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Active Transportation topic describes a range of programs, policies, case studies and other resources related to the role of transportation in support of livable and sustainable communities, including multimodal transportation options that advance public health goals. Ensuring efficient operations can help reduce air emissions and sustainable outcomes for projects.
Ensuring effective operations of transportation systems is a key strategy in reducing air pollution emissions. Operational elements such as signal timing or placement, turn lanes, and roundabouts can improve traffic flow and reduce emissions.
Climate Change Mitigation/Adaptation covers two complex, and distinct sub-topics: Energy/Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Infrastructure Resilience.
Ensuring effective operations of transportation systems is a key strategy in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Operational elements such as signal timing or placement, turn lanes, and roundabouts can improve traffic flow and reduce emissions. Extreme weather events and changing climate conditions also pose increased risks that may require changes in operational practices.
Building resilience to extreme weather and changing climate conditions is vital to ensuring efficient operations of transportation facilities and systems. Operational strategies also are key in responding to extreme climate conditions.
Context Sensitive Solutions is a collaborative, interdisciplinary, holistic approach to the development of transportation projects. It involves careful consideration of community values, environmental features, land use, transportation function and available budget. CSS can be incorporated into all phases of program delivery including operations.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and environmental justice principles apply to all U.S. DOT programs, policies, and activities. Evaluation of human impacts should be given continuous attention throughout planning, project development, implementation, operation, construction, and maintenance to identify and avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate disproportionately high or adverse effects on low income and/or minority communities.
An environmental management system is the organizational structure and associated processes for integrating environmental considerations into the decision-making processes and operations of an organization. An EMS can help ensure environmental considerations are taken into account in operational practices.
This topic covers project delivery and environmental provisions of both the FAST Act and the MAP-21 surface transportation funding and policy legislation. The legislation may affect all aspects of transportation projects including planning, design, construction, and maintenance. It includes language on linking planning and NEPA processes.
Transportation agencies use GIS from the early inception of projects through planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of transportation networks.
Transportation agencies must address historic preservation and cultural resource issues during the transportation project planning and development processes under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. This includes potential impacts of transportation operations activities.
Transportation agencies are increasingly linking transportation and conservation by adopting best management practices, including roadside vegetation management plans, to avoid spread of invasive species through transportation operations.
Transportation operations is among the many elements that must be considered when evaluating potential project impacts under NEPA.
FHWA requires consideration of mitigation for highway traffic noise in the planning and design of Federally aided highways. These regulations establish standards for abating highway traffic noise during operations of transportation systems.
Sustainability refers to taking into account social, environmental and economic considerations in transportation. These principles are important in all aspects of transportation, including long-range planning and can then be carried through to short-range planning and program/project development, and operations.
Transportation activities, from project planning and development through operations and maintenance, are affected by a variety of requirements and initiatives related to the management, disposal, and recycling of wastes.
Protecting water quality is an ongoing environmental concern for transportation agencies, including requirements for stormwater runoff and mitigation or avoidance of impacts to wetlands and water resources. Operational considerations can play a role in effectively mitigating impacts to wetlands and managing stormwater runoff.
Sustainable transportation operations practices are employed to help reduce impacts on wildlife and ecosystems. These may include reducing stormwater pollutants from roadways or efforts to limit air quality impacts from vehicles.
The National Park Service has released a guidebook on improving active transportation to and within national parks. The guide includes an overview of NPS policies that support biking and walking projects and of state and regional transportation planning. The guide also includes strategies for improving multimodal activity and visitor programming for guided tours and specials events as well as the benefits of non-motorized, ‘car-free’ opportunities in national parks. In addition, the guide includes case studies on bicycle sharing and rental systems and highlights active transportation opportunities for employees. For more information, link to the guide. (7-24-18)
The National Association of City Transportation Officials has released guidelines to help cities and public entities manage dockless bike share and scooter share companies. The guidance addresses zoning regulations, the regulation of how small vehicles are parked, and municipalities with existing contracts with vendors to run bike share systems. The guidance highlights the pros and cons of several parking options and provides an overview of discount and engagement programs. Current practices in cities such as Austin, Boulder, and Los Angeles also are included regarding fleet sizes, implemented fees, and parking policies. For more information, link to the guide. (7-11-18)
The incorporation of transportation network companies (TNC) into the mix of transportation options is addressed in Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Report 195. TNCs, also known as ride-hailing apps, include companies such as Lyft and Uber. The report indicates that TNC use is heaviest during the evening hours and weekends and that such trips are often short and concentrated in downtown areas. The report also finds that TNCs are used occasionally and not as a main form of transportation, and that there is no clear connection between TNC use and changes in transit ridership. However, TNC use is associated with decreases in single-occupant vehicle trips. The report uses data from TNC trips, a shared mobility survey, and transit rider surveys from Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Jersey, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. For more information, link to the report. (7-7-18)
A report from the International Transport Forum looks at ways to manage growing competition for access to curbs in cities. The study evaluates a shift from parking vehicles on the street to use of pickup and drop-off zones, both for passengers and for freight. The report finds the need for a strategic approach to allocating public space in cities, including at the curb. It includes a series of recommendations, including developing a system of designating streets according to their primary purpose, making room for ride services, and managing curb space dynamically. For more information, link to the report. (6-8-18)
The International Transport Forum has released a report regarding a January 2018 roundtable held in Paris for improving the safety of cyclists. The report indicates that despite the net health benefits of cycling, which are larger for senior citizens, cycling continues to be unpopular in many countries and that a fear of crashes is often cited as a deterrent from cycling. The report also finds that the safest areas tend to be where cycling infrastructure is most developed. The report has a number of recommendations, including providing more bicycle infrastructure, requiring motor vehicles to reduce speeds, setting ambitious targets for collecting injury data and reducing fatalities, and the regulating electric bikes to ensure safety and ergonomics. For more information, link to the report. (5-17-18)
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has issued a nationwide assessment of the state of the bike share industry. The report says that 35 million bike share trips were taken in 2017, a 25 percent increase from 2016. The number of suppliers of bike share equipment has increased from three major companies to 10, including five major dockless bike share systems. Bike share has increased in cities nationwide, but four systems—in Boston, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.—make up 74 percent of all rides. Dockless bike systems make up 44 percent of the number of bicycles but only 4 percent of the rides. Almost one-third of systems now have an income-based discount program. For more information, link to the report. (5-1-18)
A set of performance measures that reflect the daily experience of people riding the bus are provided in a new report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. The report provides performance measures to address the movement of people, reliable travel, walking and biking access, safety, vibrant public space, and economic vitality. The number of people using the street, travel time range, excess wait time, and bicycling networks were analyzed in Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle. The report found that improved reliability, even without changes to travel time, is important to riders. The report also found that delays during peak hours have a much greater impact than those during off-peak hours. For more information, link to the report. (April 2018)
Bike share and transit systems have the potential to be complementary modes of travel, but more can be done to further integrate them, according to a synthesis report issued under the Transit Cooperative Research Program. The report, TCRP Synthesis 132: Public Transit and Bikesharing, said that there are still significant barriers to making bike share and transit more integrated. These include locating bike share docks near transit stops, integrated branding, having single payments for both transit and bikes, and combining operations and maintenance. However, bike share systems have helped expand transit catchment areas, increase first-mile and last-mile connections, and alleviate transit capacity concerns. Further research is needed on technology compatibility, economic impacts, and impacts on ridership. For more information, link to the report. (4-10-18)
A featured article from the Jan.-Feb. 2018 issue of TR News provides highlights of the Transportation Research Board’s 2017 State Partnership Visits Program. Issues the TRB discussed with state departments of transportation during the visits include ways in which state agencies should prepare for automated and connected vehicle technologies, the collection and maintenance of high-quality transportation data, and the efficient movement of freight. Other issues discussed include public transportation and the effects of transportation network companies, state experiences with assuming responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act, the use of recycled materials in highway construction, and highway maintenance and operations. For more information, link to the TRB article. (3-7-18)
The Shared-Use Mobility Center is seeking proposals for technical assistance under the On-Ramp Program for the development of mobility-on-demand (MOD) projects. The program is being implemented in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration to exchange MOD best practices and help integrate mobility tools for bike-sharing and car-sharing. Transportation providers will receive assistance to conduct workshops to determine mobility needs; participate with peer agencies; use research and analysis from the center; and develop a MOD business plan. A webinar is scheduled for Feb. 21, 2018. Proposals are due March 21, 2018. For more information, link to the announcement. (2-6-18)
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has released a report to make the case for investing in walking and biking within communities. The report says that developing sidewalks, street lighting, bike lanes, and crosswalks can reduce deaths, injuries, and associated medical costs. The report also says that studies indicate that the benefits of better air quality and more physical activity would be $8 billion per year if only half of short trips in the summer in Midwestern cities were taken by bike instead of car. In addition, examples from California, Colorado, and Tennessee are provided in which models and reports were created to calculate the economic and health benefits of active transportation. For more information, link to the report. (December 2017)
A report presenting an overview of the challenges and opportunities for governments to enable automated transit systems has been published under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The report, Impacts of Laws and Regulations on CV and AV Technology Introduction in Transit Operations (NCHRP Web-Only Document 239), analyzes the state of technology and various deployment scenarios for fully automated transit. The report also discusses the impacts of the technology on public safety, workforce development, and operating agency planning. In addition, the report discusses possible necessary changes to laws and regulations that govern public transportation to ensure continued financial and regulatory support and remove barriers to industry. The report was prepared under NCHRP Project 20-102. For more information, link to the report. (10-9-17)
The Environmental Protection Agency is soliciting proposals for projects that significantly reduce diesel emissions and exposure, especially from freight fleets operating in areas designated as having poor air quality. The agency expects to award about $40 million in fiscal year 2018 competitive grants under the Diesel Emissions Reductions Act Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program. Eligible applicants include regional, state, local, or tribal agencies, or port authorities with jurisdiction over transportation or air quality. Nonprofit organizations with a connection to transportation or air quality also may apply. Priority will be given to projects that engage and benefit local communities and applicants that demonstrate their ability to promote and continue efforts to reduce emissions. Applications are due June 12, 2018. For more information, link to the announcement and the request for proposals. (4-24-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has announced the availability of $60 million in grants to fund new transportation technologies. The grants are issued under the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program, which provides funding for the development of model deployment sites for the operation of advanced technologies. The agency is looking for eligible projects that focus on integrated corridor management, real-time traveler information, and traffic data collection and dissemination. The program provided $100 million to 13 states in 2016 and 2017. Applications are due June 18, 2018. For more information, link to the announcement. (4-18-18)
The Federal Transit Administration has selected 51 projects for its Low or No Emissions Grant Program for fiscal year 2017. Recipients in states such as Alaska, New Mexico, and Texas will receive a total of $55 million to purchase battery electric buses and energy storage systems. Projects also address the procurement of charging equipment, staff training, and facility maintenance. The Low-No Program provides funding to state and local governmental authorities for the purchase or lease of zero-emission and low-emission transit buses in addition to the acquisition, construction, and leasing of supporting facilities. The funding is available until 2020. For more information, link to the announcement and federal register notice. (3-19-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has announced the second round of designations for Alternative Fuel Corridors. For 2016 and 2017 combined, FHWA has received 58 nominations and designated segments or entire lengths of 71 Interstate corridors (including Hawaii) under the program. So far, 44 states (plus the District of Columbia) have facilities designated as corridor-ready or corridor-pending for one or more alternative fuel types (electric, hydrogen, propane, compressed natural gas, and liquid natural gas). Corridor-ready designees have sufficient fueling facilities on the corridor to warrant highway signage, whereas corridor-pending designees need additional facilities to warrant signage. For more information, link to the Alternative Fuel Corridors website. (3-9-18)
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has released a report concerning the estimation of traffic volumes from mobile devices. MnDOT and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute used StreetLight Data to analyze the accuracy of average annual daily traffic volume estimates and annual hourly volume estimates using actual volume counts from traffic monitoring sites. The report indicates that lower volume roadways had the highest errors. In addition, results from 12 nonpublic monitoring sites showed higher error compared to the public permanent sites, according to the report. The report recommends enhancements to improve accuracy and granularity of estimated traffic volumes. The I-95 Corridor Coalition is currently conducting similar research. For more information, link to the report. (December 2017)
The Federal Highway Administration has issued a report on the findings from a series of Regional Congestion Pricing Workshops held between March 2016 and May 2017. The three workshops were for sharing information on planning and implementing pricing programs in their regions. The workshops addressed congestion pricing concepts and strategies; policy barriers to planning, design, and operations and maintenance; operational and implementation case studies; and outreach and marketing. The report indicates that many newer price-managed lane projects include multiple access points that integrate them with activity centers. Workshops addressed equity concerns and provided strategies for strengthening political support for pricing programs and enhancing stakeholder awareness of the value. For more information, link to the report. (November 2017)
The Federal Highway Administration has issued a technology brief on a project to test technology on rolling terrain to optimize fuel consumption, called “eco-drive.” The FHWA tested connected automated vehicles on seven rolling roadway segments in Maryland and Virginia using the eco-drive controller. The brief said that as much as 20 percent of fuel consumption can be saved on certain terrains for a single vehicle without traffic interference. The brief also indicates that eco-drive may not be necessary for relatively even, flat roads. For more information, link to the report. (1-19-18)
The Transportation Research Board has released Research Report 862 to assist in potential deployment of fuel-efficient and low-emission truck freight strategies. The report addresses diversity in the trucking industry and several clean truck strategies. The report also provides an overview of alternative fuels and technologies that target fuel efficiency such as technologies for tractor trailers, tires, and idle-reduction. In addition, operational strategies to reduce travel, idling, and inefficient engine operations are provided and clean truck corridor infrastructure is highlighted. Finally, federal and state agency efforts are illustrated to show best practices. For more information, link to the report. (11-29-17)
The Federal Highway Administration has published a list of state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) that are required to establish targets and report progress for the performance measures related to the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ). Forty-two DOTs and 119 MPOs must establish targets for the On-road Source Emissions measure. Thirty-two DOTs and 44 MPOs must establish targets for the Traffic Congestion Measures. The FHWA is phasing in the requirements to implement CMAQ traffic congestion measures starting with areas with more than 1 million people, then expanding in 2022 to areas with over 200,000 residents. For more information, link to the applicability determination. (11-14-17)
The Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Center for Advancing Research in Transportation Emissions, Energy, and Health, will host a seminar on methodologies identified in environmental epidemiologic studies and the health effects of traffic-related pollution. Methodologies to be discussed include geographic information systems, modeling, and personal and remote sensing. The seminar also will review policy impacts and solutions to mitigate traffic-related pollution at the urban scale. The seminar is scheduled for Dec. 5, 2017 in College Station and via webinar. For more information, link to the announcement.
The Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has issued a report on the potential for using electric vehicles for government, commercial, and industrial purposes. The report focuses on highway vehicles that are not personal transport; non-highway modes such as rail, watercraft, and airport support; and non-road equipment used directly or in support of other uses. The report finds that electric vehicles are poorly suited for long-haul trucking but have potential for other vehicles where savings on fuel costs could be significant, such as transit buses, school buses, regional and local delivery trucks, utility service vehicles, and refuse trucks. The report also finds that low supply and low demand is hampering the development of options for commercial fleets, and that successful development will be a long process involving research and development, manufacturing, purchasing, and new regulations. For more information, link to the report. (10-20-17)
The Florida Department of Transportation, along with partners MetroPlan Orlando and the University of Central Florida, will be implementing projects funded by the Federal Highway Administration’s Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment program. FDOT and Orlando will use the nearly $12 million grant to implement and evaluate four intelligent transportation technologies to help reduce congestion and improve safety. GreenWay will use sensors and new traffic signal technology to help the transportation system quickly adapt to real-time traffic conditions. PedSafe will digitally connect vehicles, people, and traffic lights to develop pedestrian and bicycle collision avoidance. SmartCommunity will combine information from many different transportation options into a one-stop shop for trip planning. SunStore will be the FDOT’s integrated central data storage for system management and operations. For more information, link to the announcement. (10-16-17)
The Atlanta metropolitan area is one of the fastest growing population centers in the nation, and the Georgia Department of Transportation is working to make sure that having more people does not mean having more air pollution.
To accomplish that, GDOT has a suite of air quality initiatives, including diesel retrofits, improvements to highway incident management, and traffic signal optimization.
Of these, one of the lowest cost efforts with measurable results is Georgia Commute Options, GDOT’s travel demand management program operated in partnership with the Atlanta Regional Commission and local Transportation Management Associations (TMAs).
The program provides multiple benefits to the dynamic Atlanta region, according to Phil Peevy, GDOT’s Air Quality and Technical Resource Branch Chief. Congestion on the area’s highways is reduced when residents choose alternatives to driving by themselves, eliminating approximately 1.1 million vehicle miles traveled daily. Also, air pollution emissions are reduced by an estimated 550 tons per day.
Additionally, there are the intangible benefits of creating a more livable, friendly community for residents. “It is such a beneficial overall project,” Peevy said.
|Outreach effort for Georgia Commute Options Program. Photo: Georgia DOT|
Managing Travel Demand: A Low-Cost Option
Georgia Commute Options operates with funding from the Federal Highway Administration through its Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program. Recent studies and information from the FHWA indicate that travel demand management is a low cost but effective means of reducing air emissions. As compared to other programs such as transit upgrades or diesel retrofit programs, travel demand management ranks sixth in funding but third highest in total projects obligated.
Georgia Commute Options tackles the problem of single-occupancy vehicle travel in a number of ways. For instance, the program facilitates carpooling by making it easier to find people to share a car with. Those interested in participating can register at the program website where they will be joining tens of thousands of people already participating. The program matches carpoolers together based on where they live and where they work.
Additionally, the Georgia Commute Options offers a “Guaranteed Ride Home” option in which registered carpoolers can receive up to five rides per year—with some restrictions—in any of 20 counties in the region.
Georgia Commute Options also promotes vanpooling, which can carry up to 15 passengers to work. As with carpools, the program website helps participants find vanpools that operate close to home and work and includes the guaranteed ride home for unexpected situations. Public education and outreach for the carpool and vanpool programs are “100 percent eligible” for CMAQ funding, Peevy said.
Employers can partner with Georgia Commute Options to provide incentives to their employees to find commuting alternatives. The program provides free services to partners, such as consultations, metrics, webinars on alternative work arrangements, onsite events, and customized employee surveys. By offering alternative transportation options to commuters, these programs help employers to boost employee morale, enhance recruitment efforts, and reduce parking and facilities costs, Peevy said.
At present, more than 1,600 employers and property managers are participating, according to the website, and awards are presented annually in recognition of excellence.
Having a telework program is one thing an employer can do to participate, and Georgia Commute Options provides assistance, webinars, and a toolkit to design a program that works best for a company or organization. Sample policies, telework agreements, and memos to management, as well as surveys and checklists are some of the resources available on the website. Georgia Commute Options also sponsors a yearly Telework Week to train both workers and managers on successful telework arrangements.
Biking to work also is supported and promoted by Georgia Commute Options. The program offers on its website links to information regarding trails and other bicycle facilities, bike safety classes and advocacy, and a smart phone application developed by Georgia Tech that records bicycle travel data. Also, there are links to bicycle maps issued by the Atlanta Regional Commission and to GDOT standards, planning and guidance for bike and pedestrian facilities. Annually, the program sponsors a bike challenge, according to Peevy, which includes a series of outreach events.
Additionally, the Georgia Commute Options website provides links and information regarding nearly 20 transit systems both within the metropolitan Atlanta region and in other parts of the state. For example, the recent initiation of streetcar service in downtown Atlanta provides a new transit option that interconnects with the heavy rail system operated by MARTA, to fill in gaps in the public transportation system. The streetcar, a joint operation headed by the city of Atlanta, currently covers 2.7 miles with plans for future expansion throughout the downtown central business district.
Georgia Commute Options uses the power of technology to educate commuters, consolidate resources, and disseminate information, mostly through the program website. GDOT used a consultant to develop and provide ongoing operation of the website, according to Peevy. “However, Georgia DOT owns the website,” Peevy said.
Using resources from a previous website created by GDOT, the consultants made some enhancements and relaunched it as GaCommuteOptions.com. “Over the past year, improvements have been made to streamline the website to make it easier for users to find information, request materials, and sign up for Georgia Commute Options programs,” Peevy said.
In addition, to the website, the program holds a variety of events across the 20-county Atlanta area each month to educate commuters about the program.
A key piece to attracting new participants is the incentive program for clean commuters which is funded with CMAQ funds, these incentives include:
The incentives have been successful so far at reducing single-occupancy vehicle travel. Citing studies conducted by the Center for Transportation and the Environment on behalf of GDOT, Peevy said that with the $3-a-day program, 85 percent of the participants have continued with their clean commuting choices for as much as 24 months after completing the program.
Furthermore, the Georgia Commute Honors are held annually to recognize employer partners, property managers and individual commuters for their outstanding efforts, according to Peevy. “Publicly recognizing the employers that go the extra mile to make clean commute programs available to their employees goes a long way toward making those partners feel valued by the program, and thereby makes them more likely to continue their efforts,” Peevy said. The honorees are all participants in CMAQ-funded programs, Peevy said, and the ceremony is covered by a combination of CMAQ and state funds.
