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Active Transportation

The 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. Transportation planning is an important aspect of meeting these goals.

Active Transportation
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Air Quality

Transportation planners address air quality issues on the regional scale and project scale. Regional-scale analyses estimate how regional transportation plan and transportation improvement program implementation affect region-wide emissions. During the transportation conformity process, regional-scale emissions are compared to allowable levels, or "budgets." Project-scale analyses involve "hot spot" assessments focused on whether pollutant concentrations near roads exceed standards or how projects affect emissions.

Air Quality
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Climate Change Mitigation/Adaptation

Climate Change Mitigation/Adaptation covers two complex, and distinct sub-topics: Energy/Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Infrastructure Resilience.

Climate Change Mitigation/Adaptation
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Cultural Resources

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 Transpo rtation Act. Early identification of resources in planning can expedite project delivery and provide opportunities for context sensitive solutions.

Cultural Resources
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Emerging Technologies

Emerging Technologies
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Energy/Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Consideration of energy and greenhouse gas emissions is an important part of the transportation planning process. Planning processes can help transportation decision-makers determine approaches to reduce transportation energy use, decrease emissions, and achieve related benefits.

Energy/Greenhouse Gas Emissions
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Infrastructure Resilience

Transportation planning plays a key role in addressing potential impacts from extreme events and changing climate conditions and building resilience into the transportation system.

Infrastructure Resilience
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Context Sensitive Solutions

Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) 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 long range planning.

Context Sensitive Solutions
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Environmental Justice

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and environmental justice principles apply to all U.S. DOT activities. Transportation agencies must ensure that State Transportation Improvement Program findings of statewide planning compliance and NEPA activities satisfy Title VI requirements and environmental justice principles, ensure the meaningful participation of minority and low-income populations, and create systems and projects that can improve the environment for low-income and minority communities.

Environmental Justice
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Environmental Management Systems

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 ensure environmental considerations are taken into account during transportation planning.

Environmental Management Systems
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FAST Act/MAP-21

FAST Act/MAP-21
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Geographic Information Systems

Use of GIS is one of several tools to show past, current, or predicted future conditions of the natural and built environment during transportation planning phases. GIS is used to enhance the transportation planning by providing a tool to share information in an easily understood format to better inform decision making.

Geographic Information Systems
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Invasive Species/Vegetation Management

Transportation agencies are increasingly linking transportation and conservation by adopting best management practices, including roadside vegetation management plans. One of the keys to successful roadside vegetation management is treating the roadside when the highway is first built or when improvement projects are planned, designed and constructed.

Invasive Species/Vegetation Management
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NEPA Process

The first stage of the NEPA process—development of project purpose and need—builds upon the transportation needs identified during planning and will be the basis for the final selection of a project alternative. A project also must be included in a conforming plan and TIP before it can be advanced. Agencies can benefit by incorporating environmental and community values into transportation decisions early in planning and carrying these considerations through project development and delivery.

NEPA Process
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Noise

FHWA requires consideration of mitigation for highway traffic noise in the planning and design of Federally aided highways.

Noise
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Planning & Environment Linkages

This topic covers efforts such as FHWA’s Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL), a collaborative and integrated approach to transportation decision-making that considers environmental, community, and economic goals early in the transportation planning process, and uses the products developed during planning to inform the environmental review process. Related efforts include Eco-Logical, an ecosystem-based approach to transportation planning and infrastructure development.

Planning & Environment Linkages
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Project Delivery/Streamlining

Streamlined project delivery can be achieved through efforts to link transportation planning and the NEPA process. Agencies can benefit by incorporating environmental and community values into transportation decisions early in planning and carrying these considerations through project development and delivery.

Project Delivery/Streamlining
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Section 4(f)/Section 6(f)

Section 4(f)/Section 6(f)
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Public Involvement

Public Involvement
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Sustainability

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. The principles can then be carried through to short-range planning and program/project development.

Sustainability
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Transportation Reauthorization

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 Reauthorization
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Waste Management/Recycling/Brownfields

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. Transportation is also an important aspect in redevelopment of brownfield properties.

Waste Management/Recycling/Brownfields
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Water Quality/Wetlands

Protecting water quality is an ongoing environmental concern for transportation agencies, including requirements for stormwater runoff and mitigation of impacts to wetlands and water resources. Potential impacts to water quality, including advance mitigation and stormwater management, can be addressed during the planning process.

Water Quality/Wetlands
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Wildlife & Ecosystems

Planning considerations are important in addressing potential impacts of transportation to wildlife and ecosystems. Efforts such as FHWA’s Planning and Environment Linkages offer an ecosystem-based approach to infrastructure planning. Practices to address impacts to wildlife include crossing structures, reestablishing habitat connectivity through land use, and programmatic agreements for species protection.

Wildlife & Ecosystems

 

Active Transportation

Recent Developments: First-Ever Pedestrian Safety Action Plan Issued by FHWA, NHTSA

The nation’s first-ever Pedestrian Safety Action Plan has been issued by the Federal Highway Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The plan emphasizes improvements to the roadway and surrounding environment, increased education on the shared responsibility of both pedestrians and motorists, and enforcement and adjudication of pedestrian safety laws. It will promote the expanded use of countermeasures, technology, and data-driven practices to address pedestrian fatalities and injuries. For more information, link to the Pedestrian Safety Summit website and to the plan. (11-24-20)

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Recent Developments: Guidebook to Help Communities Improve Transportation to Health Care Services

A guidebook and plan for improving transportation for health care related services has been issued under the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP Research Report 223). The report details how to initiate a dialogue between transportation and health care providers as well as strategies for implementing transportation solutions appropriate for patients. For more information, link to the pre-publication draft. (10-30-20)

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Recent Developments: Fact Sheet: Regional Transportation Plans Can Boost Active Transportation

A fact sheet issued by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership describes how regional transportation plans can be used to encourage active transportation. The document includes case studies and best practices – such as inclusion of goals and performance measures on physical activity levels, air quality, and safety – that can be used to advocate for active transportation and transit as part of regional transportation planning. For more information, link to the fact sheet. (10-16-20)

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Recent Developments: Survey Reveals Strategies to Promote Transit-Oriented Development

Density bonuses to support affordable housing and mixed-use zoning are among the tools used by California cities to promote transit-oriented development, according to a survey of city planning directors by researchers from University of California, Davis. Other strategies include development of neighborhood-scale plans that tailor policy measures to transit-proximate areas; reduced parking requirements and upzoning (allowing denser development) near transit; and strategies for streamlining environmental review. For more information, link to the policy brief. (August 2020)

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Recent Developments: Forest Service Proposes Guidance on E-Bike Use

Draft guidance on management and use of electronic bicycles (e-bikes) on national forests and grasslands has been issued by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The service is seeking public input on guidance to expand e-bike access while protecting natural resources and other forest uses. The proposed guidance would categorize e-bikes by class and allow for more precise designation of trails for e-bike use to limit potential impacts on resources. For more information, link to the notice. (9-24-20)

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Recent Developments: Bicycle Friendly Businesses Recognized

The League of American Bicyclists has recognized13 organizations with Bicycle Friendly Business Awards. The program recognizes organizations that have taken steps to make biking an easy option for employees or customers. The nearly 1,400 total Bicycle Friendly Businesses nationwide include government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, airports, schools, restaurants, and other employers. For more information, link to the announcement. (9-17-20)

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Recent Developments: Fact Sheet Provides Resources for Complete Streets Policies at the Regional Level

A fact sheet providing information on ways to achieve complete streets policies at the regional level has been issued by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. The fact sheet describes success stories, best practices, and resources for those looking to plan, fund, and build safer, more convenient streets for biking and walking. For more information, link to the fact sheet. (9-11-20)

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Recent Developments: Grants Announced to Revitalize Bus Infrastructure

Federal grant funding of $464 million to revitalize transit bus infrastructure has been announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation. A total of 96 projects in 49 states and territories will receive funding from Federal Transit Administration’s Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program. The funding supports projects to replace, rehabilitate, and purchase buses and related equipment and to support bus-related facilities. For more information, link to the list of selected projects.

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Recent Developments: TRB Issues Summary of Health and Active Transportation Conference

Highlights and a summary of the Conference on Health and Active Transportation has been issued by the Transportation Research Board. The conference, held in December 2019, focused on themes including innovative practices, building strategic institutional relationships, and identifying research needs and opportunities. The report includes summaries of plenary sessions and individual breakout sessions. For more information link to the E-Circular. (7-27-20)

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Recent Developments: Washington State DOT Launches ‘Safe, Healthy and Active Streets’ Program

Washington State has launched a program that will allow temporary lane reallocations on some state roadways to increase active transportation and allow for physical distancing. The Safe, Healthy and Active Streets Program aims to increase space for people walking or biking, or create outdoor seating for restaurants and sales areas for retailers, while maintaining physical distance to help reduce exposure to the coronavirus. Eligible locations must meet certain criteria, including being located in population centers with demonstrated lack of space for active transportation, having speed limits of 35 mph or less, and meeting state safety standards. For more information, link to the blog post and program announcement. (7-24-20)

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Recent Developments: MassDOT Provides Funding for Shared Streets and Spaces Program

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has announced the award of over $1 million in funding to 12 communities under the state’s recently announced Shared Streets & Spaces Program. The program provides technical and funding assistance to help Massachusetts cities and towns conceive, design and implement changes to curbs, streets, and parking facilities in support of public health, safe mobility, and renewed commerce. Under the award, 75% of the funding is being provided to environmental justice communities. Grants will continue to be awarded on a rolling basis for projects that can be implemented and used this summer and fall. MassDOT has allocated a total of $5 million for this 100-day program. For more information, link to the announcement. (7-17-20)

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Recent Developments: Transportation Alternatives Program Annual Report Issued

The 2019 annual report on the federal Transportation Alternatives (TA) Program has been issued by the Federal Highway Administration. The report includes TA project applications and selections. It includes state TA data from five funding categories: pedestrian and bicycle facilities, recreational trails, environmental and wildlife, historic preservation, and other. For more information, link to the report. (7-6-20)

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Recent Developments: Caltrans Adopts Plan to Increase Walking, Biking

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has adopted a plan to increase bicycling and walking across the state. A key effort in the action plan is to identify bicycle and pedestrian-focused needs at the community level in each region of the state through Caltrans District Active Transportation Plans. Adding more dedicated bike lanes and walking paths is considered crucial to reducing the number of deaths on state roads. The agency said the plan will reduce dependence on driving, promote safety, and emphasize social equity by reconnecting communities that have been divided by freeways and high-speed roads. For more information, link to the announcement. (7-6-20)

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Recent Developments: Survey Looks at COVID-19 Impacts on Trails Industry

Significant impacts on the nation’s trails industry has been seen in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic, according to a survey by American Trails. The report found the total value of contracts lost: $13.8 million +; total volunteer hours lost: 383,000+; and total projects or events cancelled or postponed: 3,865+. The group issued a report including insights on how trails can be improved and how they can contribute to pandemic recovery efforts. For more information, link to the summary. (5-20-20)

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Recent Developments: Study Offers Guidance on Safe Intersections for Bikes, Pedestrians

Guidance on improving the safety of intersections for bicyclists and pedestrians is provided in a report from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The report provides a process to help analyze intersection safety and select appropriate countermeasures. It focuses on countermeasures that address the top five crash types for pedestrians and the top seven crash types for bicyclists. For more information, link to the report. (5-11-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Posts Resources on Safe Pedestrian Transportation

Resources related to the Federal Highway Administration’s Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP) program are now available. As part of its Every Day Counts initiative, FHWA has posted guidance, "tech sheets" on countermeasures such as hybrid beacons and raised crosswalks. In addition, a series of case studies highlight practices from around the country. For more information, link here. (5-7-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Brochure Series on Benefits of Transportation

The Federal Highway Administration has created six outreach brochures to help with communicating how various transportation projects and programs positively impact health and the local economy. The brochures outline the economic and social benefits of active transportation, complete streets, interagency cooperation, public transportation, and rural and small town transportation. The series, titled “Transportation – Making Connections,” is part of broader initiatives to link transportation to healthy communities. For more information, link to the brochures. (3-17-20)

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Recent Developments: Group Outlines Plan for Trail between Cleveland and Pittsburgh

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has announced a feasibility study that outlines the vision for a shared use trail that would connect Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The plan includes completing 72 miles of trail that would close gaps in the Cleveland to Pittsburgh Corridor. The trail corridor with feed into the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s regional vision for a viable trail network stretching across parts of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It also will be a segment of the even larger Great American Rail-Trail, a 3,700-miles-plus cross-country route. For more information, link to the announcement. (3-18-20)

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Recent Developments: Report Issued on Challenges of Transit-Oriented Development Policies

A report on transit-oriented development policymaking in California has been issued by the National Center for Sustainable Transportation. The research project reviewed motivations, perceived obstacles, and priorities for development near transit and compared them to adopted local policy in Los Angeles, the Sacramento, San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego metropolitan areas. While a majority of the cities support transit-oriented development policies, the research suggests that cities face multiple barriers such as a lack of vacant land, difficulty in assembling land parcels, inadequate frequency of transit service, inadequate transit facilities, and resident concerns or opposition. For more information, link to the report. (2-10-20)

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Recent Developments: FTA Makes $130 Million Available for Low or No Emission Transit Buses

The Federal Transit Administration has announced the availability of $130 million in fiscal year 2020 competitive grants under the agency’s Low or No Emission Bus program. The funding would allow recipients to purchase new transit buses that use clean fuel or are powered by alternative fuels such as electricity. The funding also could be used for acquiring, installing, or constructing equipment or facilities related to the low or no emission buses. In fiscal year 2019, the program received applications for 157 projects, and 38 projects were funded at a total of $84.95 million. For more information, link to the notice of funding opportunity. (1-24-20)

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Recent Developments: CDC Announces ‘Active People, Healthy Nation’ Initiative

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched an initiative to encourage physical activity. The “Active People, Healthy Nation” initiative is a toolkit for state and local governments and a public information campaign to inform people about the benefits of an active lifestyle. The initiative includes, among other things, information on creating activity-friendly routes to everyday destinations through such state and local efforts as Complete Streets policies, zoning policies, local government master plans, and Safe Routes to Schools. The CDC will monitor the nation’s physical activity levels through the National Health Interview Survey and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The initiative is based on the Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. For more information, link to the Active People, Healthy Nation website. (1-16-20)

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Recent Developments: Safe Routes to School Programs 2019 Census Issued

An overview of Safe Routes to School programming in the United States has been issued by the Safe Routes Partnership. The report includes a high-level assessment of challenges, innovations, and opportunities for Safe Routes to School programs. The findings are based on a national survey conducted in 2019 that looked at policies, practices, and funding for programmatic activities. For more information, link to the report. (1-6-20)

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Recent Developments: New Rail-Trail Segments Announced in Four States

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has announced that nearly $13 million in funding has been secured for segments of the Great American Rail-Trail. This investment will help to close trail gaps and to improve existing sections of trail along the 3,700-mile route, which currently stands at 52% complete. The funding will go to trail segments in Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, and Washington. Nearly 100 miles of new trail along the route are expected to be completed in 2020. For more information, link to the announcement. (12-23-19)

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Recent Developments: Group Issues Policy Statement on Facilitating Scooter, Bike Share Systems

The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals has issued a policy statement concerning bike share, shared electric scooters, shared electric bicycles, and other forms of shared micromobility systems. The group views these systems as a valuable part of a comprehensive transportation system that encourages active transportation and reduces automobile use. The policy statement presents key factors, principles, and recommendations that can help with the smooth introduction of micromobility systems in cities and campus environments. The policy statement also says that cities should facilitate the arrival of micromobility systems as best as possible with suitable rules and regulations that will limit uncertainty and negative public opinion. For more information, link to the policy statement. (12-23-19)

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Issues Roadmap of Priorities for Mobility, Health Research

Research priorities regarding the integration of public health and transportation topics that could be pursued in the next decade have been set out in a report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The document, NCHRP 20-112: A Research Roadmap for Transportation and Public Health, includes write-ups of six research problem statements that can be presented to key committees of the Transportation Research Board or the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials as a way to initiate research and begin filling in knowledge gaps. The roadmap identifies ways in which health considerations can be better integrated into transportation policymaking, planning, project development, and program monitoring and evaluation. For more information, see NCHRP 20-112: A Research Roadmap for Transportation and Public Health. (12-16-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Grants Interim Approval for Use of Red-Colored Pavement for Transit Lanes

The Federal Highway Administration has granted interim approval for the optional use of red pavement and pavement markings to increase the visibility of transit station stops, travel lanes, and areas of the roadway reserved for the exclusive use of buses and other transit vehicles. Interim Approval 22 allows the use of the pavement coloration on an interim basis pending official rulemaking and subject to other applicable requirements of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD). Red was selected based on early experimental use and its use for this purpose internationally. The red-colored pavement interim approval follows Interim Approval 14 on the optional use of green-colored pavement in bicycle lanes. For more information, link to Interim Approval 22. (12-4-19)

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Recent Developments: Cities Urged to Include E-Bikes/Scooters in Transportation Networks

Analysis and recommendations for cities to link e-bikes and e-scooters to sustainable transport goals are provided in a report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. The Electric Assist: Leveraging E-bikes and E-scooters for More Livable Cities analyzes potential opportunities and risks posed by e-bikes and e-scooters and provides recommendations to encourage use of these modes. For more information, link to the report. (12-9-19)

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Recent Developments: NREL Develops Metric to Evaluate Mobility Opportunity

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has announced the development of a way of measuring multimodal mobility by location, taking into account available mobility types (including bicycles, scooters, walking, and transit), time, energy, and affordability. The Mobility Energy Productivity metric includes a visual map and numeric data to indicate the richness of mobility at a given location. The metric evaluates the proximity and convenience of access to a variety of goods, services, and destinations reachable by various forms of mobility. The metric seeks to answer questions about how mobility choices impact and are impacted by infrastructure investment, economic health, and the quality of life of residents. The metric is being integrated into systems models and is intended for metropolitan transportation planners as a way to help prioritize infrastructure investments and set goals. For more information, link to the fact sheet. (12-2-19)

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Recent Developments: Group Issues Bicycle-Friendly State Rankings

The League of American Bicyclists has issued its 2019 ranking of bicycle-friendly states. Washington state tops the list again, with California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Oregon rounding out the top five spots. The 2019 ranking finds widespread progress nationwide concerning active transportation and that every state has taken at least one of the five Bicycle Friendly Actions: complete streets law or policy, safe passing laws, bicycle safety as part of strategic planning, statewide bike plans, and 2% or more of dedicated transportation funds. In spite of this, the related report finds that the number of bicyclist fatalities continues to rise. The ranking is based on information provided by state departments of transportation. For more information, link to the ranking and the state report cards. (11-26-19)

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Recent Developments: Group Reports on Transportation Alternatives Program Spending

A quarterly report on how states are using Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funds has been issued by the Safe Routes to School Program. The report, which looks at spending as of September 2019, found that a total of $342 million in funding was obligated, and 14 states transferred a total of $118 million to other transportation programs. It also found that seven states (AZ, HI, NH, ND, SC, WI, WY) let a total of $19.4 million in TAP funding lapse. Since 2013, all of the states have obligated $3.1 billion for biking, walking, and Safe Routes to School projects—which translates to thousands of projects, the report said. For more information, link to the announcement and the report. (10-25-19)

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Recent Developments: Study Quantifies Economic Benefits of Bike/Ped Facilities

Active transportation infrastructure – including bicycle and pedestrian facilities and trails -- has the potential to contribute more than $138.5 billion in economic benefits to the U.S. economy each year, according to an analysis from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The study analyzed data on health cost savings, climate protection, mobility, and direct economic value of trails and active transportation, and found that such infrastructure currently contributes more than $34.1 billion to the U.S. economy annually. As infrastructure improves, that potential amount could increase dramatically, along with health improvements and other co-benefits. For more information, link to the report. (10-15-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Bike, Ped Planning/Project Development Guidance

The Federal Highway Administration has issued guidance on the range of opportunities under current federal laws to improve conditions for people walking and riding bicycles. The guidance provides an overview of several key provisions of federal surface transportation law relating to planning requirements and building connected networks for bicycle and pedestrian facilities. It also discusses simple and cost-effective ways to integrate nonmotorized users into the design and operation of the transportation system by including bicycle and pedestrian accommodation as part of larger programs and projects. For more information, link to the guidance. (9-26-19)

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Recent Developments: New York City Tops List of Metro Areas for Bicycle Commuters

The University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies has issued a report that ranks the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas in the United States on how well people can travel to their jobs using a bicycle. New York tops of list of cities that provide easy or moderately easy bicycle commutes, as determined using a scale of one to four, with one being a stress-free route and four being no bike-specific infrastructure at all. The top five include San Francisco, Chicago, and Denver, with Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. splitting the fifth spot. The report presents detailed accessibility values for each metropolitan area as well as block-level maps that illustrate the spatial patterns of accessibility within each area. It also includes a map at the census tract level that shows accessibility patterns at a national scale. For more information, link to the report. (July 2019)

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Recent Developments: NACTO Provides Best Practices, Policies for Shared Bikes and Scooters

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has issued revised guidelines that provides best practice recommendations and a survey of the current state of practice for managing and regulating shared bikes and scooters. The guidelines present best practices, including requirements for fleet size, fleet removal or relocation, fleet rebalancing for docked systems, equipment maintenance, customer service, pricing equity, and operator labor and employment standards. The guidelines also discuss policies for public engagement and data sharing. In addition, the guidelines have comparative charts of the current state of practice in multiple cities nationwide. For more information, link to the guidelines. (9-11-19)

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Recent Developments: FTA Announces Grants for Low- or No-Emission Buses

The Federal Transit Administration has announced $84.9 million in grant funding for advanced-technology transit buses and infrastructure under the Low- or No-Emission grant program. The grants will go to 38 projects powered by technologies including fuel cells, battery electric engines, and related infrastructure investments such as charging stations. For more information and a list of projects, link to the announcement. (7-26-19)

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Recent Developments: Researchers Explore Potential for Incentivizing E-Bikes

White papers published by the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University explore the potential for incentivizing electric bicycles as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The papers address the effects of e-bikes on person miles traveled and how incentives can be used to expand the market for such vehicles. Future research will focus on modeling travel behavior and sustainability impacts of e-bike use. For more information, link here. (5-23-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Transportation Alternatives Annual Report

The Federal Highway Administration has issued its annual report on the status of transportation alternatives projects in the states. The report, which covers fiscal year 2018, indicates that approximately $781 million in funding was provided for 2,789 projects nationwide. More than three-quarters of the selected projects were pedestrian and bicycle facilities. The rest of the funding was applied to projects involving recreational trails, turnouts and vista overlooks, historic preservation, environmental mitigation and wildlife habitat connectivity, and street improvements related to Safe Routes to School. For more information, link to the report. (6-26-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Community Connections Case Studies

The Federal Highway Administration has added 17 case studies to its collection related to community connections. The case studies are part of FHWA’s Community Connections initiative, which is a priority focus area under the fourth round of its Every Day Counts initiative. The program supports communities that have been divided by past transportation investments and are currently experiencing gaps in existing transportation infrastructure and services. The program includes analytical tools, public involvement strategies, project development and design techniques, and operational improvements and programs. The case studies are categorized by four types – invest, renew, restore, and repair – and are intended to demonstrate approaches in many different contexts. For more information, link to the Community Connections Case Studies. (6-12-19)

Related Resources: Active Transportation Case Studies, Context Sensitive Solutions Topic, Transportation and Health Peer Exchange

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Recent Developments: NACTO Issues Guide on Improving Intersections for Bikes

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has issued a new guide on designing city intersections to be safer for people bicycling. The guide, Don’t Give Up at the Intersection: Designing All Ages and Abilities Bicycle Crossings, expands upon elements presented in NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide and presents several tiers of intersection facilities, ranging from most to least protected and outlining the design elements that city planners can use to implement each. The guide includes such things as the placement of bikeway setbacks and corner islands, determining clear sight distances, designing curb radii to encourage slower vehicle turning speeds, and the design and color of pavement markings. The guide also discusses the modification of traffic signal timing to create safer vehicle and bike interactions. For more information, link to Don’t Give Up at the Intersection. (5-29-19)

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Recent Developments: FTA Announces $9.6 Million to Improve Transportation Access to Health Care

The Federal Transit Administration has announced grants to 37 projects aimed at improving and expanding access to health care services. The funds, totaling approximately $9.6 million, are part of the FTA’s Access and Mobility Partnership Grants. The program focuses on transportation and technology solutions to help people reach medical appointments, access healthy food, and receive better paratransit services. Grant recipients will use the funds to develop mobile applications and improve on-demand transportation services, offer microtransit and purchase vehicles, and create or expand partnerships with nonprofit organizations or transportation network companies. For more information, link to the announcement. (5-22-19)

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Recent Developments: Group Unveils Route for 3,700-Mile Trail Connecting the Nation

A 3,700-mile coast-to-coast multiuse trail that will be entirely off-street and separated from vehicle traffic is being planned by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The Great American Rail-Trail’s preferred route would span 12 states and the District of Columbia and touch upon 16 historic highlights along the way. The group has issued the Great American Rail-Trail Route Assessment Report that outlines the recommendation for the route, developed in close partnership with states and local trail planners and managers. The route includes more than 1,900 miles of existing trails but also and more than 1,700 miles of “trail gaps,” sections of trail in need of development to complete one contiguous route. For more information, link to the announcement. (5-8-19)

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Issues Guide on Connecting Transportation and Health

A practitioner-ready communications guidebook with tools and resources to help federal and state transportation agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, and local transportation professionals achieve successful outcomes through effective collaboration with health stakeholders has been issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP 25-25/Task 105). The guidebook has methods to help understand the context of transportation and public health, find who to connect with and how, establish the foundation for effective communication, select the right techniques, seek support from other organizations, and find supporting data. For more information, link to the report. (April 2019)

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Recent Developments: Report Reviews Transit Agency Partnerships With Ride-hailing Companies

A review of partnerships between transit agencies and transportation network companies has been issued under the Transit Cooperative Research Program. TCRP Research Report 204 reviews both active and inactive partnership arrangements and finds that the most common partnership arrangement involves the transit agency directly subsidizing ride-hailing trips. The report also finds that transit agencies seek partnerships with transportation network companies to provide a specific type of service, to respond to a specific challenge, or to demonstrate innovation. The most common target audiences are users of paratransit or who have difficulty with the first mile/last mile connections to transit. The findings are intended to assist transit agencies in making partnership decisions. For more information, link to the report. (4-9-19)

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Recent Developments: Environmental Effects of Ride-hailing, Other Travel Modes Reviewed in Report

The environmental impacts of various modality choices and the frequency of ride-hailing use among drivers are explored in a report from the National Center for Sustainable Transportation. The report focuses on vehicle miles traveled, energy consumption, and the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation of various groups of travelers. It identifies four classes based on survey respondents’ reported use of various travel modes: drivers, active travelers, transit riders, and car passengers. The report also reviews the frequency with which travelers use ride-hailing services, also called transportation network companies, finding that the total environmental impacts account for a relatively small percentage of total GHG from transportation. For more information, link to the report. (January 2019)

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Recent Developments: Regulation of Ride-Hailing Services Subject of New Report

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has issued a report discussing the challenges cities face by transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft worldwide. The report presents a framework for regulating TNCs to maximize benefits such as adding connectivity to transit as well as reducing the need for car ownership while also mitigating potential problems with use of TNCs. The report says that cities should consider the role TNCs fill in their areas and establish ways to measure the impacts on congestion, safety, emissions, and equitable access. The report includes four case studies and a companion webinar recording. For more information, link to the announcement. (3-21-19)

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Recent Developments: Study Urges Improving Corridors to Promote Healthy Communities

A study of commercial arterials across the U.S. recommends actions and practices to make corridors safer and promote healthy communities. The study, Blind Spots: How Unhealthy Corridors Harm Communities and How to Fix Them, by the Urban Land Institute and Smart Growth America, included an audit of 6,925 urban and suburban commercial arterials from 100 of the most populous U.S. metropolitan areas. Using a range of indicators, the study found many primary arterials tend to be dangerous, have high instances of traffic deaths, and cost communities in terms of safety, economic productivity, and transportation efficiency. The study recommends a range of land use and transportation policies and practices to improve the health of the nation’s corridors. For more information, link to the report. (2-20-19)

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Recent Developments: New Benchmarking Report on Biking, Walking Issued

The League of American Bicyclists has issued the 2018 edition of the Bicycling and Walking in the United States Benchmarking Report. The report says that bicycling to work is increasing but that 10 cities contributed about 44 percent of new bicycle commuters. The report also says that states with a low rate of active transportation also have a high rate of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. In addition, the report says that the number of trips on foot is increasing overall but that some states are showing a decrease. Finally, the report says that the number of states and communities with a Complete Streets policy has continued to increase since 2007, and that cities are moving more aggressively than states to plan for bicyclists and pedestrians. The report is the continuation of the benchmarking project started in 2007 by the Alliance for Biking and Walking. For a copy of the report, link to the announcement.

