downscaling of climate data as it relates to transportation systems.
Evaluating Performance Using INVEST
ADOT has advanced its sustainability efforts in large part by pioneering the FHWA’s INVEST sustainability tool. FHWA developed INVEST to help transportation agencies incorporate the “triple bottom line” objectives of environmental, economic, and social sustainability into their programs and projects. Web-based INVEST includes four independent modules: Systems Planning for States, Systems Planning for Regions, Project Development, and Operations and Maintenance.
Using INVEST modules, agencies can self-score how well they have achieved specific sustainability goals by measuring their work against carefully chosen best practice “criteria.” Each criterion has been selected because it links to one or more components of the “triple bottom line.” For example, one criterion included in the Project Development module is ecological connectivity, while the Operations and Maintenance module includes an electrical energy efficiency criterion. In total, INVEST incorporates 81 criteria spread across the four modules.
ADOT has played a key role in the evolution of INVEST. In 2011 it participated in the INVEST Version 1.0 beta-test program. Then in 2013 and 2014, it implemented the PD module, and in 2015 and 2016 it scored and adopted the OM module. Also during 2016, it assisted with developing INVEST Version 1.2 and issued its 2nd Annual Sustainable Transportation Program Report which included the Arizona DOT Sustainability Implementation Report. Being a pilot test agency for the modules gave his agency an early lead in leveraging INVEST’s capabilities to make major strides forward in its own internal sustainability work, said Olmsted.
“We use INVEST to measure, plan, discuss, and improve,” he said. “It is a shortcut for arriving at what the current FHWA sustainable universe encompasses and helps us do more with less.”
Putting INVEST to Work
ADOT already has put INVEST to good use. In 2015, it scored 50 projects in the agency’s five-year construction program using the Project Development Module, with an initial specific focus on statewide roundabout projects. ADOT then expanded the scoring from roundabouts to projects ranging from pavement preservation to bridge deck rehabilitation to new lane miles. It was particularly interested in how green infrastructure, low-impact development, multimodal mobility, freight and Context Sensitive Solutions can be measured and defined.
Out of the projects scored, two were rated gold (50 percent of total possible points), 9 were rated silver (40 percent of total possible points), and 20 were rated bronze (30 percent of total possible points).
In 2016, ADOT’s INVEST scoring focus centered on the agency’s operations and maintenance efforts The agency received an independently scored 142 points out of a possible 210, sufficient to achieve INVEST’s highest platinum rating.
ADOT also has harnessed INVEST’s capabilities to help meet NEPA requirements. For example, the agency applied INVEST as a scoring tool for design alternatives and a public outreach tool for two Environmental Impact Statements by requesting comment during the scoping period.
Selling the concept of sustainability inside a traditional road-building agency can be challenging, Olmsted said. And working with a self-scoring tool such as INVEST initially may be met with resistance from some managers. But by maintaining the focus on exchange of information, and with a potential to highlight successes as well as areas for improvement, managers usually transition from initial skepticism to active involvement in sustainability discussions.
Another challenge is that precise financial benefits are difficult to quantify. Comprehensive sustainable transportation is still in its infancy without the benefit of cost-benefit analysis and return on investment statistics.
Advice for DOTs
For other state DOTs interested in developing a comprehensive sustainable transportation program, Olmsted offered the following guidance:
- Identify an internal senior-level champion early in the process.
- Work closely with FHWA staff, who are extremely knowledgeable.
- Be prepared to invest considerable time and effort to make the program viable.
- Incorporate an awards program such as ADOT’s Excellence in Advancing Sustainable Project Development Award Program.
- Carry out training on how to use INVEST for continuous improvement, and make its use a standard operating procedure.
Training on using INVEST is crucial, said Olmstead. In 2014 and 2015, his agency carried out classroom training on INVEST and also trained several local public agencies. During 2016, most sustainability training took place by having the training team “embed themselves” with individuals in their offices. In the coming years, the agency plans to continue classroom training classes as well as sponsor larger state-wide training sessions.
For more information about ADOT’s sustainable transportation program and use of INVEST, access the ADOT Sustainable Transportation Program web page or contact Steven Olmsted, ADOT Office of Environmental Planning at [email protected].