Georgia Commute Options is essentially attempting to change human behavior, and “it takes a while to do that,” Peevy said. He said the program tries to “focus on the long-term change.”
Also, since Georgia Commute Options is a completely voluntary program, “gas prices play a major role in participation numbers,” Peevy said. When gas is inexpensive and plentiful, participation in the program goes down, Peevy said.
Additionally, Atlanta has a federally-designated “smog season” that runs from April 1 to October 31. That is the busiest time for transportation demand management programs, and the best time for Georgia Commute Options to roll out new incentives and programs, Peevy said.
In 2015, for instance, the program offered the “Commute Pursuit,” a challenge to find better commute options. The challenge, which ran until July 31, included cash incentives to find a carpool, answering daily trivia questions about commuting, and posting pictures of clean commuting to social media. The promotion spurred an increase in participation. More than 500 people registered with Georgia Commute Options during the promotional period, with 101 of these commuters entering the $3 a day programs.
In regard to the incentive programs, a consultant handles the day-to-day operations. “Each month, the contractor runs reports to determine which commuters are eligible to win prizes then sends the prize recipients an e-mail with instructions to redeem their reward,” Peevy said. The prizes can be in the form of Visa reward cards, or in some cases a retail purchase reward, according to Peevy.
Peevy said the Georgia Commute Options program could easily be modified for use in other states, noting that there are a few states that have already done this exact thing.
“I would also recommend to anyone starting a new program from the ground up to keep their initial goals realistic and understand these programs can take time to get up and running,” he added.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have released a proposed rule to freeze vehicle fuel economy requirements and greenhouse gas emissions standards. The rule would set the 2021-2026 model year standards for car and light-duty truck fleets by locking in model year 2020 standards through 2026. The agencies assert that the proposed rule reflects a balance of safety, economics, technology, fuel conservation, and pollution reduction. The agencies also say that, if left in place, the current rules would impose more than $500 billion in societal costs on the U.S. economy over the next 50 years. The public will have 60 days to provide feedback once the proposal is published in the Federal Register. For more information, link to the Transportation Department’s announcement and the proposed rule. (8-2-18)
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has updated the Energy Department’s alternative fueling station locator. The tool supports those driving electric vehicles and vehicles running on ethanol, propane, natural gas, and hydrogen in finding fueling stations. The map is colored coded to display each fuel and includes the station address, directions, and phone number. The updated tool combines data from the U.S. and Canada to allow fleets to easily transport good between both countries. The tool was developed as part of a partnership between NREL and Natural Resources Canada. For more information, link to the announcement and station locator. (7-31-18)
The Midwest Alternative Fuel Corridor Convening held its first meeting to discuss challenges and opportunities to expanding alternative fuel corridors. The meeting included an analysis of designated corridors and infrastructure and an overview of Midwest corridor initiatives. Enhancement of multi-state collaboration, improving visibility, and revisions to the Alternative Fuels Data Center Station Locator Redesign and Corridor Tool were also addressed. The meeting, hosted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, was the first in a series of convenings sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration. For more information, link to the announcement. (7-16-18)
The Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) increased to 1.41 in 2017, up slightly from 2016 levels, according to a report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The AGGI is a single number that displays how much extra heat the atmosphere is able to trap every year. Chlorofluorocarbons were relatively smaller contributors to the direct warming influence over time and carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide were found to be the only greenhouse gases (GHGs) to continue to increase at regular rates over decades. The AGGI registered 1.40 in 2016, reflecting a 40 percent increase in the climate-warming influence of GHGs in the atmosphere since 1990, the baseline year. The AGGI began in 2006 to help decision makers understand GHG levels over time. It is updated each spring. For more information, link to the report. (5-30-18)
The Government Accountability Office has issued a report on how much the federal government spends on climate change programs. According to the report, federal climate change funding increased by $4.4 billion from 2010 to 2017, and 94 percent of reported funding within six agencies went to programs that touch on, but aren’t dedicated to climate change. The report recommends that the Office of Management Budget (OMB) reports should include information on climate related financial risks. The report also recommends that the OMB provide analysis on federal climate change programs it considers to be fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative. For more information, link to the report. (5-30-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has released a report on a peer exchange concerning the implementation of renewable energy technologies in highway rights-of-way and on other state department of transportation properties. The peer exchange, held in March 2018 in Salt Lake City, included site visits to several solar installations including rooftop, parking lot canopies, and ground-mounted solar panels. The Utah Solar Energy Association provided information on the state’s solar industry and host agency Utah DOT shared their efforts to install electric vehicle charging stations and to upgrade LED lights at the state DOT offices to reduce electricity bills. The exchange also highlighted Hawaii DOT’s installation of solar-powered radar sensors, signs, and pavement markers. Participants indicated that factsheets on solar benefits and other shared information would be helpful to advance highway renewable energy projects. For more information, link to the report. (5-30-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has released a recording of an April 18, 2018, web conference regarding alternative fuels and electric freight trucks. The seminar included presentations concerning the current state of fueling infrastructure, vehicle range for electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles, and fuels commonly used in the freight industry. The seminar also addressed the challenges of using compressed natural gas instead of diesel for freight trucks, including the maintenance costs and fuel prices. In addition, presenters discussed the use of renewable hydrocarbon diesel in freight trucks and freight electrification. For more information, link to the recording, transcript, and presentations. (5-22-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has issued a summary report on the Renewable Energy in Highway Rights of Way Peer Exchange, held in February 2018. The report summarizes transportation agencies’ presentations from Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, and host state Missouri as well as federal agencies and academic institutions. The peer exchange brought together practitioners to discuss issues related to and approaches for accommodating renewable energy technologies in highway rights-of-way and other state DOT properties. For more information, link to the report. (5-1-18)
The Environmental Protection Agency has released the final midterm evaluation for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for light trucks and cars for model years 2022-2025. The EPA has determined that the current GHG standards are not appropriate and should be revised. The evaluation is based on consumer behavior, feedback on modeling approaches, and assessment of advanced fuels technologies. The California waiver for imposing stricter vehicle emission standards is also under evaluation. A proposed rule will be developed in consultation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set GHG and Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. For more information, link to the announcement. (4-2-18)
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has released a report regarding best practices and challenges for the planning, procurement, infrastructure installation, operation, and maintenance of battery electric buses. The report includes survey responses from 18 transportation agencies that address bus technical specifications, operational requirements, and route selection. The report also highlights location characteristics of charging infrastructure, electricity rates, staff training on new technology, and capitol and operational costs. The report identifies several challenges for bus adoption in the U.S. that include higher upfront costs of electric buses, public engagement, and the need to review procurement and contractual frameworks. For more information, link to the report. (3-21-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has announced the second round of designations for Alternative Fuel Corridors. For 2016 and 2017 combined, FHWA has received 58 nominations and designated segments or entire lengths of 71 Interstate corridors (including Hawaii) under the program. So far, 44 states (plus the District of Columbia) have facilities designated as corridor-ready or corridor-pending for one or more alternative fuel types (electric, hydrogen, propane, compressed natural gas, and liquid natural gas). Corridor-ready designees have sufficient fueling facilities on the corridor to warrant highway signage, whereas corridor-pending designees need additional facilities to warrant signage. For more information, link to the Alternative Fuel Corridors website. (3-9-18)
A webinar for public transportation agencies to discuss Electrify America LLC’s Cycle 2 National and California Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Investment Plans will be held on Feb. 14, 2018. Electrify America manages the $2 billion investment commitment resulting from the settlement with Volkswagen Group of America over emissions violations. The investment commitment is intended to encourage the adoption of ZEVs. The company seeks input and data relevant to the second cycle of funding, suggestions for educational events, site nominations for infrastructure development, and feedback on cycle 1 investments. Cycle 2 implementation is planned for July 2019 through December 2021. Comments are due March 1, 2018. For information on types of input solicited as part of the second investment plan, along with an online form for submitting input, link here. For webinar registration information, link here.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has established a Climate Communications Initiative (CCI). The CCI will address public questions concerning climate change, provide easy-to-understand evidence-based information, facilitate communication efforts, and develop innovative approaches to climate change. An advisory committee also has been created to develop a strategic plan for the CCI to identify near- and longer-term activities and monitor the impact of products of the initiative. The initiative is intended to help citizens and decision-makers respond to climate change. A committee meeting is scheduled for March 6-7, 2018. For more information, link to the announcement. (1-23-18)
Auto manufacturers continue to innovate, increase fuel economy, and reduce pollution according to two new reports released by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975-2017 report indicates that model year (MY) 2016 vehicle fuel economy was 24.7 mpg, slightly higher than MY 2015. The report also illustrates that consumers have an increasing number of high fuel economy/low carbon dioxide vehicle choices. The second report, Manufacturer Performance, addresses how well manufacturers are meeting greenhouse gas emission standards for light-duty vehicles. The report indicates that all manufacturers are in compliance with the standards. For more information, link to the announcement. (1-11-18)
The Transportation Research Board has issued a report on a May 2017 international symposium, Decarbonizing Transport for a Sustainable Future: Mitigating Impacts of the Changing Climate. The event was the fifth annual transportation research symposium sponsored by the European Commission and the United States. The symposium included discussion of partnership development with co-benefits, policy impact on climate mitigation strategies, approaches in megaregions, and freight transport. The report includes a potential portfolio of research for U.S. and European Union collaboration developed as a result of the symposium and suggests opportunities for trans-Atlantic information sharing. For more information, link to the report. (1-8-18)
The Transportation and Climate Initiative has announced the continued support of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to explore strategies to reduce carbon emissions, improve transportation, and advance investments in clean transportation technologies. The states have been working together since 2015 and will continue by facilitating discussions to share goals and perspectives and to diversify transportation systems. To support these efforts, the Georgetown Climate Center released a report concerning market-based approaches to a multi-state transportation policy. The report provides an overview of the transportation fuel system in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions and how a cap-and-invest system covering gasoline and on-road diesel could operate. The report recommends complementary financing strategies to advance clean transportation markets. For more information, link to the announcement. (11-13-17)
The U.S. Global Change Research Program has released its 4th National Climate Assessment to highlight recent findings concerning climate change. The assessment indicates that it is extremely likely that human activities are the dominant cause of warming since the mid-20th century. The assessment also illustrates the significant probability of unanticipated effects occurring, such as multiple extreme weather events occurring simultaneously. The assessment addresses climate models and scenarios, physical drivers of climate change, and changes in precipitation nationwide. The likelihood of droughts, floods, and wildfires as well as extreme storms and sea level rise are also highlighted. For more information, link to the assessment. (11-3-17)
The Department of Energy has released a report on enabling use of fast-charge power stations to increase use of battery electric vehicles (BEV). The study recommends extreme fast charging – at 400 kilowatts for BEVs to be competitive with internal combustion engine vehicles. It provides an overview of BEVs, battery costs, and barriers to extreme fast charging. It also outlines associated research and development needs to resolve such challenges. For more information, link to the report. (October 2017)
Generating 6 megawatts (MW) of electricity per year from solar farms is not a typical goal for a state transportation agency. But for Massachusetts DOT (MassDOT), setting that goal is part of a 20-year public-private partnership it has embarked upon with a renewable energy company located in the eastern part of the state.
Under the contract, the private sector partner has agreed to finance, develop, design, construct, commission, operate, maintain, and eventually decommission solar facilities at ten pre-approved sites it leases across the state. The rows of ground-mounted solar panels are located on small parcels of state-owned land along highway embankments, exit ramps, and service plazas.
Phase 1A of the MassDOT Highway Right of Way Solar Photovoltaic Energy Program was completed in October 2015 and included five locations. Phase 1B, comprising five additional locations, is awaiting start of construction. And Phase2A, as envisioned, will include three additional sites.
“We are very pleased to be spearheading an initiative that is bringing both economic and environmental benefits,” says Hongyan Oliver, Project Manager of the solar program.
|Solar arrays, such as this facility along I-90, are being developed on MassDOT’s highway rights of way. Photo: Massachusetts DOT|
“The state expects to generate at least $15 million in savings over the contract period. These savings include about $2 million in rent from the leases on state properties, money that goes into the state’s transportation fund. What’s more, the arrangement entailed zero upfront capital cost for us,” according to Oliver.
Another advantage of forming a public-private partnership is the generous incentives available to the private sector partner. In this case, besides receiving a federal income tax reduction, its partner also is tapping into the state’s Solar Renewable Credits (SREC) system. For its part, MassDOT obtains all net metering credits and associated energy savings. The state’s net metering policy allows a customer to sell power generated by distributed generation back to the grid at a certain price (the meter spins backwards).
“We are purchasing 100 percent of the electricity these solar farms are generating,” explains Oliver. “And because our partner is benefitting from the solar incentives, the purchase rates we have been able to negotiate are significantly lower than current utility rates. At this point, the solar power from the ten planned sites can meet approximately six percent of our needs; we expect that figure to rise as more solar farms from our partnership enter the grid.”
The solar program also brings strong environmental benefits. The power being generated will produce zero greenhouse gas emissions, says Oliver, thereby supporting Massachusetts’ commitment to a green and clean economy. It also supports MassDOT’s GreenDOT sustainability initiative.
“Once we fully reach our goal of generating 6 megawatts (MW) of electricity per year, we anticipate a CO2 emissions reduction of approximately 6.8 million pounds annually due to replacing fossil fuel electricity in the grid with solar power,” Oliver explains. “That is the equivalent of annual greenhouse gas emissions from 630 passenger vehicles.”
MassDOT has joined a small but growing number of state DOTs that are beginning to utilize highway rights-of-way (ROW) as locations for siting renewable energy production facilities. Oregon led the way in 2008, becoming the first agency in the United States to install a solar panel array along a highway ROW (see related case study). Over the next several years, Ohio and Colorado followed suit. In addition, at least seven state DOTS have constructed solar array or wind turbine installations at rest areas or carports that abridge highways, according to a recent FHWA publication.
The agency began its foray into the solar energy field in 2011 by releasing a parcel of state land adjacent to a highway to the adjoining town. The town had received an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant to produce solar power for its water treatment plant.
“Actually, we received indirect benefits from the project in that the public began to become accustomed to the concept of solar panels being installed next to a highway,” Oliver explains.
During that same year, her agency was beginning to have discussions about developing what now is the MassDOT solar program.
“One of the first things we did was contact our counterparts in Oregon,” Oliver explains. “Although the business model we eventually selected was different, many other components were the same. ”
The agency began with a small pilot project in the western part of the state designed to supply one-third of the energy needs of a nearby District Highway Administration building. Then it was time to move into the next phase, its multi-facility program.
“Realizing that site selection was one of the most critical elements, we hired a consultant to do the evaluation,” says Oliver.
Criteria for selection included parcel size and orientation, any existing environmental concerns, distance from the grid, easy access during construction, no interference with highway operation, and no conflict with future transportation use. Another consideration was whether a site was adjacent to a federally-funded highway, which would mean obtaining FHWA approval. Finally, if either environmental concerns or a solar zoning by-law was present, town approval would be needed.
Once sites were selected, a Request for Response (RFR) was sent out and the current partner company was selected after a three-stage competitive process. Prior to the issuance of the RFR, the Department updated its utility accommodation policy in coordination with the FHWA Mass division. Its policy now includes guidelines for renewable energy technologies. It also outlines safety criteria and design standards, the project development process, compensation requirements, and relevant license and lease agreements.
|Less conspicuous than the rows and rows of solar panels, the inverter, transformer and data acquisition system are the heart and the brain of a solar farm. (Photo: Massachusetts DOT)|
“Developing multiple sites across the state under the same program umbrella makes us somewhat unique,” says Oliver. “From our perspective, this approach has a number of advantages.”
First, she explains, it requires only one procurement document, and the process is carried out through a single open bid. Second, with multiple sites in the same project, the owner and operator of the solar farms may be able to purchase equipment and subcontractors’ services in bulk at a discount, and construction mobilization can occur at multiple sites simultaneously.
“In addition,” according to Oliver, “we have been able to learn through experience as we move through the program and integrate more strategic approaches along the way.
Other states may be well positioned to create similar programs, she said. Those that decide to pursue such a program should be aware of any site conditions or regulatory constraints that can affect generation capacity as well as available incentives.
“In our case, for instance, construction for the five sites in Phase 1B originally was slated to begin in spring 2015. However, that start date has been put on hold due to the situation of excess-demand for net metering incentives in Massachusetts.”
Oliver also advises that other states “work very closely with other divisions and sections to incorporate all concerns and requirements during site selection and development.”
Fortunately, she continues, her Planning Division uses a 25-year projection window, an extremely compatible timeframe in this case. She and her team members maintained constant communication throughout the process, especially during site selection.
Oliver concludes, “So far, the decision to use some of our highway right-of-way land to produce solar energy has proven to be extremely sound. And looking ahead, we anticipate only more of the same. ”
For more information, contact MassDOT Project Manager Dr. Hongyan (Lily) Oliver at Hongyan.Oliver@state.ma/us or link to http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/energyinitiative/Solar.aspx.
An array of hundreds of solar panels stretching 540 feet along an Oregon highway is helping to power a nearby interchange with clean, renewable energy through a unique public-private partnership that could serve as a model for the nation.
Oregon’s “Solar Highway Project” sits at the interchange of Interstates 5 and 205 in Tualatin, Ore., at the south end of the Portland metropolitan area. The project is the nation’s first roadside solar photovoltaic demonstration project.
According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, the project’s 594 solar panels produce about 122,000 kilowatt hours annually. The panels produce energy during the day which is used to light the interchange at night. ODOT buys the energy produced by the array at the same rate the agency pays for regular energy from the grid.
This clean, renewable source of energy will help the agency meet the mandate from Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski that state agencies obtain all of their electricity from renewable sources. By replacing energy from the grid, the solar electricity produced by the project will avoid the production of nearly 43 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year.
The $1.28 million project, which has been in operation for just over one year, was developed through an innovative public-private partnership between ODOT; Portland General Electric (PGE), Oregon’s largest utility; and US Bank. Material providers included Solar World US, the nation’s largest solar panel manufacturer, and PV Powered, the nation’s largest inverter manufacturer.
Making the Most of the ‘Right-of-Way Asset.’
ODOT Project Director Allison Hamilton explained that under this unique partnership “the public gets multiple values out of its right-of-way asset.”
“Using state and federal tax credits, the renewable energy projects are developed at least possible cost, which benefits the utility rate payers – including ODOT and the State of Oregon, “ Hamilton said. At the same time, ODOT gets green energy at grid rate instead of the higher green energy rate, she added.
“The solar energy project is owned, operated and maintained by the utility, which also assumes all the risk, and is responsible for maintenance of the right of way for the term of the contract (from 25 years up to 40 years or more),” Hamilton explained. But the utility also gets to count the project towards its renewable energy portfolio requirements, she said.
“It’s a win-win-win business model,” Hamilton added.
ODOT officials and PGE officials have deemed the project a success, demonstrating that solar arrays can complement and not compromise the transportation system.
In fact, Hamilton said the project has exceeded expectations, producing more than the expected 112,000 kilowatt hours in its first year, with only one maintenance incident where a panel was cracked and had to be replaced.
As a result, Oregon DOT and its partners – utility providers and private businesses – are poised to expand production of solar energy at the demonstration site and as well as other locations in the state.
Third Party Financing Model
According to ODOT, these public-private partnerships are expected to follow the same type of third-party financing model developed for the demonstration project.
“The utilities would contract with solar developers to design, build and install the arrays, which they – the utilities or limited liability companies involving the utilities – would own, operate and maintain, and which could count towards meeting statutory requirements to develop renewable energy resources. The utilities would also be responsible for maintenance and successful operation of the arrays, including any damage due to vandalism or crashes,” according to a summary on the demonstration project website.
ODOT would have a 25-year agreement to purchase all electricity generated by the solar projects, with options to renew for up to three five-year extensions.
DOTs Urged to Work with Utilities
Hamilton said many other states have expressed interest in following Oregon’s lead, but she stressed that each state will have unique circumstances. “Because each state has its own utility regulations, I would recommend project proponents work with or through their utility to learn the most efficient and cost effective way to size, permit and connect a project, and also to determine the most advantageous financing and ownership model,” she said.
“We learned that the larger the installation, the better, as you are able to spread your fixed costs out over more kilowatts, bringing down the cost per installed kilowatt” compared to the cost of existing grid energy.
Hamilton urged transportation agencies that are interested in developing a solar highway project to take advantage of the expertise of the utility, whose core business is energy generation.
“Oregon’s state transportation system has nearly 19,000 lane miles of right-of-way and there are more than 8 million lane miles of right-of-way across the nation,” according to an ODOT project summary. “Solar arrays on less than 1 percent of Oregon’s right-of-way could supply the nearly 50 million kilowatt hours needed annually by the state transportation system,” the agency said.
The project has been recognized with numerous honors, including the Federal Highway Administration’s 2009 Environmental Excellence Awards.
A wide range of information is available on the project website, www.oregonsolarhighway.com, including a solar highway meter that tracks energy generated on-site, news releases, photos, videos, research, technical documents, and information on planning for future projects. Additional information also is available by contacting Allison Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) is promoting the use of renewable fuels across the state, increasing the number of fueling stations that offer renewables through its “Green Islands” program.
While E10 (a mixture of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline) is now widely available, an increasing portion of the U.S. automobile fleet has been manufactured to be "flexfuel," and able to use E85 (a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline). Additionally, most diesel engines are able to use B20 (a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petrodiesel). However, a major impediment to increasing adoption of renewable fuels such as E85 and B20 is the lack of infrastructure to distribute the fuel.