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Recent Developments: Group Provides Explanation of Transportation Alternatives Program Funds

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has issued an explanation of its review of how state departments of transportation are getting Transportation Alternatives Program money out the door. The group, which issues quarterly analyses of funding for active transportation, explains the components of its evaluation, including TAP funding available per state; amounts each state has transferred to fund non-TAP programs; amounts that states have let lapse; percentages of TAP funds transferred or lapsed; total amounts and percentages obligated; and funds at risk. The group explains that low rates of funding put toward awarded TAP projects means fewer active transportation projects are built, and a higher risk that the funds will need to be returned to the federal government. For more information, link to the article and the Dec. 2018 quarterly report. (2-8-19)

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Recent Developments: Report Provides Survey Results on Transit, Livability Connection

The Upper Great Plains Institute at North Dakota State University has issued a report outlining the results of the National Community Livability Survey. The survey of 25,000 adults in all 50 states indicated that transportation conditions influence community livability. It suggested that residents are looking for improvements to road conditions and public transportation, reducing congestion in metro areas, and making overall walkability and accessibility better. The report also said that improved livability would include improving the availability of jobs, affordable housing, affordable transportation options, access to quality healthcare in non-metro areas, and reducing crime in metro areas. Furthermore, a majority of respondents from both metro and non-metro communities agree that it is important for public transit to be available in their community. For more information, link the report. (2-7-19)

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Recent Developments: FTA Reports on Grant Program for Access to Health Care Solutions

The Federal Transit Administration has issued a report to Congress on its Pilot Program for Innovative Coordinated Access and Mobility Grants. The pilot program is intended to find and test promising, replicable public transportation solutions that increase access to health care, improve health outcomes; and reduce health care costs. For more information, link to the report. (December 2018)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO to Host a Webinar on Recent Bicycle, Pedestrian Plans

AASHTO’s Council on Active Transportation will hold a webinar Jan. 29 on recent innovations in bicycle and pedestrian projects and planning in Massachusetts and North Dakota. The webinar will include discussion of MassDOT’s newly released statewide bicycle and pedestrian plans and guidance documents, as well as North Dakota DOT’s statewide plan for active and public transportation and related demonstration projects. Register for the webinar by clicking here.

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Recent Developments: Health in Transportation Technical Assistance Announced

The Federal Highway Administration has announced the selection of six communities to receive technical assistance under the agency’s Framework for Better Integrating Health into Transportation Corridor Planning. The FHWA will provide training and technical assistance at the state and local levels in Arkansas, California, Illinois, Maryland, Texas, and Utah. The local transportation agencies will use the decision making framework as a way to incorporate multimodal access into planning and project development, improve health outcomes, and enhance community considerations into corridor planning. For more information, link to the announcement. (1-23-19)

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Recent Developments: Guide Issued for Growing a Safe Routes to School Program

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has issued a new guide on ways to for create a local safe routes to school program. The guide provides an overview of how the programs work and why they matter. It also provides insight on the stages of establishing a system and the essential components—including action plans and policies—for creating a sustainable program. The guide is accompanied by several sample documents that can be used to establish a program. For more information, link to the guide. (1-8-19)

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Recent Developments: Group Issues Guide on Local Active Transportation Financing

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has issued a report that provides an overview of the key role active transportation financing can play in developing healthy communities. The report explains active transportation financing—which can include bonds, fees, fines, taxes, and other funding mechanisms—and how it works to support infrastructure for bicycles, walkers, and other non-motorized transportation. The report also sets out the benefits to local government of increased active transportation financing, examines different approaches, and explores important considerations regarding policy goals and campaign directions. For more information, link to the report, a fact sheet, and a brief on securing funding. (1-11-19)

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Case Studies: Connecticut - Connecticut DOT Helps Towns Accommodate Walking and Bicycling through Road Safety Audits

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An effective way to address obstacles to bicycle and pedestrian accommodation is to go out and look for them. That was the lesson the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) learned in implementing its Community Connectivity Program.

The Community Connectivity Program helped towns such as Portland, Ct., identify needed improvements. Photo: CTDOT

The program was developed as part of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Let’sGoCT! transportation initiative. Launched in 2015, the initiative set forth an ambitious 30-year vision for the state, calling for “a best-in-class transportation system” to be achieved by supporting statewide, corridor, and local projects across all transportation modes.

A key element of the initiative was to support sustainable communities, including a program to promote pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly urban centers. CTDOT officials decided to take the concept one step further, incorporating rural areas as well.

The initiative supports streamlined project delivery by helping to identify and build community support for needed intermodal connections. The aim of the Community Connectivity program was to improve conditions for walking and bicycling in community centers – defined as places where community members meet for social, educational, employment, or recreational activities. It was intended to support intermodal connections with a focus on bicycle and pedestrian safety, including transit “last mile” connectivity and better, safer access to employers, business districts, and residential areas.

Colleen Kissane, Transportation Assistant Planning Director in CTDOT’s Bureau of Policy and Planning, leads the Community Connectivity Program. Kissane said officials decided to follow the lead of a successful pilot road safety audit funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in 2015. CTDOT would lead by example, working with towns and cities to conduct their own road safety audits at important bicycle and pedestrian corridors and intersections across the state.

CTDOT reached out to all 169 municipalities, offering to conduct one road safety audit for each town. Criteria were established based on a similar effort conducted in Massachusetts, Kissane said.

The agency received 80 responses and moved forward to conduct all 80 audits within an 18-month period, ending in the spring of 2017. In all, the program brought together over 500 participants from towns and municipalities and evaluated 117 miles of roadway and 583 intersections. The audit program covered all geographic areas of the state, including downtown areas and town centers as well as urban, suburban, and rural areas. Each of the 80 audits resulted in a formal report, all of which are posted online.

Elements of a Road Safety Audit

A road safety audit is a formal assessment of the existing conditions of walking and biking routes. Following FHWA’s road safety audit guidelines, a team including experts in traffic, pedestrian and bicycle operations and design focuses on a particular route. The team – which also includes local officials and other stakeholders – works together to evaluate the safety of a particular location through on-site visits. The team looks at accommodations for all road users, ways to improve access, and ways to reduce the potential for crash risk. The audit team then comes up with options for addressing the concerns – including low-cost actions that can be implemented in the short term and higher-cost, longer-term recommendations.

What did they find?

Patrick Zapatka, who managed the road safety audit program for CTDOT, said the audits identified important safety concerns including:

  • inconsistency in sidewalk and crosswalk network, materials, size, and condition;
  • lack of maintenance;
  • lack of Americans with Disabilities (ADA) accommodations;
  • old signage, pavement markings, and signals;
  • vehicle conflicts (speed, volume, trucks, parking);
  • wide travel lanes for traffic; and
  • lack of or incomplete pedestrian connections.

Identifying the problems was just the first step. Each team also came up with long-term, medium-term, and short-term recommendations for addressing the issues.

Conducting Road Safety Audits

Under the Community Connectivity Program, each road safety audit team was unique, depending on the needs and challenges of the individual location. Typical team members included CTDOT staff, municipal officials and staff, law enforcement officials, consultant experts, and community leaders.

The teams gathered pertinent information about the chosen location, including maps, crash and traffic data, and pedestrian counts. Each audit, which lasted a single day, included a pre-audit meeting to discuss objectives and review available data as well as a field audit, during which the team visited the location.

For each location, teams evaluated a range of factors that could promote or obstruct safe walking and bicycling routes, including:

  • shoulder width;
  • sidewalk width and condition;
  • pavement markings;
  • traffic volume;
  • on-road parking locations;
  • presence of bicycle lanes;
  • traffic signalization;
  • topography;
  • drainage; and
  • sightlines.

Following the field audit, the teams conducted post-audit meetings to identify potential short-term and long-term recommendations.

Proposed solutions included infrastructure improvements – such as maintaining sidewalks, signage, sightlines, and crosswalks; upgrading signal equipment and pavement markings; and narrowing vehicular travel lanes to allow for wider shoulders.

In addition, improving communications was a key theme. The audits showcased ways for communities to develop consensus around proposed plans and improvements and helped to improve relationships between municipalities and state agencies.

Taking Action to Improve Conditions

After each town identified needed improvements and solutions, the next step was for CTDOT to provide funding to help towns implement the recommendations. In 2017, the agency launched a $10 million Community Connectivity Grant Program to provide funding for municipalities to perform smaller scale capital improvements. CTDOT again reached out to towns and municipalities with a solicitation and received 80 applications for funding. Although many of the projects proposed for funding stemmed from the road safety audits, applicants were not required to address only those projects. The grants ranged between $75,000 and $400,000 and most of the applicants requested amounts ranging from $200,000 to $300,000.

CTDOT reviewed the applications and made its project selections. In July 2018 CTDOT announced that the State Bond Commission approved its request to fund the program. All municipalities that submitted applications for grants will be notified about specific funding decisions.

In the meantime, the towns “got a free document they can use to go to their local officials to advance some of these needed improvements,” Kissane said. And many towns are moving forward without the grant funding.

For example, the town of New London is targeting available funds to address bicycle and pedestrian challenges identified in its road safety audit. The Williams Street Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements project includes the construction of a sidewalk, a raised crosswalk, a raised intersection, and shared-road markings for bicyclists. It will be funded with 80 percent federal dollars and a 20 percent match from the town.

CTDOT also has stepped in to address “low-hanging fruit” identified by the various audit teams. CTDOT maintenance staff were invited to participate in the audits and have been able to help towns with tasks such as tree trimming and pavement striping – relatively easy maintenance activities that provide significant safety improvements, according to Kissane.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Kissane said the audits were a learning process, developing relationships and gathering knowledge from local officials and members of the community.

CTDOT’s initial pilot audit brought in a range of stakeholders who “knew the road” – including public works directors, fire fighters, the police chief, and even the mail carrier, in addition to community members and neighborhood groups. In the process, CTDOT learned that taking two days of people’s time was too much, and for the statewide program it reduced the audits to a single day.

Kissane said she would highly recommend this type of program to other state DOTs. The most beneficial aspect was the one-on-one interactions with the towns during the audit process.

“That’s not something we do in our normal course of business, and we’ve developed better relationships with the towns because of it,” she said.

By reaching out to communities across the state, Kissane said, “it was extraordinary what we learned and what we shared.”

For example, Kissane said one audit revealed disconnects between the local officials and the state DOT. “They had misinformation about what we do,” she said. Now that new relationships have been forged, local officials have a face and a name at the state agency that they can call and ask questions. “That has been a huge benefit,” she said.

As a result of the audits, CTDOT and the 80 towns now have identified issues that need to be addressed and specific ways to streamline needed improvements for bicycle and pedestrian safety and access across Connecticut.

CTDOT officials are hopeful the grant program will continue on an annual basis as a way to continue improving bicycle and pedestrian connections throughout the state.

For more information on the Community Connectivity program, link to the program website or contact Colleen Kissane by email at CTDOT.CCGP@ct.gov.

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Case Studies: Georgia - Georgia DOT Promotes Active Transportation on State Highway Right-of-Way

In a unique partnership, the Georgia Department of Transportation is allowing use of public land along a major highway in Atlanta to be converted to a bustling green space that promotes walking, biking, and recreation.

The trail project, dubbed PATH400, is a 5.2-mile greenway being constructed on public land adjacent to GA400. The trail, which extends toward the northern edge of the city, will link residential, commercial, and retail locations and is the centerpiece of a broader greenspace plan. It was spearheaded by a local nonprofit, Livable Buckhead, along with the Buckhead Community Improvement District and the PATH Foundation, and is being implemented in partnership with the city of Atlanta, Georgia DOT (GDOT), and other agencies.

The project came about to address the lack of trails and recreational options in Buckhead, an upscale residential and commercial district in Atlanta. Facing potential costs of $10-15 million to acquire land for a trail project, Livable Buckhead set its sights on the unused public land adjacent to the GA400 corridor, which runs north-south through the district.

“Their idea was to repurpose the right-of-way on State Route 400,” said Kim Nesbit, State Program Delivery Administrator with GDOT. The nonprofit and its partners worked with the city to develop a memorandum of understanding with GDOT, allowing use of the public land to construct a trail through the community that eventually will link to Atlanta’s regional trail network.

The unique memorandum of understanding – entered into between the city of Atlanta, Georgia DOT, and the State Road and Tollway Authority – grants permission for the city to create a trail on SR400 right-of-way. The agreement provides for the trail to be constructed primarily on GDOT right-of-way, but also includes areas on city-owned streets as well as rail and transit rights-of-way owned by the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and Norfolk Southern Corporation.

Under the agreement, the city was responsible for construction, with the nonprofit PATH Foundation serving as project manager. The city also took responsibility for ongoing maintenance and landscaping of the property, while GDOT retained full ownership of and access to the land. Livable Buckhead was responsible for the project design.

The project is being completed in phases, with the first of several phases now complete and open to the public.

Benefits

The benefits of PATH400 include increasing access to community amenities such as arts, historic, and cultural exhibits; neighborhood parks and greenspaces; and retail centers. It has created new connections within the community, allowing residents to bike or walk to work or use the trail for recreation.

The path brings together 8,000 residents within a 10-minute walking distance, while also providing direct access to the Buckhead and Lindbergh MARTA stations within Metro Atlanta as well as the North Springs and Dunwoody trails through future phases.

“There is no one solution for mobility for Georgia and Metro Atlanta. It is a multitude of approaches that have to play a role,” noted GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry. “Along with keeping our infrastructure in good repair, Georgia DOT focuses on the future of mobility to keep Georgia competitive, both now and in the years ahead. That’s why we always keep an eye on mobility enhancement through connectivity and transportation choice.”

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Denise Starling, Executive Director of Livable Buckhead, said challenges in implementing the project included overcoming fears that the trail would bring crime into the community. To help allay such concerns, the trail was designed with limited entry points at which security cameras – maintained by the city – were installed.

“Once the first half-mile of the project was built, it changed the ball game,” she said. “People saw the quality of what we were doing and that it didn’t bring in crime and the other things they were afraid of.”

“From a planning perspective, one of the biggest lessons was that public engagement is more important during construction than it is during planning,” Starling said. That’s when people are most inconvenienced, and that’s when they want information. During that time, she said, it’s best to maintain direct communications with the neighborhood, ensuring that promises made during planning are kept as the project is constructed. “For any transportation project, that’s a huge lesson learned,” she said.

GDOT’s Nesbitt said other challenges included meeting accessibility requirements along areas of the trail with steep terrain, which required obtaining some variances and installing signage indicating some areas had limited accessibility. Project partners also incorporated design features to ensure emergency vehicles were able to access the trail, she said.

Nesbitt said she absolutely would recommend that other state DOTS undertake similar projects to repurpose highway rights-of-way, especially in urban areas where the cost of property can be prohibitive.

Getting People to Use it

According to Starling, a key aspect of building the trail has been getting the word out and getting people to use it.

To that end, a variety of public outreach efforts and events have helped generate enthusiasm and support for the trail. These have included a community party; a running club and 5K event; dog training; public art projects including murals along the trail; and ongoing, direct interaction with community members.

“It’s not just about putting down a trail,” Starling said. “It’s about the experience. You have to really own it and make it part of the character of the community.”

The Path400 project was recognized as a winner of AASHTO’s America’s Transportation Award and was recognized in AASHTO’s Benefits of Transportation initiative.

For more information, link to the PATH400 website or visit the Path400 page on the Livable Buckhead website.

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Case Studies: Hawaii

Case Studies: Hawaii - Hawaii DOT Promotes Benefits of Walking with Nation's First Pedestrian Master Plan

A focus on pedestrian safety and the benefits of walking can be seen throughout Hawaii thanks to the nation’s first Statewide Pedestrian Master Plan adopted by the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

Released in May 2013, the Hawaii Statewide Pedestrian Master Plan was developed to improve pedestrian safety, mobility, and connectivity. At the same time, the plan sought to promote the benefits of walking – including a healthier environment, healthier citizens, and a stronger economy.

The plan provides a formalized process to assess the needs of pedestrians, develop and prioritize projects, and provide an implementation strategy, according to Rachel Roper, the project manager for the plan and a civil engineer with the HDOT Highways Division Planning Branch.

The plan identifies ways to improve pedestrian safety and mobility through engineering, education, and enforcement. It prioritizes 31 pedestrian infrastructure projects, advances the state’s complete streets policy, and fulfills federal multimodal planning requirements.

A key component of the plan is the Hawaii Pedestrian Toolbox, a companion document containing best practices for planning, design, operation, and maintenance of pedestrian facilities.

Features such as this pedestrian bridge on the east shore of Kauai are described in the Hawaii Pedestrian Toolbox. (photo: Hawaii DOT)

To ensure effective implementation, the plan also describes potential funding strategies and provides performance measures for monitoring progress. The performance measures reflect specific objectives and methods to achieve the following goals of the plan:

  • improve pedestrian mobility and accessibility;
  • improve pedestrian safety;
  • improve connectivity of the pedestrian network;
  • promote environmental benefits of walking;
  • encourage walking to foster healthy lifestyles;
  • enhance communities and economic development by creating pedestrian-oriented areas and positive pedestrian experiences; and
  • promote and support walking as an important transportation mode that reduces overall energy use.

Examples of the pedestrian projects HDOT is advancing include implementing Walk Wise Hawaii, a program to educate communities about pedestrian and driver awareness; replacing traditional traffic signals with countdown timers; and installing sidewalks to improve connectivity.

The American Planning Association recognized Hawaii’s pedestrian plan with its 2014 National Planning Award for Excellence in Transportation Planning, citing the plan for being the first in the nation with a statewide, pedestrian-only focus and for being transferable to other states.

HDOT’s efforts in engaging the public and identifying priority areas of concern also were featured as noteworthy practices in the Federal Highway Administration’s Statewide Pedestrian and Bicycle Planning Handbook, released in September 2014.

Developing the Plan

HDOT sought to develop a pedestrian-focused plan to fulfill a goal of reducing traffic-related deaths in Hawaii’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, 2007-2012. Hawaii had the fifth highest pedestrian fatality rate nationwide due to traffic-related crashes from 2001-2005, with 22 percent of traffic crashes statewide involving pedestrians.

The agency structured the plan development process to balance technical expertise from HDOT’s Highway Design and Traffic Operations Sections with extensive involvement from the public, Roper said. HDOT established two stakeholder committees: a Technical Advisory Committee and a Citizens Advisory Committee. The technical group was comprised of staff from federal, state, and city and county agencies. The citizens committee represented diverse public interests, such as neighborhood organizations, seniors, students, local businesses, and minority and disadvantaged populations. HDOT also held a series of public meetings and workshops and maintained a project website throughout the plan development process.

The public validates existing conditions at a public workshop in Maui. (Photo Hawaii DOT)

The project team identified “areas of concern” for recommended pedestrian improvements through a geographic information system analysis of existing conditions statewide. This was combined with input from the stakeholder committees and the public. Criteria to evaluate the areas of concern and to prioritize recommended solutions were developed based on the key factors of pedestrian connectivity, accessibility, pedestrian-oriented populations, and safety. The criteria were reviewed by the two advisory groups and validated through public meetings.

The project team then applied best practices in pedestrian-oriented design from the companion Hawaii Pedestrian Toolbox to evaluate potential solutions in the areas of engineering, education, and enforcement. The process – which included sharing potential solutions with the citizens’ advisory committee and the public – resulted in a prioritized list of 31 recommended pedestrian projects and programs.

Lessons Learned

HDOT invested a lot of time with stakeholder groups to develop a comprehensive set of goals, objectives, and recommendations addressing all the facets of pedestrian issues, Roper said.

While the extensive process of public and stakeholder involvement was immensely valuable, it was also challenging and added a lot of time to the plan development process,” Roper said. This is something that other state DOTs should consider when developing a project schedule or contract.

Roper also emphasized that it’s important to approach the process holistically, including both technical and nontechnical staff as well as internal and external stakeholders. “It can’t be thought of separately and then just mushed together at the end,” she said.

Having an established process for decision-making and sharing of information between the project team and stakeholders at the start of the process also was key, Roper said. HDOT was doing extensive outreach, and there was a lot of interest in the project from the public, community groups, the media, and others.

“A lot of people wanted to provide input and wanted to see it in the plan, but some were afraid that all the input we received would go into a ‘black box’ somewhere and get lost,” according to Roper. “It was important to ensure that accurate and consistent information was being disseminated” so everyone involved could see how information was used in the plan.

The process also featured a two-way information flow between the project committees and stakeholder groups throughout, Roper said. Members of the technical committee attended public meetings, as did HDOT leadership, when possible.

Other challenges included scheduling meetings with stakeholders who have busy schedules; collecting and responding to the many comments; and balancing the wide variety of opinions.

Ultimately, HDOT wanted the plan to be implemented by its staff and not to “just sit on the shelf,” Roper said. The agency conducted internal roll-out sessions to make sure staff needs were addressed and that “everyone involved in the project delivery process, including planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance, was aware of the plan and felt it was feasible and implementable.” In the end, this extensive and transparent public involvement process succeeded in generating a lot of support for the plan, both within HDOT and externally, and was a key contributor to the success of the plan and its implementation, Roper said.

For more information, link to the Statewide Pedestrian Master Plan and Hawaii Pedestrian Toolbox or contact Rachel Roper, HDOT Highways Division Planning Branch, at rachel.la.roper@hawaii.gov.

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Case Studies: Pennsylvania - PennDOT Seeks Local Input to Build Better Connections for Communities

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The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is reaching out to communities and partner agencies to ensure that all new road projects address a broad range of needs, ranging from bicycle and pedestrian accommodation to safety and environmental stewardship.

The PennDOT Connects initiative, launched by Transportation Secretary Leslie S. Richards in December 2016, establishes a formal process to consider and document community needs for each project in the planning phase, prior to developing project scopes and cost estimates. It requires coordination with local and regional partners on all new projects, starting with those added to the 2017 transportation improvement program.

The South Street Bridge Reconstruction in Philadelphia included wider bike lines and sidewalks. Photo: PennDOT

“Our policy’s bottom line is to improve transportation through local government collaboration,” said Richards. “PennDOT Connects places a greater focus on teaming with municipal and rural planning organizations to address local community transportation needs, such as bicycle, pedestrian, and stormwater issues.” Such collaboration also can reduce costly changes later in the project development process, Richards said.

The Federal Highway Administration’s Pennsylvania Division has emphasized the benefits of the initiative.

Contextual Issue Evaluation
PennDOT Connects provides issues to consider
during the outreach process:
  • Safety Issues/concerns
  • Stormwater management
  • Transportation operation considerations
  • Consistency with the long-range transportation plan
  • Regional planning studies
  • Right-of-way considerations
  • Environmental justice
  • Bicycle/Pedestrian accommodation
  • Pedestrian Accessibility
  • Impacts from freight
  • Emergency services accommodation
  • Consistency with community plans
  • Other infrastructure improvements
  • Anticipated public opinions
  • Maintenance agreement requirements
  • Transit/multimodal considerations
  • Utility issues
  • Planned development
  • Consistency with zoning
  • Impacts on natural, cultural, social environment
  • Community or cultural events in project area
  • Other specific regional/local topics

“The PennDOT Connects initiative is a collaborative effort to provide local communities the opportunity to meet with PennDOT to identify and discuss transportation project details unique to their goals, according to Moises Marrero, FHWA’s Assistant Division Administrator for Pennsylvania.

“This extraordinary level of collaboration at the early stages of a project ensures the effective use of taxpayer dollars by advancing safety and innovative practices, maximizing project investment, and improving the overall project delivery process,” Marrero said.

To implement the initiative, the agency has launched a new system to document local government outreach for each project on a screening form. The form requires coordination on a wide range of local planning objectives and community mobility needs such as:

  • bicycle and pedestrian accommodations,
  • transit access,
  • freight,
  • utilities,
  • community health,
  • stormwater management, and
  • green infrastructure.

For example, for pedestrian access, the project initiation form states that dedicated pedestrian facilities should be evaluated for all highway projects. It provides a checklist allowing the user to identify the type of facility that will be accommodated, including:

  • shared roadway/walkable shoulder,
  • sidewalks,
  • multiuse trail, or
  • additional element.

If none of these apply, the form prompts the user to choose from a selection of potential reasons why pedestrian facilities will not be accommodated on the project, such as unique site constraints.

South Street Bridge Project Sets Groundwork

When PennDOT Connects was first launched, Secretary Richards pointed to Philadelphia’s South Street Bridge reconstruction project as an example of the PennDOT Connects principles, with features that incorporate “balanced elements of urban mobility.”

The original bridge replacement project was geared toward improved vehicular access. But as the community evolved over the years, there was an increased call to accommodate the significant mix of pedestrian, vehicular, and bicycle traffic, according to Chuck Davies, PennDOT Assistant District Executive for Design.

The project was changed late in the process to meet needs identified through community outreach, including meetings with neighborhood groups, city officials, and other stakeholders.

Ultimately, the project incorporated many of the features desired by the community and provided lessons that were incorporated into the PennDOT Connects approach.

“Car lanes were reduced from five to four, and speed limits were dropped from 30 mph to 25 mph. We also made the bridge more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly with wider bike lanes and sidewalks, bike boxes to give cyclists a head start on drivers, and signal priority for walkers,” Secretary Richards said.

Projects Benefit from Early Outreach

Results of the increased outreach spurred by PennDOT Connects are visible across the state.

As of July 2018, PennDOT had collaborated with municipal officials on more than 2,000 projects, including more than 800 face-to-face meetings. These have ranged from multi-million dollar maintenance projects to a $100 million highway or bridge project.

PennDOT’s District 11 Executive Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, said PennDOT Connects “shifted our thinking—we formalized our existing coordination efforts with county and city officials and are pursuing earlier local involvement with greater collaboration.”

Community input helps PennDOT ensure connectivity of bicycle and pedestrian trails on the US 422 West Shore Bypass project. Image: PennDOT

For example, the PennDOT Connects process for the US 422 West Shore Bypass project – a five-mile highway widening and reconstruction effort in Reading (Berks County, District 5) -- included a series of workshops, open houses, and meetings as well as a 21-member stakeholder workgroup to provide a collaborative voice for the community. The workgroup – which was established by the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance and the Berks County Commissioners – focused on maintaining connectivity for businesses and the community, providing effective trail access, and improving bike/pedestrian safety, according to PennDOT District 5 officials.

“We have received positive feedback from the stakeholders for soliciting their input early in the project and not just listening to their concerns, but making conscious efforts to address their concerns,” said District 5 Consultant Project Manager Earl Armitage.

At the same time, he said, balancing the differing needs of various stakeholders was the most challenging aspect of the process.

“For example, a pedestrian bridge was added to the project over Lancaster Avenue to provide grade-separated crossings for bicycles and pedestrians where an at-grade crossing was originally proposed,” he said. “This proposal is a direct result of feedback from the stakeholders.”

The stakeholders also expressed concerns with the uncontrolled pedestrian crossings at the existing cloverleaf interchange ramps at 422 and Penn Street/Penn Avenue. PennDOT is proposing an innovative diverging diamond interchange at this location, which is designed to simplify vehicular and pedestrian movements and provide signalized pedestrian crossings with “hand/man” pedestrian signal heads and countdown timers to improve pedestrian accommodations. The diverging diamond also allows for shorter pedestrian crossing distances at the signalized intersections compared to other interchange options. For the ramp(s) that will not be controlled by a traffic signal, rapid rectangular flashing beacons are proposed to notify vehicles when a pedestrian is planning on crossing the ramp.

As another example, officials pointed to the Cementon Bridge replacement project in Lehigh County.

In addition to carrying vehicular traffic over the Lehigh River, the bridge has served as a vital connection for bicycle and pedestrian uses. It is the only connection linking the Delaware and Lehigh Trail on either side of the river. For residents of Cementon, the bridge has served as the sole means for pedestrians to access the Northampton Borough business district.

PennDOT Connects offered a process for neighborhoods and agencies to discuss the importance of the bridge to the community and to find ways to maintain the links it has provided. As a result, PennDOT is proposing to add a 10-foot multipurpose trail on the new bridge with a ramp to connect to the Delaware and Lehigh Trail on both sides, maintaining bicycle and pedestrian connections for the community.

This solution is being supported by many stakeholders in the region.

Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

PennDOT’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, Roy Gothie, said PennDOT Connects “is exactly how business ought to be done.”

“PennDOT can leverage our high-level data and funding to support local knowledge and expertise as we scope, plan, design, construct and maintain a more cost-effective and safer transportation network,” Gothie said.

According to Gothie, managing the PennDOT Connects meetings adds a significant amount of work for district staff, but the meetings are well received. Staff report “a big benefit from the local knowledge and relationship building – social capital that helps things get done, even things not directly related to the ‘project-at-hand’.”

The effort also has increased interest in bicycle and pedestrian issues, including requests from metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and rural planning organizations (RPOs) to fund bicycle/pedestrian counters and provide data from bicycle/pedestrian tracking applications, such as Strava, Gothie said.

In addition, PennDOT has been working with the State’s health and environmental agencies to support walkable communities planning and policies – leading to more informed local planning units, stronger grant applications, and improved project scopes.

A key lesson learned: “PennDOT Connects is bigger than just the meetings with the locals and MPO/RPOs if you can leverage other departments and programs to push for a larger goal of healthy communities: economic, social, health, access, and environmental well-being,” Gothie said.

Gothie stressed that the program aimed to “develop better projects that more appropriately addressed locally identified needs in the planning and pre-scoping process so that once funded for design and construction, we’d have better cost estimates, more accurate schedules for construction, and finished projects that truly worked to support the communities.”

PennDOT expects the initiative will lead to greater process efficiencies.

“We anticipate that the identification of issues in planning – and hopefully resolving them in planning – will result in better predictability in the process,” said Brian Hare, Chief of PennDOT’s Planning and Contract Management Division.

Next Steps: Training and Outreach

Gothie said the need to provide training on the initiative for PennDOT staff, planning partners, and local governments has been a challenge, but those efforts are ongoing.

To help in that regard, PennDOT has developed the “PennDOT Connects Support Hub,” an interactive online help desk that includes guidance, a newsletter, and an online form where municipalities can sign up for technical assistance. The Hub also provides access to a series of municipal outreach sessions scheduled in each of the 12 districts across the state.

PennDOT Connects also will be integrated throughout the agency’s programs and projects as it is incorporated into applicable manuals and processes.

“By being proactive and initiating the conversations about local needs as part of our work, PennDOT can show the value in developing the local plans for cyclists and pedestrians. That planning work can help support the purpose and need statements for our projects and encourage local discussions about integrating all modes of transportation, about health outcomes of a better active transportation system, and eventually issues of equity,” Gothie said

The effort also is supporting goals set forth as the state updates its 2007 Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan: encouraging local planning, evaluating health and equity issues at a state level, and providing access for those who walk and bike out of necessity rather than by choice.

For more information on the initiative, link to the PennDOT Connects Support Hub or contact Brian Hare, Chief of PennDOT’s Planning and Contract Management Division, at bhare@pa.gov.

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Case Studies: Utah - Utah DOT Program Provides Support, Recognition for Community Bicycle Programs

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is building support for bicycling programs across the state through a grass-roots program to help communities with bicycle planning and promoting active transportation.

The Road Respect Community program provides local governments with guidance in planning and developing their bicycle programs and infrastructure. The program also provides recognition, allowing localities to earn the “Road Respect Community” title for their efforts to encourage active transportation.

The program is an offshoot of the Road Respect bike safety education campaign, launched in 2011 by UDOT in collaboration with the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS), Zero Fatalities and Bike Utah. The goal of the campaign is to educate both cyclists and drivers about state safety laws and encourage mutual respect on the road.

UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras Speaks at Road Respect Event (Photo: UDOT)

The centerpiece of the Road Respect campaign has been an annual, statewide cycling tour to teach cyclists proper road etiquette and educate drivers on sharing the road. The Road Respect Tour – which is led by representatives from UDOT, DPS, health agencies, law enforcement and cycling advocates – also holds community events along the route to promote safe cycling.

The ongoing success and popularity of the campaign led UDOT to develop the Road Respect Community program to work directly with communities to help them improve their active transportation options.

"The Road Respect Community Program is a big asset to UDOT because it offers Utah's cities and towns opportunities to expand their bicycle and active transportation programs based on the needs and desires of the community,” according to UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras. “Because the program reaches people on the grassroots level, it encourages communities to 'own' their planning process, while opening avenues of communication between UDOT, local municipalities, and active transportation advocates across the state," he said.

“What we found as we went from community to community on the tour is they were very interested in promoting bicycling and growing their bicycling programs, but they needed a little bit of guidance on doing that,” said Evelyn Tuddenham, Bike-Pedestrian Coordinator at UDOT.

Comprehensive Approach

UDOT sought to design a comprehensive program to help communities advance their bicycle planning programs. To do so, the department developed a set of criteria based on League of American Bicyclists requirements for Bicycle Friendly Communities and other bicycle planning criteria. These criteria were used to develop checklists of actions communities can take to earn the title, “Road Respect Community,” Tuddenham said.

The program features three Road Respect Community Levels – Activate, Ascend and Peak – with corresponding requirements leading up to applying for League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community status. Requirements include:

Level 1 – Activate

  • Identify a community champion for bicycle planning efforts
  • Identify the health, community and economic benefits of a bicycle plan and set up initial evaluation criteria including health impact assessment guidelines
  • Start an inventory of bike infrastructure and identify connectivity gaps
  • Develop a kid’s bicycle safety program
  • Collaborate with local law enforcement to incorporate bike safety and enforcement

Level 2 – Ascend

  • Involve bike advocacy groups/individuals in planning efforts
  • Initiate “share the road” dialogue between drivers and cyclists
  • Develop the bicycle plan by identifying potential solutions
  • Roll out a local law enforcement bicycle safety and enforcement program
  • Evaluate the plan under development with the criteria identified in Level 1 and including health impact assessment

Level 3 – Peak

  • Adopt the bicycle plan and begin its implementation
  • Work with businesses to determine and promote the economic benefits of bicycling and plan for bicycle amenities
  • Develop and conduct bicycle safety campaign promoting respect between drivers and bicyclists on the road
  • Evaluate the bicycle plan
  • Apply for League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community Status

As of May 2015, 12 cities or counties around the state had been designated as Road Respect Communities. Eight more cities and counties are slated to join in 2015, and at least seven more are in line to come onboard in 2016.

Kids and adults ride out together for a family ride, part of a Road Respect Event marking Logan, Utah's induction as a Road Respect Community. (Photo: UDOT)

Consultation and Recognition

After a community has applied, UDOT conducts a forum to address local issues and generate potential solutions. The forum brings together representatives from UDOT, planning and law enforcement agencies, cycling advocates and other stakeholders to discuss the needs of the roadway and how they can work together to improve conditions for bicyclists. The forums have been very successful in getting issues out on the table and coming up with preliminary plans for communities to move forward, Tuddenham said.

For example, UDOT conducted a forum to help the city of Moab find bicycle-friendly solutions for its Main Street, a heavily used corridor serving business, trucking and travel. The community and cycling groups were looking for ways to help cyclists safely use Main Street to access the trails at the nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The forum helped educate local stakeholders about their options on the multi-use corridor, and together with UDOT they came up with a plan for mapping and signs. Moab has since earned recognition as a Level 2 Road Respect Community.

The Road Respect Community program also offers promotional opportunities to highlight communities’ commitment to developing active transportation solutions. UDOT produces a Road Respect Community newsletter with resources including information about grants and funding, Tuddenham said. UDOT also has developed an interactive map on its website highlighting the Road Respect communities, including links to local information on bicycling and tourism.

Communities that participate in the program also are encouraged to apply for League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community recognition. When they complete all the Road Respect requirements “they are perfectly positioned to do that,” according to Tuddenham.

Springdale, Utah, a gateway community to Zion National Park, becomes a Road Respect Community. (Photo: UDOT)

Collaborative Approach

The program offers a model of a collaborative approach to building an integrated transportation system, according to Tuddenham.

The program has been very successful in bringing together state agencies that may not be involved in infrastructure but are involved in promoting active transportation, Tuddenham said. For instance, UDOT has worked closely with the Utah Department of Health. The health agency has offered $3,000 grants under its Cancer Control Program to help prospective Road Respect communities get started with their bicycle planning.

The program also improves communication between communities and UDOT regarding active transportation, Tuddenham said. When working with a Road Respect Community, members of UDOT and its regional offices “know they are dealing with a community that has an understanding of what it takes to install infrastructure and what it takes to work with UDOT as an agency,” Tuddenham said.

In addition, the program has helped channel the enthusiasm of cycling advocates, Tuddenham said. In 2015, the League of American Bicyclists ranked Utah fifth among the states in bicycle friendliness, the state’s highest ranking ever.

“In a short period of time we’ve made some really impressive and very strategic advances [for bicycling] in Utah, and I think a lot of that has been because of the collaborative approach that’s come about through this program,” Tuddenham said.

Transferability and Lessons Learned

The program is very transferable to other state DOTs, according to Tuddenham. However, she emphasized that in the beginning “you have to have a hook, you have to have something that really sparks people’s imagination to get them to come on board,” Tuddenham said. For Utah it was the Road Respect Tour, but for other states it might be something different, she said.

Tuddenham also stressed the role of agency leadership. “It’s a very grass-roots program, and that’s the strength of it…people want to be involved because they see it make a difference on their level,” she said. It is important that those at the top of the organization understand and are supportive of what’s going on at the community level, she said.

In Utah, the program has benefited from the support of UDOT Executive Director Braceras, an avid cyclist himself who has participated in numerous Road Respect events. Braceras has been a big supporter of the agency’s commitment to active transportation.

For more information, link to the UDOT Road Respect webpage, or contact Evelyn Tuddenham, UDOT Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinator at etuddenham@utah.gov.

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Case Studies: National Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange

Transportation Enhancement Program case studies and examples are tracked by the National Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange (formerly the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse) website.

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Case Studies: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

PBIC Case Study Compendium - The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center has a compendium of case studies of pedestrian and bicycle projects and programs implemented by communities in the United States and abroad. The collection of brief case studies are categorized by the main activity involved in the community initiative: engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement, planning, health promotion, and comprehensive safety initiatives.

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Air Quality

Recent Developments: EPA Report: Estimating Emission Reductions from Travel Efficiency

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a report summarizing use of its Travel Efficiency Assessment Method (TEAM) for estimating transportation emission reductions. TEAM uses transportation sketch modeling, travel activity data sets, and EPA’s MOVES emissions model to estimate the potential future emission reductions from combinations of travel efficiency strategies. Such strategies include employer-based transportation management programs, transit improvements, smart growth and related land use strategies, road and parking pricing, and other strategies aimed at reducing vehicle travel. The agency also released two new case studies, one from Austin and one from Pittsburgh, applying TEAM in regional sketch planning. For more information, link here. (July 2020)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Announces Alternative Fuel Corridors Designations, Summary Report

The Federal Highway Administration has completed the fourth round of designations for its Alternative Fuel Corridors program. With the designation of these corridors, FHWA is continuing to establish a national network of alternative fueling and charging infrastructure along national highway system corridors. FHWA also released a summary report of five regional Alternative Fuel Corridors Convenings held in 2018 and 2019. The report contains information and perspectives from across the country on the installation of alternative fuel infrastructure along highway corridors. For more information, link to the Alternative Fuel Corridors website. (6-24-20)

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Recent Developments: Group Compiles Resources on VW Settlement, Trust Fund

The National Association of Clean Air Agencies has compiled a repository of state and local agency information and links pertaining to the Volkswagen (VW) settlement and the Mitigation Trust Fund. The information includes state and local agency webpages, public outreach materials, and documents. The fund was established as part of the settlement between the U.S. government and VW over the company’s alleged use of “defeat devices” designed to cheat on federal emission tests. The trust provides funding to each state for eligible projects that will reduce nitrogen oxides. For more information, link to the repository. (6-16-20)

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Recent Developments: American Lung Association Issues 2020 'State of the Air' Report

The American Lung Association’s annual "State of the Air" report for 2020 finds that nearly half of the nation’s population – 150 million people – lived with and breathed polluted air, placing their health and lives at risk. The study – which identified climate change as an increasing factor impacting air quality – looked at the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants: ozone pollution and particle pollution. The 2020 found that more than 20.8 million people lived in counties that had unhealthy levels of air pollution in all categories from 2016 to 2018. It identified U.S. cities deemed most polluted as well as the cleanest cities. For more information, link to the announcement and the report. (4-21-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Updates CMAQ Website with 'Project Spotlight'

The Federal Highway Administration has updated its Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program website, including a “project spotlight” section that profiles CMAQ projects. As of 2015, the CMAQ program had provided more than $30 billion to fund over 30,000 transportation-related environmental projects. The FAST Act provided up to $2.5 billion in CMAQ funding for each year of the authorization-2016 through 2020. It emphasizes diesel engine retrofits including construction equipment, port-related landside non-road or on- road equipment, and alternative fuel infrastructure in designated corridors. For more information, link to the CMAQ web page.

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Alternative Fuel Vehicle Fleet Module for CMAQ Toolkit

The Federal Highway Administration recently has issued a module for on-road alternative fuel vehicle fleet purchases for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Emissions Calculator Toolkit. The module allows users to quantify the potential emission reductions that might be achieved when a fleet converts to alternative fuel vehicles or advanced drivetrain technologies. The tool allows modeling of many passenger and commercial vehicle sources, but excludes others such as transit buses. The module, which includes a users’ guide and other documentation, provides information on the appropriate inputs into the Environmental Protection Agency's Motor Vehicle Emissions Simulator (MOVES2014b). For more information, link to the CMAQ Emissions Calculator Toolkit. (3-19-20)

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Recent Developments: Research Suggests Easing Congestion with Variable Speed, Lane Change Controls

The use of intelligent transportation systems and variable speed limits can help to ease traffic congestion and bottlenecks, and reduce vehicle emissions, according to a policy brief from the National Center for Sustainable Transportation. The policy brief is based on findings from researchers at the University of Southern California who simulated traffic patterns and the use of variable speed limit and lane change control systems to evaluate the potential traffic impacts of these systems. The research suggests that reducing speed limits in real time and far in advance of traffic bottlenecks created by highway incidents, along with lane change control systems, can smooth the flow of traffic and handle larger volumes at lower speeds. For more information, link to the policy brief. (3-9-20)

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Recent Developments: Research Estimates Emission Reductions from Zero Emission Vehicles

A research report that assesses the emissions impacts of nationwide zero emission vehicle (ZEV) adoption has been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Web-Only Document 274, NCHRP 25-25, Task 115). Researchers projected changes in emissions of criteria pollutants, mobile source air toxic pollutants, and greenhouse gases resulting from varying ZEV adoption scenarios with a 20-year time horizon. The objective of the report was to help readers to understand what key factors influence the degree to which ZEVs will impact the vehicle fleet emissions. For more information, link to the report. (2-3-20)

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Recent Developments: EPA Issues Emission Inventory Methods for Port and Goods Movement

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a draft document on how to develop port-related and goods movement emissions inventories. The document, Methodologies for Estimating Port-Related and Goods Movement Mobile Source Emission Inventories, has specific information on how to develop inventories for criteria pollutants and precursors, climate-related pollutants, mobile source air toxics, and energy consumption. The document applies to both offshore and onshore forms of transportation, including cargo handling equipment and onroad vehicles. Comments on the draft document can be submitted by March 31, 2020. For more information, link to the document. (2-4-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Managed Lanes Module for CMAQ Toolkit

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a new managed lane facilities and conversions module for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Emissions Calculator Toolkit. The module allows users to quantify the potential emission reductions that might be achieved from reduced freeway congestion through the addition or modification of a managed lane project such as high-occupancy vehicle (HOV), high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, and other forms of controlled access lanes on highways. The module, which includes a users’ guide and other documentation, provides information on the appropriate inputs into the Environmental Protection Agency's Motor Vehicle Emissions Simulator (MOVES2014b). For more information, link to the CMAQ Emissions Calculator Toolkit. (1-17-20)

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Recent Developments: EPA Issues Advance Notice on Heavy Truck Air Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking public comments on an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles. The Cleaner Trucks Initiative would establish new emission standards for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) for highway heavy-duty engines and would address certification procedures to reduce costs for engine manufacturers. For more information, link to the ANPR Web Page and related fact sheet. (1-13-20)

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Recent Developments: CMAQ Emissions Tool Transit Fleet Module Updated

The Federal Highway Administration has released updates to modules of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Emissions Calculator Toolkit. The Transit Bus Service and Fleet Expansion module is one of a series of spreadsheet-based tools that can be used to facilitate the calculation of representative air quality benefit data, for CMAQ project justification, and annual reporting. Other modules recently updated include those for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, diesel idle reduction, transit bus retrofits, and carpooling. For more information, link to the toolkit. (12-12-19)

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Recent Developments: Guidance Updated for Fourth Round of Alternative Fuel Corridors

The Federal Highway Administration has issued an updated question and answer document regarding the FAST Act Section 1413 Alternative Fuel Corridor Designations. The document covers general questions, questions specific to the four different rounds of designations, fuel-specific questions, questions about signage, coordination with the Energy Department, and resources such as FHWA contacts and information about the Alternative Fuel Corridor Convenings. The document has been updated in connection with the fourth round request for nominations. For more information, link to the FAQ. (12-3-19)

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Recent Developments: Demand Management Scheme Wins Clean Air Excellence Award

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced the winners of the 2019 Clean Air Excellence Awards. The awardee for the Transportation Efficiency category is RideFinders, a division of the GRTC Transit System, for their Commute Green Summer Challenge in Richmond, Va. The project involved a transportation demand management campaign to reduce the number of single-passenger commute trips and reduce vehicle emissions. Using existing resources, the project documented the emissions reductions, reduced vehicle miles traveled, and fuel savings. Other award categories are clean air technology, community action, education and outreach, state/tribal/local air quality policy, and an outstanding achievement award. For more information, link to the announcement. (11-8-19)

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Recent Developments: Nominations Sought for Alternative Fuel Corridor Designations

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking nominations for the fourth round of its Alternative Fuel Corridors designations. This fourth round of corridor designations may provide state or local agencies an opportunity to nominate additional corridors, extend currently designated corridors, and/or nominate a different fuel(s) along an already designated corridor. Nominations are due Feb. 26. For more information, link to the announcement and the Alternative Fuel Corridors web page. (10-28-19)

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Recent Developments: CMAQ Emissions Tool Updated for Diesel Trucks/Engine Emissions

The Federal Highway Administration has released a new module of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Emissions Calculator Toolkit. The Advanced Diesel Truck and Engine Technologies tool is one of a series of spreadsheet-based tools that can be used to facilitate the calculation of representative air quality benefit data, for CMAQ project justification, and annual reporting. The new module estimates emission reductions from projects that implement diesel retrofitting, diesel repowering, and diesel vehicle replacement. For more information, link to the toolkit. (9-30-19)

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Recent Developments: EPA, DOT Announce Federal Preemption Rule on Fuel Economy, GHG Emissions

Federal environmental and transportation agencies have issued the One National Program Rule to provide for nationwide fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for automobiles and light trucks. The rule specifies that only the federal government may set fuel economy standards, and state and local governments may not establish their own separate standards. This includes state laws that substantially affect fuel economy standards (such as tailpipe GHG emissions standards and zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates). In addition, EPA is withdrawing the 2013 Clean Air Act waiver that authorized California to pursue its own tailpipe GHG standard and ZEV mandate. The agencies anticipate issuing a final rule on standards in the near future. For more information, link to the final rule web page. (9-19-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Provides Tool, Best Practices for Dust Mitigation

The Federal Highway Administration has provided a tool to help practitioners calculate emissions from road dust. The dust mitigation tool and associated dust mitigation practices and model documentation were posted as part of FHWA’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) Emissions Calculator Toolkit. The tool allows users to calculate emissions benefits from three different categories of dust mitigation projects: paved roads, unpaved roads, and unpaved to paved roads. The agency also has provided updates to the CMAQ tool for congestion reduction and traffic flow improvements. For more information, link to the toolkit. (8-24-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Publishes Ozone Nonattainment Area Maps

The Federal Highway Administration has published maps of nonattainment areas for the 2015 eight-hour ozone national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). Each map is intended to depict the boundaries of the designated area, including the boundaries of associated 2015, 2008, and 1997 eight-hour ozone nonattainment and/or maintenance areas (if any), as well as any associated MPOs. The maps are made available to help state DOTs and MPOs identify and understand the boundaries of nonattainment areas and how they intersect with other jurisdictional boundaries when complying with transportation conformity requirements of the Clean Air Act. For more information, link to the maps. (8-19-19)

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Recent Developments: Group Urges Congestion Pricing in Cities

A report from the National League of Cities encourages cities to consider congestion charging systems as a solution to build communities, calm traffic, and improve quality of life for residents. Congestion pricing is a type of road user charge system in which a flat or variable rate fee is charged to vehicles that drive in a specified area or zone within a city. The report explains how congestion charging works, reviews pilot programs, and shows the potential advantages and barriers to implementation. For more information, link to the report. (8-19-19)

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Recent Developments: EPA Announces Latest Version of Calif. Emissions Model

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced the availability of the latest version of the California Emission Factor model (EMFAC2017) for use in state implementation plan development and transportation conformity hot-spot analyses. The model is required for all new regional emission analyses that are started after Aug. 16, 2021, and for all new hot-spot analyses for carbon monoxide and particulate matter conducted on or after Aug. 17, 2020. For more information, link to the notice. (8-15-19)

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Recent Developments: Researchers Develop Simplified Tool to Calculate Emission Reductions under CMAQ