TDOT faced this issue by helping establish a "green islands biofuel corridor network" of fueling stations not more than 100 miles apart along the highways that connect the state's major cities and destinations. The goal of "green islands” is to enable travel across the state using biofuel exclusively. These alternative fuel stations provide public access to biofuels along major corridors for consumers wishing to use them and reduce their consumption of fossil fuel. While some gaps in the network remain, TDOT will continue to offer grants to fuel stations as incentives to fill the gaps.
|Tennessee DOT’s Green Island program increases public access to biofuels. Source: Tennessee DOT|
“Increasing the availability and use of biofuels in Tennessee will help increase energy security, reduce air pollution and benefit the state’s economy, according to Alan Jones, Manager of the Policy Office in TDOT’s Long Range Planning Division. “The Green Islands grant program encourages fuel stations to offer these fuels to the driving public,” he said.
The benefits of reducing fossil fuel consumption and displacing imported petroleum with alternative fuels have been discussed for many years. However, the "green island" concept accelerated in the early 2000's when the Tennessee Farm Bureau started investigating how the state's agricultural community could assist in biofuel production. A vision of a vertically integrated biofuels industry wholly within Tennessee ("From Farm to Fuel Tank in Tennessee") began to take hold.
The Tennessee legislature was called upon to pass legislation to implement the vision. Proponents discussed obtaining seed money, such as grants, to advance the concept. The legislature determined that encouraging in-state biofuel production was in the state's economic interest, and therefore worth providing incentives. One law passed by the legislature named the TDOT to be the agency to manage a grant program for fuel stations to encourage increased availability of biofuels to motorists and vehicle fleet owners in the state. The grant program offered funding to purchase and install biofuel storage and fuel dispensing equipment across the state. TDOT stepped up, administering a program to provide public access to the fuel.
TDOT has since published several Requests for Proposals (RFP) aimed at gas stations willing to make biofuels publicly available for four years, in return for grant funding to help purchase and install the infrastructure. A subsidy was set at a maximum of $45,000 per biofuel pump. The maximum grant was capped at $90,000 for a single location, if the station proposed to sell both biofuels, E85 and B20, to the general public.
While most applicants proposed one or two pumps, several owners proposed multiple stations to achieve economies of scale. One owner proposed three locations, and received a total benefit of $270,000. Presently there are 60 E85 pumps statewide. Around half were installed by private sector operators deciding on their own to offer biofuels to their customers.
When stations meet their four-year contract obligation, many continue to sell the fuels, but some do not. Stations that have been the most successful helped market the fuel on their own. The vision of "From Farm to Fuel Tank in Tennessee" remains, although increasing the use of biofuels has lagged for numerous reasons. State grant funds remain available for stations still interested in selling alternative fuels.
Funding for the program has come from several sources. The state's first E85 pump, which came on-line in 2003, was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. In air quality nonattainment areas, TDOT used funds from the Federal Highway Administration's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. TDOT also received significant state funding from the state’s General Assembly for the green islands program.
An important part of the program includes increasing public awareness about biofuel, its benefits, and where drivers can purchase these cleaner fuels. As part of the interstate blue logo sign program, TDOT developed and posted blue signs with a biofuel image to advertise the locations of green island stations.
Grants provide an incentive for fuel stations to install the fueling infrastructure but, in the long run, stations will not continue to sell biofuels unless their customers buy them. Sustaining market demand for biofuels will require a more vigorous advertising and public education campaign at the state and national level.
For more information on the program, contact Alan Jones, Policy Manager, Long Range Planning Division, TDOT, at Alan.Jones@tn.gov.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) expects to use an increasing number of properties and rights-of-way for the installation of solar power projects that could help the agency meet its renewable energy goals, reduce emissions and save money, joining seven other state departments of transportation in developing such facilities.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation Solar Plan was issued in December 2016 to help with the complex decision making involved in siting and operating solar projects.
The plan defines for the agency the costs, benefits and processes of solar photovoltaic (PV) installation in the state, with the goal of understanding and navigating toward successful solar developments. The plan is required by state law, but just as importantly it serves to communicate the agency’s goals to the public, said Gina Campoli, a retired VTrans project manager who oversaw the plan development.
|The Vermont Agency of Transportation is installing solar projects to offset energy use at its properties statewide, such as this solar array at the Rutland Airport. Photo: VTrans|
“The former [state transportation] secretary felt it was very important for the public to understand the various processes that we were using to develop projects, [including] why we were developing projects, why on Earth the Agency of Transportation was getting into the solar business, what were the processes we were going to use when we planned projects, just like we would for a transportation project,” Campoli said.
Vermont joins a growing number of state DOTs, including Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio and Oregon, that are beginning to use transportation properties for siting renewable energy facilities, according to the plan. Vermont used Oregon DOT’s solar plan as a reference for their own, even commissioning the same consulting firm to prepare the plan, Campoli said. (See related case studies for Massachusetts and Oregon.)
Solar PV at VTrans
There has never been a better time for VTrans to install solar generation, according to the plan. It describes several factors driving the momentum for solar PV at VTrans. These include:
Also, the Vermont state Comprehensive Energy Plan sets an ambitious goal of having 90 percent of the state’s energy needs—both state government operations and the private sector—met by renewable sources by 2050, Campoli said. For VTrans, that means power for street lights, traffic signals, all of the equipment in the maintenance garages, computers and office lights. “There is a ton of power we consume,” Campoli said.
The state energy planning requirement has allowed VTrans to document and better understand its energy footprint, Campoli said. Knowing the amount of energy use “justifies the investment in solar,” she said.
“There is enough sun in Vermont,” Campoli said.
How to Implement
The plan discusses how VTrans—or any other state DOT—would pursue development of more solar PV projects, steps that include assembling a project team, evaluating potential project sites, evaluating financial arrangements and ownership models, performing due diligence, and final implementation.
At VTrans, a team has already screened candidate sites at VTrans-owned properties and highway rights-of-way sites. Using tools such as VTrans’ geographic information system, the mapping office found that 124 out of 375 sites demonstrated potential for solar PV. Further screening has narrowed the list to 24 sites.
After sites are identified, VTrans must conduct analysis to determine whether the site merits continued development. Such analysis includes a study of the requirements for utility interconnection, environmental impact analysis at the state and, if necessary, federal level, and engagement with stakeholders and the public.
As a public agency, VTrans would need to investigate possible public-private partnerships including a power purchase agreement—where the agency agrees to buy electricity from the project developer—and a site license or lease agreement that grants a third party the right to install the system. Also, VTrans would need a net metering agreement with the local utility to allow the agency to receive credit for its power production, something VTrans is already doing with the solar arrays installed at maintenance garages, Campoli said.
VTrans will need to make some organizational adjustments to continue to pursue solar projects. The plan recommends having a dedicated PV projects manager and the necessary support from agency leadership.
Additionally, VTrans must consider the markets for renewable energy, federal and state financial incentives, and regulations and policies with regard to renewables, including Vermont’s own renewable energy standard.
If using federal-aid rights-of-way, state DOTs must comply with all federal requirements including ensuring that vehicle safety and the transportation purpose are not compromised, and performing environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. Campoli noted that placing solar facilities within federal right-of-way increases the complexity of the project, and therefore nearly all of the projects VTrans has installed so far have been on state land. The 24 sites that VTrans has identified as having a high potential for solar PV are mostly either VTrans maintenance garages or regional airports.
According to the plan, if the project is for a public utility, siting and permitting can be managed in accordance with state's approved utility accommodation policy (UAP) without further FHWA approval. Facility types not currently in the UAP must be referred to the FHWA division office, and projects that are strictly for private use are subject to federal right-of-way use agreement regulations.
The VTrans renewables plan is part of a state planning effort that is an interagency collaboration including the Department of Buildings and General Services and the Department of Public Service, the state’s utility regulator, Campoli said. “We’ve broken down silos on this issue,” she said.
Also, the projects that are operational are already paying dividends. “The Rutland Airport is producing way beyond our wildest expectations,” Campoli said, noting that production can exceed what is promised by PV panel manufacturers.
Additionally, more land with solar panels equals more solar power generation. However, it is important to site the solar panels in locations that consider future transportation needs, Campoli said, by making sure that the panels are not where a future storage area or parking lot will need to go. Meeting the agency’s goals for renewables will require VTrans to find additional sites, such as interchanges or cloverleaves, former quarry or gravel sites, brownfield sites, inactive or abandoned weigh stations, and park and ride areas, the plan said.
VTrans has set a renewable electricity goal for the agency of 25 percent. To meet that target, an additional 610 kW of capacity—that generates 715,000 kWh—is needed. This capacity is equivalent to an additional seven projects like the system installed in 2016 at Fair Haven Welcome Center or 36 additional 15 kW garage projects.
For these larger PV facilities, such as the 75 kW Fair Haven project within the federal right-of-way, the agency will need to establish partnerships. VTrans also should continue to coordinate with stakeholders such as the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation and the various regional planning commissions to determine if VTrans sites could meet mutually beneficial goals, the plan said.
For more information, link to the Vermont Agency of Transportation Solar Plan or contact Daniel Dutcher, Vermont Agency of Transportation Senior Environmental Policy Analyst at Daniel.Dutcher@vermont.gov.
Recently published case studies regarding the co-benefits of multimodal networks and green infrastructure are highlighted in the July 2018 issue of the Federal Highway Administration’s Successes in Stewardship newsletter. The case studies are designed to provide information for agencies interested in improvements to their pedestrian and bicycle networks that incorporate green infrastructure and resiliency benefits. The issue highlights 14 projects from a report issued by the FHWA earlier this year. For more information, link to the newsletter and the report. (8-2-18)
Rhode Island is taking steps to combat climate change through the development of its initiative, “Resilient Rhody”. The strategy was developed to prioritize investments, leverage planning, identify actions and competencies, provide resources and tools, and equitably reduce the impacts of climate change. The plan addresses the state’s current climate, stormwater infrastructure, energy security, transportation and transit infrastructure, and impacts on coastal wetlands and beaches. The plan also addresses the state’s evacuation zones and emergency routes and social determinants of climate vulnerability. For more information, link to the strategy. (7-13-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has released a report regarding the joint pilot project with the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) to develop coastal green infrastructure in two locations along State Route 1. The project proposed the incorporation of nature-based elements in areas vulnerable to coastal and urban runoff. DelDOT plans to add at one location a sand dune levee, create a tidal marsh, retrofit a rock sill, add an oyster reef and oyster bag stabilization, and replace an existing storm drain outfall with a larger culvert and tide gate. DelDOT also proposes to add sediment forebays and level spreaders at the other location. For more information, link to the report. (7-11-18)
Boston has announced further steps to create a more resilient city. The city’s two-year pilot program will encourage adoption of five utility technologies to prepare infrastructure for climate change and to reduce traffic congestion and roadway construction. The “Smart Utilities Policy” will address, among other things, the installation of green infrastructure in projects over 100,000 square feet, smart street lights that will allow the installation of vehicle to infrastructure communication, and adaptive signal technology to make multi-modal travel more efficient. The policy is the first of its kind in the U.S., according to the city, and follows the adoption of Climate Ready Boston, an initiative to enhance near- and long-term climate change preparedness and resiliency. For more information, link to the announcement. (6-19-18)
Environmental compliance and the use of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews during emergencies is addressed in the Federal Highway Administration’s new issue of its Successes in Stewardship newsletter. The newsletter highlights how the NEPA process is different when conducted under emergency conditions and includes a list of other environmental laws that states must comply with during an emergency. The FHWA and Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) offer programs to help fund unusually heavy expenses associated with declared emergencies. These programs can provide funding for hazard mitigation and resilience features if projects are in compliance with the NEPA process, according to the newsletter. For more information, link to the newsletter. (6-19-18)
A report documenting how resilience efforts are being incorporated within transportation agencies’ functions and services has been issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Resilience in Transportation Planning, Engineering, Management, Policy, and Administration (NCHRP Synthesis 527), describes agencies motivations and approaches for integrating resilience into planning, engineering, construction, maintenance, operations, and administration. It includes five case study examples from Arizona DOT, Colorado DOT, and Delaware DOT, as well as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Genesee Transportation Council. For more information, link to the prepublication version of the report. (6-11-18)
California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has issued a list of 36 indicators of climate change within the state. The indicators encompass human-influenced drivers, including greenhouse gases (GHG); changes in the state’s climate; impacts on oceans, lakes, and snowpack; and impacts on humans, vegetation, and wildlife. The indicators reveal that climate change is occurring in California and is having significant impacts. The report also indicates that the state’s GHG emissions are declining, with emissions per capita and per dollar of its gross domestic product declining since 1990. The report shows that average air temperatures have increased throughout the state. For more information, link to the report. (5-9-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has announced its latest round of extreme weather and vulnerability assessment pilot projects. The newly announced pilots will address integration of resilience into agency practices; use of available tools and resources to assess vulnerability and risk; and deploying resilience solutions and monitoring performance. The pilots will be conducted by the following agencies: Atlanta Regional Commission, Bi-State Regional Commission, California Department of Transportation (DOT), Corpus Christi Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Hillsborough MPO, Houston-Galveston Area Council, Massachusetts DOT, Mid-America Regional Council; the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Pennsylvania DOT, and Utah DOT. For more information and project descriptions, link to the announcement. (4-20-18)
A report describing lessons transportation agencies have learned from extreme weather events over a six-year period has been issued by AASHTO’s Resilient and Sustainable Transportation Systems program. The report, Resiliency Case Studies: State DOT Lessons Learned, describes how transportation agencies can become more resilient in anticipating and responding to future events. Case studies describe lessons learned from the following extreme events: Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont (2011); 500- and 1,000-year flooding events in Louisiana (2016); Flooding and Rock Falls in Colorado (2013 and 2016); Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina (2016); an ice storm in Atlanta, Ga. (2014); the Moore tornado in Oklahoma (2013); coastal landslides in California (2017); and hurricanes Hermine and Matthew in Florida (2016). Interview findings from these eight state DOTs and the cross-cutting lessons learned are categorized into three subject areas: planning and design, policies and regulations, and emergency response. For more information, link to the report. (5-10-18)
The National Governors Association, supported by Department of Energy’s Infrastructure Security and Energy Restoration Division, has announced test projects for the State Resilience Assessment and Planning (SRAP) Tool. The SRAP Tool is a self-assessment to help governors to understand their states’ resilience by identifying gaps in planning and preparedness. The NGA will work with Idaho, Maryland, and Oregon on the test projects and to identify best practices in adapting to, withstanding, and recovering from disasters. Based on the results of this round of tests, the NGA will host policy retreats. Governors increasingly face human and natural disasters that can negatively impact the viability of energy, water, transportation, and other critical infrastructure. In 2017 alone, there were 16 weather- and climate-related disasters with losses including a total estimated cost of more than $300 billion and 362 deaths. For more information, link to the announcement. (4-11-18)
The County of San Mateo, California, has issued a sea level rise vulnerability assessment. The report says that the highly vulnerable county has over $1 billion worth of buildings and infrastructure at risk to near-term flooding. Long-term exposure to erosion and flooding could affect real estate worth $39.1 billion, including 30,000 residential and 3,000 commercial properties. The report also addresses the indirect risk to critical systems and services, such as hospitals, wastewater treatment plants, airports, highways and transit, and recreational facilities on both the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay sides of the county. The report will be used to inform the county’s response efforts, including mapping vulnerable assets, preparing asset-level vulnerability assessments, developing solutions, building awareness, and facilitating collaboration. For more information, link to the report. (March 2018)
The American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials is hosting the Transportation Resilience Innovations Summit and Exchange to discuss best practices for including resilience in transportation systems. The meeting will include discussion of stakeholder engagement approaches and cooperation initiatives from states such as California and Louisiana and perspectives from the Federal Highway Administration related to resiliency policies and guidance. The meeting also will address risk-based approaches to incorporating resilience at the project level and into asset management. The meeting is scheduled for Oct. 9-10, 2018, in Denver. For more information link to the announcement and meeting agenda.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative has announced a series of listening sessions regarding policy approaches to creating a resilient transportation future in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. The first event, hosted by the state of New York, will include discussion of how and why residents and businesses make certain transportation choices; how to improve environmental quality and public health benefits while increasing mobility; and what an innovative, low-carbon transportation future might look like. The first session is scheduled for April 9, 2018, in Albany. For more information, link to the announcement.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has created a mobile application for agencies to quickly assess damages from natural disasters. The “Mobile Solution for Assessment and Reporting” app integrates online forms, dashboard reporting, geospatial tracking, map viewing, and corporate workflow to allow state departments of transportation and federal agencies to make damage assessments in real-time. The app was used during Hurricane Harvey and allowed Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials to complete damage assessments for more than 500 sites within three weeks. The app saved FHWA and TxDOT an estimated 17,000 hours of staff time. For more information, link to the U.S. DOT blog post and the MSAR website. (3-14-18)
The California Natural Resources Agency has issued the Safeguarding California Plan to illustrate how the state is taking action against climate change. The report provides an overview of state-sponsored climate change research and current policies and initiatives such as the development of the fourth climate change assessment and the global climate action summit scheduled for September. Several principles, including the prioritization of natural infrastructure solutions and identification of funding sources, are provided to display how the state can adapt to climate change. The state plans to track progress of changing climate conditions and enhancement of resiliency based on a certain metrics. For more information, link to the report. (2-20-18)
The Transportation Research Board will hold a webinar March 12 regarding resilience in transit systems. The webinar will feature research published by the Transit Cooperative Research Program, Improving the Resilience of Transit Systems Threatened by Natural Disasters (TCRP Web-Only Document 70). The research provides "how to" steps to help transit agencies and others improve their resilience. The webinar will include presentations by transit agencies in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Southeast Pennsylvania and describe lessons learned as they implemented resilience strategies and projects. For more information, register for the free webinar.
The Federal Highway Administration has released the new edition of its framework for assessing the vulnerability of transportation infrastructure to climate change and extreme weather impacts. The Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Framework, Third Edition, provides more detail on the various steps in the framework, an expanded section on analyzing adaptation options, and more information on incorporating results into decision making. Overall, the basic structure is the same as the prior version. Under the framework, transportation agencies are encouraged to set objectives and define scope, compile data, assess vulnerability, analyze adaptation options, and incorporate the results into decision making. The new edition was announced previously in a Dec. 14 FHWA webinar. Link to the revised edition of the framework. (1-24-18)
The Federal Highway Administration lacks guidance and a process for incorporating resilience into emergency relief projects, according to a new report issued by the Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General. The report assesses the FHWA’s Emergency Relief Fund Program guidance and processes for incorporating resilience to rebuild damaged highway infrastructure and found that the guidance does not define resilience improvement, inform states how to include resilience improvements, or share related best practices. The report also found that there is no process for tracking state efforts in resilience. Revisions to the Emergency Relief Manual are planned. For more information, link to the report. (1-10-18)
Sixteen research papers concerning systems resilience and climate change are included in the Transportation Research Record Journal, Volume No. 2604. The journal addresses risk and resilience analysis for highway assets, sociotechnical approaches, and security resiliency. The journal also concerns community-based planning, use of rapid damage and response strategies, impact of group walking patterns on pedestrian evacuation, post-flooding roadway operations, and the effects of tsunami damage on passenger and forestry transportation. For more information, link to the report. (1-3-18)
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has released its first climate change vulnerability assessment, focusing on the San Francisco Bay Area in District 4. The assessment, which is the first of 12 studies that will cover each Caltrans region of the state, identifies locations that may be impacted by changing conditions such as rising sea levels and storm surge, more frequent wildfires, changing precipitation patterns, and increasing temperatures. It includes a summary report as well as a technical report, and it is supported by a GIS database and interactive mapping application. Caltrans recommends use of the Federal Highway Administration’s adaptation decision-making assessment process and updating design approaches to include data from state resource agencies. For more information, link to the announcement and to the assessment. (12-27-17)
The Federal Highway Administration has launched a new round of extreme weather resilience pilot projects and is seeking applications from state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, federal lands management agencies, and tribes to participate in the program. The pilot will address integration of resilience and durability into agency practices; use of tools to assess vulnerability and risks; and deployment of solutions that achieve resilience and monitor performance. Letters of interest are due Feb. 9, 2018, and a webinar is scheduled for Jan. 4, 2018. For more information, link to the announcement. (12-19-17)
A set of resiliency decision-making principles for state agencies in California is provided under a guidance released by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. The report addresses how to plan differently for resiliency and analyzes the state’s changing climate conditions. The report also provides a four-step process to guide agencies through a risk management process, which includes identifying how climate change could affect a project, conducting an analysis of climate risks, making informed decisions, and monitoring progress. In addition, the report addresses the importance of integration of climate change into infrastructure investments and provides a list of ongoing processes between several agencies. For more information, link to the report. (11-15-17)
Materials from the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO's November peer exchange on climate resilience are now available. The event assembled key DOT stakeholders for an important dialogue on resiliency. State-level professionals discussed both strategies and challenges for building more resilient transportation systems. For more information and materials from the event, link here. (11-28-17)
UC Davis will hold a webinar on Nov. 29 to discuss methods for measuring and recording shoreline change over large areas at a fine resolution. UC Davis is working with local and regional agencies in California’s Bay Area and coastal islands in Georgia to pilot the use of time-lapse, ground-based cameras that capture fine-resolution images and satellite imagery of changing shoreline conditions for storm events, seasons, and across multiple years. The Nov. 29 webinar will discuss the results and lessons learned from two shoreline studies and next steps. For more information, link to the webinar summary. (11/29/17)
The Transportation Research Board has released Transportation Research Circular E-226, including articles related to resilient transportation systems. The issue includes articles on a whole-system approach to resilience, advances in weather forecasting, and an integrated approach to cyber-physical security for transportation. It also includes articles discussing resilient road infrastructure research from Europe, training and recruiting employees to assist during adverse events, and research on improving resilience of transit systems. For more information, link to the report. (November 2017)
The National Center for Sustainable Transportation has released a report to evaluate best practices and the adequacy of technical tools for climate resiliency and adaptation planning that were illustrated in a 2015 climate adaptation planning survey. The report provides an overview of the survey which included the identification of state and local agencies that are actively preparing for climate change and addressed the need for planners and transportation officials for climate education. The survey indicated a high percentage of agencies undertaking procedural and infrastructure adaptations. The survey also indicated that staff time is a barrier to efforts and that local agencies are lacking necessary tools and resources. The report is a companion to the Network Requirements for Assessing Criticality for Climate Adaptation Planning. For more information, link to the report. (October 2017)
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) used a new technique to taper off flood water on roadways due to Hurricane Harvey. The equipment, called AquaDam, is a mobile dam that is filled using existing floodwater to act as a barrier for up to 30 inches of water. The technology can be applied to rising water or already flooded roads and takes four to eight hours for installation. AquaDam has been used in three locations in Houston and in the Beaumont area on Interstate 10. For information, link to the announcement. (10-11-17)
Transportation officials in Minnesota will be better able to assess vulnerability of transportation assets to flooding and select appropriate adaptation options for damaged and at-risk infrastructure following a pilot study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “The potential for more frequent extreme precipitation is a major risk facing our state’s aging transportation system,” said Philip Schaffner, Director of Minnesota DOT’s (MnDOT) Flash Flood Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment Pilot Project.