A spreadsheet-based tool to calculate emission reductions for projects under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program has been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP 25-25, Task 108). To obtain CMAQ funds, states must submit an analysis describing the air quality improvement benefits that the project or program will achieve. The research provides a method to calculate emissions reductions for 16 project types, based on minimized and simplified inputs. For more information, link to the report and related resources. (7-30-19)

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Recent Developments: EPA Outlines Achievements of Diesel Emissions Reduction Act

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a report to Congress providing an overview of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act program, from its inception in 2008 through 2016. EPA awarded $629 million to retrofit or replace 67,300 engines in vehicles, vessels, locomotives or other pieces of equipment, with $300 million of this funding coming from the American Recovery and Investment Act. EPA estimates that these projects will reduce emissions by 472,700 tons of NOx and 15,490 tons of PM-2.5 over the lifetime of the affected engines. For more information, link to the report. (7-25-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Posts Resources on Alternative Fuel Corridors

The Federal Highway Administration has posted several new resources as part of its Alternative Fuel Toolkit. Recently posted items include tools for alternative fuel corridor planning as well as information related to convenings on the South Central, Southeast, and Midwest Alternative Fuel Corridors. For more information, link to the Alternative Fuel Toolkit. (6-13-19) >>See Related AASHTO CEE Resources: AASHTO Air Quality Community of Practice

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Issues Guide on Enhanced Truck Data for Emissions Modeling

A guide for improving the modeling of commercial truck activity for estimating vehicle emissions from transportation projects is part of a set of resources issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The guide, NCHRP Research Report 909: Guide to Truck Activity Data for Emissions Modeling, provides a detailed discussion of the methods, procedures, and sources of data that can be used to enhance the truck-specific emissions estimates from the EPA’s Motor Vehicle Emissions Simulator (MOVES2014) model. The project also includes a web-only set of case studies and a collection of MS Excel files that contain data described in the case studies. For more information, link to the NCHRP Research Report 909. (6-12-19) >>See Related AASHTO CEE Resources: AASHTO Air Quality Community of Practice

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Recent Developments: EPA Awards Over $13 Million for Cleaner School Buses, Diesel

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced awards totaling over $9.3 million to 43 states or territories to purchase hundreds of cleaner school buses. The grants under the EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) funding will allow state, regional, or tribal governments and organizations to purchase buses that use newer, lower emission diesel buses to reduce pollution and improve public health. The EPA also has announced $3.8 million in DERA grants awarded to various groups in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest for the purchase of hybrid electric or cleaner diesel generators, construction equipment, transit buses, short-haul freight trucks, and school buses. For more information, link to the Region 10 and national announcements. (5-2-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Newsletter Provides Air Quality, Climate Updates

Recent developments concerning air quality and climate impacts are presented in the recent issue of the Air Quality and Climate Change Highlights newsletter from the Federal Highway Administration. Topics covered include CMAQ computation guidance, alternative fuel corridor nominations, and renewable energy in rights-of-way. The newsletter also spotlights various meetings, conferences, symposia, workshops, and training opportunities. For more information, read the January/February 2019 issue. (4-4-19)

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Recent Developments: WRI Issues Costs and Emissions Appraisal Tool for Transit Buses

The World Resources Institute has created a Costs and Emissions Appraisal Tool for Transit Buses. The Excel-based tool allows users to compare the costs and emissions reductions of two bus fleets, each composed of up to three bus types. Bus types can differ in terms of fuel type, the technology used to achieve different emissions standards, and bus length. Users can input fuel and vehicle unit cost data for a city or country and the tool calculates the costs and emissions of each bus type and the total costs and emissions of each fleet. To access the tool and a related discussion paper, link here. (March 2019)

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Recent Developments: Report Issued on Global Health Impacts of Transportation Pollution

A review of transportation-related air pollution across the globe has been issued by the International Council on Clean Transportation. The transportation sector produces multiple pollutants such as dust and other airborne particles, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide from vehicle exhaust, vapor from fuels, and dust from unpaved roads, tire wear, and brake wear. The analysis provides updated estimates of the impacts of transportation sector emissions and their health impacts in 2010 and 2015 by linking state-of-the-art models on vehicle emissions, air pollution, and epidemiological analysis to determine the impact on air quality and public health. The report found that 84 percent of global transportation-attributable deaths occurred in G20 countries, and 70 percent occurred in the four largest vehicle markets: China, India, the European Union, and the United States. For more information, link to the report. (3-11-19)

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Recent Developments: EPA Extends Deadline for Clean Diesel Grants

The Environmental Protection Agency has extended the deadline to apply for competitive grant funding through its Diesel Emissions Reductions Act Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program. The program is soliciting applications for projects that achieve significant reductions in diesel emissions in terms of tons of pollution produced and exposure, particularly from fleets operating in areas designated as having poor air quality. Applications are due March 26. For more information, link to the extension notice. (2-21-19)

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Recent Developments: CMAQ Guidance Issued on Total Emissions Reduction Measure

Guidance on calculating the total emissions reduction measure to assess on-road mobile source emissions under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program has been issued by the Federal Highway Administration. The measure is the 2-year and 4-year cumulative reported emission reductions, for all projects funded by CMAQ funds, by applicable criteria pollutant and precursors for which the area is designated nonattainment or maintenance. The guidance provides a calculation formula as well as frequently asked questions. For more information, link to the guidance. (December 2018)

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Recent Developments: DOE Launches Web Version of Fleet Life Cycle Tool

The Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory has announced a new online version of a tool to compare alternative fuel and vehicle technologies. Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation (AFLEET) is a free, publicly available spreadsheet-based tool to help fleet managers optimize their purchasing decisions to reduce their environmental impacts and save money. AFLEET was originally launched in 2013 and is now issued as a web-based option. For more information, link to the AFLEET tool. (2-1-19)

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Recent Developments: Bike, Pedestrian Module for CMAQ Emissions Calculator Toolkit Released

The Federal Highway Administration has released a new module of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Emissions Calculator Toolkit. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements module is one of a series of spreadsheet-based tools that can be used to facilitate the calculation of representative air quality benefit data, for CMAQ project justification, as well as the annual reporting requirements. The update includes a user guide and supplemental documentation. The toolkit is a resource to help with the implementation of the CMAQ program, which supports surface transportation projects and related efforts that contribute to improved air quality and reduce congestion. To access this and other modules, link to the toolkit. (1-24-19)

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Recent Developments: Diesel Idle Module for CMAQ Emissions Calculator Toolkit Released

The Federal Highway Administration has released a new module of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Emissions Calculator Toolkit. The Diesel Idle Reduction Technologies tool is one of a series of spreadsheet-based tools that can be used to facilitate the calculation of representative air quality benefit data, for CMAQ project justification, as well as the annual reporting requirements. The toolkit is a resource to help with the implementation of the CMAQ program, which supports surface transportation projects and related efforts that contribute to improved air quality and reduce congestion. Additional toolkit modules are released as they become available. For more information, link to the toolkit. (1-3-19)

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Recent Developments: Smart Transportation Systems Can Improve Truck Environmental Impacts

The National Center for Sustainable Transportation has issued a research study of the potential for using intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies that take into account the presence of trucks in the traffic flow in order to reduce fuel consumption and pollution levels in areas of high truck volume. According to the study, the sizes and movement dynamics of trucks create traffic disturbances that affect other vehicles and cause increased fuel consumption and pollution. The study proposes an integrated variable speed limit, ramp metering, and lane change controller using feedback linearization. The integrated controller keeps the bottleneck flow at the maximum level and homogenizes the density and speed of the traffic flow along the highway sections. Results show improvements in fuel economy and emissions under different levels of perturbation and noise. For more information, link to the report. (2018)

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Case Studies: Georgia - Georgia DOT's Commuter Program Leverages CMAQ Funds for Travel Demand Management

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.

Implementation

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.

Incentive Program

A key piece to attracting new participants is the incentive program for clean commuters which is funded with CMAQ funds, these incentives include:

  • $3 a day, up to $100, for commuters to try out a clean commute option and log their trips on the program website;
  • a $25 prize from a monthly drawing of the commuters who log clean trips on the website;
  • $40-$60 monthly gas cards for carpools, depending on ridership; and
  • a $50 vanpool ride referral, for vanpoolers who refer a new vanpool rider and the new rider completes three consecutive months in a vanpool.

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.

Lessons Learned

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.

For more information, see the Georgia Commute Options website or contact Phil Peevy, Georgia Department of Transportation at ppeevy@dot.ga.gov.

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Case Studies: Federal Highway Administration - Transportation Conformity Practices

Examples of analyses, procedures, and strategies for meeting transportation conformity requirements are available from the Federal Highway Administration. The agency’s conformity practices website is intended to provide an easily searchable repository of examples of transportation conformity documents and processes that could be replicated in other areas of the country. For more information, link to FHWA's conformity practices web page.

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Cultural Resources

Recent Developments: FHWA Reports on Basics of Section 4(f) Reviews

An overview of procedures for reviews of potential impacts to historic sites and parkland under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act is provided in the latest issue of the Federal Highway Administration’s Successes in Stewardship newsletter. The issue provides a brief overview of the fundamental requirements of Section 4(f), addresses some common issues practitioners face in interpreting Section 4(f), and explains how the recent changes effect Section 4(f) analysis. For more information, link to the issue. (July 2020)

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Recent Developments: ACHP Urges Increased Use of Digital Information on Historic Properties

Recommendations for increasing agencies’ use of digital information on historic properties will be implemented by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The recommendations, developed by a task force advising the council, urges increasing awareness of the availability and effectiveness of digital information and improving access to and management of data. For more information, link to the announcement and the report. (5-1-20)

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Recent Developments: GAO Updates Report on Tribal Consultation over Cultural Resources

A Government Accountability Office has issued a follow-up on a report concerning effective consultation between federal agencies and tribal governments regarding infrastructure projects affecting tribal natural and cultural resources. The new information includes a review of examples of federal laws and regulations that apply to Native American cultural resources, such as the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and the factors that impact the effectiveness of consultation efforts. The report says that of the recommendations issued in 2019, 17 agencies generally agreed and one has implemented the recommendation. For more information, link to the document. (2-27-20)

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Recent Developments: Study Suggests Expanded Alternatives for Section 106 Compliance

Alternative methods of compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act are expediting project delivery, but there is opportunity to have additional ones for more categories, according to a report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (Web-only document 275). The research project (NCHRP 25-25, Task 116) says that the two program comments in effect—one for post-1945 concrete and steel bridges and one for historic rail properties within rail rights-of-way—are viewed favorably by transportation agencies, but more time is needed for a full assessment. The report suggests additional program alternatives that could be adopted nationally: a national program comment for post-World War II housing and a national exemption for classes of minor projects. For more information, link here. (2-18-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Soliciting National Scenic Byways Program Nominations

The Federal Highways Administration has announced the opening of nominations for roads or highways to be designated under the National Scenic Byways Program. Byways can be nominated to be either a National Scenic Byway or an All-American Road designation. Qualities that demonstrate the significance of the byway include features that have archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, or scenic value. The agency had not accepted nominations during the 12-year period that the program was without congressional authorization. The agency will be holding a webinar on Feb. 26 to discuss the process. For more information, link to the FHWA’s nominations page. (2-19-20)

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Recent Developments: National Trust Announces List of Recent Preservation ‘Wins’

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has announced a list of success stories for historic preservation this year. The list of 12 preservation “wins” includes the culmination of an effort to preserve historic neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles that were threatened by the proposed construction of a five-mile freeway tunnel. The list also includes historic properties such as Nina Simone’s childhood home, an historic Chicago church, a two-century old adobe home in Monterey, Calif., several historic sites, and historic neighborhoods in Dallas, Miami, and Philadelphia. For more information, read the list. (11-18-19)

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Recent Developments: Advisory Council Issues Handbook on Coordination with Tribes

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has issued a handbook that offers guidance on involving Indian tribes early in the Section 106 process under the National Historic Preservation Act. The Early Coordination with Indian Tribes during Pre-application Process: A Handbook is intended to improve the protection of historic properties, including those of religious and cultural significance to federally recognized tribes. The handbook provides recommendations, suggests proactive steps, and includes real-world examples of effective coordination. The handbook has a companion eLearning course. For more information, link to the handbook. (11-8-19)

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Recent Developments: List of Section 106 Programmatic Agreements Updated

The Federal Highway Administration has issued an updated list of statewide Section 106 programmatic agreements for historic properties. The listing, in table format, includes the state, the agreement type such as delegation or streamlining, what transportation facilities are covered under the agreement, the agreement signed date and expiration date, and links to the agreement text. Most states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have at least one Section 106 programmatic agreement in effect. For more information, link to the list. (8-14-19)

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Recent Developments: ACHP Offers Online Course on Consultation with Indian Tribes

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has announced a new on-demand training course addressing early coordination with Indian tribes for infrastructure projects. The course covers Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act as it relates to federally recognized Indian tribes. The course provides information for understanding and skills for working with tribes when planning and developing pre-application information for projects. For more information, link to the announcement. (7-16-19)

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Recent Developments: VDOT Report Addresses Management of Historic Roads

A report issued by the Virginia Transportation Research Council addresses management considerations for historic roads. The report says there are unique challenges when it comes to managing the elements of historic significance in connection with historic roads, and a transportation department must take additional steps when contemplating any project affecting the road. Various elements and features must be identified and addressed, and a detailed history of the road’s historic significance must be prepared. For more information, link to Management Considerations for Historic Roads in Virginia. (7-12-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Newsletter Highlights Sec. 106 Agreements with Tribes

A review of Section 106 agreements between the Federal Highway Administration and federally recognized tribes is provided in the June 2019 issue of FHWA’s Successes in Stewardship Newsletter. The issue gives an overview of tribal agreements and consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, including memoranda of understanding, programmatic agreements, and consultation protocol agreements. The newsletter also provides some statistics on the number and types of agreements currently in place and a case study from North Dakota. For more information, link to the newsletter. (6-21-19)

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Recent Developments: GAO Advises on Better Tribal Consultation for Infrastructure Projects

A Government Accountability Office report says that effective consultation between federal agencies and tribal governments regarding infrastructure projects affecting tribal natural and cultural resources could be improved. The GAO report identifies a variety of areas in which effective consultation is hindered. These include difficulties initiating consultation; disagreement on what level of tribal participation is satisfactory and whether tribes have sufficient resources to participate; the knowledge and capacity of agency officials and staff concerning tribal consultation; agencies’ respect for and knowledge of Indian law; and agencies’ practices for engaging with tribes and consulting with other federal agencies. The report offers recommendations including developing a government-wide system to identify and notify tribes of consultations. For more information, link to the report. (4-19-19)

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Issues Report on Highway Noise and Historic Properties

Practices that state transportation agencies have used to mitigate the long-term effects of noise on historic properties are the focus of a new report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. NCHRP Project 25-25, Task 106, Highway Noise & Historic Properties: A National Review of Effects & Mitigation Practices, provides six case studies as examples of the current state of practice where project officials have resolved instances of adverse effects from increased traffic noise. The practices, ranging from conventional noise walls to sound-reducing landscaping, have involved extensive collaboration and consideration of the project context. For more information, link to the report. (3-7-19)

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Case Studies: Case Study Compilations

Case Studies: Case Study Compilations - AASHTO Report Offers Case Studies on Historic Bridge Rehabilitation

Case studies of best practices for historic bridge rehabilitation from across the country are detailed in a report produced by the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO’s Historic Bridges Community of Practice. The report provides 16 case studies developed in partnership with state DOTs and local transportation agencies and their contractors. For each case study, the report information on each bridge and its context including significant issues associated with project; project description, including purpose and need; traffic levels, loading needs, and other related issues; Section 106 effects finding (no adverse, adverse); and lessons learned.

The report includes the following case studies:

  • Stone Arch Bridges:
    • Johns Burnt Mill Bridge (Adams County Bridge No. 56), Mount Pleasant and Oxford Townships, Pennsylvania
    • Prairie River Bridge (aka Merrill Bridge or First Street Bridge), Merrill, Wisconsin
  • Concrete Arch Bridges
    • Carrollton Bridge (Carroll County Bridge No. 132), Carroll County, Indiana
    • Robert A. Booth (Winchester) Bridge, Douglas County, Oregon
  • Movable Span Bridges
    • Bridge of Lions, St. Augustine, Florida
  • Metal Truss Bridges
    • Tobias Bridge, Jefferson County, Indiana
    • New Casselman River Bridge, Grantsville, Maryland
    • Walnut Street Bridge, Mazeppa, Minnesota
    • Pine Creek Bridge, or Tiadaghton Bridge, Clinton and Lycoming Counties, Pennsylvania
    • Washington Avenue Bridge, Waco, Texas
    • Lone Wolf Bridge, San Angelo, Texas
    • Goshen Historic Truss Bridge, Goshen, Virginia
    • Hawthorne Street Bridge, Covington, Virginia
    • Ross Booth Memorial Bridge (aka Winfield Toll Bridge), Putman County, West Virginia
  • Metal Arch Bridges
    • Lion Bridges (North and South), Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Metal Girder Bridges
    • Hare’s Hill Road Bridge, Chester County, Pennsylvania

For more information, link to the report, Case Studies on Rehabilitation of Historic Bridges on the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO website.

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Case Studies: Case Study Compilations - FHWA Issues Case Studies on Historic Preservation in Planning, Early Project Development

A report and set of case studies showcasing transportation agency programs that consider historic preservation in planning and early project development have been issued by the Federal Highway Administration. The report documents 17 case studies organized by program type, including Section 106 programmatic agreements, historic property databases for State DOT rights-of-way, statewide management of historic bridges, and staff liaison programs with State Historic Preservation Offices. The report, which also provides analysis on the effectiveness and benefits of the programs, was prepared in support of FHWA’s Every Day Counts Initiative.

The report contains the following case studies:

For more information, link to the report, Planning And Environmental Linkages For Historic Preservation, and to FHWA’s Planning and Environment Linkages Historic Preservation webpage.

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Case Studies: Arizona - Arizona DOT Uses Adobe Bricks to Help Restore Historic Building in Tombstone

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has made what it calls an “architecturally challenging” decision to carry out both historic preservation work and transportation safety work in one of the nation’s most significant and infamous towns -- Tombstone.

Tombstone was one of the last frontier boomtowns in the American Old West. In its heyday, it produced millions of dollars of silver bullion and is best known as the site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. There, ADOT is shoring up water-damaged sections of a local historic landmark called Schieffelin Hall, named for 19th century resident and silver prospector Ed Schieffelin.

Arizona DOT is using adobe bricks to shore up water-damaged sections of a local historic landmark, Schieffelin Hall. Photo: Arizona DOT

“Carrying out preservation work with very unique materials alongside one of our highway projects is not what we do every day,” says ADOT Southeast District Engineer Bill Harmon.

Preservation Work

“But in this case, it was a natural fit. We were part of the scope of work for both projects. They both are being carried out in Tombstone’s Historic District. And ADOT is proud to be helping restore and preserve a treasured National Landmark.”

The unique materials Harmon is referring to are adobe bricks. ADOT is shoring up the Hall using replacement bricks that are being painstakingly produced using 19th century techniques. The fabrication process is taking place at a mine not far away in Cochise County by a crew headed up by a third-generation adobe maker. Precise historic replication will enable the new bricks to tightly weld to the remaining original bricks, thus increasing stability and also helping to fend off more water damage.

To create the bricks, wooden molds are set down and a slurry mixture of sand, silt, clay and grass is poured into the forms. After the mixture sits for a day or two and the bricks have taken shape, the forms are removed and the bricks are stacked in the sun to completely dry, a process that can take several weeks. Once the bricks arrive on site at the Hall, they are put into place and secured with a mud and straw mixture that functions like mortar. Finally, a layer of stucco is added on top to conform to the rest of the building’s façade.

Crews create adobe bricks for restoration of the Schieffelin Hall using historic techniques. Photo: Arizona DOT

Besides replacing some of the bricks, ADOT also will add a porch to the Hall to replace the original one removed in the early 1900s. Its corrugated metal roof will be supported by wooden posts, and a downspout will be incorporated to carry away rainwater.

Funding for the preservation work comes from a FHWA Transportation Enhancement (TE) grant awarded to the City of Tombstone. The TE grant was the culmination of several years of hard work involving numerous groups including ADOT, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the Tombstone Restoration Commission, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Park Service, as well as local government, businesses, and citizens. All work is being carried out according to guidelines from the Department of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, a technique required by the National Historic Preservation Act.

Safety Work

In the same neighborhood as its preservation work, ADOT also is carrying out an associated project to improve motorist and pedestrian safety along the Fremont Street portion of State Route 80 where Schieffelin Hall stands. Funding for the highway safety project comes from FHWA’s Highway Safety Improvement Program under MAP-21 and from state gas-tax dollars.

Key safety features being installed under the ADOT grant, begun in August of this year, include the following:

  • narrowing a portion of Fremont Street from 68 feet to 44 feet to make room for sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements;
  • installing landscaping and constructing sturdy concrete sidewalks that look like weathered wood to deter pedestrians from jaywalking; and
  • providing continuous street lighting throughout the area.

He continues, “Sadly, part of the impetus for installing extra rigorous safety features came from a tragic crash that took place here in Tombstone in 2009 involving two tourists. After that happened, ADOT and the city of Tombstone began to work together even more closely to implement a range of advanced pedestrian safety improvements.”

In 2010, he says, ADOT and the city of Tombstone completed a comprehensive traffic study soon after the accident. Short-term actions that ensued included road striping, parking restrictions, and reduced speed limits. The study also recommended several longer-term improvements.

Besides the key pedestrian safety features, the project also entails repaving the roadway and constructing new curbs with handicap ramps,, removing an obsolete pedestrian bridge, and installing an irrigation system for landscaping. Driveways not needed by property owners will be closed, others will be improved to meet current standards.

“Construction for both projects is moving forward steadily,” Harmon says. “Our schedule calls for completing both in the spring of 2016. The value of the two projects, combined, is right at $1 million.”

Groundwork

According to Harmon, while it’s not uncommon for ADOT to be involved in the preservation of historic properties through the Transportation Enhancement grants program, it is unusual for the agency to play a role in the preservation of a National Historic Landmark, including such an architecturally challenging project. As he puts it: “This project truly is one of a kind.”

Extensive collaboration took place so that both historic preservation and improved safety goals were met, he continues. The two projects were evaluated together under one NEPA categorical exclusion document. ADOT retained historic preservation specialists to help during the design and construction phases. The restoration concepts were reviewed and approved by the State Historic Preservation Officer. Detailed plans were prepared based on old photographs plus an onsite investigation of the soundness of the walls.

To meet the requirements of both Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and Section 4(f) of the Transportation Act, AZDOT incorporated several historic preservation features. For example, to mitigate the porch’s potential impact on the historic adobe material, the design was tweaked so to have the porch be a free-standing structure rather than be attached. And the street lighting that was installed was carefully chosen in conjunction with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) so as to carry forward aspects of period lighting design.

“Other state DOTs could, and may well be, carrying out similar community improvement projects under what has become the Transportation Alternatives program,” says Harmon.

“But in addition to the challenges of coordination across many different groups, there is also the issue of funding, including matching funds. We were very fortunate in this project to have both the funding and a great group of people who were willing to do what it took to make this happen.”

The project’s most memorable moment to date? Easy one, is Harmon’s reply. It was the day some cattle wandered into the brick-making area and trampled over some of the fresh adobe.

“Not a typical delay at a modern construction site,” he says, “but it probably happened more than once a century or so ago. I guess it’s to be expected when, for historic preservation’s sake, we decide to work on the cutting edge of low technology.”

For more information, link to the ADOT blog post and video or contact Dustin Krugel, ADOT Public Information Officer, at Dkrugel@azdot.gov.

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Case Studies: Florida - Historic Bridge of Lions Rehabilitation

The Florida Department of Transportation was able to preserve the historically significant architectural features of the Bridge of Lions, the gateway to historic St. Augustine. Accomplished by constructing a “bridge within a bridge,” the improvement project was able to retain key elements of the original bridge while addressing the bridge’s structural problems.

The Bridge of Lions crosses Matanzas Bay (part of the Intracoastal Waterway) and connects the city of St. Augustine with the resort communities of Anastasia Island, St. Johns County, Florida. It is located in an urban setting, with its western approach in the historic district of St. Augustine. Designed by John E. Greiner and constructed in 1927, the bridge has a total length of 1,545 feet. The main span is a 95 foot double-leaf rolling lift bascule. Approach spans are steel arched girder-floor beam spans with cantilevered overhanging sections.

This architectonic bridge is a significant feature of the historic streetscape of St. Augustine and is a gateway to the old city. The bridge was rehabilitated in order to retain its historically significant architectural features, while solving the bridge’s structural problems. This was accomplished by constructing a “bridge within a bridge.” Enough of the old bridge was retained to classify the project as a rehabilitation and not new construction. New construction would have required use of all modern design criteria.

Prior to rehabilitation, the bridge was in fair to poor condition, particularly in terms of the fracture critical girder-floor beam approach spans and the substructure units. At many locations, crutch bents had been previously installed in order to provide additional support.

Rehabilitation Process

As part of the rehabilitation, the bridge’s two fascia girders were retained for visual appearance, while new steel stringers were installed inside the girders. The fascia girders, which were removed, repaired, and then reset in place, were relieved of most of the loads and the new stringers now carry the majority of the dead load and the traffic loads. The stringers are hidden from view and will not distract from the architecturally significant arched girders. In addition, the approach spans were widened in order to improve the roadway geometry.

The bascule piers and associated towers were left in place and repaired. This included replacing the existing concrete piers within the splash zone with new concrete, as the existing concrete contained high levels of chlorides. The bascule piers were strengthened by the addition of drilled shafts, and a new footing was placed below the existing waterline footing in order to provide sufficient strength for a modern design scour event.

Several features original to the bridge, but previously removed or replaced, were replicated. These included the pedestrian railing (with the height increased to meet modern standards), light standards, and rotating traffic gates. The bridge steel was painted to match the original bridge color.

The original bridge was recognized as important for its high artistic merit, rather than its technological significance. This made it possible to focus the rehabilitation on its historic character and appearance. This resulted in Florida DOT making a finding of No Adverse Effect. The Florida State Historic Preservation Officer concurred with this finding.

Lessons Learned

By retaining a sufficient amount of the existing bridge, this project was considered a rehabilitation. New construction would have required use of all modern design criteria, such as widening the navigable channel from the existing 84 foot to the 125 foot width now required for the Intracoastal Waterway.