The project is one of 19 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)-funded climate vulnerability pilot studies that were carried out between 2013 and 2015. Each of the studies drew from guidance contained in FHWA's Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework (FHWA Framework).
|Minnesota DOT's climate vulnerability assessment is helping the agency address threats such as this flooded culvert in District 6. Photo: Minnesota DOT|
The timing for the project could not have been better, Schaffner said.
In 2012, he explained, MnDOT had just identified climate-related flooding as a major risk to the system in the state transportation plan when Duluth experienced the worst flooding it had seen in centuries. It resulted in more than $100 million in damage to roads and other infrastructure. Other parts of the state also had recently experienced significant flooding. The state’s transportation system assets had not been originally designed to handle such extremely high levels of precipitation.
As it happened, Schaffner continued, at that same point in time, FHWA issued its second-round call for proposals to carry out pilot projects examining the effects of climate hazards on transportation systems. Unlike the broader first round of 2010-2011 pilots that primarily involved coastal locations, projects located inland were especially welcome.
MnDOT’s study had four goals:
One of the first steps taken was to create two technical committees to support the core project team. The first was composed of hydrologists, hydraulic engineers and planners. The other was staffed with climatologists and other state agencies that helped the core team understand and appropriately use climate model outputs. Much of the funding went to hire an external expert who worked closely with the in-house team.
For Phase 1 of the study, the team carried out a system-wide flash flood vulnerability assessment of the truck highway system in two of its eight districts: District 1 in the northeastern part of the state, and District 6 in the southeastern part of the state. Both districts had experienced high levels of flooding in recent years.
The assessment focused on the vulnerability of four types of assets: bridges, large culverts, pipes, and roads parallel to streams. A total of 1,819 assets were given vulnerability scores. Dozens of metrics were developed to quantify each asset’s vulnerability. Assessment scoring was based on the FHWA Framework’s definition of vulnerability, which includes three elements: exposure to a climate stressor; sensitivity to climate stressors; and to what extent the transportation system as a whole can adapt if a particular asset is taken out of service. Findings provided a detailed snapshot of the two Districts’ assets’ vulnerability.
For Phase 2 of the study, one high-risk culvert in each district was selected to examine in more detail in order to identify robust, cost-effective adaptation measures.
In District 1, the culvert was located along a stretch of the highway system that borders Lake Superior and already was on a list of assets to be improved. In District 6, the culvert lay beneath a road over a creek in a small town, and no improvements had been scheduled. The study teams examined vulnerability for both culverts under low, medium, and high climate change scenarios.
Adaptation options differed somewhat for each culvert. They included actions such as increasing the size of the culvert, replacing the culvert with a simple span bridge to improve fish passage, and enhancing the floodplain upstream of the culvert.
Next, a cost-effectiveness analysis for each option was carried out. The analysis considered both direct costs to MnDOT as well as social costs such as travel time costs to motorists taking detours. For one of the culverts, a clear adaptation choice emerged -- add cells to the existing culvert design. For the other culvert, the conclusion was more nuanced, depending upon whether or not the analysis included social costs.
One of the unique features of their pilot project, Schaffner said, is their use of proxy variables. For example, the team used an estimate of the percentage of the drainage area that was forested as a proxy for potential woody debris that could clog a pipe, culvert or bridge opening in the event of a flood.
As is the case for any pilot project, he said, there were challenges along the way. For instance, it was difficult to compile consistent and accurate data for more than 1,800 assets. And upon reflection, there were several factors that would receive greater attention and refinement should MnDOT decide to carry out a new group of assessments.
First, more time would be devoted to discussing how to most accurately weigh each variable. Second, adaptive capacity would be extended beyond traffic volume and detours, which were the primary considerations in the pilot study. In addition, the team would look to more advanced techniques of downscaling data from global climate models.
Schaffner said the FHWA Framework was valuable in providing a “high level” foundation for the project. However, although the team was able to turn to earlier projects for some guidance, it was left to them to develop a detailed methodology. In feedback to FHWA on its Framework, he and his team highlighted the need for greater detail and specificity in terms of metrics.
For other DOTs interested in carrying out a similar assessment, Schaffner advised that they start small geographically and to take their time to calibrate their vulnerability metrics. It also is important to involve your maintenance team and other regional staff, he said. So far as the ability to carry out the project without external consultancy/funding goes, it would depend upon the agency’s in-house skill level and access to data.
Findings from the study are being used to inform MnDOT’s long-range transportation planning and asset management efforts. At this point, though no decisions have been made, the agency is exploring carrying out similar assessments in several of its other districts as well as evaluating other types of vulnerabilities such as slope failure.
Schaffner’s view is that additional assessments likely could be done at much less cost given that the basic methodology already is in place.
”One of the important findings of our pilot project was that adaptation doesn’t always require large, complex projects. In fact, small changes over time can make a big difference in the resilience of the system,” he said.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is responsible for building and maintaining much of the state’s transportation infrastructure. Following a number of extreme weather events, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) recognized that the agency’s management of those assets required methodological approach to assess the vulnerability of the state's transportation network.
In May 2010, Nashville, Tennessee experienced a 1,000-year flood event, causing 21 deaths in Tennessee and widespread property damage. In 2013, there were severe weather-related problems on the Cumberland Plateau, in the eastern part of the state. Rockslides blocked traffic in areas lacking alternative transportation routes. In other regions, sinkholes opened on interstate highways.
|Tennessee DOT faces extreme weather impacts such as this 2013 rockslide on State Route 25. Photo: Tennessee DOT|
These types of extreme events prompted TDOT officials to conduct a statewide vulnerability assessment for its transportation infrastructure as a first step in identifying cost-effective approaches to increasing the resilience of the system. The assessment took advantage of a pilot program offered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
FHWA has funded a series of studies across the country to begin increasing the resiliency of the country's transportation infrastructure in the face of increasingly frequent and severe weather events. The first round of FHWA pilot projects validated a general approach to conducting an extreme weather vulnerability assessment. They focused primarily on coastal locations where many of the risks were related to storm surge and sea level rise. FHWA’s second round of pilots, although also primarily focused on coastal states, included inland states, and Tennessee became the first inland state to perform a statewide vulnerability assessment.
TDOT is now trying to integrate the results of the screening-level, statewide vulnerability assessment into TDOT’s planning, management and operational policies, according to Alan Jones, Policy Manager, Long Range Planning Division at TDOT. The agency’s assessment has been an important screening tool to identify critical transportation assets, better understand extreme weather risks, and identify specific assets that warrant a more detailed analysis.
The Tennessee project developed an approach to the vulnerability assessment that was based on FHWA's Vulnerability Assessment Framework, while also taking into account the unique characteristics of Tennessee and its transportation system. The approach involved identifying critical transportation assets, defining the types of extreme weather events that could occur while taking into consideration expected changes in certain climate variables, assessing the damage potential and resilience of the transportation assets when impacted by the extreme weather event, and combining this information to reach conclusions about the vulnerability of the asset.
To manage the number and range of transportation assets statewide, TDOT's first step was to group its transportation assets into generic asset categories. The categories included roads, rail lines and rail yards, navigable waterways, ports, bridges, airport runways, pipelines, transit systems, and more. It was not possible in this initial screening study to differentiate the unique characteristics of specific facilities, such as pavement binder or age of asset.
Criteria for determining the criticality of an asset included the volume of activity, the asset's strategic importance, the existence of redundant capability, the asset's use for emergency response, and local knowledge of the importance of the asset.
The range of extreme weather events and climate change to be expected in Tennessee was based on analysis of information from the National Weather Service and well-tested global climate models. The types of weather events included were extreme temperatures (both high and low), heavy rain, drought, strong winds and tornados, ice storms, and major snowfalls. Trends in the data identified which counties were most likely to see increased severity and frequency of extreme events. The climate data also identified counties that can expect the most significant changes with respect to projected temperature and precipitation.
The process of assessing damage potential and asset resilience was performed through a statewide survey conducted of transportation stakeholders, such as government agencies, freight carriers, transit service providers, airport authorities, and shippers.
The survey results painted a picture of tremendous variation in vulnerabilities across Tennessee. Key findings included:
TDOT plans to take a number of steps to implement the results of its vulnerability assessment.
The agency plans to follow-up with TDOT's four regions to communicate the results of the study. This will include developing regional "briefing books" to condense the study and communicate specific vulnerabilities so they can be easily understood and quickly referenced. These briefing books will be tailored to each of the four TDOT regions to account for differences across the State and to make the information more useful to local and regional planners. The agency also will select up to 20 of the state's most vulnerable assets for more refined, targeted analyses, including development of potential adaptation strategies.
In addition, TDOT will incorporate information from the screening-level vulnerability assessment as it develops its risk-based transportation asset management plan (TAMP) required under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).
TDOT will also consider additional tasks in following up on the vulnerability assessment.
A statewide vulnerability assessment is an ambitious project and required a significant commitment of time and resources; however, the project results served as a vital screening tool that can be used to determine where best to focus a more detailed study to determine what, if any, adaptation measures might be warranted. For example, the statewide study required grouping assets into classes, such as “roads,” but this approach has substantially limited the number of roads in the state that warrant a further review, a review which will allow more unique characteristics of the asset to be evaluated to determine vulnerability, such as pavement binder, age of the road, and more.
Another lesson learned is the importance of local stakeholder knowledge and input. The project conducted regional meetings across the state and were able to get a much better understanding of what assets and routes are considered critical, or not, from a local perspective. Local knowledge of how assets perform during extreme weather events was also vital to the study. TDOT field staff already have a great deal of knowledge of regional vulnerabilities that were relevant to the study.
For more information, contact Alan Jones, Tennessee Department of Transportation at Alan.Jones@tn.gov.
In the wake of the devastating floods wrought by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, the Vermont Agency of Transportation is working to expand training and awareness on how to properly manage highway infrastructure in concert with the natural ebb and flow patterns of the state's river systems.
Irene's torrential rains and flooding washed out or damaged hundreds of miles of roads and hundreds of bridges and left entire communities stranded. In its wake, Irene also taught an important lesson: the need to manage the state's road infrastructure to be more compatible with its streams and rivers.
Irene's devastating floods "changed the way we do business in Vermont,” according to VTrans Deputy Secretary Rich Tetreault, who served as the agency’s Director of Program Development and Chief Engineer.
|In-stream restoration work following Tropical Storm Irene. Photo: VTrans|
Tetreault said VTrans employees are being sent back to the classroom for coursework on the science of rivers. Also known as "fluvial geomorphology," this science stresses how natural cycles of periodic flooding and deposition allow river systems to reach a balanced state known as "equilibrium." Both online and classroom training is available. The contents, which are grouped into three tiers ranging from basic to advanced, have been developed by engineers at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
The Tier 1 training - which also is used by ANR for its own staff – is an online self-guided basic course that describes the value of rivers and hydrologic and sediment regimes; explains river behavior, including river morphology, river equilibrium, and channel evolution; discusses rivers and human development, including flood and erosion hazards and efforts to control rivers; and explains how best to manage rivers for equilibrium.
The course summarizes the following key points about river processes and management:
The training helps professionals learn how to better identify areas with severe erosion hazards, how best to mitigate areas where damage has occurred, and how to better design roads and features to avoid future damage. It is applicable to a range of transportation professionals including engineers, technicians, equipment operators, and highway foremen.
"This goes from the hydraulics engineer to the bridge and roadway designers, to the local road foreman and the excavator operator that's working in the river, so they all better understand the dynamics of the river when they are working on public infrastructure," Tetreault said. At the same time, the training is being provided to local agency partners and contractors.
The Tier Two training is a classroom and field-based training that delves more deeply into the topics of physical river processes, aquatic habitat and the interactions between rivers and adjacent infrastructure. It also explains the permitting process and standards that must be met. Emphasis is placed on accommodating stream equilibrium, avoiding practices that trigger further instability, and minimizing impacts to aquatic habitat during emergency flood response and recovery operations when technical support is not available. Contents are particularly geared toward design, construction, maintenance and planning professionals.
It includes “a lot of hands on work, both in the classroom with custom built flumes and in the field, knees deep in a local stream,” said Scott Rogers, VTrans Director of Operations. “We have mandated some of our folks from the maintenance garages attend Tier 2 to become more intimately familiar with the dynamics of the systems. They are the ones running the equipment (or making the decisions on repair work) in the field,” he added.
In 2015, the Tier 2 format was modified slightly to mix participants from VTrans with those from municipalities. In addition, a special training was held for regional planning commission transportation planners and another for private sector engineers. Mixing participants allowed for state-municipal dialogue that resulted in technical transfer and the development of greater appreciation for differing perspectives.
The Tier 3 training currently is under development, with completion scheduled for spring 2016 and training sessions to begin near the end of 2016. Tier 3 will focus on advanced engineering and construction oversight topics, specifically the design and construction oversight of the stream alteration practices outlined in the Vermont Standard River Management Principles and Practices document (2014).
In addition to offering the training courses, VTrans has updated its hydraulics manual to codify the "river science" approach. While the previous manual was based on the hydraulic capacity of infrastructure – focused strictly on water – the revised manual also considers sediment and debris.
The new manual allows for more risk-based design in terms of roadway safety and stream stability. It also corresponds to VTrans' latest stream alteration permit, codifying a process that currently is required under permit but not recognized as a standard by authorities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"The new manual doesn’t change the hydrologists' methodology. It codifies it such that when FEMA comes to town we will have another documented standard to fulfill when they are replacing public infrastructure," Tetreault said.
For example, where slope repairs are needed adjacent to rivers, workers historically had dumped stone down the slope, further constricting the river channel. Such repairs now would start with defining the stable channel dimensions for the river and then building the slope to match - all with the help of fluvial geomorphologists. "Across the board, we are really making this part of our standard operating procedure," Tetreault added.
Tetreault said that the "river science"-based approach is important for all ongoing activities of maintaining existing infrastructure, up to and including reconstruction or new construction of highways. For example, such considerations are important when addressing a culvert replacement or a slope failure or a river channel that needs some adjustment to respond to the built environment around it.
"There is a dynamic going on continuously with the rivers, and there is maintenance going on with drainage systems or even the river itself. People need to be aware of the fact that the river is working and we need to work with it and understand the changes that occur over time," he said. "So the minute you get an excavator out and you're working near a river, stop and think: if I put this rock here or if I remove this tree trunk here, what is it doing to the dynamics of the river as it is now and will be in the future?"
Tetreault said other states with river systems could benefit from the self-administered training course, which is posted online and is free of charge. The Tier 1 training course can be accessed online.
The United Nations Environmental Program has released two reports that provide recommendations on development of better cities. The Weight of Cities: Resource Requirements of Future Urbanization recommends the transition to low-carbon and resource efficient cities via compact growth, resource monitoring, better connections by affordable transit, and establishing a new model for city governance to support new policies. The second report, Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Transitions in the ASEAN Region: A Resource Perspective, analyzes future urbanization in Southeast Asia. The report encourages the development of compact, mixed-use cities; land-use planning that prevents slum formation; construction of resilient buildings and electricity grids; and profitable exchanges of waste energy and materials. For more information, link to the announcement. (2-9-18)
Two case studies of context sensitive solutions technical assistance meetings hosted by the Federal Highway Administration have been added to the agency’s database of CSS case studies. The two case studies focus on separate meetings conducted in Florida and in North Dakota. Florida’s meeting focused on implementation of its complete streets approach in the state. North Dakota Department of Transportation focused its technical assistance on the U.S. Highway 85 Watford City Bypass, which incorporated CSS principles. For more information, link to the Florida and North Dakota case studies or to the FHWA case studies database. (11-1-17)
The Florida Department of Transportation has used the Traditional Neighborhood Development approach to help communities integrate land use and transportation to achieve increased livability when compared to Conventional Suburban Development, or “business as usual.”
For state DOTs, the challenge to transition from Conventional Suburban Development to Traditional Neighborhood Development often arises when the roadway standards engineers are required to meet for state roads do not provide the flexibility needed to design context sensitive solutions.
Traditional Neighborhood Development typically includes a range of housing types, a network of well-connected streets, public spaces, and a variety of amenities within easy reach of housing.
In 2001, recognizing the need for greater flexibility in design and engineering standards to pursue Traditional Neighborhood Development solutions for communities, Florida revised its “Manual of Uniform Minimum Standards for Design, Construction, and Maintenance for Streets and Highways” (last rev. 2013), commonly known as the “Florida Greenbook.”
The addition of Chapter 19, Traditional Neighborhood Development, in 2011 to the Florida Greenbook formalized the state’s endorsement of context sensitive approaches to transportation and land use as standard practice. Chapter 19 focuses on network functionality and design standards that support communities. To supplement Chapter 19 and describe the why and how of Traditional Neighborhood Development, Florida DOT published the “Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook” (2011) providing best practices and facilitating proper design for communities.
Though Florida DOT maintains Chapter 19 and the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook, implementation is at the local level. The Florida Greenbook was produced through committees made up of local representatives (e.g., public works directors, consultants, and engineers) while the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook was developed over time by experts. The two documents work together to implement the approach.
FDOT officials have identified the following key lessons learned from their Traditional Neighborhood Development efforts:
There is a common belief that roadway engineering standards are entirely based on safety (e.g., “a 12-foot lane is safer than 10-foot lane”) and apply to all conditions, and that deviations are unsafe. As a result, the flexibility that Chapter 19 and the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook provides may be initially received with skepticism by engineers and other community stakeholders.
To help stakeholders learn about the benefits of this flexibility, DOTs and local communities benefit from continued dialogue and discussion to understand the advantages of Traditional Neighborhood Development and to gain support and buy-in at all levels. Working through the changes together with emergency response, public works, and other local government stakeholders builds trust. The collaboration informs state DOTs about where locals are coming from and demonstrates that the state DOT is looking out for their interests.
“The Traditional Neighborhood Development Chapter and Handbook let folks build safe, complete, walkable streets that are normally difficult to do under conventional standards,” said DeWayne Carver, Florida DOT’s Chapter 19 technical expert. “If you want to encourage and permit traditional neighborhood development (new or old), then you need thoroughfare standards to match. The TND standards can help us save the great urban places we have in our state by putting the right roadway design in the right place.”
Like Florida, other state DOTs are also embracing Traditional Neighborhood Development. North Carolina DOT has TND Street Design Guidelines and Massachusetts DOT completely rewrote their guidance for their entire department and highlights Traditional Neighborhood Development case studies in an online toolbox. Others, like Mississippi DOT and Vermont DOT, are implementing complete streets policies and moving towards similar programs.
At Florida DOT, officials have met with internal and external partners to determine what needs to be done differently to implement a complete streets policy. This will likely include a change in state standards to more closely align with Chapter 19 and the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook for locations that can use the approach.
The Florida DOT recognizes that Chapter 19 and the Traditional Neighborhood Development documents will soon be ready for revisiting, especially once Florida state standards are updated with complete streets policy. Committees that include local representatives will again be involved early to discuss and implement any needed updates to the Handbook.
For more information on Florida DOT’s Chapter 19 and Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook, contact DeWayne Carver, State Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, Roadway Design Office/Florida DOT at email@example.com.
A new, more practical approach to transportation project design is helping the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) complete one of the largest capital improvement programs in its history.
“We are transforming our approach to focus on finding practical transportation solutions,” explained Nancy Boyd, WSDOT’s Director of Engineering Policy and Innovation. “Our goal is to fix more problems, system-wide. The approach is similar to FHWA’s Performance Based Practical Design (PBPD), but broader in scope, encompassing asset management and operations in addition to planning and design.”
|Practical roundabout solution: Photo: WSDOT|
Practical Solutions entails focusing first and foremost on the need for the project, rather than simply existing standards and how to meet them. Agency staff members are being empowered to think both pragmatically and creatively to come up with smart solutions using the growing body of data and technology tools available to them.
Boyd said the focus on PBPD, which her agency calls Practical Solutions, began in 2013 as part of a broader reform process instituted by the state’s transportation secretary.
For her agency, Practical Solutions is a two-part strategy that includes both least cost planning and practical design. The focus on project purpose and need is sustained throughout all phases of project development: planning, program management, environmental analysis, design, construction, and operations. The ultimate goal is to enable more flexible and sustainable transportation investment decisions.
While cost-effectiveness is a cornerstone of the approach, so is community engagement and interdisciplinary, collaborative decision-making. Local stakeholders are being engaged at the earliest stages of defining the project scope to ensure their input is included. Project design is based on the larger context – both land use and transportation requirements. The approach does not mean compromising safety, environmental compliance, or standards.
“Expanding our focus to also include planning and asset management offers especially promising opportunities,” Boyd said.
To build transparency and accountability into the process, WSDOT is required to report annually on the results of its Practical Solutions approach, including cost savings. Under the terms of the legislation, these cost savings will be put into an account that then can then be reinvested on a new set of needs, starting in 2024.
Boyd cited numerous Practical Solutions benefits besides the cost-savings. First of all, she said, engineers can be more creative when the project focus is on coming up with smart solutions. In addition, early engagement with the public helps make customer needs an early foundation of the process. And the emphasis on least cost planning helps to avoid overbuilding. It also opens up possibilities for more, smaller projects that allow for recent advances in technology to be harnessed as they unfold.
For instance, the agency reconfigured an interchange to improve connectivity and accommodate the size of vehicles using it. Annual maintenance costs were reduced by $12,500 by eliminating stop lights, and the final roundabout design avoided costs of up to $24 million compared to other alternatives.
In another instance, to cut down on accidents from speeding along a winding two-lane highway, wider pavement striping was installed to provide the appearance of a narrow road (which slows speeds} and additional reflective centerline raised pavement markings were added. The change in approach reduced the need to change the roadway prism and saved an estimated $50,000.
To help the Practical Solutions approach become ingrained, the agency’s Design Manual is undergoing major changes. Greater emphasis is being placed on multimodal solutions, demand management planning methods, operational changes rather than new construction, and off-system strategies that offer alternatives to automatically rebuilding. In addition, planners are turning more often to incremental solutions rather than always designing “all-in-one” projects. And context-sensitive solutions are becoming institutionalized even more than before.
In September 2015, the agency created a Practical Solutions Committee. It serves as a forum for learning and sharing how to deliver at the lowest costs as well as encouraging innovation and creativity in design. The committee is composed of WSDOT leadership team members as well as members of program offices, modes, and regions. It also includes representation from the Federal Highway Administration.
One of the committee’s primary responsibilities is to carry out a multidisciplinary review of its Connecting Washington funding package to identify every opportunity to embed a Practical Solutions approach. Connecting Washington funding goes to finishing projects in key corridors to preserve infrastructure and reduce congestion; improve freight mobility; support multimodal transportation options; and address critical needs for bridges.
Meanwhile, FHWA continues to do its part to advance PBPD. It has issued a final rule to reduce the number of “controlling design criteria” on highways designed for speeds of less than 50 miles per hour (mph) from the current 13 down to 2. For roads with “design speeds” greater than 50 mph, the number of criteria has been reduced to 10. It also has issued a final rule to update design standards applicable to National Highway System projects. And it has updated its guidance on bicycle and pedestrian facilities to provide greater opportunity for including these options in project design.
Handling Possible Risks, Other Insights
WSDOT is not the only state DOT that is turning to a PBPD-type approach: the practice is alive and well in Missouri, Kentucky, and Kansas, and approximately 30 additional states are implementing or planning to implement it in some form.
And yet, implementation is not without risk, including the risk of tort lawsuits arising from crashes alleged to be associated with a roadway design; and the risk of the solution not performing as expected in terms of safety and operations. To address potential risks, WSDOT consulted with agency risk management and attorney general staff and were reassured that exercising good engineering judgement is preferable and more defensible that blind application of “standards.”
Implementation of a Practical Solutions approach also presents some challenges. One has been a lack of sufficient funding for training. In addition, the agency has had to keep close watch on evolving environmental considerations, the political process, emerging tools for design and safety analysis, and the constant push for regulatory reform, any of which could affect the approach.
WSDOT has learned some lessons along the way that may be useful to other state DOTs, according to Boyd. First, the cookie cutter approach to project design is obsolete. Second, collaboration improves the quality of project’s effect on the multimodal transportation system; learning together and sharing information builds trust. Third, gaining political support for practical solutions to transportation infrastructure is essential. And finally, small fixes can make big differences.
Besides updating the Design Manual, the agency will be giving greater priority to training planning and design staff in the months ahead. Subject areas will include practical solutions/project development process training, multimodal design training, and Highway Safety Manual implementation. Further down the road, least-cost planning and cost estimating for alternatives analysis will be added.
Boyd said that her agency recently received $16 billion in new funding for additional capital improvement projects over 16 years, and implementing Practical Solutions will be an essential component of that work.
“Using the creativity and innovation of Practical Solutions, we are developing a safer and better transportation system while making our funding go further and accomplish more,” she said.
For more information about WSDOT’s Practical Solutions approach, contact Nancy Boyd, Director, Engineering Policy and Innovation, WSDOT, at BoydN@wsdot.wa.gov, or go to the Practical Solutions website.
The Transportation Research Board has issued a guidebook and set of tools for assessing environmental justice (EJ) effects of implementing tolls and rate changes. The guidebook provides a literature review of current tolling trends, pricing scenarios and collection methodologies, and public engagement approaches. It also provides examples of addressing EJ in several tolling lane projects and survey results of travel behavior. The guidebook shows the practitioner when and how to apply the tools through an eight-step process framework corresponding to the typical transportation project planning and development process. The guidebook and toolbox together help users measure the impacts of tolling on mobility, access, and household expenditures, and provide tools to engage low-income and minority populations. For more information, link to the research report and guidebook. (1-12-18)
The integration of environmental justice principles in all levels of transportation decision making is available from the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Institute. The training is intended for transportation professionals in state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, local agencies, and consulting firms. Participants will learn to describe environmental justice (EJ) as it relates to transportation, the principles and benefits related to EJ, the importance of public involvement in the transportation decision making process, and EJ considerations in all phases of transportation including planning, environmental review, design, right-of-way, construction, and operations and maintenance. To register for the four-hour course, which is available online and on demand from the National Highway Institute, link here. (8-9-17)
The Federal Highway Administration has released a resource document regarding the transportation performance management program. The document addresses in a question-and-answer format key dates of the performance periods, elements of the bridge condition performance measures, and how to calculate good and poor bridge conditions. The document also addresses when transportation agencies should start collecting pavement data to meet new requirements, and travel time reliability and freight movement measures. In addition, the document discusses elements of the onroad mobile source emissions and traffic congestion measures under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. For more information, link to the document. (10-5-17)
The Federal Transit Administration has posted two final reporting guidebooks to assist grantees in fulfilling new performance measure data and reporting requirements under the transportation asset management final rule. The Performance Restriction (Slow Zone) Calculation guidebook specifies the data needed to report the length of rail fixed guideway under performance restrictions when the maximum speed of transit vehicles is below the guideway’s full service speed. Procedures for calculating restrictions such as listing segments and calculating the restriction length by month is also provided. The Condition Assessment Calculation guidebook addresses the steps to reporting the condition of all facilities that agencies have a direct or share capital responsibility using a single numeric value. The guide highlights condition assessment procedures and aggregate approaches to condition rating. For more information, link to the announcement. (4-24-17)
The Federal Highway Administration has released a report that includes four case studies regarding transportation agencies’ use of geographic information systems in transportation performance management (TPM). The report discusses how departments of transportation in Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina and Vermont approach TPM programs and determine how best to use GIS to visualize the effects of performance-based operations and planning. The report found that most states remain in the developmental stage of implementing a TPM program, which is required under MAP-21 and the FAST Act. The report also found that states are investing in the use of GIS tools to better integrate data and to centralize data storage. For more information, link to the report. (2-17-17)
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has updated its implementation plan for the FAST Act and MAP-21 and its surface transportation rulemaking tracker. The plan updates the status of provisions regarding revenue and planning, freight, program and project delivery, planning, performance management and asset management. The tracker keeps tabs on rules related to surface transportation as they work their way through the regulatory process. The updated tracker adds a request for comments concerning commercial activities in rest areas. For more information, link to the plan and tracker. (12-1-16)
Integration of data from the Waze mobile traffic application with the Los Angeles region’s multimodal mobility program was the subject of a webinar sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration. The webinar discussed L.A.’s Regional Integration of Intelligent Transportation Systems (RIITS), an interagency multimodal mobility program in Southern California. The program compiles information from ITS systems including freeway, traffic, transit, and emergency services, and disseminates the information in real-time. The webinar discussed how RIITS is using data from the Waze Connected Citizens Program, a two-way data exchange program that allows government partners to integrate inputs from Waze users with publicly available data. For more information, link to the webinar summary and recording. (7-13-17)
The Federal Highway Administration has released a program study regarding the development of the Oregon Coordinate Reference System, which is used achieve accurate three dimensional geospatial positions using global navigation satellite systems. The reference system, developed by the Oregon DOT, resolves the challenge of integrating survey data collected into geographic information system maps and databases for use in transportation applications. Geospatial surveying tools make it possible to use automated machine guidance equipment for roadway and bridge construction and disseminate information via geographic information systems. It also has created a society ready for real-time information concerning road conditions and work zone updates. For more information, link to the study summary. (7-20-16)
The Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) evolution to an environmental data management system started with more than 73 decentralized spreadsheets and personal databases. In 2001, VDOT developed its GIS Integrator, an internal geographic information systems (GIS)-based tool to support the agency’s efforts to improve early project development and environmental review by capturing a spatial inventory of project shapes used to identify existing environmental resources with the potential for project impact through spatial analysis.
In 2003, VDOT expanded their data management solution by consolidating all non-spatial data sources into an environmental data repository called the Comprehensive Environmental Data and Reporting system (CEDAR). This internal web based application provides a single user interface for capturing all VDOT’s environmental business data, including National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), permitting, and environmental contracts. The CEDAR application synchronizes nightly with the agency’s project pool and active directory databases for improved management of project data and user accounts. It also links to the agency’s GIS Integrator, which allows for streamlined project reviews.
“The CEDAR system provides VDOT staff with an invaluable comprehensive environmental data management tool that has successfully improved communication and accountability, said Geraldine Jones, VDOT CEDAR Administrator. “Since its deployment in 2003 CEDAR has been the backbone of VDOT’s environmental operations. CEDAR’s success, usability, and permanence can be attributed to its user championed platform and staff dedicated to maintain and enhance an application subject to dynamic regulations and processes,” she said.
|The GIS Integrator allows users to buffer project shapes to determine potential resource issues. In this case, the project shape was buffered 2 miles for conservations lands. Source: VDOT|
The integrated CEDAR system centralizes where staff enter and retrieve data for all VDOT’s environmental activities on a project-by-project basis, allowing for restricted viewing and editing based on roles and permissions. It captures project history, handles all project types – including construction and maintenance – tracks project status through the life of the project and generates system alerts.
The system also:
Benefits of the system include increased project accountability, satisfaction of mandates, and interagency coordination. It also provides documentation for decisions, and offers a tool for communication of commitments, project status, accuracy of project estimates, and efficiency of projects.
Today, VDOT’s CEDAR and GIS Integrator applications are positioned for upgrades. A user advisory committee has been formed to identify functional requirements. The upgrade is expected to come with an updated user interface and be launched within the foreseeable future.
Key motivators for an integrated environmental data management system as exhibited by VDOT’s CEDAR and Integrator include the following:
VDOT is not alone in its development of an environmental data management system. Though many state DOTs still use spreadsheets, databases, paper maps, and shapefiles as data management tools, many others have developed standalone systems or contemplated environmental data management systems of their own. In August 2015, numerous state DOTs gathered in Oregon and online to discuss data management approaches in their agencies in an effort to share information and experiences across agencies.
VDOT’s advice to other DOTs interested in their own data management systems includes supporting an IT staff dedicated to application maintenance, and involving users from the beginning to confirm requirements and increase staff adoption of the system.
For more information on VDOT’s CEDAR, please contact Geraldine Jones, CEDAR Administrator, VDOT Environmental Division, at Geraldine.Jones@VDOT.viriginia.gov.
GIS in Transportation – This website is maintained by FHWA’s Office of Planning, Environment and Realty to highlight noteworthy practices and innovative uses of GIS applications in transportation planning by state and local transportation agencies. This site includes examples of GIS applications listed by State.
A report evaluating the usefulness of the Federal Highway Administration’s roadside revegetation guide found positive results from the guide, but also recommended renewed focus on its findings through training and other outreach efforts. Promoting Roadside Revegetation: An Integrated Approach, was published in 2007. The evaluation report surveyed users and gathered input on how the guide has been used and whether it has been effective in promoting effective practices. For more information, link to the report. (12-20-17)
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has released a report examining the experiences of other state departments of transportation and agencies in maintaining pollinator landscapes on highway rights-of-way through partnerships with individuals, groups and local agencies. The report examines how these programs are developed, managed and funded and how these efforts relate to existing roadside maintenance programs. The report also provides next steps for MnDOT to consider, including expanding the selection of native seed mixes available on its online PlantSelector tool and developing partnerships with corn and soybean growers and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. For more information, link to the report. (7-15-16)
The federal Pollinator Health Task Force has released a Pollinator Partnership Action Plan to support President Obama’s memorandum focused on honey bee mortality rates, monarch butterfly declines and other pollinator species that are leaning toward extinction. The plan provides examples of successful collaborations between the federal government and other institutions, including transportation agencies, and highlights areas that are ripe for future collaboration. For more information, link to the action plan. (6-23-16)
A coalition of six state transportation agencies are working together to help monarch butterflies on their migratory journeys by establishing a continuous “Monarch Highway” stretching north-south along Interstate 35.
Departments of Transportation in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas are working to improve habitat along the corridor in each state. The state agencies along with the Federal Highway Administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding in the spring of 2016 in which they pledged to collaboratively implement pollinator habitat best practices and promote public awareness of the need to conserve pollinators. The agencies have agreed to develop educational materials together and assist each other as they “inventory, protect, plant and manage pollinator habitats and develop strategies for pollinator-friendly seed mixes.”
Actions to preserve monarch butterflies are becoming more vital. The species has declined by 80 percent over the past two decades due to factors such as habitat fragmentation and herbicide decimation of milkweed plants, which are its larvae’s only food source. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must determine by June 2019 if the monarch butterfly should be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. If the species is listed, its presence throughout the I-35 corridor would trigger additional requirements for federally-funded projects.
|Monarch butterfly on milkweed. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service|
“We all are already carrying out practices that benefit pollinators such as reduced mowing, targeted herbicide use, and planting native vegetation seed mixes,” said Tina Markeson, the Monarch Highway Project Chair and Roadside Vegetation Management Supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). “But having a multi-state effort brings added benefits.”
One of the key benefits, she said, is the ability to apply for grants as a group, which is attractive to funders looking for broad impact. Also, each state is better positioned for individual grants due to the inherent credibility that comes from participation in a collaborative project. Yet another benefit is the opportunity to discuss what works and what doesn’t. The single message focus also gives added clout and enables common educational materials to be developed at less cost.
Stepping Up Existing Efforts
Individual states have not received specific funding for their Monarch Highway work, nor is there external financial support to administer the initiative, said Markeson. However, participants will be tweaking or stepping up what they already are doing. Her agency, for example, has been planting native seed mixes for about 25 years. Though more expensive than non-native mixes, native plants offer multiple advantages, such as strong root systems for erosion control and water filtration, strong stalks that act as snow fences, and reduced long-term maintenance costs.
To create a baseline and determine what is needed next, each state is carrying out an internal analysis of its own current practices along I-35. Potential actions by states may include:
Geographic differences also will affect individual state approaches. In Minnesota, for example, the I-35 corridor includes deciduous and coniferous forest as well as prairie. One component of its approach will be to assess its current stock of flowering trees and shrubs and make pollinator-friendly adjustments as needed. And some of its educational materials will include a reminder that other types of vegetation, not just wildflowers, are part of the solution.
The six-state group plans to step up its collaborative efforts to include regular teleconference calls and annual face-to-face meetings. The Monarch Highway Project Chair position likely will change every two years and by-laws will be developed. Rest areas likely will be the initial focus, with demonstration plots and educational materials made available in all six states. A mock-up of a logo is being circulated for comment, and funding opportunities are being actively explored.
To magnify their work, all six states are working in partnership with other state agencies as well as nonprofit groups. For example, Markeson said her agency is working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Water and Soil Resources to coordinate requests for the 30 different types of seed mixes it uses across the diverse biomes found throughout the state. And in Texas, which is responsible for almost double the number of I-35 miles found in the other states, TxDOT will draw on existing resources such as the Texas Monarch and Native Pollinator Conservation Plan.
History of Initiative
Multiple government actions have provided strong justification for the initiative. In 2014, President Obama issued a memorandum calling for increased federal agency efforts to preserve declining pollinators. The following year, the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators was released. Both documents call out the I-35 corridor as a key focal point.
In addition, in 2015 the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and U.S. DOT partnered to sponsor a summit of state transportation leaders to advance pollinator habitat. And the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act contains provisions for the U.S. DOT, in conjunction with willing state DOTs, to encourage habitat development for monarch butterflies and other pollinators. In addition to these national measures, state-specific directives call for reversing pollinator decline, such as Executive Order 16-07 issued by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton in August 2016.
While these recent actions have helped to create a strong framework, the roots of the Monarch Highway project actually date back several decades to another I-35 initiative. In 1993, the FHWA provided funding to the same six DOTs to create the Prairie Passage Program, with I-35 as its backbone.
Despite the pluses, Markeson said, Monarch Highway participants likely will face several challenges as they pick up the pace in 2017. First, while they already are carrying out pollinator-friendly practices, factors such as additional staff time and a greater proportion of native seed mix investments could add to costs at a time when some state DOT budgets are shrinking.
An additional obstacle may be that of ensuring continued commitment to maintaining the good work once it is in place. As Markeson explained, “It tends to be easier to find funding for planting than it is for maintenance. We have to make sure that what we are doing will be sustained.”
Yet another challenge may be to fully account for the effects of altering current practices, especially in terms of agricultural interests. For example, some farmers who use roadside mowings for cattle feed have raised concerns about including milkweed in the seed mix.
Advice for other DOTs
To maximize chances for success in a multi-state initiative such as the Monarch Highway, Markeson offered four tips:
What’s Down the Road for the ‘Monarch Highway’?
The ultimate goal is a cost-effective, thriving transportation corridor that serves the needs of both its human and its pollinator species travelers. But ultimate success for pollinators will depend upon a much larger realm of supporters than just these six agencies.
“Many others need to be involved as well,” Markeson said. “We will be doing our part, but dedicated efforts should be underway across the country as well as up into Canada and down into Mexico. The rewards on many levels are indisputable.”
For more information, contact MnDOT’s Tina Markeson at Tina.Markeson@state.mn.us or access the Monarch Highway memorandum of understanding. Information on additional transportation-related efforts to protect pollinators are detailed on the FHWA’s Pollinator web page.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is implementing a Pollinator Habitat Program along the state’s highway system that provides much-needed waystations for monarch butterflies and other dwindling pollinator species. Moreover, according to agency officials, the program is entirely consistent with the department’s transportation priorities.
“Our savings on mowing costs alone will be significant,” said Diane Beyer, State Vegetation Management Planner for VDOT’s Maintenance Division. “Currently, each roadside mowing cycle costs approximately $12 million. Under the program, our goal is to reduce mowing frequency from three times a year to once a year.”
|Volunteers plant natives at I-95 meadow restoration. Photo: VDOT|
Under the program, Beyer explained, stretches along the state’s highways and at rest areas are being planted with native vegetation that provides food and habitat for pollinators. The multi-colored vegetation includes species such as milkweed for monarch butterflies, asters for bees, and goldenrod for birds, bees, and butterflies.
Beyer said the program will bring multiple transportation and environmental benefits. First, the program supports VDOT’s vision of safety while providing increased habitat areas. For example, attractive roadsides have been shown to reduce driver fatigue and improve mood; and wildflower perennials and grasses are not favored by deer, a potential driver hazard. In addition, mowing only the shoulder (and allowing wildflowers to continue to bloom) still maintains line of sight and space for motorists to pull off, and it prevents encroachment of shrubs and trees.
In addition, roadside maintenance time and costs are reduced through planting of self-sustaining, native vegetation. The vegetation stabilizes slopes and reduces erosion; increases storm water and nutrients retention due to deep roots; and reduces other vegetation maintenance costs such as invasive species control and herbicide applications. It also provides a smooth transition to adjacent properties.