To maintain the bridge’s historic character, it was extremely important to retain the design of the piers and the arch-shaped fascia beams, in addition to the cantilevered end sections of the girder-floor beam approach spans. The fascia girders were reused on the slightly wider stringer approach spans, supported on substructure units that were rebuilt in-kind to the new geometry. The reused fascia girders support themselves and part of the bridge’s sidewalks.

For more information on the project, contact Roy A. Jackson, State Cultural Resources Coordinator, Florida Department of Transportation, e-mail: roy.jackson@dot.state.fl.us.

Additional case studies of best practices for historic bridge rehabilitation from across the country are detailed in a report produced by the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO’s Historic Bridges Community of Practice. Link to Case Studies on Rehabilitation of Historic Bridges.

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Case Studies: Georgia - Georgia DOT Mitigates Impacts to Historic Neighborhood as Part of I-75 Improvements

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When rock-and-roll legend Little Richard was growing up in Macon, Georgia, his Pleasant Hill neighborhood was an African-American community of modest houses and vibrant local life. But the construction of Interstate 75 in the 1960s divided the neighborhood. Later, when the Georgia Department of Transportation (Georgia DOT) needed to make improvements to the I-16/I-75 Interchange, they saw an opportunity to work with communities to address impacts to their neighborhood.

The childhood home of legendary rock and roll singer “Little Richard” was moved to a new location. Photo: GDOT

While moving forward with the improvements to this interchange, Georgia DOT devoted time and effort to mitigating project impacts, including moving historic homes, building parks, adding pedestrian walkways, and documenting the local history. Traffic impacts have long demonstrated the need to improve this interchange. Beginning in 2000, Georgia DOT began meeting with Pleasant Hill residents to gather their input as the project developed.

The construction of I-75 predates the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), enacted in 1970, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), enacted 1966 and Executive Order 12898 (Environmental Justice). As a result, project planning and development of I-75 did not consider environmental and historic preservation issues. The current improvements to I-75 and I-16 come at a time when project development is guided by these environmental laws; thus operational safety along with community concerns are part of the equation.

The I-75/I-16 interchange improvement project has several serious constraints, including its location at important cultural sites. This became the genesis for Georgia DOT’s work with federal, local and state partners to address the potential impacts to the Pleasant Hill neighborhood, a historic African-American district listed on the National Register of Historic Places with housing dating from the 1870s.

Neighborhood Cut in Two

Prior to the interstate construction which began in 1965, Pleasant Hill was a self-sustaining, vibrant community where many African American professionals called home and raised their families. Pleasant Hill, developed in the late 19th century, is the first neighborhood in Macon planned, constructed and inhabited by a rising black middle class. It was home to accomplished musicians, such as Richard Penniman, best known as Little Richard, as well as doctors, legislators, and teachers, which helped the community thrive.

Recognizing the importance of this community, Georgia DOT has consistently worked to ensure that the history and culture of this community are preserved.

Georgia DOT engaged with the community early on, setting up a multi-year series of public meetings and citizen advisory groups in an effort to ensure residents had the opportunity to learn about the project, voice concerns, and participate in the solutions, including mitigation strategies.

Georgia DOT gained the trust of residents by being present and listening, according to Peter Givens, President of the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Improvement Group (PHNIG), in a video posted to the GDOT’s YouTube site. The fact that the agency was willing to do that was impressive, Givens said, recalling that the citizens’ group wanted “to talk about how we can work together to make things better.”

In May 2011, the project team and the community developed a comprehensive mitigation plan, detailing the work to be done and the anticipated schedules and timelines to implement the commitments. Two agreements emerged from this plan. Section 106 of the NHPA requires the mitigation of adverse effects to historic properties; the implementing agency and the SHPO traditionally sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). Unique to this project the Georgia DOT entered into a second MOA with the community, signed by the president of the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Improvement Group (PHNIG). A first for Georgia DOT, this agreement exemplified their commitment to the community and the mitigation plan.

Mitigation efforts include the creation of a traveling exhibit; oral and video history of the community; a virtual tour through GIS; an update of the National Register of Historic Places Nomination for Pleasant Hill with any new information acquired during this effort. In addition to the recordation of the community’s history, mitigation efforts also include leaving an imprint other than the interstate on this community. These efforts include the rehabilitation of the Little Richard house according to the Secretary of Interior Standards; a pedestrian path combined with a neighborhood heritage tour with information kiosks and noise walls along I-75 in a linear park that will incorporate specific designs to celebrate accomplishments of the community. A blighted and crime ridden area existed adjacent to the interstate. At the urging of the community, the project acquired additional homes to accommodate this linear park. Additional improvements include replacing the David Lucas pedestrian bridge, transforming an existing open drainage ditch into a grass-covered culvert, and streetscaping (resurfacing and sidewalk rehabilitation) throughout the community.

Relocating and Rebuilding

According to the mitigation plan, 24 structures located within the historic district would be displaced by the interchange project. Owners were offered a number of options, including moving their house to a new lot within the neighborhood, having their house torn down and a new one built in a new location, or selling their property.

To further cement the involvement of and benefit to the community, Georgia DOT worked with the PHNIG and Macon-Bibb County Community Enhancement Authority (CEA) – a local community entity that promotes community enhancement and economic development throughout Macon-Bibb County – to facilitate optimal mitigation success. This effort focused on providing training to members of the community in building and relocating homes and ensured economic development was a by-product of the projects. The Macon Bibb CEA selected seven vacant lots and residential structures for relocation and rehabilitation in Pleasant Hill. In addition, CEA agreed to build 17 new residential structures throughout the community with the goal of ensuring that a total of 24 homes were relocated, rehabilitated or newly built. These houses will be compatible with the context of the historic community and will ensure that the cultural heritage of Pleasant Hill is preserved. Georgia DOT also will relocate and rehabilitate the Little Richard House. Relocations began in early 2017.

Little Richard’s House

As part of the overall mitigation efforts, GDOT arranged for the relocation of the Penniman House, also known as the “Little Richard House.” Little Richard, who was born in 1932, spent part of his childhood in the house and in Pleasant Hill. Acquired by GDOT in 2013 and moved to its new location next to Jefferson Long Park on the west side of I-75 on April 25, 2017, the house will be renovated and preserved as a neighborhood resource center and will be owned and operated by the City of Macon.

Lessons Learned

The unique nature of this project offers the opportunity for many lessons learned. One of the primary lessons is the importance of engaging and including the community in decisions, often and early. Georgia DOT invited the community to be signatories on the MOA – demonstrating a willingness to allow their voices to be heard; allowing their involvement in decisions about the future of their community, and ensuring the preservation of the historic value and culture of Pleasant Hill.

Another critical lesson for DOTs across the nation interested in participating in such mitigation plans, the need to have very clearly defined expectations and responsibilities. Departments of transportation must ensure that cost estimates for mitigation plans are clearly defined, carefully considered and vetted and that schedules are tied to those mitigation activities.

A third lesson learned is that a commitment based on cost estimates is time sensitive as the proposal to relocate historic homes. An estimate prepared by a house mover in 2010 indicated that the houses could be moved and rehabilitated for approximately $70,000 each. A 2015 bid to move and rehabilitate four homes resulted in an average cost of $600,000 per house. A close review of this bid suggested that the cost could be reduced to around $400,000 per home, still considerably higher that the initial estimate. The community and agencies reevaluated this commitment and agreed to a combination of new and rehabilitated housing.

GDOT’s Community Focus

GDOT is committed to working closely with communities affected by their projects. This commitment is clearly reflected in the Department’s mission: “Georgia DOT provides a safe, connected and environmentally sensitive transportation system that enhances Georgia’s economic competitiveness by working efficiently and communicating effectively to create strong partnerships.”

The Georgia DOT is very proud of the mitigation work done on this project. The collaborative efforts and the beneficial dialogue have ensured the community’s needs are respected and preserved. The Department also made a pledge to keep the community informed and engaged as we move through the construction phase and that has been an ongoing effort.

More information is available from GDOT's I-16/I-75 Interchange Project website and from the story map of Pleasant Hill produced for the project.

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Case Studies: Ohio - Ohio DOT Programmatic Agreement Streamlines LWCF Section 6(f) Requirements

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is cutting down its paperwork and ramping up its collaboration thanks to a unique Programmatic Agreement (PA) signed last year for compliance with Section 6(f) of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCF). So, too, are its partners, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the National Park Service (NPS).

The PA lays out a carefully coordinated interagency process for fulfilling requirements when ODOT projects involve land protected under the LWCF. Under Section 6(f) of the law, any property that has received LWCF funding cannot be converted to non-recreational use without replacement of that land, which must be approved by NPS. Converted land must be replaced with land of equal or greater value, location, and usefulness.

Ohio DOT's Section 6(f) programmatic helps streamline requirements for LWCF properties such as Leetonia Trailhead. Photo: Ohio DOT

“We were having a lot of trouble getting projects through the 6(f) process,” explains Erica Schneider, Assistant Environmental Administrator at ODOT. “It hadn’t been much of an issue in the past because we didn’t have many projects with 6(f) impacts. But in recent years, the number definitely started to go up. The process was taking months, even years, to finish. We knew we had to do something.”

The jointly-developed document contains a number of provisions that reduce required paperwork and eliminate unnecessary agency involvement for any project that triggers Section 6(f) compliance while still ensuring that the resource is protected. Projects involving Section 6(f) properties continue to be broken out into three levels: maintenance, temporary non-conforming use, and conversions. But under the PA, the compliance process for each level has been streamlined. For maintenance-type projects, ODOT doesn’t have to coordinate with ODNR or NPS, which saves the agency at least 30 days of review time. Moreover, impacts that constitute a temporary non-conforming use of a Section 6(f) property can be approved by ODNR, and NPS only has to be copied on the decision, again saving at least 30 days of review time.

“As for conversions, they still take considerable time in that they still have to go through ODNR and NPS,” says Schneider. “But, overall, we’re in a much better position.”

For instance, each agency now has a 30-day deadline for review, and it now is acceptable to use ODOT’s (FHWA’s) real estate appraisal process for replacement land rather than that of NPS. In addition, reviews can be conducted concurrently by ODNR and NPS if the project schedule is expedited. And purchase of the replacement property can occur after National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approval (it must be completed prior to final acceptance of the construction project by the engineer).

Furthermore, NPS now accepts FHWA’s documentation for Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act in order to satisfy their NEPA obligations for Section 6(f), which opens the door to one of the biggest time-savers: a standardized single form the partners developed for Section 6(f) as well as Section 4(f). Having a single form means that information doesn’t have to be duplicated, and the new format makes it easier for district staff and consultants to follow and for agency staff to fill out. Also, since Section 4(f) analysis must be approved prior to Section 6(f) approval, ODOT can have all of the information readily available, conduct the Section 4(f) determination and simultaneously be working on the Section 6(f) evaluation.

“Saving time is saving money,” says Schneider. “Streamlining saves us time in the environmental process and also translates through into cost savings during construction due to factors such as inflation and project delays.”

Genesis of the PA

Schneider says that when she and her co-workers at ODOT realized something had to be done about the Section 6(f) process, they first went to their FHWA Division Office. Together, they decided that the next step was to approach NPS and ODNR, the state agency that administers Land and Water Conservation Funds in Ohio. The goal was to suggest jointly developing a process that everyone would benefit from, a process during which participants would collectively identify and integrate streamlining measures.

FHWA, as the counterpart federal agency, initially took the lead in broaching the subject with NPS. Shortly thereafter, ODOT came together with FHWA, NPS, and ODNR for initial discussions. The concept received a universal green light, after which it took about a year to get through the entire process. Initially the discussion focused on what was required by law. Then the focus shifted to how the process could be streamlined. A draft agreement was created, increasingly refined, then finalized and signed in April of 2014. Schneider describes the process as “an excellent team-building exercise,” one that improved participating agencies’ relationships with each other.

Since signing the 6(f) agreement, ODOT has used -- or is in the process of using -- the PA for five maintenance-type projects and six projects that constitute a non-conforming use. Currently, six conversion type projects are in progress. Five of them are small conversions and the sixth is a full conversion. For the latter, replacement property still is being sought.

Schneider says that ODOT has applied to take on FHWA’s environmental review authority under NEPA, but that ODOT’s new role will not affect the PA. ODOT likely will include a cover letter explaining that under NEPA assignment, ODOT will be responsible for all of FHWA’s actions and responsibilities under the Section 6(f) agreement.

Possibility for Other State DOTs

“To my knowledge, we are the first and only state with a Section 6(f) PA in place,” says Schneider. From her perspective, the concept is one that could be adopted by other state DOTs provided they have a good working relationship with their state agency responsible for administering the LWCF, and that both agencies work well with their federal counterparts, FHWA and NPS.

“NPS was great to work with throughout the process,” she continues. “They were willing to look for streamlining measures wherever the law allowed it. Unfortunately, the law is quite strict in a number of areas so our opportunities were somewhat limited.”

On September 31, 2015, the LWCF expired and Congress has yet to reauthorize it. If the law is not reauthorized, no new Section 6(f) properties can be added. But lack of reauthorization would not eliminate Section 6(f) requirements.

“Lack of reauthorization only means that for the time being, there will not be any new Section 6(f) properties,” Schneider explains. “Despite no new additions, the LWCF protections will remain in effect on all existing properties into perpetuity. So while we may not have new properties in that category to worry about, we will always have the existing group. ODNR estimates that approximately 1,430 properties across the state fall into this category. ”

Additional flexibility like the de minimis impact option developed for Section 4(f) compliance, would be helpful, according to Schneider. Such changes could offer improvements to the process as well as opportunities for enhancement of the resources involved.

“The good news,” she concludes, “is that for all those existing properties, we have our PA in place.”

For more information, go to ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services or contact Erica Schneider, ODOT’s Assistant Environmental Administrator at Erica.Schneider@dot.ohio.gov.

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Case Studies: Pennsylvania - Pennsylvania DOT Uses ‘Story Map’ to Document History, Mitigate Impacts

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is using an innovative “Story Map” to share important historical information about an area impacted by a road improvement project on Route 322 in Centre County.

The online interactive map provides locations and details about historically significant sites, people, and events within the area of the Potters Mills Gap Transportation Project. Users can learn about the history of the project area and its inhabitants, including the town’s namesake James Potter, Native American settlements, log structures and historic homes inhabited by early settlers, early roads, farms, industry, cemeteries and other features. This effort to document the area’s history is part of an innovative effort to mitigate project impacts on historic resources in the project area.

The road improvement project along a section of Route 322 required mitigation for adverse impacts on several wooded tracts, historic buildings, and historic farmland areas within the Penns/Brush Valley rural historic district. The district was determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places based on its agricultural patterns, associated landscape features and Vernacular-style architecture established during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Story Map, titled A Journey to Potters Mills, is the first of its kind to be used by PennDOT to help mitigate adverse impacts to historical resources.

Screenshot of Journey to Potters Mills Story Map. Courtesy: PennDOT

“The intent of the Story Map is to provide the public with insight into how the development of transportation within the Potters Mills Gap has, over time, impacted the Historic District,” said Karen Michael, PennDOT District 2 Executive.

According to a PennDOT summary, the Story Map provides visitors with a visual and geographic history of an important crossroads in the Seven Mountains region of the Commonwealth. The map “allows visitors to change scale and navigate between important historic places along the highway corridor and understand the roles that transportation, natural resources, agriculture and early industries played in the development of modern Centre County.”

The Story Map website provides an interactive map of the area with 33 separate image icons that link users to important locations – along with photos, historic maps and documents and a brief description of each. Together, the map allows users to explore the history of the region, from the time of the Native Americans and earliest settlers through various important historic events and locations.

The team sought images which spanned the development of the area, and included diverse subjects and formats including photos, historic maps, portraits, documents, and other records. Information was uncovered through research at a number of repositories, including local historical societies, universities, libraries, state agencies, and from private individuals.

Origins of Story Map Concept

The Story Map concept was proposed to PennDOT by its project consultant as a possible mitigation measure for adverse impacts identified for the project under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

“The idea actually came from one of the consultant team members who saw a social media post that combined a map, text and images, but lacked the GIS-based interactivity of what became the Story Map,” according to PennDOT’s Steve Fantechi, who managed the project through preliminary design.

The Story Map was one of a number of mitigation measures that included roadside interpretive signage, context-sensitive design measures, the preparation of a “Best Practices” document, and avoidance and protection of some resources. The NEPA document for the project was an Environmental Assessment that concluded with a Finding of No Significant Impact.

According to Fantechi, the Section 106 consultation process involved a great deal of consultation and interaction with local historical societies and local governments. “That collaboration contributed substantially to Story Map’s popularity with local residents, the regional press, teachers, and citizens and engendered a substantial amount of local and regional pride in local heritage,” he said. “In our view that’s what a successful Section 106 outcome looks like.”

In addition, he said, the GIS-based Story Map approach also creates an obvious link between landscape, transportation networks, and economic history, which in turn promotes a better understanding of and context for historic events, trends and places.

To the best of PennDOT’s knowledge, this is the first mitigation product of its type used for an American transportation project.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

According to PennDOT District 2 staff, the biggest challenge in developing the Story Map was probably too much of a good thing.

Background research and interaction with the consulting parties produced an enormous number of images and a substantial amount of local history and documents. Paring that down to a relevant and manageable record of local and regional history was a challenge.

Once that work was done, the actual GIS programming required to produce an interactive and useable online product had its own set of challenges, as the product went through a number of iterations leading to the final version.

Another challenge came from requests by some of the consulting partners to add additional information to the Story Map for future projects. Since PennDOT used a consultant to develop the Story Map, its ability to revise the map was limited to the duration and funding of the consultant’s contract. PennDOT doesn’t have the resources to revise the Story Map in-house, so future revisions, which could involve different consultants, could be more difficult, according to PennDOT Project Manager Craig Sattesahn.

Regarding lessons learned, Sattesahn said it would have been useful to establish procedures and parameters up front to facilitate revisions and additional requests.

Advice for Other DOTs

According to PennDOT staff, close and meaningful consultation with local consulting parties and residents is key to local support for the product and can help obtain a great deal of important local input – such as family images, diaries, etc. – that would be impossible to get anywhere else.

It’s also important to balance high-tech and low-tech mitigation measures. Older residents are less technologically savvy than younger ones, and there are still many remote locations where high speed internet conductivity is spotty.

Since the Story Map is a technology-based product, the rapid change and evolution of technology requires attention. Although no funding is available to carry the Potters Mills Gap Story Map further, it’s likely that the next iteration of a Story Map on a different project would probably be a mobile application.

As a final consideration, PennDOT staff said a central online state repository for Story Maps from multiple projects is probably worthwhile and would not be a very expensive effort. Such a site would allow visitors to start a search at the state map level and zoom in to a number of specific project areas that have Story Maps.

The first of three construction sections of the Potters Mills Gap Transportation Project was completed in 2015. A second section began construction in August 2016, and the last section started construction in early 2018.

For more information, link to A Journey to Potters Mills Story Map and the project website.

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Emerging Technologies

Recent Developments: Mid-America States Plan for Adoption of Connected and Automated Vehicles

A plan for adoption of connected and automated vehicles was considered by the state members of the Mid America Association of Transportation Officials (MAASTO) at a virtual event held on Oct. 22-23. Issues discussed at the event included development of model legislation and regulations to ensure consistent regulation of CAV technology; cooperating on research and development with academic and industry researchers; establishing regional policy recommendations to ensure that CAV vehicles are safe; and ensuring that the benefits of CAV technology are accessible to all. MAASTO's member states include: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. For more information, link to the announcement. (10-22-20)

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Recent Developments: Program Will Support Public Transportation Innovations

A national program to promote public transportation innovations – such as automation, electrification, and shared mobility modes – has been launched through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration. The Accelerating Innovative Mobility National Network, launched by the Shared-Use Mobility Center, will provide technical assistance for projects including recipients of the Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) Challenge Grants. For more information, link to the announcement. (10-21-20)

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Recent Developments: Sustainability and Emerging Transportation Technology Virtual Forum Planned

A two-part virtual forum on sustainability and emerging transportation technology will be held in October and November, convened by Transportation Research Board and cosponsored by AASHTO and the Federal Highway Administration. Part 1, to be held Oct. 29, will focus on transformation of transportation and mobility services. Part 2, to be held Nov. 5, will be titled Decarbonization, Energy, and Emissions and Urban Planning and TDM: Greener Solutions and Transportation Demand Management. The in-person 2021 Sustainability and Emerging Transportation Technology Conference is planned for summer 2021. (10-1-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Proposes Rule to Advance Broadband Access in Rural Areas

A new rule to improve coordination in the use of highway rights-of-way to support the installation of broadband technologies has been issued by the Federal Highway Administration. The proposal would help improve coordination with construction projects and ensure that the digging required to install utilities is also utilized to install broadband infrastructure. The rule is expected to improve access to broadband technology and support integration of automated vehicles. For more information, link to the proposal. (8-13-20)

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Recent Developments: Study Looks at Data, Models to Inform Smart City Programs

An analysis of data and models used to inform mobility and energy initiatives for “smart city” programs has been issued by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The study focuses on the mobility benefits of automated, connected, efficient/electric, and shared mobility. It discusses an integrated data-sharing environment approach, looking at systems developed by cities in California, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas. For more information, link to the report. (7-15-20)

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Recent Developments: Grant Funding Available for Advanced Transportation Technologies

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is making available $60 million in Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program (ATCMTD) grants to fund new technologies that improve transportation efficiency and safety. The program works to improve the performance of U.S. transportation systems, reduce traffic congestion, and improve the safety of the traveling public. It provides funding to help develop model deployment sites for the large-scale installation and operation of advanced technologies that improve safety, efficiency, and system performance. For more information, see the notice of funding opportunity. (7-6-20)

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Recent Developments: Guidebook for Managing Data from Transportation Technology Issued

A guidebook for managing data generated by connected vehicles, sensors, shared-use transportation, and mobile devices has been issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The guidebook (NCHRP Research Report 952) provides guidance, tools, and a big data management framework. It lays out a roadmap for transportation agencies on how they can begin to shift – technically, institutionally, and culturally – toward effectively managing data from emerging technologies. For more information, link to the guidebook. (6-18-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Awards $43 Million in Technology Grants

The Federal Highway Administration has announced the awarding of $43.3 million in Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment grants to ten states for projects using cutting-edge technologies, including advanced real-time traveler information, vehicle communications technologies, artificial intelligence, regional approaches and bicycle-pedestrian safety features. The agency announced the following grants: Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Florida, Hawaii, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. For more information, link here.