The program also contributes to the agency’s broader Integrated Vegetation/Pest Management system through reduced use of herbicides; increased erosion, sediment and stormwater runoff control; and reduction in the presence of invasive species. An additional benefit is the increase in visual aesthetics.
Besides supporting VDOT’s transportation goals, Beyer said, VDOT’s Pollinator Habitat Program also supports the Department’s MS4 program, a critical element of Virginia's stormwater management program. On a national level, it supports FHWA’s Every Day Counts initiative though what Beyer calls its “low-tech, back to basics” approach to innovation and its focus on safety. In addition, the program aligns well with the Presidential Memorandum issued in 2014 on creating a federal strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators.
Genesis and Development
“As it happened, the inception of our program preceded the Presidential Memorandum by several months,” said Beyer. “The timing was very helpful to us in terms building internal support for what was viewed as a very new approach to maintenance.”
The pilot program began in the fall of 2014. Four plots were planted with plant plugs in northern Virginia, each 900 square feet and containing 13 different species. These initial plantings provided Beyer and her team with a useful means of learning what works and what doesn’t. The plantings also provided a foundation for beginning to educate agency staff and the public about the program and the reasons behind it.
In September 2015, a 15,000 square foot meadow area was planted at a rest area on Interstate 95 (a migratory flyway), also in northern Virginia. Three smaller plantings simultaneously were installed near the rest area building. The latter plantings serve as educational stations with interpretive signage for visitors. A total of 8,000 nectar and pollinator plants from 23 species were planted.
Also during the fall, three areas in southwestern Virginia were planted with seeds (not plants); one of the goals was to analyze which seed mixtures and types of seed planting methods work best. In this case, the areas were medians and roadsides. And at the end of 2015, the program moved into the western part of the state for the first time.
Plans call for the program to be implemented statewide. In 2016, while results from the seed-planting location are gathered, the focus will be to continue to create naturalized gardens and meadows with mature plants at state rest areas. In the meantime, interpretive signage continues to be developed and installed at existing areas. Beyer said the team will integrate solutions to challenges they faced in the early months, such as ensuring continued maintenance of the plots until the vegetation is well established.
Funding and Partners
Currently, the program primarily is funded through the purchase of the “wildflower” license plate, which will continue to be offered to drivers and is supported by the Virginia Garden Clubs. Beyer said, the newly minted “pollinator” license plate currently does not financially support the program, but a bill is being introduced in the 2016 Legislative session to remedy that and direct funds to VDOT in support of the Pollinator Habitat program.
Partners have been essential to the program’s growth, she continued. They include Virginia Dominion Power/Dominion Trust; Valley Land; White House Office of Science & Technology; Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy; Virginia Native Plant Society; and PBS Films. These groups continue to provide needed funding, labor and materials.
Advice for Other DOTs
Beyer said other state DOTs either are planning or beginning to carry out similar programs. Examples included a corridor restoration project from Texas to Minnesota, as well as programs in Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, and Vermont. Part of the challenge for interstate initiatives, she pointed out, is that DOTs have varying organizational structures, which can make obtaining a multiple-state green light, as well as ongoing cross-state coordination, challenging.
Her advice to other state DOTs contemplating a similar initiative centered on two themes: education and partnering. Educating the public is important, Beyer said, but perhaps even more critical is internal agency education, especially for two groups: upper management and the maintenance team tasked with actually carrying out the work. As partnering goes, securing early collaboration from groups such as native plants societies, Extension Services, garden clubs and wildlife organizations is key to success. They will all help with the outreach and education of the program as well.
Finally, she urged agencies not to overlook the corporate sector: it definitely needs to be included on agencies’ teams to bring key expertise, networks, and financial support to the table. Partnerships also give others a sense of stewardship in promoting and furthering the program.
“Our organizational structure is such that safety rest areas are managed centrally, making it easier to create a consistent program face. Consistency is important in that it brands the program and makes it more comprehensible and recognizable to the public and staff. Rest areas are also an excellent way for us to educate the public about the new program and the new mowing practices and gardens,” she said.
“Education, both internally and externally is a paramount necessity in a program such as this. You want to make sure everyone comprehends the 'whys' so that support comes forth from a place of knowledge and understanding," said Beyer.
She suggested that education and outreach be an integral part of a similar program, as new techniques and ideas are not always well received when staff and the public are not included in the “whys” and allowed to ask questions.
For more information, link to Virginia DOT’s Pollinator Habitat Program website or contact Diane Beyer, State Vegetation Management Planner, VDOT Maintenance Division, at Diane.Beyer@vdot.virginia.gov.
Best practices for measuring and understanding how weather affects highway noise are included in a new report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The report, NCHRP Research Report 882: How Weather Affects the Noise You Hear from Highways, says that weather has a significant effect on highway noise because temperature and humidity affect the absorption of noise and changes in the temperature and wind gradients affect sound refraction. The effects can increase highway noise by more than 10 decibels. The research verified sound level differences due to weather and provides approaches to conceptual models that take weather into account. The research also produced a customizable brochure and interactive tool that state transportation agencies can use to explain variations in noise to the public. For more information, link to the report and outreach materials. (8-15-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has issued a report concerning the use of solar noise barriers along highway rights-of-way. Such noise barriers would incorporate photovoltaic (PV) systems to reduce noise and produce renewable energy simultaneously. The report provides a review of solar efficiency, safety performance, and economic feasibility of PV noise barriers. Case studies from Australia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland are included to highlight required policies for deployment, barriers to implementation, and maintenance costs. In addition, the report focuses on projects in the U.S., such as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Lexington Solar Retrofit Pilot Program and the state of Georgia’s testing ground, The Ray, set to be the first net zero highway. For more information, link to the report. (August 2017).
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has posted four noise-related resources, including fact sheets on opportunities for use of programmatic agreements and ways to streamline the noise study process. The resources also address several methods for determining and placing nonresidential receptors and case study examples using the single point, frontage-based, lost-sized based and grid-based methodologies. Another fact sheet describes use of sound level descriptors. For more information, link to the resources. (5-31-17)
An updated draft version of the Federal Highway Administration’s traffic noise model (TNM 3.0) has been released for a six-month evaluation and public comment, ending Sept. 14, 2017. TNM 3.0 includes acoustical improvements to support more accurate noise analyses and a new enhanced user interface that incorporates geographic information systems capability. FHWA held a series of webinars in March explaining implementation options for the model. More information, including webinar recordings, requests to download the software, and a form for providing comments, link to the TNM Support Website. (4-20-17)
A map depicting highway and aviation noise at the state and county level has been released by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The map indicates that as of 2014, more than 97 percent of the U.S. population had the potential to be exposed to transportation noise at levels below 50 decibels, roughly the noise level of a humming refrigerator. Less than one tenth of one percent of the population would potentially experience noise levels of 80 decibels or more, equivalent to the noise level of a garbage disposal. The map will be updated annually and eventually account for noise sources from rail and port facilities. The map supplements the National Transportation Atlas Database and is a tool to help prioritize noise-related transportation investments. For more information, link to the map. (3-21-17)
Highway project developers in Texas responsible for compliance with traffic noise regulations now have a comprehensive collection of documents to turn to for reference, thanks to Texas DOT’s (TxDOT) online Traffic Noise Toolkit. The toolkit contains a dozen documents on topics including traffic noise regulations, compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), compliance with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requirements, and instructions for using FHWA’s Traffic Noise Model.
To assist with documentation, the toolkit includes a template letter to local officials about noise contours for land use planning as well as recommended text for documenting traffic noise analyses. And it provides direct links to relevant federal requirements and websites as well as a brochure about traffic noise abatement in both Spanish and English for public outreach.
|Texas DOT's Noise Toolkit helps streamline requirements for projects such as this noise barrier in Austin. Photo: Texas DOT|
One of a Group
The Traffic Noise Toolkit is one among a group of 17 environmental compliance toolkits developed by TxDOT’s Environmental Affairs Division. Subject matter ranges from air quality to Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act to bicycle and pedestrian accommodation. Each toolkit contains background policy information, general guidance for compliance, procedures, and standards, and a variety of forms for conducting environmental compliance work and recording environmental decisions.
“Our goal in developing the toolkits was to provide a one-stop shop for information pertaining to compliance policy and guidance,” said Ray Umscheid, TxDOT’s Noise Specialist and lead for the Traffic Noise Toolkit. “These types of materials can be difficult enough to understand without having to scavenge the Internet to find them. By having all of the guidance in one location, related materials can clearly be linked and better understood.”
Adherence to traffic noise regulations involves compliance with sections of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as well as the Federal Highway Aid Act. The latter Act mandated that FHWA develop and promulgate procedures to abate highway traffic noise and construction noise. Compliance with these procedures is a prerequisite for granting federal-aid highway funds or FHWA approvals for construction or reconstruction of a roadway. In Texas, regardless of the funding source, all projects must undergo the same process for a noise analysis and ultimately must be approved by TxDOT.
When developing the toolkit, TxDOT determined the contents and developed the draft documents. The documents then were sent to FHWA for input, revised as needed, and posted online. Umscheid said the toolkits already were under way when his agency was granted authority to assume federal NEPA responsibility from FHWA in December 2014. The toolkits will serve TxDOT well as it carries out that role, he added.
“Traffic noise guidelines and modeling methodologies can vary widely from state to state. Because many of the consultants that perform our work are from other states, it is important to have this information readily accessible to facilitate quicker project turn-around,” explained Umscheid.
One of the toolkit’s benefits is that the documentation for complying with FHWA requirements now can be dropped directly into the documentation for complying with relevant portions of NEPA. Before the toolkit was developed, the TxDOT noise guidelines were posted online while there was an overall environmental manual posted elsewhere on the TxDOT intranet site. In the toolkit, the manual has been revised as a noise only manual which references the noise guidelines and the additional supporting documentation, which either didn’t exist or had to be e-mailed to consultants for specific situations.
Umscheid offered specific advice for those using the toolkit. He said there is an inherent hierarchy in the documents posted, with guidance documents having the most detail and therefore being the key documents for ensuring compliance. Next down in the hierarchy come the standard operating procedures documents, which ensure that procedures are performed and documented appropriately. The information posted has been specifically broken out to address the needs of many audiences and users including in-house users, TxDOT district personnel, local governments, and the public.
A substantial portion of the information in the toolkit is “Texas-specific.” FHWA’s Federal Aid Policy Guide 23 CFR 772 gives states considerable discretion on precisely how to abate construction and traffic noise. The Texas-specific information includes TxDOT policy, guidance, and procedures as well as standards for environmental studies and document production. It reflects the fact that TxDOT has several agreements with resource agencies that require certain formats for information submittals, procedures for consultation, and communication protocols.
Recently, said Umscheid, the toolkit was put to particularly good use on a US 290 project in Houston. Consultants were able to access the TxDOT Traffic Noise Model Manual online and use that reference material to help them update an older noise model so that it was consistent with the agency’s modeling methodology for its current projects. In general, the toolkit helps to ensure that all projects are as consistent as possible, that impacts are predicted accurately, and that abatement will be proposed in a similar fashion throughout the state.
“While the toolkit clearly already has proven its worth, I still view the current version as a starting point… a work in progress,” said Umscheid.
From time to time, he receives feedback from TxDOT Districts and other users in the form of suggestions for additional toolkit components. The latest was a request for a blank letter template intended to inform local officials of noise impact contours. Although the requirement is directed in the federal rule, a consistent, easily accessible template aids in the effort for districts with little noise experience, he said.
In terms of whether other state DOTs can use the Traffic Noise Toolkit as a starting point for their own toolkits, Umscheid reiterated that much of the content is state-specific. However, he suggested that the general format of the kit (and its counterpart kits) may be useful.
The toolkit is continually under development as federal guidance evolves, best practices are incorporated, and questions and issues arise. Because much of the overall guidance is not prescriptive, associated documentation is easy to create and update within that structure.
One example of an anticipated change to the toolkit will be to post an updated Traffic Noise Model manual upon completion of the beta testing of the upcoming model. When available, it will include additional details regarding the modeling barriers for multilevel apartments or other special land uses.
For more information about the toolkit, contact Ray Umscheid, TxDOT Noise Specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/division/environmental/compliance-toolkits/traffic-noise.html.
The American Public Transportation Association has honored six member organizations for their achievements in sustainability. Capital Metro of Austin, Texas, Valley Metro of Phoenix, and Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), received gold, silver, and bronze level recognition, respectively. Capital Metro was recognized for reducing energy use by over 13 percent by using more efficient air conditioning and updating outdoor lighting. Valley Metro reduced its air emissions by installing solar panels and employing alternative fuels bus fleets. HART was recognized for building the first large-scale driverless rail system in the U.S. Earlier this year, APTA recognized three transit agencies in California and Georgia for achieving silver level status. For more information, link to the announcement. (8-1-18)
The Federal Highway Administration is accepting applications for its 2019 Environmental Excellence Awards. The awards recognize outstanding transportation projects, processes, and partners that use FHWA funding sources to go beyond “business as usual” to achieve environmental excellence. The 2019 EEA Program represents a joint effort among three FHWA offices: the Office of Project Development and Environmental Review, Office of Natural Environment, and Office of Human Environment. The Program features a range of categories designed to highlight best practices occurring across the U.S. Applications are due through Sept. 14, 2018. For more information, visit the FHWA EEA website or email the EEA program at EEAwardsNomination@dot.gov. (8-1-18)
A report presenting a strategy for a sustainable, more accessible, and more equitable transportation system has been issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report proposes several “building blocks” for modern transportation, such as pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets, cleaner and more efficient vehicles, better land use planning, improved public transit, smarter investments, and more equitable community design. The report also discusses the anticipated benefits for rural, suburban, and urban communities. The roadmap’s recommendations are specific to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions and includes real-world examples. For more information, link to the report. (7-19-18)
The Ohio Department of Transportation used the Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool (INVEST) to help the agency consider sustainability when evaluating a new bridge over the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. ODOT incorporated the INVEST scoring system and evaluation criteria to select a contractor and to track sustainability goals over the course of the project. During the project, the agency improved peregrine falcon habitat, reduced energy consumption, and recycled 100 percent of materials used. ODOT plans to use the tool for two other projects to meet the silver sustainability rating. For more information, link to the FHWA article. (7-9-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has announced the Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool (INVEST) Version 1.3. This update to the INVEST tool includes minor editorial corrections and clarifies criteria related to the tracking environmental commitments, integrated planning, travel demand management, and energy efficiency. The FHWA has issued a table of modifications and a guide to translating evaluations to the new version. INVEST is a web-based self-evaluation tool that allows users to assess sustainability in system planning, project planning, design, and construction. For more information, link to the announcement. (4-23-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has announced a workshop to promote a national dialogue regarding the deployment of autonomous vehicles. The dialogue will focus on automation planning and policy; digital infrastructure and data; multimodal safety and infrastructure design; operations; and truck platooning. The dialogue will convene various stakeholders throughout the United States such as equipment manufacturers, technology suppliers, transportation network companies, associations, and public-sector partners. A preliminary webinar is scheduled for May 8 and the workshop is scheduled for June 7, 2018, in Detroit. For more information, link to the announcement. (4-20-18)
The Volpe National Transportation Systems Center has released a final report on a thought leadership series held from September to December 2017. The Ongoing Transformation of the Global Transportation System addressed future challenges and opportunities affecting multimodal transportation systems in safety, infrastructure, innovation, and accountability. The report highlights several topics, including cyber security for connected vehicles, car speed and travel time, and transportation inequities. The report also provides new data on the performance of the nation’s highways. For more information, link to the report. (2-27-18)
The Federal Highway Administration has released the 2017 progress report on its program that helps to improve transportation system performance during extreme weather conditions. The report indicates that state departments of transportation have shown increased interest in understanding performance of their systems, but they are still figuring out how to collect and report measures. The report also evaluates the effectiveness of FHWA-supported road weather management tools and technologies, illustrating a high rate of adoption by state DOTs for some of them and limited adoption for others. In addition, the report finds an increase in collaboration and data sharing with DOTs. For more information, link to the report. (October 2017)
Strategies for sustainable design and operation of highway rest areas are outlined in a report issued by the Federal Highway Administration. Sustainable strategies include green building design elements, such as daylighting, passive heating and cooling techniques, and choosing sustainable materials. Operations strategies also can reduce energy and water usage, cut waste, and minimize environmental impacts, the report said. These include on-site renewable energy systems that use solar, wind, and geothermal resources. The report also includes case studies from state transportation agencies in Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Georgia, and Vermont. For more information, link to the report. (10-30-17)
The Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has issued a report on the potential for using electric vehicles for government, commercial, and industrial purposes. The report focuses on highway vehicles that are not personal transport; non-highway modes such as rail, watercraft, and airport support; and non-road equipment used directly or in support of other uses. The report finds that electric vehicles are poorly suited for long-haul trucking but have potential for other vehicles where savings on fuel costs could be significant, such as transit buses, school buses, regional and local delivery trucks, utility service vehicles, and refuse trucks. The report also finds that low supply and low demand is hampering the development of options for commercial fleets, and that successful development will be a long process involving research and development, manufacturing, purchasing, and new regulations. For more information, link to the report. (10-20-17)
The Federal Highway Administration has awarded six states a total of $15.5 million to figure out how to best charge drivers for miles driven rather than gasoline consumed. California, Colorado, Delaware, Missouri, Oregon, and Washington received grants through the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives program, established by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act. Coming in an era when fuel-efficient vehicles are impacting gas-tax funding for highways, the state pilot projects are intended to open the door to new sources of funding for highway design, construction, and repair. For more information, link to the announcement. (10-6-17)
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.”
|Arizona DOT’s Sustainable Transportation Program has implemented solutions such this roundabout on US 89. Photo: Arizona DOT|
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:
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:
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 SOlmsted@azdot.gov.
Environmental stewardship and sustainability efforts in the nation’s capital are continuing to advance, with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) implementation of a sustainability plan and a range of sustainable practices for the department.
DDOT’s Sustainability Plan incorporates and integrates sustainable practices throughout the department’s work, according to Faisal Hameed, Chief of the Project Development, Environment, and Sustainability Division at DDOT. The agency has established measures and targets that will be revised regularly so that DDOT can track and improve its environmental performance and increase the sustainability of the city’s transportation projects and programs.
Environmental, Social, Economic Goals
DDOT’s Sustainability Plan reflects the “triple bottom line” approach to sustainability, targeting environmental quality, social structure, and the economy.
DDOT defines a sustainable transportation as “a transportation system that provides its users with various mode choices in a balanced manner without compromising their safety, accessibility, and mobility while supporting the economy, promoting livability and protecting the environment.”
The plan identifies eight priority areas for sustainability and establishes goals, actions, measures, and targets for each. The priority areas and goals are:
For each priority area, measures and targets are identified, such as reduction of annual greenhouse gas emissions from DDOT projects by 5 percent annually. DDOT will track each area and report annually on progress made in achieving the targets.
Sustainable Initiatives and Projects Underway
Examples of sustainable efforts include DDOT’s “Great Streets” initiative, with efforts such as the Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue project, which won one of the first grants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under its Green Highways Partnership. DDOT employees successfully worked with EPA, the Federal Highway Administration, District Department of Environment, National Park Service, and other agency partners and the community to develop a sustainable design that improves bicycle and pedestrian safety by adding bike lanes, enhancing sidewalks, and incorporating low impact development (LID) features. Project features include bioretention areas, stormwater planters, and permeable concrete sidewalks, all of which help treat stormwater and reduce runoff into local waterways.
DDOT’s work to develop a Climate Change Adaptation Plan is another key sustainability effort. The plan will focus on developing a framework of recommendations for adapting to impacts brought on by a changing climate, especially as they relate to transportation infrastructure. DDOT has conducted workshops with the Federal Highway Administration, EPA, AASHTO, Metropolitan Washington Area Council of Governments, District Department of Environment, and various other agencies to develop this framework.
DDOT also is emerging as a national leader in bike-sharing and bicycle improvement programs, spearheaded by DDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager. Over 100 bike-share stations have been installed in the city and several more are planned.
Another example is the Klingle Valley Trail project, which will address historic flooding that caused erosion of a stream and road in Rock Creek Park. Working through an interagency partnership focused on a watershed approach to mitigation, DDOT will replace the existing storm-damaged roadway with a 10-foot-wide permeable-surface multi-use trail, use LID techniques and build a consistent bioswale parallel to the trail, and conduct innovative full stream channel restoration and bank stabilization for Klingle Creek.
In addition, historic preservation goals were achieved in a sustainable manner in the reconstruction and restoration of O and P Streets in the Georgetown National Historic District.
Restoration of one and a half miles of the roadway required the excavation of more than 300,000 granite pavers and removal of historic trolley tracks. After inspecting each granite paver, more than 90 percent of the original stones were reused. Each was power washed and placed one-by-one into the new roadway base. The trolley tracks and underground appurtenances were refurbished and returned to their original locations. At the same time, the 19th century water mains were replaced. DDOT employees led the complex design and construction of the roadway features while maintaining traffic and access for residents in a street that consists of all historic houses.
Other successful efforts include DDOT’s Green Alley pilot program to demonstrate use of permeable pavement and other low impact development techniques in alleys throughout D.C., as well as the city’s LED street lights programs.
EMS Advances Sustainability
In support of its sustainability efforts, DDOT also is implementing an environmental management system (EMS), based on the International Standards Organization (ISO 14001) structure. The agency may seek ISO certification in the future, Hameed said. The EMS is being implemented in phases. As the first phase, DDOT focused on the project development and environmental review process as well as office operations.
Following the “plan-do-check-act” EMS model, DDOT’s EMS outlines the agency’s environmental policy and describes objectives, measures, and targets as well as roles and responsibilities for implementation, measuring and reporting progress, and ensuring continuous improvement.
For project development and environmental review, the plan applies to all phases of project development, including planning, preliminary engineering, environmental review, final design, construction and maintenance. It calls for incorporation of environmental features in DDOT projects and increased use of beneficial and recycled materials.
For example, under the plan, projects will set a goal to achieve a 5 percent decrease in overall emissions as well as a 5 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, and at least half of all projects will include environmental components such as low impact development features and tree planting.
In addition, measures and targets are included to help streamline environmental reviews by reducing delays from environmental issues, avoiding delays in obtaining permits, and fulfilling environmental commitments on projects.
As part of the EMS implementation, environmental audits will be conducted at every phase of the project development process, and environmental commitments and mitigation will be tracked to ensure that the commitments are carried through to design and construction. The results of the reviews will be documented in an annual report, including recommendations for corrective actions.
“The idea is to monitor and evaluate environmental considerations throughout the project development process,” Hameed said. Forms must be filled out when a project is initiated, he said, and based on that form, determinations are made regarding potential environmental impacts and mitigation. That form is reviewed and approved by the Project Development, Environment, and Sustainability Division to ensure commitments are carried out.
For more information, link to the DDOT Sustainability Plan.
Transportation design and construction groups in Illinois have helped to design a voluntary guide intended to encourage use of sustainable practices for the transportation projects in the state. The Illinois - Livable and Sustainable Transportation Rating System and Guide (I-LAST), issued in January 2010, was developed in a cooperative effort between the Illinois Department of Transportation, the American Council of Engineering Companies–Illinois (ACEC-Illinois), and the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association (IRTBA). The guide – which is voluntary and “advisory in nature” – provides a description of sustainability in transportation and provides a tool for identifying and documenting sustainable practices on highway projects in the state.
The purpose of the guide is to:
The I-LAST guide identifies the following goals of providing sustainable features in the design and construction of highway projects:
The guide includes a checklist-based scorecard for evaluating the sustainable practices included in a highway project, with 17 separate sustainable features in eight categories:
For each of the 17 features, the scorecard lists activities and available points that could be earned for each activity included on a project. It also provides an explanation and resources to help users better understand how to implement each of the sustainable features.
The effort started with a desire to be more proactive on sustainability and was inspired by the GreenLITES approach developed by New York State DOT (see related case study). Industry partners worked with Illinois DOT to tailor their own system, agreeing that it would be used only on a voluntary basis. There is currently no certification or other incentive for the project scoring system, but such an approach may be added in the future.
While the I-LAST approach is voluntary, District 1 already has begun using the approach. The sustainable actions listed in the guide are already being done on many projects, but it is expected to bring awareness and encourage sustainable practices. While officials say they do not foresee a statewide mandate for the approach, it is expected to raise awareness of the types of practices that can be done.
The extent to which the Illinois guide takes hold also may be influenced by a sustainability tool currently under development by the Federal Highway Administration. The agency is in the process of developing its own rating system to provide criteria for sustainable practices.
For more information on the Illinois approach, link to the Illinois - Livable and Sustainable Transportation Rating System and Guide (I-LAST).
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is continuing to make progress on sustainability initiatives, a process that began with the 2010 GreenDOT policy directive.
In 2014, the agency conducted a comprehensive review of its progress on sustainability initiatives and issued the GreenDOT Report 2014 Status Update Report. Key priorities being pursued include:
|Increasing bicycle and pedestrian mode share is an important element of MassDOT’s sustainability initiative. Photo: MassDOT|
Improving Consideration of GHG impacts
MassDOT has been working with Metropolitan Planning Organizations for a number of years to incorporate GHG impacts of projects as a consideration when transportation projects are selected. This work has taken on new urgency with the 2015 passage of state regulation 310 CMR 60.05 which makes the consideration of GHG impacts a legal requirement.
The agency has provided metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) with analytical tools, guidelines and training to enable the quantification of GHG impacts. It also is undertaking analysis to identify the most efficient and effective means of reducing transportation sector GHG emissions through implementing a pilot of the Federal Highway Administration’s Energy and Emissions Policy Analysis Tool and a project with UMass Amherst under the Massachusetts Cooperative Research Program.
Shannon Greenwell, MassDOT’s project lead, noted that the central challenge in this work is to develop a system of GHG impact assessment that is consistent across the Commonwealth’s MPOs and allows the quantification of GHG impacts at a relatively early stage in the project development process.
MassDOT has been a national leader in promoting Complete Streets designs. Early efforts were recognized in the award-winning 2006 Project Development and Design Guide. More recently, MassDOT issued the 2012 Healthy Transportation Engineering Directive and supporting engineering directives that set minimum standards for accommodation of active modes of transportation.
Its pioneering efforts to promote complete streets continue with the finalization of a Complete Streets Funding Program. This program will be released in January of 2016 and will help incentivize municipalities to adopt complete streets policies and construct complete street projects.
The agency also finalized a ground breaking Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide in 2015 that significantly advances bicycle facility design in the Commonwealth and aims to set new precedents for design in the United States.
MassDOT Complete Streets Engineer Luciano Rabito noted that the first projects will be ready for funding in 2016 and that MassDOT has sought to provide flexibility for all participating municipalities. “We have designed a program that will offer assistance to all municipalities large or small; urban, suburban, or rural. The program, which will be managed online, will be easy to use and keep municipalities engaged throughout the process. Based on the positive feedback we have received, we are anticipating a hugely successful program.”
MassDOT has initiated a climate vulnerability assessment to help prepare the Commonwealth for the likely impacts of climate change on transportation infrastructure.
The scope of this first phase will include mapping the full inventory of MassDOT assets; compiling and mapping climate change predictions; conducting workshops to gather data on current conditions; assessing the level of risk to individual assets and the system as a whole; developing asset vulnerability criteria; and identifying a prioritized set of high-risk hazards and high-risk assets.
Development of Renewable Energy on MassDOT’s Assets
MassDOT’s work to support increased generation of renewable energy continues. The first phase of the project to establish solar farms on underutilized areas near State Highways was completed in 2015 with the addition of five solar arrays. These projects utilize an innovative form of Power Purchase Agreement financing, under which a solar developer bears the upfront cost of the installations and operation and maintenance responsibilities, and MassDOT secures a long term agreement to purchase low cost electricity. Additional solar projects are planned, as well as a wind turbine project for a commuter rail facility.
These developments add to a range of existing renewable energy initiatives on MassDOT’s assets which include solar projects as well as a wind energy project at an MBTA facility.
The project lead, Lily Oliver, explained that MassDOT is starting to see the benefits of highway solar projects after almost 2 years of design and construction. “A lot of upfront work was required for these projects to go ahead” says Oliver. “This included a competitive procurement process, price negotiations, town and highway access permits, obtaining approvals from FHWA and securing state incentives. It is satisfying to see these projects coming online which means reduced operating costs for MassDOT and lower greenhouse gas emissions for Massachusetts,” Oliver said. (see related AASHTO case study under Energy/GHG Emissions topic)
In the area of travel demand, MassDOT supports the reduction of single-occupant vehicle travel by increasing the availability and use of commuting options such as carpooling, vanpooling, transit, bicycling, and walking through its MassRIDES program.
The use of these options leads to reduced traffic congestion; improved air quality; reduced GHG emissions; and enhanced quality of life in Massachusetts. MassRIDES now serves 495,000 employees within its 335 partner organizations.
MassDOT has a number of initiatives underway and planned to reduce the energy used in its buildings and other fixed assets. These include the following:
Massachusetts committed to a goal of 300,000 zero emission vehicles registered in the state by 2025 under a Multi-State ZEV Action Plan. MassDOT has a number of responsibilities under its draft Massachusetts’ Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan. They include the installation of up to 12 DC fast charging stations at locations close to State Highways within Massachusetts to provide range confidence for drivers on longer journeys and providing signage to guide drivers to charging stations.
Challenges arise when installing a new layer of refueling technology on a busy State Highway system. They include meeting rules governing the use of federal air quality funds and complying with restrictions on commercial activities near the highway. MassDOT also must work with existing lessees, utility companies and other state government agencies, all while siting the charging stations where they will be most useful to the traveling public.
For more information on MassDOT’s sustainability initiatives, visit MassDOT’s GreenDOT Sustainability Initiative website.
New York State Department of Transportation is pioneering an effort to measure its own performance on sustainability and is also creating a powerful incentive for its employees to go green. NYSDOT’s Green Leadership in Transportation and Environmental Sustainability (GreenLITES) program, launched in September 2008 and continuing to evolve, is a certification program that recognizes projects and operations that incorporate sustainable practices. The more green practices performed, the higher the certification level that can be achieved.
The first program of its kind in the nation used to rate all DOT projects, GreenLITES is modeled after the building industry’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program for green building practices and the University of Washington’s Greenroads program. GreenLITES applies a similar approach to recognize and encourage environmentally sustainable practices in transportation. The GreenLITES rating system tracks specific sustainable practices and awards credits based on the degree to which such practices are implemented. The system recognizes varying certification levels, with the highest level going to those efforts that go above and beyond standard practice and “clearly advance the state of sustainable transportation solutions.” Depending on the cumulative score acquired by incorporating sustainable choices into project design or operations, one of the following GreenLITES certification levels may be assigned:
Scoring Projects and Operations
For Project Design, each project is tracked on a “scorecard” that lists and scores more than 170 practices in categories including sustainable sites, water quality, materials and resources, energy and atmosphere, and additional innovations and other actions. For each category, a list of activities is provided along with the number of credits that may be earned.
Because of the different nature of its work, the Operations Program takes a slightly different approach, incorporating GreenLITES sustainability measures into its existing annual maintenance and operations planning process. The long list of 130 operations and maintenance practices includes GreenLITES measures and other “green” practices available for credits in the following general categories:
The scoring is conducted each year at the end of March at the close of NYSDOT’s fiscal year. For both Operations and Project Design, the Department presents Evergreen and Gold awards each April on Earth Day.
The program has been implemented in stages, starting with the September 2008 GreenLITES Project Design Program, followed by the April 2009 GreenLITES Maintenance/Operations Plan Spreadsheet, the March 2010 Regional Sustainability Assessment tool and the Planning, Project Solicitation tool. The Department has also launched a Local Projects Certification Program that allows other state agencies, authorities, municipalities, and non-governmental organizations to use the GreenLITES project design tool.
The GreenLITES project design tool and operations tool have proved to be good for evaluating projects that are part of an existing construction or maintenance program. However, the Department also needed a way to select the “right projects.” This led to the development of the 2010 Project Solicitation Tool and the Regional Sustainability Assessment Table.
The project solicitation tool is a questionnaire that helps determine how closely a project is consistent with seven identified sustainability goals. Points are awarded for each goal criterion in the proposed project. Project scores may then be used as a discussion point when deciding what projects to include in long-term capital program submissions.
The Regional Sustainability Assessment Table is used by NYSDOT regions to develop and assess regional long-term sustainability goals from a more holistic perspective, across program areas and using the triple bottom line realms of economy, environment and communities. The table is used to identify current states, desired future states, and plans for accomplishing future states in all three sustainability realms as they relate to specific NYSDOT goals.
All these tools are continually being updated and refined. For example, the Department is currently using the 2.1.0 project design scorecard, and after each round of operations awards the operations plan spreadsheet is updated. Also, NYSDOT is currently working on how to better integrate sustainability into the Department’s asset management and program update processes.
“The Department of Transportation is more than concrete, asphalt and steel. We are, in fact, a vital connection to and part of the path toward economic recovery,” NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said in announcing the 2011 awards. “As we plan for the future, our transportation investments must be done in a manner that is both environmentally sensitive and sustainable. GreenLITES is the Department’s nationally recognized program which keeps us focused on making transportation decisions that support a sustainable society.”
For more information, link to NYSDOT’s GreenLITES website, which includes links for the Project Design Certification, Operations Certification Program, GreenLITES Regions, Local Projects Certification, GreenLITES Planning, and links to awards. Information also may be obtained by contacting the program staff via e-mail at GreenLITES@dot.state.ny.us.
A pioneer in sustainable transportation, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) was the first state transportation agency to adopt an agency-wide sustainability plan. Issued in 2004, that plan stressed inclusion of sustainability considerations in the update of the Oregon Transportation Plan, implementation of a sustainable bridge delivery program (OTIA III), and development of an environmental management system for ODOT’s maintenance yards.
In 2008, ODOT embarked on a broader three-volume sustainability plan aimed at addressing both internal and external operations in seven focus areas: health and safety; social responsibility/workforce well-being and development; environmental stewardship; land use and infrastructure; energy/fuel use and climate change; material resource flows; and economic health. Volume I of the plan, issued in 2008, provides the vision and framework for ODOT’s sustainability goals and strategies.
Volume II of the Sustainability Plan, completed in 2010, sets goals, strategies, and performance measures for ODOT’s internal operations, such as its facilities and fleet. It includes goals such as increasing use of alternative fuels and electric vehicles in the ODOT fleet, reducing the amount of waste generated by facilities, and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from overall agency operations.
Volume III of the plan, which has not yet been completed, will address goals and strategies for management and operation of the statewide transportation system. This will include sustainable practices in project delivery, highway design and construction, and identification of the best tools to manage and implement sustainability within individual projects.
Annual Sustainability Report
The long list of sustainable practices and programs overseen by ODOT’s Sustainability Program Manager and the cross-discipline ODOT Sustainability Council are documented in an annual sustainability progress report. Some examples include installation of electric vehicle charging stations, purchase of electric vehicles, increased use of alternative fuels such as biodiesel for the ODOT fleet, and installation of solar panels on ODOT right-of-ways for the first-ever “Solar Highway” projects.
ODOT also considers sustainability in project decision-making. The Columbia River Crossing Project – a joint effort of the Oregon and Washington DOTs – was the first in the nation to include a project-level sustainability plan. Sustainability goals for the project are to be achieved through a long list of project elements, including addition of high capacity transit, reducing vehicle miles traveled, use of tolling, electronic safety technologies, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and use of sustainable construction materials and methods.
ODOT also is working with its sister agency, the Department of Land Conservation and Development, to implement the Oregon Sustainable Transportation Initiative (OSTI), an integrated statewide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector while creating healthier, more livable communities and greater economic opportunity.
|ODOT Supports Electric Vehicle Infrastructure. Photo: Oregon DOT|
Sharing Sustainable Practices
A wide range of programs and projects underway are documented on ODOT’s Sustainability Program Website, including a “sustainability news” section with articles describing recent efforts.
For more information on ODOT’s sustainability programs, visit the ODOT Sustainability Program web page, or contact ODOT Sustainability Program Manager Marjorie Bradway, email@example.com.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has taken a leadership role in achieving sustainable solutions to manage stormwater through a unique statewide outreach and education initiative.
The “Stormwater Solutions” initiative, funded by RIDOT with a grant from the Federal Highway Administration, supports implementation of the new state-level stormwater regulations as well as RIDOT’s ongoing compliance with the federal Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) program.
The purpose of Stormwater Solutions is to:
State regulations call for incorporating Low Impact Development (LID) as the “industry standard” for development. LID is an approach to land development that works with nature to manage stormwater that runs off impervious surfaces as close to its source as possible and treats it as a resource rather than a waste product. It reduces the impact of built areas and promotes natural movement of water within an ecosystem.
By proactively integrating LID and sustainable practices into a comprehensive outreach and education program, the Stormwater Solutions initiative is finding sustainable ways to protect the environment, save money, achieve regulatory goals, and build public support for sustainable transportation infrastructure.
The initiative is being implemented in partnership with Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM); the University of Rhode Island (URI) Cooperative Extension’s Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials program; and the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District. As part of the initiative, a team of professionals from these organizations is developing materials to educate and inform towns, cities, and the general public across the state about compliance with the new stormwater regulations.
Training Programs to Prevent Runoff
Through the Stormwater Solutions outreach effort, more than two dozen training workshops for RIDOT and municipal employees have been completed. The training has addressed new ways to prevent runoff pollution at public works garages and construction sites; the inclusion of improved pollution controls in new project designs, construction practice, and routine maintenance; and designing for “green streets“ and ways communities can make a difference in preventing stormwater pollution.
RIDOT is also integrating LID techniques in new project designs. An early example of this integration is the reconstruction of Route 138 in South Kingstown. LID techniques will convey stormwater away from the road through grassed swales instead of standard piping and inlets, saving construction costs, improving water quality, and enhancing the road’s appearance. The project also includes a landscaped bio-retention feature in a roundabout to provide water quality treatment and to infiltrate stormwater into the ground.
Stormwater Solutions is working to reduce impacts to stormwater at the source by conducting community outreach to educate the public and municipal officials on the importance of pollution prevention and applying environmentally sustainable and cost saving LID techniques. These source reduction activities – which include everyday actions such as reduced use of fertilizer, litter control, hazardous material control, and use of ground infiltration and bio-swales to filter pollutants – reduce the need to build and maintain expensive treatment structures and provide opportunities for creating greener, more visually attractive landscapes along roadsides.
Stormwater Solutions offers easy-to-use materials for public education and outreach to inform communities about ways they can help manage stormwater runoff. The materials – which are publicly available on a website – are designed for use by municipalities, stormwater managers, watershed organizations, or interested civic groups.
Illustration of Combined Sewer Overflow from Stormwater Fact Sheet: Source: http://ristormwatersolutions.org/docs/1.Intro.ResFactSheet.pdf.
For example, the website provides a series of fact sheets on various aspects of stormwater management:
A variety of other outreach materials also are provided, including cartoons, articles, display materials, radio spots, videos, and stormwater training manuals. The website also provides a variety of strategies, examples from towns in the state, and an inventory of LID practices such as bio-swales, green roofs, cisterns, permeable pavement, rain gardens, and site design.
Allison Hamel, Environmental Scientist/Stormwater Program Coordinator with RIDOT, said the agency is working with DEM and URI to develop a second five-year agreement for public education and outreach. The second agreement will focus on:
Transferability and Lessons Learned
Hamel said other state DOTs could benefit from efforts similar to the Stormwater Solutions program.
“We think that this would most definitely be transferable to other DOTs, particularly in other states where the DOT is the only state-wide MS4,” she said.
“Not only did RIDOT receive full compliance ‘credit’ for Minimum Measure 1 & 2 (except for the public notice part) from the state regulatory agency (RIDEM), RIDOT staff received personalized training that we would not have received otherwise (i.e. the linear LID training),” she added.
Hamel also stressed the importance of training. “One of our greatest lessons learned was that the ‘train the trainer’ workshops provided great resources, but those resources were rarely used and implemented once the ‘trainer’ got back to work.”
“This is one of the reasons why we are focusing on the hands-on training in the second agreement,” she said.
Hamel also noted the importance of training not only for staff, but also for upper-level management, that is, “those with decision-making capabilities and money-wielding powers.”
“It is important that managers and the directors recognize the money and assets and resources that stormwater management truly needs,” she added.
An evaluation of systems to track transportation asset management (TAM) in terms of return on investment has been issued in a report under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Research Report 866). The report, issued under NCHRP Project 20-100, provides objective approaches that can be used by transportation agencies to estimate the return on investment in TAM systems such as pavement management systems, bridge management systems, and maintenance management systems. Benefits of TAM systems, such as AASHTOWare Bridge Management software, include more proactive agency approaches to asset management, better prioritization, more robust analytical tools, and better data quality. The report includes an associated spreadsheet tool, the NCHRP Project 20-100 ROI Calculator. The calculator includes factors and procedures from the Highway Economic Requirements System State Version (HERS-ST), which can be used to perform life cycle analysis to reduce waste, prevent pollution, and encourage recycling. For more information, link to the report.
A review of the use of recycled concrete aggregate (RCA) in new construction has been issued by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The report evaluates the current state of practice across the U.S. and historical performance data to understand differences between RCA pavements and non-RCA pavements. It includes an economic analysis and provides guidelines from the American Concrete Institute, Federal Highway Administration and AASHTO for suggested uses and quality types of concrete. The report recommends that the use of recycled fines not be permitted during construction and that mitigation techniques should be used to prevent alkali-aggregate related distress. For more information, link to the report. (3-4-17).
Peat excavated from construction activities, taconite tailings from mining operations, and other filter media were evaluated for how well they clean stormwater in bioswales and bioslopes, according to the new issue of the Catalyst newsletter from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies. The research, funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, reviewed materials recycled from construction and industrial processes for how well they absorb water, retain pollutants, and sustain plant growth. The research found that peat and taconite tailings compared favorably with current MnDOT practices. For more information, link to Catalyst. (4-10-18)
A list of resources related to stormwater management for state DOTs has been posted on the AASHTO Stormwater Community of Practice web page. The compendium includes practitioner field guides, a practitioner's handbook, state of the practice reports, and AASHTO's stormwater research road map. It also lists relevant low-cost, short term research projects under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (under project 25-25), as well as full NCHRP reports related to stormwater management issues. To access the report, link here. (10-19-17)
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s award-winning work managing construction stormwater to protect two water bodies adjacent to Interstate 93 has been a successful demonstration of innovative techniques under real-world conditions.