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Recent Developments: Report Details Emerging Technologies, Data Sources to Influence Travel Behavior

A summary of emerging technology and data sources that can enhance active transportation and demand management (ATDM) systems has been issued by the Federal Highway Administration. The document includes data, vehicle, sensor, and decision support technologies, as well as data sources on connected travelers, vehicles, and infrastructure. It informs agencies of the technologies and data sources available to help achieve proactive management, including illustrative case studies. For more information, link to the report. (March 2020)

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Recent Developments: Study Reviews Impact of Emerging Technologies on Transportation

The effects of new transportation-related technologies on public agencies is the subject of new research issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Research Report 924). The research evaluated the potential impacts of transformational technologies, including wireless telecommunications, shared vehicles, connected vehicles, fully autonomous vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles, smart cities and communities, big data analytics, and the internet-of-things. The report includes background information, provides a desk reference that describes various technologies, and discusses technologies’ impacts on transportation agencies. For more information, link to the research report. (2-6-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Report on Automated Vehicle Modeling Peer Exchange

The Federal Highway Administration has issued report on a one-day peer exchange on Automated Vehicle (AV) modeling, held June 27, 2019, in Phoenix, as part of the Transportation Planning Capacity Building (TPCB) Peer Program. With increasing interest in AVs and the potential impacts they are expected to have on the nation's transportation network, many transportation agencies are actively exploring ways to address AV modeling considerations in the long-range transportation planning process. The peer exchange brought together five MPOs to discuss their approaches to AV modeling. The peers discussed AV modeling, managing risk and uncertainty in modeling, communicating model results, modeling information gaps, and resource needs. For more information, link to the report. (12-11-19)

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Recent Developments: ASCE Launches Future Vision for Infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers has launched a vision project regarding the future of infrastructure. The project includes a report, a recent article, and an interactive website that map out key trends and the potential outcomes of alternative energy, autonomous vehicles, climate change, smart city technologies, advanced materials, and governmental policy and funding. The project also reviews a range of possible future scenarios, including resilient cities, progressive megacities, dispersed settlements, and the potential for inequity in future technological development. For more information, link to the Future World Vision website. (11-5-19)

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Recent Developments: Report Highlights Use of 'Big Data' for Traffic Incidents

A report that documents the use of “big data” to improve traffic incident management has been issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Report 904). Big data uses in transportation include applications in the areas of planning, parking, trucking, public transportation, operations, and intelligent transportation systems. The report finds that use of big data “represents a radical change from traditional approaches—a complete paradigm shift—and many of the benefits of Big Data analytics will require aggregating data at least at the state level, if not at the national level.” The ability to merge datasets and mine the data could provide significant opportunities to advance the state of the practice in traffic incident management policies, it said. For more information, link to the report. (10-15-19)

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Case Studies: The Ray: Georgia's Innovative Smart Highway

Energy/Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Recent Developments: Coalition of 42 Companies Calls for Ambitious Climate Solutions

A coalition of 42 U.S. companies is urging President-elect Joe Biden and the new Congress to work together to enact ambitious, bipartisan climate policies. The companies pointed to the grave risks presented by climate change, but also the economic benefits of tackling it, including job creation, growth, and strengthening U.S. competitiveness. The statement calls for policies that harness market forces, mobilize investment and innovation, and provide the certainty needed to plan for the long term. Organized by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the coalition includes top companies in the power, automotive, tech, finance, manufacturing, chemicals, oil and gas, cement, mining, food, and retail sectors. For more information, link to the announcement and the statement. (12-2-20)

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Recent Developments: Experts Issue Roadmap to Eliminate GHG Emissions by 2050

A strategy to reach zero carbon emissions in the United States by 2050 has been issued by a coalition of 100 policy experts. The Zero Carbon Action Plan recommends rapidly increasing the sales of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs); tightening fuel economy/GHG standards for all new cars and trucks; adopting a national low-carbon fuel standard and reducing dependence on automobile travel while increasing access for walking, bicycling, new micro mobility modes, telecommunications, transit, pooled ride-hailing services, and other low carbon choices. In addition, it calls for supporting low-carbon biofuels and electrofuels for aviation, ships, and long-haul trucks, as well as local policies that increase the use of automation for electric, pooled vehicles. For more information, link to the announcement and related webinar video and blog post. (11-3-20)

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Recent Developments: California Gov. Issues Strategies to Fight Climate Change, Boost Resilience

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an executive order to make use of the state’s lands and resources to help combat climate change. The order directs state agencies to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it using the state’s natural and working lands – including forests, rangelands, farms, wetlands, coast, deserts and urban greenspaces. It also sets a first-in-the-nation goal to conserve 30 percent of the state’s land and coastal water by 2030 to fight species loss and ecosystem destruction. For more information, link to the announcement and order. (10-9-20)

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Recent Developments: California to Phase Out Gasoline-Powered Cars

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) will require sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035 and will take additional measures to eliminate harmful emissions from the transportation sector, under an executive order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Under the order, CARB will develop regulations that would achieve more than a 35 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 80 percent improvement in oxides of nitrogen emissions from cars statewide. In addition, where feasible, the board will require all operations of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to be zero emission by 2045 and drayage trucks to be zero emission by 2035 for. The order also will require state agencies, in partnership with the private sector, to accelerate deployment of affordable fueling and charging options. For more information, link to the announcement and executive order. (9-23-20)

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Recent Developments: House Select Committee Members Issue Climate Recommendations

Democrats on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis have released a plan with recommendations for addressing climate change and resilience. The report, titled “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America,” includes a range of recommendations for Congress. The plan sets forth a goal to reduce warming by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and to reach net-zero by 2050. It includes 12 “pillars” on issues including investing in cleaner and more resilient transportation and energy infrastructure, clean energy technologies, environmental justice reforms, and climate adaptation efforts. For more information and summaries, link here. (6-30-20)

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Recent Developments: EPA, NHTSA Issue Final Rule on Auto Efficiency Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have issued a joint final rule addressing fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for automobiles and light trucks. The rule will require automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of new vehicles by 1.5% per year through 2026, a relaxation of previous regulations that set the standard at roughly 5% annually. The EPA and NHTSA estimate that these standards, known as corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, will reduce costs for manufacturers, lower vehicle prices, put safer cars on the road, and make domestic manufacturing more competitive, while still improving fuel economy and reducing GHG emissions. The combined average fuel economy for all passenger cars and light trucks under the rule will be 40.4 mpg and GHG emissions will be about 200 grams per mile by model year 2026. For more information, link to the EPA’s rulemaking page. (3/31/20)

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Recent Developments: Study Looks at Impacts of Covid-19 on Traffic, Fuel Use, Climate Change

Impacts of mitigating the Covid-19 epidemic include a dramatic reduction in traffic, fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study from the UC Davis Road Ecology Center. The study found that total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) at the county and state level had declined by 61% to 90% following the various government stay-at-home orders. It calculated that emissions of U.S. greenhouse gases that cause climate change were reduced by 4% in total and by 13% from transportation, putting the US on track to meet its annual goals for GHG reduction under the Paris Climate Accord. The study also determined that if traffic remained reduced for one year, the reduction in VMT would allow California to meet half of climate change target of 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050. The report also documented the corresponding reduction in fuel tax revenues, including approximately $161 million per week in total fuel tax revenues for California state and local transportation projects. For more information, link to the report. (4-30-20)

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Recent Developments: EPA Updates Local GHG Inventory Tool

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued an update to its Local Greenhouse Gas Inventory Tool. The tool was developed to help communities across the U.S. evaluate their greenhouse gas emissions by creating an emissions baseline, tracking trends, assess the relative contributions of emissions sources, and other functions. Link here for more information on the tool. (3-19-20)

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Recent Developments: NOAA Announces Increased Weather and Climate Computing Capacity

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced a significant upgrade to the agency’s computing capacity, storage space, and interconnect speed of its Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System. The agency has commissioned two new Cray supercomputers—one in Phoenix and one in Manassas, Va.—that will improve its ability to run high-resolution climate and Earth system models, and national and global forecasting. For more information, link to the announcement. (2-20-20)

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Recent Developments: New Jersey Unveils Energy Master Plan, Climate Regulatory Agenda

New Jersey has announced an energy master plan that includes, among other things, a goal of having the state run on 100% clean energy by 2050. The plan defines “clean energy” as 100% carbon-neutral electricity generation and maximum electrification of the transportation and building sectors. In conjunction with the plan, Gov. Phil Murphy has issued an executive order to promulgate regulatory reforms that include an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. The order also calls for revised land use regulations to incorporate climate change resilience into permitting decisions about how and where buildings and infrastructure are built. For more information, link to the announcement. (1-27-20)

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Recent Developments: Twelve States, D.C. Plan Regional Approach to Cap Transportation GHGs

Twelve states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, along with the District of Columbia, have announced a draft memorandum of understanding as part of the Transportation and Climate Initiative to limit carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks through what they are calling a cap-and-invest plan. The MOU, which builds on a framework issued earlier, calls for setting a regional carbon dioxide emissions budget and annually apportioning the budget to each of the participating states, with the budget declining each year. The MOU also calls for the creation of a model rule that will implement the regional GHG cap in each state, include a process for auctioning emission allowances, and require that regulated fuel suppliers hold allowances to cover emissions. Comments are requested, with a due date of Feb. 28, 2020, and the final MOU is expected in the spring of 2020. For more information, link to a webinar slide deck discussing the plan and the draft MOU. (12-17-19)

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Recent Developments: Report Highlights ‘All-In’ Strategy for Climate Action

A report from the America’s Pledge initiative projects how much a comprehensive national climate strategy could reduce greenhouse gas emissions when layered on top of a “bottom-up” scenario led by states, cities, and businesses. Such an “all-in” strategy could reduce U.S. emissions by 49 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, the report said. The report emphasizes three principles: clean electricity and other energy supplies; decarbonizing energy end-uses in transportation, buildings, and industry, primarily through electrification and efficiency; and enhancing the carbon storage potential of forests, farms, and coastal wetlands. For more information, link to the report. (12-9-19)

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Recent Developments: NOAA Highlights Research on Extreme Events, Human-Caused Climate Change

An analysis of extreme weather events in 2018 and the extent to which they may have been influenced by human-caused climate change is the subject of research highlighted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA summarized the findings of research published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, which looked at extreme events related to heat, cold, heavy precipitation and flooding, drought, fires, and sea ice. The analysis of data from events in 2018 around the world looked at historical observations and model simulations to determine whether and by how much climate change may have influenced particular extreme events. About 73% of the 168 research findings published in the series identified a substantial link between an extreme event and climate change; about 27 percent did not. For more information, link to the summary and the full report. (12-9-19)

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Recent Developments: UN Report Finds Much Work Still Needed to Limit Climate Change

The United Nations Environment Programme has issued the 2019 Emissions Gap Report, which compares where greenhouse gas emissions are heading against where they need to be and highlights the best ways to close the gap. The report finds that GHG emissions continue to rise despite scientific warnings on the hazards of climate change and political commitments to address it. The report also finds that some countries are not on track to meet their commitments and many have yet to identify a workable strategy for reducing emissions. In addition, the report finds that, even if fully implemented, current nationally determined reductions will not limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, strengthening such commitments is needed, and decarbonizing the global economy will require fundamental structural changes. For more information, link to the report. (11-26-19)

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Recent Developments: Group Releases Comprehensive Agenda for Decarbonizing U.S. Economy

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has released a comprehensive new agenda for developing policies that will enable the U.S. economy to be carbon neutral by 2050. The agenda addresses the various economic sectors of the nation, including power production, transportation, industry, buildings, land use, and oil and gas development. The agenda also addresses cross-sectoral elements such as carbon capture and storage, digitalization, bioenergy, and hydrogen energy. For transportation, the agenda includes setting federal vehicle standards for greenhouse gases, extending the tax credit for electric vehicles, increased EV charging infrastructure, more multimodal land use planning, and emissions reductions form aviation. For more information, link to the agenda. (11-13-19)

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Recent Developments: Group Issues Updated EV Corridor Tool for Northeast, Mid-Atlantic

The Georgetown Climate Center has announced the release of the electric vehicle corridor analysis tool version 3.0. The release pairs the tool based on Microsoft Excel with two interactive mapping applications that provide more complex data visualizations using geographic information systems and a simplified real-time display of results. The tool is intended to aid EV charging infrastructure planning by displaying data on the location of existing charging stations, population, vehicle travel data, and commercial activity from Maine to North Carolina. The analysis in the tool was developed through the Transportation and Climate Initiative. For more information, link to the announcement. (10-31-19)

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Recent Developments: Study Analyzes Business Case for Automated Transit Technologies

The USDOT’s Volpe Center has published an analysis of the cost-effectiveness of transit automation that can help agencies evaluate which technologies may yield returns in the form of reduced labor or operations costs. Five categories of automation were analyzed: transit bus advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS); automated shuttles; automation for maintenance, yard, and parking/storage operations; automation for mobility-on-demand service; and automated bus rapid transit (BRT). The study found that ADAS technologies have a strong business case, with costs for onboard equipment more than offset by long-term savings in fuel, collision costs, and operating costs. The business case for driverless technologies is contingent on additional research. The analysis is follows from a report issued last year by the Federal Transit Administration. For more information, link to the article in the Transportation Research Record. (10-21-19)

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Recent Developments: Report Details Fuel Use, GHG Reductions for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have issued a pre-publication draft of phase two research into the technologies and costs of improving fuel efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. The report says that the efficiency of gas and diesel engines can be, and still is, being improved. Continued improvements could be based on waste heat recovery systems, better fuel technologies, and more efficient freight capacity. Recommendations include having the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration establish GHG reduction goals for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles consistent with international agreements, and evaluating the life-cycle GHG emissions for fuel-technology pathways that can best accomplish overall goals. The report continues work done previously under phase one of the project. For more information, link to the report. (10-2-19)

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Recent Developments: Report Looks At Future Savings from Low-Carbon Transportation in California

Transitioning cars and trucks to zero emission vehicles could begin to show cost savings in California by 2030, according to a study from the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. The study looked at combinations of battery-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, and advanced biofuels – including ethanol, diesel biofuels, and renewable natural gas – for internal combustion engines, under several scenarios. The study found that achieving an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide from cars and trucks appears feasible at relatively low cumulative cost. After 2030, savings on the cost of fuel will begin to outweigh the initial higher cost of purchasing the vehicles. For more information, link to the study. (9-26-19)

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Recent Developments: Group Highlights Use of E-Bikes, E-Scooters to Reduce Emissions

An analysis and infographic posted by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy highlights how use of electric bikes and electric scooters can help drive action to address climate change. The group stresses that such “micromobility” options offer a convenient first- and last-mile solution to connect to transit in cities, and it also can reduce emissions while helping to shift toward sustainable transportation. For more information, link here. (9-24-19)

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Recent Developments: NGA Issues Paper on Role of States in Electric Vehicle Acceptance

The National Governors Association has issued a white paper discussing the challenges of and current efforts toward increasing the electrification of the nation’s highway transportation. The white paper says that much is already being done by state governments, including using public funds to increase the number of public charging stations, buying state-owned electric vehicles, and issue purchase rebates or tax credits to purchasers. The white paper also discusses public information efforts to reduce “range anxiety,” addressing equity in electric vehicle use, and methods to address the costs of transitioning the transportation system from fossil fuels to electricity. For more information, link to Transportation Electrification: States Rev Up. (9-16-19)

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Recent Developments: Groups Release Model Policy Toolkit for Electric Vehicles

An updated version of AchiEVe: Model Policies to Accelerate Electric Vehicle Adoption has been issued by the Sierra Club and Plug In America. The guide reviews the best policies for creating incentives for people to purchase electric vehicles, including rebates and tax credits, incentives to buy used EVs, sales tax exemptions, HOV lane access, and electrifying public and private fleets. The guide also discusses policies for expanding access to public chargers including wiring codes and ordinances, charging in the public right-of-way, EV investments by utilities, and using the Volkswagen settlement funds. In addition, the guide evaluates vehicle registration fees, equity considerations for vehicle purchases, and public education campaigns. For more information, link to the guide. (9-16-19)

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Recent Developments: Minnesota DOT Reports on Ways to Decarbonize Transportation

Strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Minnesota’s transportation sector are outlined in a report published by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). The report, Pathways to Decarbonizing Transportation, identifies actions and recommendations for reducing transportation-related emissions. These include creating a new Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council, advancing efforts on electric vehicle corridors, identifying clean transportation funding, and analyzing GHG emissions from transportation projects. Other recommendations include adopting clean car standards, expanding biofuel use and infrastructure, and facilitating use of renewable diesel. For more information, link to the report. (9-18-19)

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Recent Developments: DOE Issues Assessment of Plug-in Electric Vehicles in the United States

The Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory has issued an assessment of the state of the light-duty plug-in electric vehicle fleet in the United States from 2010 to 2018. The report examines vehicle sales, miles driven, electricity consumption, petroleum reduction, vehicle manufacturing, and battery production. The report finds, among other things, that battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles reduced gasoline consumption nationwide by 0.23% in 2018 and by 950 million gallons cumulatively. The report also finds that over the review time frame, the electric vehicles reduced a total of 4.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. For more information, link to the report. (March 2019)

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Recent Developments: Report Estimates Benefits of EVs in Uber and Lyft Services

The National Center for Sustainable Transportation has issued a research report on the potential emissions benefits from increased electric vehicle use in transportation network company (TNC) fleets. The report says that drivers for TNCs such as Uber and Lyft travel more miles than average and have higher passenger occupancy. The report says that increased use of electric vehicles by TNC fleets would provide substantial emissions benefits, and that more public charging stations are needed to meet the demand created by electric vehicles in TNC fleets. Because TNCs typically don’t own the vehicles, states and local governments would need to create appropriate incentives to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles. For more information, link to the report. (8-13-19)

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Recent Developments: NOAA Issues Report on the State of the Climate in 2018

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued a new State of the Climate report that documents climate trends in 2018. The report says that data show that 2018 ranks as the fourth warmest year since recordkeeping began over 150 years ago. The report also says that global sea level was highest on record, and the global average sea level rose to a new record high for the seventh consecutive year. Additionally, the report documents the data on various types of greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, the ocean, and over land; cloud cover; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. The State of the Climate in 2018 is the 29th edition in a peer-reviewed series published annually. For more information, link to highlights of the report. (8-12-19)

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Recent Developments: Alternative Fuels Corridor Funding Solicitation Announced

The Federal Highway Administration has announced an applied research funding opportunity for transportation agencies to assist with planning for the deployment of alternative vehicle fueling and charging facilities along Interstate corridors with the goal of filling gaps and designating the corridor as “corridor-ready.” The FHWA also has issued a revised handout discussing the current status of alternative fuel corridors nationwide. The deadline for submitting applications for funding is Sept. 9, 2019, and funding decisions will be announced later in the fall. For more information, link to the solicitation and the revised handout. (8-7-19)

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Recent Developments: CEQ Issues Draft Guidance on Considering GHGs under NEPA

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has issued draft guidance for how federal agencies should consider greenhouse gas emissions in conducting environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. Unlike prior guidance, which said environmental impact statements should include an estimate of projects’ greenhouse gas emissions, the draft guidance calls for such projections only when they are “substantial enough to warrant quantification, and when it is practicable” to do so. Comments on the draft will be accepted until July 26. For more information, link to the draft guidance. (6-26-19)

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Recent Developments: Report Describes Federal, State Efforts on Electric Vehicle Deployment

A report describing federal and state policies on vehicle electrification has been issued by the Congressional Research Service. The report provides an overview of federal incentives, such as tax credits for vehicles and fueling infrastructure as well as investments in research and development. Other federal efforts include the Energy Department’s Clean Cities Program, and the Transportation Department’s Alternative Fuel Corridors program. On the state level, 45 states and the District of Columbia offer incentives such as income tax credits for electric vehicle and charger purchases, reduced registration fees, and permitting solo drivers of electric vehicles to use carpool lanes. California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program also is spurring vehicle sales. For more information, link to the report. (6-3-19)

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Recent Developments: NACTO Announces Bike, Transit Assistance for Five Cities

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has announced a partnership to provide technical assistance to five cities to help them develop and build high-quality bike or transit corridors designed to attract riders and reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles. The cities, Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, will be using NACTO’s Program Accelerator model, which helps users create a vision, then refine and build internal consensus for bike and transit projects. The participating cities will be able to learn from NACTO’s data on similar efforts in other cities. NACTO will be partnering with the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge and the Natural Resources Defense Council. For more information, link to the announcement. (5-15-19)

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Recent Developments: DOE National Labs, Exxon Partner on Researching Lower GHG Technologies

A joint research agreement between ExxonMobil and the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and National Energy Technology Laboratory will invest $10 million per year for 10 years toward research and development to explore ways to bring biofuels and carbon capture and storage to commercial scale across several economic sectors including transportation, power generation, and manufacturing. Over time, the research ultimately will seek to introduce innovative, economical, and lower-emission technologies to the market. For more information, link to the announcement. (5-8-19)

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Recent Developments: CEQ Issues Agency Energy Management Instructions

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has issued instructions to federal agencies on how to meet performance standards under the May 17, 2018, Executive Order 13834, “Efficient Federal Operations.” The order requires agencies to reduce building energy use, implement energy efficiency measures that reduce costs, and meet other sustainability criteria. The order also addresses statutory requirements concerning the consumption of renewable energy and electricity. The instructions provide details on how agencies are to track and report data regarding, among other things, energy management, greenhouse gas emissions, and sustainable buildings, fleets, and supply chains. For more information, link to the Federal Register notice. (5-3-19)

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Recent Developments: NREL Issues Assessment of Electric Vehicle Infrastructure in Maryland

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has issued an assessment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Maryland. The report evaluates Maryland’s current situation and makes recommendations regarding the expansion required for the state to be capable of supporting 300,000 zero emission vehicles by 2025. The analysis makes assumptions regarding travel patterns and includes discussion of variations in the ZEV fleet, evolving consumer preferences, and the availability of residential charging. For more information, link to the report. (February 2019)

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Recent Developments: EPA Reports Record Fuel Economy, Meeting of Greenhouse Gas Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency has released an annual report that provides information about new light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, fuel economy, technology data, and automobile manufacturers' performance in meeting emissions standards. The Automotive Trends Report finds that the aggregate fuel economy of the model year 2017 U.S. fleet continues to demonstrate improvement, and that such improvement has been seen in 11 of the last 13 model years. The report also shows that all manufacturers are in compliance with the national GHG emission standards. In addition, the U.S. experienced a record high fuel economy and record low GHG emissions in 2017. For more information, link to the report. (3-6-19)

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Recent Developments: Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge Adds Five Winners

Bloomberg Philanthropies has announced that Albuquerque, Austin, Denver, Orlando, and San Antonio have been included as winners of the American Cities Climate Challenge. Bloomberg Philanthropies recently announced that it would expand the challenge, which is for cities to advance their efforts to address climate change, to include a total of 25 cities. The initiative will provide $70 million help cities implement solutions that are addressed in the Paris Agreement, reduce emissions in the building and transportation sectors, foster local and regional collaboration, and share best practices. For more information, link to the announcement. (1-11-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Updates Guide on Renewable Energy in Highway ROWs

The Federal Highway Administration has updated its “Quick Guide” on requirements for energy projects in highway rights-of-way. Presented in a question-and-answer format, the guide is intended to point state DOTs and FHWA division offices to relevant FHWA requirements and needed approvals. FHWA also has made available reports from recent related peer exchanges that brought together multiple state DOTs. The events were held in Maryland, Utah, Missouri, and Massachusetts. FHWA also has highlighted the topic in the Winter 2019 issue of Public Road magazine. For more information, link to FHWA’s Renewable Energy Projects in Highway ROW web page. (1-25-19)

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Case Studies: California - Caltrans Works to Advance 'Smart Mobility' Approach

Since 2010, the California Department of Transportation has been working to implement a new vision for integrating transportation and land use decisions that promises to combine a range of familiar solutions taking hold across the nation: smart growth, livability, context sensitive design, transit-oriented development, complete streets, and sustainability.

Caltrans’ “Smart Mobility 2010” framework was developed to ensure that the state’s transportation investments achieve balanced outcomes for mobility, environmental protection, social equity, and economic growth – all backed by specific performance measures.

Caltrans describes the concept as follows: “Smart Mobility moves people and freight while enhancing California’s economic, environmental, and human resources by emphasizing: convenient and safe multi-modal travel, speed suitability, accessibility, management of the circulation network, and efficient use of land.”

Developed using a smart growth program grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the framework establishes six Smart Mobility principles to be applied based on specified place-types, each with its own set of performance measures.

The six principles are:

  • location efficiency,
  • reliable mobility,
  • health and safety,
  • environmental stewardship,
  • social equity, and
  • robust economy.

Under the Smart Mobility approach, transportation planning and design would be conducted based on seven newly established place-types: urban centers, close-in compact communities, compact communities, suburban areas, rural and agricultural lands, protected lands, and special use areas.

For each place type, performance measures would be targeted to align with the principles. Types of performance measures include the following:

  • support for sustainable growth;
  • transit mode share;
  • accessibility and connectivity;
  • multi-modal travel mobility, reliability, service quality, safety;
  • design and speed suitability;
  • pedestrian and bicycle mode share;
  • climate and energy conservation;
  • emissions reduction;
  • equitable distribution of impacts;
  • equitable distribution of access and mobility;
  • congestion effects on productivity;
  • efficient use of system resources;
  • network performance optimization; and
  • return on investment.
Increasing pedestrian mode share in San Francisco. Photo: Caltrans

Interregional Blueprint Process

The plan also calls for a “transformed state transportation planning process” developed through a multimodal “Interregional Blueprint” process, incorporating transportation and land use planning efforts underway by regional and metropolitan planning organizations in the state.

California is subject to some of the nation’s most ambitious environmental and sustainability goals, including the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), under which the state must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

In addition, Senate Bill 375, enacted in 2008, requires regional targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles. SB 375 – which has been touted as a possible national model for transportation planning – establishes a process and incentives for the creation of integrated regional land use, housing and transportation plans called “sustainable communities strategies.” Building on these regional efforts, SB 391 passed in October of 2009, requires that the California Transportation Plan prepared by Caltrans identify the statewide multimodal transportation system that will achieve the state’s climate change goals.

The California Interregional Blueprint, a statewide land use-transportation plan will integrate the state’s various modal plans and incorporate individual blueprints developed by regions across the state. Caltrans currently administers the California Regional Blueprint Planning Program for regional transportation planning agencies to conduct comprehensive scenario planning, bringing together a range of stakeholders to develop preferred long-range growth scenarios.

The Interregional Blueprint will incorporate the Smart Mobility principles and improve modeling and data gathering, serving as the foundation for the next update of the California Transportation Plan. The Interregional Blueprint planning process is underway.

Next Steps

A number of short-term actions will be undertaken between 2012 and 2014 to develop and test approaches to implement the Smart Mobility principles and performance measures. These include applying the framework in separate planning efforts in the northern and southern portions of the state. The agency plans to document these efforts and develop a “how-to” guide for implementation.

The vision for using the framework is described by Caltrans as follows:

  • find your place type;
  • forecast transportation needs;
  • apply Smart Mobility principles;
  • assess Smart Mobility Performance;
  • prioritize transportation investments;
  • achieve Smart Mobility.

Additional Efforts

Other efforts include a Caltrans-funded study, Improved Data and Tools for Integrated Land Use-Transportation Planning in California, which was completed in October 2012. Over a three-year period, the project team collected and analyzed data on land use-travel relationships at more than 200,000 locations in most of California. The project provided a final report as well as analytical tools for use in “sketch”-planning tools, which local and regional agencies use to assist in developing scenarios, and travel demand forecasting models, which are commonly used to analyze resulting scenarios. These products will be helpful to regional agencies in their Blueprint and sustainable community strategies and regional transportation planning, and to local governments for their planning efforts. Another significant Caltrans effort has been implementation of its complete streets directive.

Caltrans also has completed a survey, “Smart Mobility: A Survey of Current Practice and Related Research,” that looks at federal, state and regional activities to assess the current state of the practice of sustainability-oriented planning and performance measurement

For additional information on the framework, link to the Smart Mobility page on the Caltrans website or contact Chris Ratekin, senior transportation planner with Caltrans, at Chris_Ratekin@dot.ca.gov. Information on the planning process may be accessed at in the interregional blueprint web page.

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Case Studies: Massachusetts - MassDOT Public-Private Partnership Generates Solar Energy on Highway Rights of Way

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.”

Trending

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.

Original Impetus, Careful Site Selection

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)

Multiple Installations, Multiple Advantages

“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.

Replicability

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 https://www.mass.gov/massdot-solar-energy-program.

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Case Studies: Oregon - 'Solar Highway' Offers Model Approach for Renewable Energy

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, 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 allison.m.hamilton@odot.state.or.us.

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Case Studies: Tennessee - Tennessee DOT's 'Green Islands' Program: Distributing Renewable Fuels Across the State

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.

‘Farm to Fuel Tank’ Vision

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.

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Case Studies: Vermont - Vermont’s Solar Power Plan Aims to Help Meet Renewable Energy Goals

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:

  • Saving on energy costs. Systems that VTrans has already installed in Rutland and at various maintenance garages statewide are providing significant cost savings for electricity, with the project at the Rutland State Airport expected to save the agency $400,000 over 30 years.
  • Installation costs are going down each year. Using VTrans staff for construction saves even more on up-front costs, a strategy the plan recommends for smaller projects.
  • Aligning with state policies to consume cleaner energy, mitigate climate impacts, and build resilience. In the event of an emergency loss of power, PV systems can provide continuous power to VTrans or to feed power back to the grid, creating greater resilience.

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.

Key Considerations

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.

Lessons Learned

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.

Next Steps

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.

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Case Studies: Washington State

Case Studies: Washington State - Washington State DOT Considers Potential Climate Change Impacts In Project and Plans

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Washington State DOT (WSDOT) is taking into account changing climate conditions and more extreme weather as part of the state’s strategy to achieve a more sustainable transportation system. WSDOT is addressing the potential impact of climate change and ways to incorporate resilience throughout its system, including planning, design, and project delivery.

Considering Future Climate Conditions

As part of this strategy, WSDOT has issued three separate guidance documents: one considering how future climate conditions might affect projects that are in development, a second evaluating potential greenhouse gas emissions generated by projects, and a third considering changing climate conditions and extreme weather as part of transportation planning.

A key emphasis area for the state DOT is ensuring that proposed projects are resilient to future climate impacts and severe storm events. In this regard, the Guidance for Project-Level Climate Change Evaluation helps WSDOT’s project teams consider environmental trends and incorporate available information into project documentation.

“Past trends for a specific resource (water, habitat, air) may not be accurate predictions for the future; instead, we need to look at scientifically-based projections of the changing climate as part of our analysis,” according to the guidance.

As part of the project development process, WSDOT staff are directed to consult the agency’s statewide Climate Impacts Vulnerability Assessment and consider the range of potential impacts using a GIS layer that shows the locations of climate change threats on the state transportation network. WSDOT staff also consider a summary of anticipated climate impacts compiled by the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group (see table below).

Some Potential Impacts of Concern for Washington State’s Infrastructure

Projected Climate Change

Potential Impacts on State Highways, Rail, and Ferries

· Increase in average winter precipitation and more extreme precipitation

· Change in timing of precipitation (more rain, less snow)

· Change in storm track with some extreme storms with higher than normal snow accumulation

· More rock fall, mudslides, sink holes, road bed failure

· Increased large-scale river flooding

· More localized flooding due to poor drainage or higher groundwater table

· Severe wind-related road closures

· Blown-down trees, signs

· Less snow removal, on average (some extreme snows)

· Sea-level rise, higher storm surge

· More frequent and extensive inundation of low-lying areas (both temporary and permanent)

· Coastal erosion and landslides weaken roadbed and bridge footings

· Damage to stormwater drainage and tide gates

· Saltwater corrosion of facilities

· Detours around frequently flooded coastlines

The Project-Level Climate Change Evaluation Guidance provides “template” language that can be tailored to specific projects and included with the related environmental documents. The language describes the projected climate impacts over the next 50 years and provides direction on specifying what features of the project will help build resilience. These features may include stormwater flow control, design, or changes to bridge height.

The document also provides examples of projects that considered the vulnerability assessment and the elements to improve resilience.

Analyzing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Projects

Because WSDOT considers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be an issue of global concern, the agency’s Guidance for Project-Level Greenhouse Gas Evaluations under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Washington State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) provides direction on disclosing such emissions as part of each project’s “cumulative effects” analysis. The guidance provides a standard analytical process, as well as additional template language to be included in environmental documents.

Three types of GHG emissions are analyzed:

  • Operational—including tailpipe emissions from vehicles using project roadways and upstream emissions from the fuel cycle (i.e., emissions released through extraction, refining, and transportation of fuels used by vehicles traveling in the project area).
  • Construction—primarily from fuel used to build the project, but also emissions from traffic delays due to project construction and materials used.
  • Maintenance—emissions from routine maintenance activities and equipment.

Project analysis can range from a brief qualitative analysis to a full quantitative analysis. The type of analysis is determined by the environmental document and the potential impacts.

Projects processed as NEPA Categorical Exclusions (CEs) generally require no analysis because they would have little or no effect on GHG emissions.

Projects that have a small potential to change GHG emissions, especially operational emissions are classified as “documented CEs” under NEPA or “checklist” projects under SEPA require only a brief one or two-sentence qualitative analysis. The guidance provides template language for such brief analyses, including operational, construction, and maintenance issues.

For example, for a project that is expected to improve traffic flow, the qualitative analysis would say: “The project is expected to improve traffic flow, which should reduce operational greenhouse gas emissions. Construction greenhouse gas emissions will result primarily from fuel used in construction equipment.”

Projects processed as environmental assessments (EAs) or environmental impact statements (EISs) require a comprehensive quantitative analysis. These analyses could be conducted at the planning level, or project level. The analyses must use specified federal models and tools to calculate operational, fuel cycle, and construction/maintenance emissions. For EA’s, the analysis is included in the air quality discipline report, and for EISs, the analysis is placed in the energy discipline report. The guidance also provides template language to include in EAs and EISs, including:

  • A description of sources of GHG in the state,
  • Efforts underway to reduce such emissions,
  • WSDOT’s approach to climate change at the project-level,
  • How specific project features will impact GHG emissions, and
  • How project construction will affect GHG emissions including how such emissions will be minimized.

A summary of the GHG analysis, as well as the standard text, are then to be included in the cumulative effects section of either the EA or the EIS.

Carol Lee Roalkvam, the Policy Branch Manager at WSDOT’s Environmental Services Office states: “WSDOT’s guidance documents support state policy on climate change and sustainability and now are in use on all projects that require EA’s and EIS’s. The process is going great and teams are continuously learning as analysis tools evolve. While there are no federal requirements to conduct GHG analyses, we have found that the public and other agencies appreciate the information included on climate change issues."

Considering Climate Change in Planning

Under WSDOT’s approach, climate change issues are addressed during transportation planning, before specific projects are proposed.

WSDOT’s Guidance for Considering Impacts of Climate Change in WSDOT Plans calls for planners to consider the Climate Impacts Vulnerability Assessment and consult with WSDOT environmental office to determine potential impacts for specific planning areas or modes.

The planning process considers whether:

  • Climate change will adversely impact current or future multimodal transportation infrastructure;
  • Planning partners have considered transportation assets in the local or regional long-term natural hazard reduction plans; and
  • Climate change will impact transportation services to vulnerable or underserved populations.

Plans also should document potential risks from extreme weather and how the plan will promote resilience. The guidance also offers implementation advice and links to examples for specific types of planning studies.

WSDOT is finding that many local jurisdictions are including climate-related threats in local hazard risk reduction plans. Individual planning efforts are able to integrate new information from their local partners to help improve coordination across multiple sectors and jurisdictions. “While the planning guidance is still in the early phase of implementation, it will continue to evolve as more studies are completed,” Roalkvam said.

For more information on WSDOT’s approach to considering climate change in its projects and programs, contact Carol Lee Roalkvam, at carollee.roalkvam@wsdot.wa.gov

Resources:

Examples of Washington State Projects and Plans that Address Climate Change and GHG Emissions:

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Infrastructure Resilience

Recent Developments: ‘Pandemic Playbook’ Offers Key Practices for Transportation Agencies

A summary of effective practices used by transportation agencies in response to pandemics has been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The report, A Pandemic Playbook for Transportation Agencies (NCHRP Research 963/TCRP Research Report 225), addresses challenges agencies are likely to face during a pandemic and “plays” for agencies to consider, based on domestic and international research and interviews with key transportation leaders in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, link to the report. (11-12-20)

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Recent Developments: TRB Compiles Research Needs Related to COVID-19

An agenda of transportation research needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic has been compiled in a research circular published by the Transportation Research Board. The research needs were gathered through a meeting of thought-leaders at the end of April 2020, and are presented as research problem statements for future consideration. They are grouped into the following categories: operations, resilience, and disaster recovery; supply chain and goods movement; changes in demand, transportation planning, and data; social justice, access, and mobility equity; effects on economics, revenues, and costs (including stimulus); governance and roles during a pandemic; and public health. For more information, link to the report. (11-5-20)

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Recent Developments: Report Suggests Federal Policies for Resilient Coastal Communities

Federal policy changes that could support resilient coastal communities are provided in a report issued by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). The report distills ideas, findings, and policy recommendations identified during EESI’s Regional Coastal Resilience Congressional briefing series. The findings are organized by six sections—community at the forefront, land use and development, cultural heritage, climate adaptation and resilience data, disaster preparedness, and financing adaptation and resilience. It provides 30 specific recommendations, as well as guiding principles to inform coastal resilience policy. For more information, including the report and related webinar, link to the announcement. (10-26-20)

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Recent Developments: Report Describes How Climate Resilience Can Improve Cities’ Competitiveness

Considerations to help cities protect their economic competitiveness in the face of chronic climate impacts are detailed in a report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. The report, The Resilience Factor: A Competitive Edge for Climate-Ready Cities, explores three key aspects of city competitiveness: city finances, economic development, and livability. In the face of worsening climate impacts, the report says cities may benefit from better coordination, safeguards for vulnerable neighborhoods, and consideration of climate-readiness in economic development planning. For more information, link to the report. (10-22-20)

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Recent Developments: NGA Develops State Resilience and Assessment Planning Tool

A tool to help state governors assess state resilience, identify gaps, and plan for natural and man-made disasters has been issued by the National Governors Association. The State Resilience and Assessment Planning Tool (SRAP) uses an all hazards approach to help states prepare for threats including hurricanes and tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, cyber and physical attacks, and terrorist attacks. Developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, the tool focuses on energy assurance and continuity of operations for that sector as well as other critical infrastructure systems such as transportation, communications, and water. For more information, link to the announcement. (10-15-20)

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Recent Developments: FTA Offers Grant Funds to Address COVID-19 Challenges

Grant funding for innovative solutions to address COVID-19 challenges in public transportation has been announced by the Federal Transit Administration. The program will support grants to public transit agencies for solutions that improve the operational efficiency and enhance the mobility of transit users affected by the COVID-19 emergency. Solutions would address issues including cleaning and disinfection; exposure mitigation measures; innovative mobility such as contactless payments; and measures that strengthen public confidence in transit services. For more information, link to the program web page and notice. (10-5-20)

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Recent Developments: Publication Summarizes 2019 Transportation Resilience Conference

The Second International Conference on Transportation Resilience to Natural Hazards and Extreme Weather Events (TR2019) is featured in the Transportation Research Board’s September 2020 Transportation Research Circular. TRB hosted the event in November 2019 to present advancements in transportation systems resilience. The circular provides a summary of plenary sessions, technical sessions and posters, and an educational flood mitigation demonstration from the conference. For more information, link to the Circular. (9-29-20)

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Recent Developments: NOAA Seeks Proposals for Sea Level Rise Research Program

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking proposals for grant funding under its Effects of Sea Level Rise Program. The solicitation is to improve adaptation and planning in response to effects of sea level rise and coastal inundation through targeted research on key technologies, natural and nature-based infrastructure, physical and biological processes, and model evaluation. The solicitation includes two focal areas: coastal resilience and surface transportation resilience. It is anticipated that approximately $1.2 million may be available in fiscal year 2021 for the first year for some projects in each focus area, while an additional $1.2 million could be available in fiscal year 2022 for the first year for additional projects. A webinar on the program and funding opportunity will be held on Sept. 22. For more information, link to the notice and webinar registration page. (9-10-20)

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Recent Developments: Study Tracks Impacts of COVID-19 on Transportation Use

A study from the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies is tracking the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on transportation uses. The study notes that as the economy has started to reopen, single-occupant car travel and bicycling have increased, while the use of public transit, ride-hailing, carpools, and shared e-scooters has remained low. The study tracks telecommuting, car use, walking, ride-hailing, and other modes, as well as policy implications for changing trends. For more information, link to the study. (8-24-20)

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Recent Developments: Bay Area Transit Operators Develop ‘Healthy Transit’ Plan

Nine counties in California’s San Francisco Bay Area have developed a joint plan to address public health on public transit, to help reduce transmission of the coronavirus. The plan is intended to implement public health recommendations while balancing the need to move toward increased capacity service. It provides guidance on implementing mitigation practices for transit employees as well as passengers, including face masks, personal protective equipment, physical distancing, disinfection of surfaces, contact tracing, and wellness screenings. It is in alignment with California’s State Pandemic Resilience Roadmap. For more information, link to Riding Together: Bay Area Healthy Transit Plan. (August 2020)

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Recent Developments: Webinar Looks at U.S., International Approaches to Resilience

A webinar on climate change resilience analysis approaches in use by state departments of transportation and international agencies was sponsored by AASHTO on June 29, 2020. The webinar featured speakers from AASHTO, the Federal Highway Administration, the Colorado Department of Transportation, HNTB, the Conference of European Directors of Roads, and Rijkswaterstaat (executive agency of the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management). Access the webinar recording. (8-4-20)

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Recent Developments: GAO Urges Support for Relocation as a Resilience Strategy

Congress should consider establishing a program to support communities that are interested in relocation as a climate resilience strategy, according to a study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The study looked at the use of climate migration -- preemptively moving away from vulnerable areas – as a resilience strategy. It also analyzed federal support for climate migration and key challenges and solutions. Link to the report. (8-5-20)

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Recent Developments: Caltrans Completes Regional Climate Vulnerability Assessments

The California Department of Transportation has issued the final two of 12 district-based Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Reports. The reports are intended to help in evaluating, mitigating, and adapting to the effects of increasing extreme weather events on the state transportation system. The reports cover Caltrans’ District 1 (Eureka) and District 5 (Salinas south to Santa Barbara). The climate effects examined include rising average temperatures, higher sea levels, storm surge, and precipitation. These in turn increase the incidence of flooding, drought, wildfires, coastal erosion and mudslides. For more information, link to the announcement. All 12 reports may be accessed here. (7-15-20)

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Recent Developments: Georgetown Climate Center Issues Toolkit on Equitable Adaptation to Climate Impacts

A toolkit to aid in achieving equitable approaches for addressing climate impacts has been developed by the Georgetown Climate Center. The Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit features emerging practices, legal and policy tools, and more than 100 case studies. The toolkit explores concepts of procedural equity, including community-driven engagement; governance and budgeting; and data, metrics, and monitoring tools. The toolkit then provides in-depth exploration of eight specific subjects to help guide community-driven planning processes and implementation of solutions. These include: economic resilience; resilient affordable housing, anti-displacement and gentrification; natural resilience and green space; resilient energy and utility industry measures; resilient water; equitable disaster preparedness, response and recovery; public health; and funding and financing tools. For more information, link to the toolkit. (7-29-20)

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Recent Developments: Georgetown Climate Center Launches Managed Retreat Toolkit

A toolkit of resources to help policymakers evaluate managed retreat as a possible adaptation approach has been launched by the Georgetown Climate Center. Managed retreat is a climate adaptation strategy that relies on voluntary movement and transition of communities and ecosystems away from vulnerable coastal areas. The toolkit will synthesize best and emerging practices for facilitating retreat in vulnerable coastal areas, conserving and enhancing important coastal ecosystems, and preparing higher-ground “receiving communities” to take in residents relocating away from vulnerable areas. It includes resources on crosscutting legal and policy considerations, planning, infrastructure, acquisition, regulatory and market-based information and approaches. For more information, link to the toolkit. (7-15-20)

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Recent Developments: Guidebook Developed for Addressing Cost/Benefits of Adaptation Measures for Extreme Events, Climate Change

A guidebook to help transportation agencies determine and consider the costs and benefits of adaptation measures for extreme events and climate change has been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Research Report 938 and Web-only Document 271). The guidebook provides recommendations for how to incorporate cost/benefit analysis into planning and climate adaptation processes. It includes an approach that allows practitioners to conduct short, simple analyses to evaluate if climate and extreme weather adaptation strategies might be cost-effective. The approach, which includes two levels of analysis, was developed to be consistent with methods described in FHWA’s Hydraulic Engineering Circular 17, “Highways in the River Environment: Extreme Events, Risk and Resilience.” For more information, link to the guidebook and related research report. (6-24-20)

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Recent Developments: Webinar Recording: Nature-based Resilience for Coastal Highways: Finding Partners and Funding

Information on finding partners and funding for nature-based resilience solutions for coastal highways was outlined in a June 25 webinar hosted by the Federal Highway Administration. The webinar included speakers from FHWA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Delaware DOT. For more information, link to the webinar recording. (7-2-20)

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Recent Developments: July 15 Webinar: GCC's Managed Retreat Toolkit Launch

The Georgetown Climate Center will host a webinar on July 15 to launch its online Managed Retreat Toolkit. Managed retreat is a climate adaptation strategy that relies on voluntary movement and transition of communities and ecosystems away from vulnerable coastal areas. The toolkit will help policymakers evaluate managed retreat as a possible adaptation approach. It will synthesize best and emerging practices for facilitating retreat in vulnerable coastal areas, conserving and enhancing important coastal ecosystems, and preparing higher-ground “receiving communities” to take in residents relocating away from vulnerable areas. For more information, link to the toolkit web page and webinar registration. (6-17-20)

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Recent Developments: North Carolina Issues Climate Risk Assessment, Resilience Plan

A plan to increase resilience to climate vulnerabilities in North Carolina has been issued by the state. The North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan describes: the projected change in the climate in the state; climate justice considerations; analysis of 11 critical sectors, including transportation, that are vulnerable to climate and non-climate stressors; preliminary actions to reduce risk; and recommendations for nature-based solutions to enhance ecosystem resiliency and sequester carbon. For more information, link to the plan. (June 2020)

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Recent Developments: FEMA Issues Pandemic Guidance for Hurricane Season

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued operational guidance to help emergency managers respond to incidents amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The document addresses both response planning and recovery planning, including information on FEMA’s operating posture and guidance for state and local governments. It also provides checklists and resources on FEMA operations and additional COVID-19 related guidance to help plan for the 2020 hurricane season. For more information, link to the guidance. (5-20-20)

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Recent Developments: Handbook Helps Officials Handle Flooding During COVID-19

A handbook has been developed to assist local officials and emergency managers address “dual disaster” scenarios of potential flooding during the COVID-19 epidemic. The resource, developed by the American Flood Coalition and the American Public Health Association, provides recommendation based on dozens of case studies and guidance from emergency management experts. For more information, link to the announcement and the handbook. (5-21-20)

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Recent Developments: Recordings Available: AASHTO COVID-19 Virtual Panel Series

During the month of April 2020, the AASHTO Committee on Transportation System Security & Resilience, through its Resilient and Sustainable Transportation Systems (RSTS) Technical Assistance Program, sponsored a series of weekly “virtual panels” focused on priority issues state DOTs are facing as they respond and recover from COVID-19 impacts. Webinar recordings and materials are now available and can be accessed here.

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Recent Developments: FHWA to Host Virtual Summit on Partnership with Weather Service

The Federal Highway Administration is hosting a virtual summit to discuss the implementation of the Pathfinder program across the country. Pathfinder is a collaborative strategy for proactive transportation system management ahead of and during adverse weather events. It encourages State departments of transportation, the National Weather Service, and weather service contractors to share and translate weather forecasts and road conditions into consistent transportation impact messages for the public. To register for the summit, link here. (4-29-20)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO Committee Continues Virtual COVID-19 Panel Series

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience (CTSSR) is sponsoring a series of “virtual panel discussions” to help state department of transportation leaders stay up-to-date on the latest news regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The virtual panel series will be hosted weekly throughout the month of April. For more information and registration, link here.

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Recent Developments: FEMA Releases $100 Million for COVID-19 Response

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced release of $100 million in supplemental Emergency Management Performance Grants to assist in the local response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The grant program assists states, territories, tribes, and local governments with their public health and emergency management activities supporting the prevention of, preparation for, and response to the ongoing response to COVID-19. For more information, link to the notice and related resources. (4-13-20)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO Posts COVID-19 Resources for DOTs

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has posted resources to support state departments of transportation in response to the current COVID-19 outbreak. State DOTs are actively supporting their residents, businesses, and local communities, and these resources are available to assist with such efforts. To access the AASHTO resource page, link here. (4-8-20)

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Recent Developments: Iowa and Nebraska DOTs Coordinating to Prepare for Spring Flooding

The state departments of transportation in Iowa and Nebraska have announced preparations to coordinate efforts to strengthen roadways and shoulders in anticipation of spring flooding along the Platte and Missouri rivers. The two DOTs made improvements following the flooding last year so that roads and highways can be kept open longer and recover more quickly from flooding. Also, five new flood sensors have been installed in areas where potential flooding is expected. These sensors will give transportation officials better information about river levels in key areas. For more information, link to the announcement. (3-10-20)

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Recent Developments: Group Revises Hazard Policy Guide to Address Climate

The American Planning Association has released a draft of its revised Hazard Mitigation Policy Guide that offers planners new policy recommendations building on best practices and established research for resiliency standards, man-made disasters, and natural disasters. In particular, the draft revision focuses on preparing for climate change and the consideration of equity for populations disproportionately affected by extreme weather, sea level rise, and emerging climate trends. For more information, link to the draft guide. (2-28-20)

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Recent Developments: Group Issues Fact Sheet on Federal Funding for Climate Resilience

A fact sheet detailing federal funding and technical assistance available to help state and local governments, tribes, non-governmental organizations, universities, and individuals implement nature-based solutions for climate resilience has been issued by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. The fact sheet includes a description of the funding sources, the eligibility criteria, and which of eight types and attributes of projects the programs support. For more information, link to the fact sheet. (2-19-20)

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Recent Developments: New Jersey Unveils Energy Master Plan, Climate Regulatory Agenda

New Jersey has announced an energy master plan that includes, among other things, a goal of having the state run on 100% clean energy by 2050. The plan defines “clean energy” as 100% carbon-neutral electricity generation and maximum electrification of the transportation and building sectors. In conjunction with the plan, Gov. Phil Murphy has issued an executive order to promulgate regulatory reforms that include an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. The order also calls for revised land use regulations to incorporate climate change resilience into permitting decisions about how and where buildings and infrastructure are built. For more information, link to the announcement. (1-27-20)

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Recent Developments: New Jersey Report Details Dramatic Sea Level Rise by 2050

A report from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection projects dramatic sea-level rise in the state, where sea-level rise projections are more than two times the global average. The sea level could rise from 2000 levels by up to 1.1 feet by 2030, 2.1 feet by 2050, and 6.3 feet by 2100, underscoring the urgency of recent actions to make the state more resilient to the effects of climate change. For more information, link to the report. (12-12-19)

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Recent Developments: GAO Urges Reduced Federal Fiscal Exposure to Climate Risks

The Government Accountability Office has released a report that synthesizes and updates information on the federal fiscal exposure to and economic risks of climate change. The report says that the federal government is exposed to risks in connection with disaster aid payments, insurance for property and crops, and the operation and management of federal land and federal property. Since 1990, the GAO has reported every two years on activities determined to pose to the federal government a high risk fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, and since 2013 has included climate change risks on the list. The report also says that the federal government had not made measurable progress since 2017 to reduce fiscal exposure to climate change. The report recommends the federal government address climate risks through a national strategic plan of coordinated effort including the use of economic information to identify and respond to risks, provide climate change information, and provide leadership for the setting of design standards, building codes, and voluntary certifications. For more information, link to the report. (12-19-19)

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Recent Developments: GAO Report Recommends Strategic Investments in Climate Resilience

The Government Accountability Office has released a report regarding the federal government’s fiscal exposure to the risks of climate change. The GAO recommends that Congress consider establishing a federal organizational arrangement to periodically identify and prioritize climate resilience projects for strategic federal investment. Such an arrangement could be designed using the six key steps to increase the climate resilience impact of federal funding options that the GAO identified in a previous report. According to the report, federal funding for disaster assistance has totaled at least $450 billion in the last 15 years, and in 2018 alone, 14 separate weather and climate disaster events occurred across the United States with total costs of at least $91 billion. For more information, link to the report. (12-11-19)

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Recent Developments: Roadway Flood-Warning System Receives Awards

A tool developed in Texas to warn motorists of likely roadway flooding has received multiple awards for technical innovation. Developed by the Texas Transportation Institute, Houston TranStar, Harris County Flood Control District, and Texas DOT, the tool combines rainfall and stream elevation data with real-time traffic information to show areas with a high likelihood of roadway flooding. Travelers can avoid these areas and plan out alternate routes. The system has been honored with the National Operations Center of Excellence Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) Award, as well as awards from the Intelligent Transportation Society of Texas and the Texas Public Works Association. TSMO award winners will be recognized at the AASHTO Spring Meeting to be held May 26–29, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. For more information, link to the announcement. (12-9-19)

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Recent Developments: Caltrans Issues Four Regional Vulnerability Assessments

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has issued four new regional vulnerability assessments as part of its efforts to evaluate how climate change may impact the state’s highway system. The assessments cover Districts 3, 9, 10, and 12 in Orange County and the central part of the state. The assessments look at risks such as extreme temperatures, increased precipitation, storm surge, wildfires, and sea level rise. Caltrans has provided summary reports with overviews and locations of possible impacts, in-depth technical reports describing potential exposure of the highway systems, and interactive maps. Caltrans is conducting assessments for each of its 12 regions. For more information, link to the announcement and to the assessments. (12-3-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Reports on Road Weather Performance Measures

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a report on performance measures used to evaluate the agency’s Road Weather Management Program. The report shows strong growth in use of tools, programs, and activities by State DOTs and sustained interest and growth in FHWA’s Every Day Counts-supported strategies. The report shows increased need for case studies on management practices and more data sharing. It also shows growth in data generated from vehicle platforms and the need to maintain such systems. In addition, it shows differences in geographic areas and the need to address issues in addition to snow and ice. For more information, link to the report. (Sept. 2019)

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Recent Developments: Report Issued on Modeling, Adaptation to Sea Level Rise

The Road Ecology Center at the University of California, Davis, has issued a report describing a planning and assessment process for adapting transportation to sea level rise based on a study of State Route 37 (SR 37) in California. The highway is vulnerable to temporary flooding and permanent inundation, and it is adjacent to protected coastal systems such as beaches and tidal wetlands. Planning for a new highway that is adaptive and resilient to coastal flooding was conducted using stakeholder participation and the Eco-Logical framework. A model of potential inundation was developed using a recent, high-resolution LiDAR elevation assessment. This model projects potential inundation based on comparison of future daily and extreme tide levels with surrounding ground elevations. The vulnerability of each segment was scored according to its exposure to flooding, sensitivity to sea level rise, and adaptive capacity. For more information, link to the report. (11-20-19)

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Recent Developments: New Jersey to Develop Statewide Climate Change Resilience Strategy

The governor of New Jersey has signed an executive order to establish a statewide climate resilience strategy. The order includes the creation of a state chief resilience officer and the Interagency Council on Climate Resilience. The order also establishes a Climate and Flood Resilience Program within the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. By September 2020, the chief resilience officer is to develop and deliver to the governor a strategy to promote the long-term mitigation, adaptation, and resilience of New Jersey’s economy, communities, infrastructure, and natural resources throughout the state in a manner consistent with scientific projections of climate impacts. The strategy will be incorporated into the planning and procedures by state agencies. For more information, link to the announcement. (10-29-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Memo, Webinar on Integration of Resilience in Emergency Relief Program