NHDOT took a completely new approach, especially for the temporary stormwater controls, when widening and reconstructing I-93 south of Manchester where it passes between Canobie Lake and Cobbett's Pond, according to NHDOT’s Director of Project Development Peter Stamnas.
The proposed work on the segment, a nearly three-mile stretch at Exit 3, prompted significant public concern over the potential for turbidity and sediment affecting the nearby water bodies, especially Canobie Lake which provides local drinking water.
I-93 between Manchester and the Massachusetts border had not been significantly upgraded since it was built in the early 1960s, according to project documentation. NHDOT was faced with performing major construction while still meeting the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ stringent water quality standards and the public’s demand for the cleaner construction.
Knowing that the entire 20-mile project, and the Exit 3 construction in particular, was constrained by the natural geography, NHDOT “really had to start from scratch from a design standpoint” to create a solution for the construction stormwater that would meet NHDES standards and receive public support, according to Stamnas, who joined the project in 2006.
NHDOT used a “new design approach that would be similar to a traffic control plan” but applied to construction stormwater, Stamnas said. The agency reviewed the entire length of the project, analyzing the runoff risk and calculating runoff volumes. Prior to the construction phase, staff identified the areas that would require stormwater controls, resulting in a comprehensive stormwater management plan.
The agency faced constraints within the right of way regarding the surface area for stormwater storage, the hilly terrain, and the nearby water bodies, and had to devise innovative solutions. “There was just too much water and not enough real estate,” Stamnas said.
NHDOT maximized the limited land available within the right of way by collecting water wherever possible and using a system of pumps and pipes to get the water “where it needed to go” for storage and treatment, Stamnas said. This had the added benefit of reducing the number of treatment cells that needed to be constructed.
|New Hampshire DOT uses innovative methods to pump and divert construction stormwater for treatment on I-93 project. (Photo: NHDOT)|
Treatment with Polyacrylamides
Canobie Lake and Cobbett's Pond created significant challenges since they are the low geographic points along Exit 3 and “everything went there,” Stamnas said. NHDES standards for class B waterbodies (Cobbett’s Pond) require down stream flows not be increased by more than 10 nephelometric turbidity units (NTUs) after the introduction of the stormwater flows. For Class A waterbodies (Canobie Lake) the standard is further reduced to a 0 NTU increase above background levels.
To address this, the agency pioneered a program for linear highway projects which included flocculent system designs, contract bid items, and procedures for the construction use of anionic polyacrylamides (PAMs) as a flocculant to induce the suspended solids in the runoff to form larger flakes. These particles then could be filtered out or allowed to settle, turning sediment-clouded runoff into clear water that would not disrupt local water quality.
NHDOT started out using self-dosing blocks that control the release of PAM into the runoff water. The flocculant was added to a flocculant dosing tank system. The water was then run through in-ground settling basins and clarifying structures that used filtration baffles.
In 2008 and 2009, “we were on the cutting edge” of PAM use from a linear construction standpoint, Stamnas said, and the dosing and filtration methods evolved over time during the project. At the beginning, NHDOT had “difficulties” receiving regulatory approval to use PAMs but “we finally worked through it,” Stamnas said.
The regulators’ concern was that NHDOT would use too much PAM, causing it to be a pollutant itself. Stamnas said eventually they were able to prove that they could make effective use of the flocculants without creating a hazard to water quality. The agency found that by switching from self-dosing blocks to PAM powders, the dosage could be controlled more accurately.
Techniques also were used to divert water that was coming into the site, directing it through bypass pipes so that it did not pick up sediment. This lowered the amount of water that required treatment, Stamnas said.
In addition to treatment, PAMs were used as a soil stabilizer for disturbed slopes.
Contracting and Costs
The significant permanent stormwater retention structures and the locations for construction stormwater controls were included up front in the original contract documents, Stamnas said.
NHDOT provided base plans, required contractors to provide more detailed stormwater control plans, and set up regular meetings to review progress. This allowed the contractors and the field staff to be a lot more prepared, Stamnas said. Conventional erosion and sediment control best management practices (BMPs) and typical management approaches to construction were determined to be inadequate and unnecessarily expensive, Stamnas said.
Also, agency planners and designers created strategies and tools they knew would work in various situations and that could be applied to address field conditions. It provided the contractors and the field staff with options from which they could make decisions based on the situations they were presented with, Stamnas said. Examples of these tools included hydraulically applied mulch systems, unit water diversion items, standard pump and pipe systems, and a packaged flocculent treatment system. NHDOT provided the proposed collection of tools early on so that contractors could bid on them up front rather than including them later through change orders or creating a situation where there was a sole-source supplier.
The construction work at Exit 3 cost approximately $150 million. The agency wanted to place the stormwater controls into the bidding environment to achieve some level of economy. NHDOT was looking for ways to reduce costs, Stamnas said, “and I think we did that.”
According to NHDOT, completing a construction stormwater assessment during the design phase of large projects pays dividends. It identifies potential risks early and allows items to be included in the contract to minimize costs and mitigate risk potential. Also, contractors are more prepared, and it reduces their time to prepare stormwater protection plans, so work can start sooner.
Diverting water around the active construction zone is critical and constructing temporary sedimentation basins as early as possible reduces treatment efforts.
Also, the construction site is constantly changing, and strategies that work one month may not work as well the following month. The matrix of tools allows for solutions to be implemented quickly and cost-effectively.
Additionally, PAMs are very effective in reducing turbidity in construction runoff and are safe for the environment when used properly. They reduce soil loss, reduce phosphorous levels in treated stormwater, have negligible effect on water pH, and lower biochemical oxygen demand in runoff.
Traffic was placed in the final lane configurations through the Exit 3 area over the summer and this segment of the corridor project was declared substantially complete in November of 2016. Four more years of construction lie ahead along the remaining segments of the 20-mile corridor project.
The Exit 3 stormwater control project earned NHDOT the “Best Use of Innovation” award in the medium-sized project category from the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials (NASTO) for its efforts to protect the natural resources.
“It’s a new way of looking at linear construction and it’s working really well,” Stamnas said. Based on the size and complexity of future projects NHDOT now has a comprehensive list of strategies to draw from for use around the state.
A facility to help practitioners test the effectiveness of stormwater treatment technologies is being developed by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The Stormwater Technology Testing Center (STTC), under construction at the Northeast Portland Maintenance Yard, is intended to provide designers and users of stormwater treatment technologies a tool to provide non-biased assessments of the effectiveness and maintainability of technologies being considered for installation at their facilities, according to Paul Wirfs, P.E., Deputy Geo-Environmental Manager.
Officials hope the new center – which is expected to open in 2017 – will help develop information on the maintainability and life cycle cost for stormwater treatment technologies that will help to protect the environment and transportation investments.
Background on Testing Center Development
State and federal agencies, together with environmental organizations, have expressed increasing concern regarding the effectiveness of stormwater treatment devices and facilities in achieving water quality standards required by permits. Transportation agencies also face ongoing concerns over maintenance costs related to stormwater treatment.
The concept for the STTC was developed by a group of stormwater professionals that ODOT convened in 2011 to discuss the challenges and ways to improve the management of large stormwater programs. The group included representatives from ODOT, other state and local agencies, and the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE). A board has been established to provide direction on the operation of the STTC including local, state, and federal agency representatives from Oregon, Washington, and California.
Although WDOE and several other agencies had facilities or protocols established to evaluate pollution removal effectiveness of stormwater treatment devices, they could not demonstrate the capability of a long-term stormwater treatment device, the maintenance required for the technology, the costs of maintenance, and at what point the technology would fail and require replacement.
Over a two-year period between 2009 and 2011, the STTC concept was developed, including a business plan, maintainability evaluation protocols and a quality assurance project plan.
The STTC Board identified several potential sites for the center, ultimately choosing the Northeast Portland Maintenance Yard site. The site provided adequate stormwater supply and representative stormwater, an adequate facility site area with the possibility of expansion, an appropriate discharge point, and gravity flow stormwater conveyance to the testing facility. In addition, the site offered safe access and was already owned by ODOT.
Officials also noted that the STTC was one of several projects that ODOT funded to meet the commitments of a settlement agreement in response to a notice of intent to sue over alleged permit violations.
The Northwest Environmental Defense Center alleged that ODOT was not in compliance with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) permit. While that allegation was never proven, ODOT officials said the agency “chose to invest in stormwater improvement rather than on litigation.” The STTC qualified as part of that investment along with multiple other stormwater retrofit projects within the Willamette River Watershed.
The Art and Science of Stormwater Testing.
The testing center consists of a combination of pumps, pipes, an air compressor, sensors and computers that work together to gather representative stormwater samples for laboratory analysis.
The STTC includes 3 “pads” or “test bays” where each technology is connected to the testing center control and piping systems. The technologies can be installed at the appropriate elevation and configuration as defined by the specifications provided by the owner of the technology. This is all located within the footprint of the STTC.
Stormwater is diverted from a 7-foot diameter drainage pipe along I‐ 205 at Columbia Slough to a large manhole called the feed wet well. A pump recirculates the stormwater and the debris in the feed wet well, allowing suction pipes to pull in a representative sample of the pollutants in the stormwater.
High-velocity vacuum samplers pull samples of the raw stormwater into jars to be sent to a laboratory for analysis. The diameter of the suction pipes, which varies from 2 inches to 4 inches depending on the pumping flow rate, ensures that flow velocity is fast enough to move sand and other debris along and carry it to the test bays. Clear PVC pipe and clear hose allow pipe-flow to be monitored, especially when leaves and sand are entering storm drains.
The process also uses a “programmable logic controller” that controls pneumatic valves in order to match the suction pipe diameter to the required pump speed. It monitors the water surface in the feed wet well and test bays with sensors to determine if too much water is being sent to the technology being tested. If the water level is rising and is about to bypass some of the raw stormwater, the programmable controller slows the dosing flow rate. All of the data regarding the water surface and flow rate are sent to a remotely operated computer program for archiving and analysis.
Ultimately, samples are sent to the laboratory, where the influent and effluent are analyzed for pollutant levels, providing data on the removal efficiency of the technology being tested.
The site is currently configured to test any type of vault, filter, or manhole shaped devices, and it can test up to three technologies simultaneously. The site also can be expanded in the future to test swales, slopes and small ponds.
“Currently, we can run the system and have made a few test runs,” according to Dan Gunther, a hydraulics engineer at ODOT. “We are still working on the software and controlling the site remotely,” he said. Testing of technologies will begin in earnest once all the software and remote controls are installed.
Quantifying Technology Costs, Maintainability.
ODOT officials said the STTC will help to quantify the maintainability performance characteristics and costs of commercially ready stormwater treatment technologies. It is available to serve as a national laboratory for the professional stormwater community and will provide an unbiased and credible assessment of stormwater treatment technologies.
ODOT intends for the STTC to become a self-sufficient facility, supported by testing fees; however, financial support by owners and operators of stormwater technologies will ensure continued operation of the facility. In the future, the facility may be expanded to include additional testing bays and testing parameters such as dosing, bacteria, nitrates and more.
In terms of challenges, officials said it has taken longer than planned to obtain start-up funding and to get the facility up and running.
In that regard, states can help support the center by contributing to an ongoing Federal Highway Administration pooled fund program. A total of $300,000 is being requested to go toward business management services, calibration and testing, and data protocols. So far, a total of $125,000 has been committed, including $100,000 from Pennsylvania DOT, $15,000 from Washington State DOT, and $10,000 from the Port of Portland.
Other elements of the STTC calibration and start-up have been funded by a State Transportation Innovation Council grant from the Federal Highway Administration.
To date, ODOT has invested approximately $950,000 on the concept development and construction of the center. One more push of funding will move the project forward to full operation when testing can begin.
In addition, ODOT officials said they would like to hear from other DOTs that are interested in joining the Board or participating as a stakeholder.
The National Center for Sustainable Transportation has issued a study regarding the impacts of noise and light on wildlife use of crossings under or over highways. Data on overnight road traffic noise along four California highways was used in addition to wildlife crossing structure historical data for 20 days during the summers of 2012, 2015, and 2016. Results suggest that wildlife use of crossing structures could be disrupted by traffic, especially for disturbance-sensitive species. The report also finds that the richness of sensitive species is negatively correlated with maximum noise. The report recommends that crossing structures in areas of predicted or likely wildlife presence should be protected from traffic noise and light. For more information, link to the report. (6-25-18)
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has released a report regarding its pilot project to equip mowers in the Metro District with automated vehicle location (AVL) systems. AVL systems provide real-time data on vehicle location, road surface conditions, vehicle position and temperature readings to enhance performance. The project required installation of AVL systems installed in 2015 and 2016, with goals of developing a software interface with refined data outputs; enabling data exchange with MnDOT servers for analysis; and creating completion reports to summarize the operator’s accomplishments. The report indicates that more trials are needed to understand how AVL systems will help reduce weeds on roadways. For more information, link to the report. (5-22-17)
The use of web-enabled cameras to better understand wildlife movements on and near highway rights of way could provide transportation agencies with more timely data, lower costs, and help prevent animal-vehicle collisions.
The Federal Highway Administration is sponsoring research on the use of wildlife cameras that can feed data directly through the internet to a web-database (wildlifeobserver.net). Transportation agencies would use the proposed system in areas with wired, wireless or cellular system connectivity to track animal movements, verify the effectiveness of protective measures for wildlife, and gather data. Eventually, agencies could use the system “in conjunction with existing traffic camera infrastructure and adding wildlife monitoring to the data stream,” according to the agency.
|Web-enabled cameras immediately transfer images such as this moose crossing through a culvert on US 91 in Utah. Photo: Fraser Shilling, Road Ecology Center at UC Davis|
Working in partnership with the California Department of Transportation and other state departments of transportation, researchers are now further refining commercially-available camera systems to meet the needs of DOTs. The agencies and partners are field testing the camera and database systems to evaluate both their effectiveness in capturing and managing wildlife images and their ease of use.
An integral part of the system is an online database which is set up to receive image files uploaded either by transportation agency staff or directly by the remote, wireless cameras. The system then automatically creates database records for image files based on information already attached to the file, such as the date and time an image was captured. From there, agency biologists can manage, analyze and share the wildlife images.
Transportation agencies in California, Colorado, South Dakota, Virginia and Utah are field testing the technologies, supported by FHWA’s Exploratory Advanced Research Program (FHWA-PROJ-13-0107).
New Era of Wildlife Monitoring
In an era when most of us have nearly instant information concerning most things in our lives, these types of technologies could “up the game” regarding roadside wildlife monitoring, said Fraser Shilling, the principal investigator on the project,
As compared to cameras and sensors used for monitoring traffic and other environmental conditions, camera methods used by state departments of transportation for wildlife monitoring are quite a bit behind, said Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center located at the University of California, Davis.
That’s why the use of advanced imaging technology such as web-enabled cameras potentially could advance the state of the practice on understanding wildlife movements and roadside ecology, and help improve highway safety. Such technologies are important to transportation agencies and society, with costs of wildlife-vehicle collisions estimated to be in the millions of dollars annually.
A recent report issued by the Road Ecology Center and co-authored by Shilling estimated the cost to society of wildlife-vehicle collisions in California in 2015 was around $225 million. The cost of property damage alone was estimated at more than $88 million annually for the state.
FHWA Supports Research
The FHWA is working with state DOTs to promote their wildlife stewardship and public safety missions. Safer wildlife crossings, for instance, are a key component of the FHWA’s efforts to implement Eco-Logical, the landscape-level approach to integrate infrastructure development and ecosystem conservation.
The EAR project is supporting the field testing of cameras and other low-powered sensor systems or unstaffed sensor technologies that will provide data for project delivery, environmental assessment and decision support.
Currently, state DOT biologists monitor wildlife such as deer, bears, mountain lions, elk, and pronghorn sheep using static camera systems in remote locations, known as camera traps, Shilling said. While static camera traps have been useful for gathering data about what types of animals interact with highways, they have some limitations.
Shilling explained that camera traps require the efforts of staff or contractors in order to retrieve pictures or video. One camera trap can yield around 3,500 pictures per month that must be viewed, sorted and recorded. Spread over several miles, a wildlife monitoring project that includes around 50 cameras could result in tens of thousands of pictures to review. Thus, having cameras that stream data to the headquarters office or a web-connected database such as wildlifeobserver.net would allow DOT staff to evaluate pictures within minutes of the animal being sighted.
Colorado DOT SH-9 Project
The Colorado Department of Transportation has used the web-connected cameras as part of its SH-9 Colorado River South Wildlife & Safety Improvement Project. This 10-mile section of highway near Kremmling had more than 500 wildlife-vehicle collisions in the previous 10 years, mostly elk and deer. To monitor the installed mitigation features, CDOT is working on a monitoring study involving more than 60 motion-triggered wildlife cameras, some of which are connected using cellular phone networks, according to Bryan Roeder, CDOT’s Environmental Research Manager.
“The camera data is critical not only for determining the success of the mitigation, but for adaptive management of that mitigation and applying lessons learned to future mitigation,” Roeder said. “This project is expected to produce about one million photos per year, so we are very interested in the future of automated image analysis processes.”
Using the connected cameras, which instantly send photos by e-mail to project researchers, “is a much more convenient method than traditional cameras,” Roeder said. “The ability to view and share photos within minutes of an animal crossing in front of a camera is valuable.”
Jeff Peterson, Manager of CDOT’s Wildlife Program, agrees. “Because SH-9 is the first project in the state to include wildlife overpasses, we are very interested in how effective they are in facilitating connectivity between habitat areas,” and having instant notification from the web-connected cameras is a key component, Peterson said.
Another issue that such systems would improve upon is the cost—in time and money—for DOTs to maintain camera traps.
Bridget Donaldson, a senior research scientist with the Virginia Department of Transportation, says she is the only one in VDOT that manages the state’s camera traps, relying on university students for help. She hopes to soon install one of the cameras for Shilling’s field test, but for now it takes time to go into the field and visit each camera to gather data and check on battery life.
There would be “huge time savings involved” with the web-enabled cameras, Donaldson said. VDOT currently has a monitoring project along I-64 near Charlottesville, and the time spent visiting each camera to check the number of stored photos would be significantly less since that data would instead be transmitted to her office. Moreover, researchers would know sooner whether cameras are encrusted with winter road salt or knocked out of alignment by snow plows, she said. In cases where cameras are located at some distance from DOT offices, there is simply the travel time to get there.
Also having to pull over on a 70 mile-per-hour interstate to service the cameras presents issues of safety, Donaldson said.
These types of savings can be coupled with savings to society from avoiding animal-vehicle collisions.
In Virginia, Donaldson mentioned that an area VDOT is monitoring outside Charlottesville has deer-vehicle collisions at an average rate of eight per mile per year. Taking into consideration the drain to the economy and the constant potential for loss of human life, this is a rate that justifies VDOT installing fencing along the highway to lead deer and other wildlife to safer underpasses.
Connect With Public, Other Agencies
Shilling sees data being shared with researchers, DOT staff, and the public. For example, in a situation where a DOT has recently installed wildlife crossings to protect mountain lions, if a camera captured a mountain lion using the new structure, the DOT press office could use pictures from the cameras in a news release issued the next day.
Sharing data with other agencies such as fish and game departments could also improve collaboration between departments, Shilling said, and researchers are investigating the use of image analysis software to automate the identification of common wildlife species. The combination of science and public relations becomes increasingly important as public knowledge and awareness can contribute to safer wildlife interactions within rights of way, according to Shilling.
The Road Ecology Center tried developing its own web-connected camera but now is mostly testing commercially available systems, Shilling said. With some of the systems that have been tested, the picture resolution is lower than what biologists typically are used to, which manufacturers say permits faster internet transmission.
Camera systems will probably continue to improve as more and more—as many as 100 or 200 at a time, by Shilling’s estimate—are purchased and used by DOTs. The companies that manufacture the systems, which can cost between $100 and $1200 apiece, are beginning to take notice, Shilling said.
The FHWA’s EAR project envisions a system for monitoring wildlife in rights of way that “resembles current traffic flow monitoring systems.” Shilling suggested that creation of wildlife operations centers would “up the game” of wildlife monitoring for transportation agencies.
Using information from the field tests, the researchers will develop short training videos, conduct a webinar, and provide onsite training with DOT staff. The researchers will then present to the FHWA recommended camera and database systems, along with documentation describing how to acquire, set up, and use them.
Also, the researchers will be writing articles describing both the informatics and camera sampling process for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Additionally, the researchers will improve the data associated with the pictures—called EXIF data—to include such information as location and weather. This more complex information will allow biologists and DOT staff to more easily visualize the ecological context of camera placements and will add value to the information being collected, Shilling said.
Information regarding the Road Ecology Center research is available at https://roadecology.ucdavis.edu/research/projects/remote-wireless-camera-systems-environmental-monitoring-transportation-corridors.
For more information on the web-connected wildlife camera research, contact principal investigator Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center, University of California, Davis, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Deirdre M. Remley, Environmental Protection Specialist/Research Coordinator, FHWA at email@example.com.