The Federal Highway Administration is providing guidance on integration of resilient infrastructure in its Emergency Relief program. In a memo to divisions and field offices and a related webinar, FHWA describes funding eligibility for incorporating resilience features into transportation projects. In addition, it specifies that state departments of transportation (DOTs) may use ER funds for repairs that improve long-term resilience of Federal-aid highways, provided the repairs are consistent with current standards or the state DOT demonstrates that the resilience feature is economically justified to prevent future recurring damage. If a betterment is not economically justified, the state DOT may use ER funding up to cost of repairing to current standards, then use its own funds or other apportioned Federal-aid funds to cover costs that are not ER-eligible. For more information, link to the memo and webinar recording. (10-23-19)

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Recent Developments: Webinar Recording: FHWA Guide on Nature-based Solutions for Resilience

A webinar recording highlighting FHWA’s implementation guide on nature-based solutions for coastal highway resilience is now available. Nature-based solutions use natural materials and processes to reduce erosion, wave damage and flood risks. Examples include conservation, restoration, or construction of beaches, dunes, marshes, mangroves, maritime forests, and reefs. The guide summarizes the potential flood-reduction benefits and co-benefits of these strategies. It provides guidance on how to consider such solutions in the planning process, how to conduct a site assessment to determine whether nature-based solutions are appropriate, key engineering and ecological design considerations, permitting approaches, construction considerations, and monitoring and maintenance strategies. The webinar also provides information and resources from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For more information, link to the guide and webinar recording. (10-23-19)

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Recent Developments: GAO Issues Framework for Federal Efforts to Promote Resilience

A Government Accountability Office report describes a framework the GAO has created to provide a set of high-level principles to help federal agencies and their partners in the consideration of action that will increase resilience to natural hazards. The GAO has identified that the federal government is increasingly at risk of exposure to the financial costs of the rising number of natural disasters, extreme weather, and climate-related events, with resilience measures being a way to reduce those costs. The framework consists of three broad principles—information, integration, incentives—and a series of questions that can be considered when analyzing enhancements to national disaster resilience. The framework is based on a large and growing body of work on resilience, including the Federal Highway Administration’s Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Framework. For more information, link to the report. (10-23-19)

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Recent Developments: BTS Provides Best Practices in Cybersecurity and Intelligent Transportation Systems

A best practice guide on cybersecurity and intelligent transportation systems has been issued by the U.S. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The report describes practices for planning and conducting a penetration test, including a template test plan to assist local and state DOTs in cybersecurity planning. For more information, link to the report. (9-17-19)

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Recent Developments: GAO Urges FHWA to Enhance Accountability in Use of ER Funds

The Government Accountability Office has issued a report urging the Federal Highway Administration to do a better job of documenting the bases for decisions to classify projects as emergency repairs. The GAO found that the agency did not document such decisions in 22 of 25 project files reviewed. The report urged FHWA to more clearly define what constitutes restoration of essential traffic and clarify the policy on when expedited contracting and environmental procedures are allowed. For more information, link to the report. (10-17-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Fact Sheet Describes Eco-Logical, Resilience Improvements

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a new fact sheet on the connection between the Eco-Logical framework and climate resilience. State departments of transportation can use the Eco-Logical framework to identify conservation or restoration opportunities that will provide both resilience and environmental benefits. As an example, Delaware DOT has developed conceptual designs for nature-based solutions to protect two areas susceptible to flooding and erosion. DelDOT used existing GIS data and conducted a vulnerability assessment to identify where wetland restoration priority areas overlapped with flood zones. The agency has proposed a nature-based solution that includes marsh, dune, oyster reef, and rock breakwater features. For more information, link to the fact sheet. (10-8-19)

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Recent Developments: Caltrans Issues Vulnerability Assessments for Parts of Southern California

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has issued climate change vulnerability assessments for three districts in the southern part of the state. The reports focus on the risks posed to the transportation system by wildfires, extreme temperatures and precipitation, sea-level rise, and coastal-bluff erosion. They cover Imperial, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura counties (Districts 7, 8, and 11) and include an interactive mapping application that shows where and how climate change is expected to have an impact. Caltrans is conducting assessments for each of its 12 regions, and it has completed about half of the assessments. For more information, link to the vulnerability assessments page. (9-23-19)

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Recent Developments: Study Evaluates Freight Resilience to Supply Chain Disruptions

Guidance on mitigating and adapting to disruptions in supply chains resulting from adverse events, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, or other natural or human-made events, is provided in National Cooperative Freight Research Program Research Report 39: Freight Transportation Resilience in Response to Supply Chain Disruptions. The report addresses freight logistics and planning to identify factors that affect system resiliency and ways to mitigate for disruption. It reviews public perception of resilience and the extent to which various factors such as location, disruption type, type of freight, and transportation mode affect resilience planning. For more information, link to the report. (9-23-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Synopsis of Integrated Corridor Management Program

The Federal Highway Administration has issued an executive level synopsis of the Transportation Department’s Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) program and, in particular, the ICM demonstration projects. ICM is the idea that state and local transportation departments, along with transit agencies, will collaborate and proactively integrate existing infrastructure and systems along major corridors, managing the corridor as a whole to reduce congestion and negative impacts on other systems. The ICM concept includes having the ability to quickly enable load balancing during an unplanned major congestion event, such as a chemical spill on a highway. The report discusses the current state of the practice in ICM and how ICM deployments can help to lay a foundation for future transportation advancements. The report includes information from demonstration projects conducted for the I-15 corridor in San Diego and the U.S. 75 corridor in Dallas. For more information, link to the report. (8-22-19)

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Recent Developments: Regional Resilience Toolkit issued by EPA, FEMA, MTC/ABAG

Tools and guidance to help communities face the effects of natural disasters are provided in a “Regional Resilience Toolkit” developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Association of Bay Area Governments. The Toolkit is designed to help integrate various planning processes – including for hazard mitigation, climate adaptation, sustainability, and equity – into a single process to create a common action plan. It also is designed to fulfill requirements for Local Hazard Mitigation Plan approval, and closely follows FEMA’s Local Mitigation Planning Handbook. For more information, link to the toolkit. (7-22-19)

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Recent Developments: National Engineering Academy Publication Addresses Disaster Resilience

The National Academy of Engineering’s latest issue of The Bridge addresses engineering for disaster resilience. The issue includes articles covering climate-resilient infrastructure policy and perspectives, risk-based design and benefit-cost analysis, and engineering flood and hurricane infrastructure. This issue also covers community resilience with regard to “lifeline” systems such as power and water, a model of physical and social system interdependence, and case studies of various locations including Los Angeles and New York. For more information, link to The Bridge, Summer 2019.

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Recent Developments: NOAA Develops Tool for Handling Stormwater and Coastal Floods

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed an interactive website tool for evaluating coastal flooding thresholds and the potential impact on stormwater infrastructure. The tool includes background information on coastal flooding, the ability to perform a quick flood assessment with user-supplied data, the evaluation of different scenarios to determine impacts to stormwater management, and various recommended actions to address the issue, such as planning, policy, on-the-ground, and funding options. Users can document the output of the Quick Flood Assessment Tool to produce a report for sharing. For more information, link to the Adapting Stormwater Management for Coastal Floods tool. (7-9-19)

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Recent Developments: Study Offers Approach to Incorporate Resilience in Transportation Planning

An approach for incorporating resilience into transportation planning has been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP project 08-36 (Task 146)). The study, which builds on the Federal Highway Administration’s Vulnerability Assessment Framework, developed a logic model to map transportation system assets as well as a framework for adapting resilience principles to a broader range of hazards. The Absorptive, Restorative, Equitable, Adaptive (AREA) framework helps planners determine strategies to increase the resilience of the entire transportation system. For more information, link to the report. (6-28-19)

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Recent Developments: NOAA Offers Online Information Tool for Coastal Flooding

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed a tool to help communities prepare for coastal flooding. The Coastal Inundation Dashboard brings together data from more than 200 coastal water level stations into one easy-to-use web tool. It is intended to help decision makers and coastal residents understand both short-term risks such as an approaching hurricane or nor’easter, as well as longer-term risks like high tide flooding and sea level rise. For more information, link to the announcement and the dashboard. (6-7-19) >>See Related AASHTO CEE Resources: Infrastructure Resilience Topic Overview and Case Studies; Resilient and Sustainable Transportation Systems Program, Resiliency Case Studies: State DOT Lessons Learned

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Recent Developments: GAO Reports on Ways to Reduce Federal Fiscal Impacts from Climate Change

The Government Accountability Office has issued a report documenting potential economic effects of climate change and ways the U.S. government could reduce its fiscal exposure to such effects. Potential solutions could include establishing federal strategic climate change priorities; identifying significant climate risks and appropriate responses; creating a national climate information system; and providing the best-available, forward looking climate information to organizations that develop infrastructure design standards and building codes. For more information, link to the report. (6-11-19) >>See Related AASHTO CEE Resources: Resilient and Sustainable Transportation Systems Program, Energy/Greenhouse Gas Emissions Topic

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Recent Developments: FEMA Hosts Webinar Series on Resilient Infrastructure and Communities

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced a webinar series throughout June to provide information about recent updates to federal disaster response laws and infrastructure resilience programs. The series will address the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, passed in 2018 as part of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. Topics will include the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program; infrastructure mitigation projects; hazard mitigation planning; grant application and evaluation; risk-based funding; resource management; benefit-cost analysis; building codes; enforcement; and capacity and capability. For more information, link to the webinar series. (5-23-19)

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Recent Developments: District of Columbia Issues Resilience, Managed Retreat Plan

Washington D.C. has announced a new resilience plan that sets a range of goals for coping with increasingly severe floods and heat waves, the major climate change stressors projected to occur in the city. The plan, Resilient DC: a Strategy to Thrive in the Face of Change, includes a goal of retrofitting or removing all its flood-prone buildings by 2050, making D.C. the first major U.S. city to set a policy of managed retreat. The plan also includes tougher building codes for new buildings, constructing new flood-resistant infrastructure, and helping residents understand the climate risk they face. For more information, link to the plan. (4-29-19)

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Recent Developments: Project Costs, Benefits of Using Natural Infrastructure Pose Challenges

A review of methods to identify costs and benefits of natural infrastructure such as wetlands to reduce risks from coastal storms and flooding is in a report issued by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO specifically looked at the nature-based resilience approaches used by the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate project costs and benefits. The GAO reviewed Corps guidance; obtained information on five years’ worth of projects that used natural infrastructure; selected eight coastal storm and flood risk reduction projects from the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts; and reviewed each project's planning documentation and economic analyses. The GAO found that the Corps is challenged to identify performance measures and the social and environmental benefits sufficient to be used in cost and benefit analysis. For more information, link to the report. (4-29-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Highlights Road Weather Initiatives, Products

The Federal Highway Administration has announced case studies, fact sheets, and videos to highlight key topics and aid the implementation of two road weather management solutions under the Weather-Savvy Roads initiative. Pathfinder is a collaboration between the National Weather Service, state transportation departments, and contractors to translate weather and road information into actionable traveler information. Integrating Mobile Observations collects weather, road condition, and vehicle data from agency fleets to improve awareness of road conditions, building on vehicle-based mobile technologies and real-time wireless communications. For more information, link to Weather-Savvy Roads: Resources to Aid Implementation. (4-23-19)

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Recent Developments: Urban Flooding in the United States Subject of NAS Report

The current and future costs and impacts of urban flooding in the United States merit national attention, according to a new report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report says that urban flooding is a complex problem that results from several factors including the capacity of drainage systems, the types of flood sources, and the patterns of development in a particular city. The report also says that the ability to respond and recover from flooding events can vary widely depending on social and economic resources. In addition, the report says that the responsibility for managing urban flooding is distributed across federal, state, and local agencies, and coordination among the parties is essential. The report includes case studies of Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix. For more information, link to the report. (4-3-19)

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Recent Developments: Report Finds FTA Should Provide More Guidance on Emergency Plans

The Federal Transit Administration should develop and implement additional guidance on protecting transit rolling stock from disaster events and provide a centralized source for transit agencies to access lessons learned regarding emergency preparedness, according to a report from the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General. The report says that although the FTA currently does not require transit agencies to develop emergency preparedness plans, several transit agencies have done so with varying degrees of success. The report reviewed the FTA’s emergency relief efforts in connection with agencies affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the extent to which lessons can be learned from the experiences of those agencies. For more information, link to the report. (4-11-19)

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Recent Developments: Climate Group Developing a Managed Retreat Toolkit

The Georgetown Climate Center has announced work on developing a toolkit to help public agencies and policymakers plan for the ordered relocation of infrastructure and development away from areas vulnerable to extreme weather, sea level rise, and flooding. For locations considering such managed retreat, the toolkit would provide information on evaluating risks and developing legally viable approaches, comparing different managed retreat approaches, and incorporating considerations of social support, housing, and employment for relocated residents. The toolkit is due for release in 2020. For more information, link to the announcement. (3-26-19)

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Recent Developments: Texas Issues Updated Coastal Resiliency Master Plan

Texas has issued an updated version of its master plan for coastal resiliency, addressing the need for coordinated efforts to restore, enhance, and protect the state’s coastline. The plan identifies the fact that the Texas coast is a complex system of natural and human-made environments that provide a variety of benefits to the state as a whole. The plan also highlights ways in which the coast is vulnerable to natural disasters and long-term environmental, social, and economic pressures; identifies eight priority issues of concern; and discusses projects to address them. For more information, link to the document. (March 2019)

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Recent Developments: Call for Presentations: Transportation Resilience 2019 Conference

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a call for presentations for the Second International Conference on Resilience to Natural Hazards and Extreme Weather Events. The event, to be held Nov. 13-15, 2019, is being organized by the Transportation Research Board with support from the FHWA and AASHTO. The event will provide practical information on emerging best practices and state of the art research results used by planners, policy makers, and designers along the following three themes: proactive adaptation; resilient recovery; and transformative resilience. For more information, link here. (3-22-19)

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Recent Developments: Report Addresses Resilience Planning, Policy on Maryland's Eastern Shore

A new report outlines the risks of coastal flooding in the Chesapeake Bay region, an area where the data indicate that sea level is rising at a faster rate than the global average. The report, issued by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, documents the current situation in the Maryland’s eastern counties, including data from NOAA tidal gauge records, vulnerability to storm surge, and projections into the years 2050 and 2100. The report also serves as a guide for communities in the region to develop policies and practices in response to the flooding risks. The report includes suggestions and methods for fostering resilience through local policies and both regulatory and non-regulatory actions. For more information, link to the report. (3-13-19)

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Recent Developments: Briefing Focuses on Green Infrastructure as Blueprint for Resilience

A briefing held by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute focused on the economic, environmental, and public benefits of green infrastructure. Experts from ASLA’s interdisciplinary Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience discussed their report, Smart Policies for a Changing Climate, which calls for infrastructure investment to create healthy and resilient communities that work in tandem with natural systems. For more information and a recording, link here. (3-4-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Handbook on Life Cycle Planning in Asset Management

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a handbook on using life cycle planning to support transportation asset management. State DOTs are required to develop a risk-based transportation asset management plan, including life cycle planning and risk management analyses. Life cycle planning is defined as “a process to estimate the cost of managing an asset class, or asset sub-group, over its whole life with consideration for minimizing cost while preserving or improving the condition.” The handbook provides information on implementing a life cycle planning process for pavements and bridges. For more information, link to the handbook. (January 2019)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO Resilience Webinar Series Recordings Available

Recordings of AASHTO’s five-part webinar series addressing a variety of resilience topics for transportation agencies are available on the Center for Environmental Excellence website. The 2018 series was sponsored by AASHTO's Resilient and Sustainable Transportation Systems technical assistance program. The series covers lessons learned from Hurricane Florence, seismic resilient highways, building organizational resilience, cyber resilience, and the 2018 Transportation Resilience Innovations Summit and Exchange (RISE). To access the recordings, visit Resilience Webinar Series (December 2018).

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Recent Developments: Synthesis Report on DOT Resilience Efforts Issued by NCHRP

A report that documents transportation agency resilience efforts and how they are organized, understood, and implemented has been issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. NCHRP Synthesis Report 527: Resilience in Transportation Planning, Engineering, Management, Policy, and Administration, is intended to help inform how transportation agencies approach regaining functionality after a major disruption or disaster. The report reviews the policies that promote highway resilience; definitions of risk and resilience and the relationship between these two fields; and how agencies are incorporating resilience practices through project development, policy, and design. The report indicates that although resilience policies are becoming well established, there is a lack of integration of resilience into practice. With the recent requirements for risk-based asset management plans, state DOTs may be challenged to develop a management approach. For more information, link to the report. (1-14-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Assesses Resilience of NY, NJ, CT Following Hurricane Sandy

The Federal Highway Administration has published a study of the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan region’s resilience to climate change, sea level rise, and extreme weather in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events. The study identifies strategies to reduce extreme weather vulnerabilities of transportation systems using lessons learned from recent events and future climate projections. It provides assessments of vulnerability and risk at the regional, subarea, and facility level. The study is intended to help agencies in the study area evaluate adaptation strategies that could be applied to similar facilities in the region. For more information, link to the study. (10-26-17)

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Recent Developments: Caltrans Seeks Applicants for Adaptation Planning Grants

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is seeking applications for $20 million in climate change adaptation planning grants to local and regional agencies. The funding, which is available for three fiscal year cycles from 2017 to 2020, can be used to advance adaptation planning related to the state’s roads, railways, bikeways, trails, bridges, ports, and airports. Applications are due Oct. 20. For more information, link to the grant application guide. (September 2017)

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Case Studies: Minnesota - MnDOT Strengthens Climate Resilience Using FHWA Vulnerability Assessment Framework

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:

  • Better understand the vulnerability of the state’s trunk highway system to flash flooding;
  • Increase system resiliency by developing a methodology to identify cost-effective design solutions;
  • Support the agency’s asset management planning work; and
  • Provide feedback on the FHWA Framework.

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.

Overall Vulnerability Assessment

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.

Assessment of Individual Assets’ Adaptation Options

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.

Uniqueness, Challenges, Advice

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.

For more information, contact Philip Schaffner, Policy Planning Director, Minnesota Department of Transportation at philip.schaffner@state.mn.us, or link to the MnDOT pilot project website.

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Case Studies: Tennessee - Tennessee DOT Conducts Statewide Vulnerability Assessment for Transportation Assets

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.

FHWA Vulnerability Assessment Framework and Tennessee’s Approach

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:

  • Wind and flooding are by far the events of greatest concern across the state, potentially affecting multiple classes of transportation assets. For example, there is significant risk from flooding in Memphis. Moreover, wet ground and strong winds could produce large numbers of tree falls and utility poles across roads, severely restricting movement.
  • Movement of vessels, including barges carrying coal and other products, on Tennessee rivers can be disrupted by extreme weather. Locks are vulnerable to flooding and river levels that allow barge traffic are vulnerable to extended periods of high temperature and low rainfall.
  • Rockslides in middle and eastern Tennessee could substantially disrupt transportation networks in areas with limited alternate routes.
  • With the exception of one county, winter weather is a less significant concern.

Next Steps for TDOT

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.

  • TDOT has already identified slopes near roadways that are most vulnerable to rockslides, TDOT will combine this information with the data regarding locations of expected increased precipitation, to help select priority sites for potential slope stabilization projects.
  • Based on the more detailed assessment of critical transportation assets, TDOT will identify additional adaptation projects for possible addition to the State's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP. TDOT would need to determine how to evaluate adaptation projects against congestion relief projects. This would likely require quantifying the benefits of implementing adaptation projects.
  • TDOT will consider issues associated with whether and how to modify repair and replacement standards so that facilities may be upgraded to a more resilient condition.
  • Developing linkages throughout TDOT and with other transportation agencies (e.g., MPOs) to address extreme weather more effectively.

Lessons Learned and Advice to State DOTs

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.

More details on the study are available in the pilot project final report. A summary of the TDOT pilot is provided in an FHWA Webinar Recording.

For more information, contact Alan Jones, Tennessee Department of Transportation at Alan.Jones@tn.gov.

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Case Studies: Vermont - Vermont Agency of Transportation Expands Emphasis on Managing Roads in Concert with Streams and Rivers

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.

Managing for Equilibrium

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:

  • Rivers have a natural level of stability that is realized when the power of the river flow is in equilibrium with the sediment load.
  • This balance can be tipped when activities on the landscape or in the river change the amount of flow and sediments delivered to the rivers and/or the power created by the flow and resistance provided by the river channel.
  • When the balance is tipped, the river enters a disequilibrium condition and potentially a channel evolution process and the threat to property and developments is increased.
  • Working with the natural tendencies of rivers to manage for equilibrium is the most cost effective way to reduce river related damages and threats to public safety.

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).

Codifying the River Science Approach

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.

Understanding River Systems

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.

For more information on Vermont's Rivers and Roads program, contact Richard Tetreault, Richard.Tetreault@state.vt.us or link to the training summary.

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Context Sensitive Solutions

Recent Developments: NACTO Issues Resource on Use of Streets for Pandemic Recovery

A guide developed by the National Association of Counties compiles emerging practices from around the world on street design approaches that can help in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The guide, Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery, also includes implementation resources for cities and their partners. Recognizing the rapidly changing nature of this pandemic, the guide will be revised and expanded to include new strategies. As of May 21, 2020, the guide addresses the following street strategies: lanes for biking and rolling; sidewalk extensions; transit lanes; slow streets; pick-up and delivery zones; outdoor dining; and markets. To access the resource, link here. (5-21-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Updates Brochure on Context Sensitive Solutions and Design

The Federal Highway Administration has issued an updated brochure providing background and resources on context sensitive solutions and design (CSS/D) in transportation. The brochure provides a brief history and explanation of CSS/D, benefits of the approach, and examples of the state of the practice in implementation. For more information, link to the brochure. (7-21-20)

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Recent Developments: Report Offers Guidance on ‘Right-Sizing’ Transportation Investments

A guidebook on right-sizing transportation investments, focused on planning and programming, has been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Report 917). “Rightsizing” offers a process by which a transportation agency can adjust the size, extent, function, and composition of its existing or planned infrastructure and service portfolio in response to changing needs over time. The guide provides a practical structure, policy recommendations, and a toolkit of technical methods. For more information, link to the guidebook. (1-10-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Report Describes Highway Right-Sizing for Cities

The Federal Highway Administration has released a new report concerning the performance of right-sizing analysis on aging urban infrastructure. This form of context sensitive solution, which involves adjusting travel facilities to reflect changes in demand, provides the opportunity to develop transportation policies that better fit the community, promote safety, and help the community achieve broader economic development goals. The study provides a four-step process for right-sizing analyses, including looking at the motivation for the project, traffic management strategies, and potential economic development goals and impacts. The report includes examples of projects implemented in several states. For more information, link to the report. (1-3-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Newsletter Highlights Context Sensitive Solutions, Design Approach

An overview of technical assistance the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has provided to state transportation agencies on context sensitive solutions and design (CSS/D), as well as highlights of a project that integrated CSS/D principles, are provided in the September 2018 issue of FHWA’s Successes in Stewardship Newsletter. The issue describes CSS/D principles and describes the Watford City bypass project in North Dakota as an example of the benefits of integrating CSS/D principles into the transportation planning and project delivery process. Summary reports on assistance provided by the FHWA are available on the FHWA CSS/D web page. For more information, link to the newsletter. (9-18-18)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues State of Practice Report on Context Sensitive Solutions, Design

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a state of the practice assessment and a report on the agency’s technical assistance program regarding context sensitive solutions and design (CSS/D). The assessment is intended to demonstrate how the CSS/D process helps design better projects and accelerate project delivery. The assessment includes CSS/D best practices, case studies, and results from interviews with 12 state DOTs. The second report describes technical assistance FHWA has provided to six states as well as four virtual peer exchanges. This report documents how the six states were selected; the purpose, schedule, and format of each session; key takeaways and lessons learned; and recommendations for future technical assistance and peer exchanges. For more information, link to the assessment and the summary report. (8-20-18)

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Case Studies: ContextSensitiveSolutions.org

This website provides comprehensive information on context sensitive solutions, including an extensive collection of case studies. Link to http://contextsensitivesolutions.org/

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Case Studies: Colorado DOT - I-70 Mountain Corridor Project CSS Process

A collaborative process to ensure broad stakeholder involvement and consideration of environmental as well as community concerns has proven to be a key element in advancing a suite of multi-modal solutions for the Interstate 70 Mountain Corridor in Colorado.

On March 11, 2011, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced completion of the final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for a range of improvements to the 144-mile I-70 Corridor, a vital east-west interstate connection west of Denver and across the Rocky Mountains. This was the agency’s second attempt at a solution for the corridor, after a previous draft environmental document generated public opposition.

The PEIS is a Tier 1 NEPA document that looks at a variety of solutions for the corridor. The preferred alternative – which was developed through wide-ranging stakeholder collaboration – includes a menu of short-term and long-term multi-modal highway and transit solutions to improve transportation through the corridor, while incorporating numerous agreements for consideration of natural resources, wildlife habitat, historic resources, and community concerns.

The preferred alternative identified in the document includes three main elements: non-infrastructure components that can begin in advance of major improvements; an advanced guideway system (AGS) element that is dependent on further study and funding; and a range of highway improvements. The alternative is to be implemented in stages, ranging from a minimum program of local transportation improvements that can be addressed in the shorter term, to a maximum program of improvements – including potential for AGS – to meet projected capacity needs through 2050.

Stakeholder Collaboration

The preferred alternative is the product of years of collaboration among multiple stakeholders working alongside CDOT to identify transportation solutions to address growing congestion and projected future demand for travel along the corridor. It was developed by a group known as the “Collaborative Effort” – including representatives from local governments; highway users; and transit, environmental, business and recreation interests; as well as state and federal agencies.

Governor Signs the Collaborative Agreement

Colorado Governor Signs Collaborative Agreement. Photo: Colorado DOT

The Collaborative Effort team worked in conjunction with another group of stakeholders who were focused on incorporating CDOT’s commitment to context sensitive solutions as part of the corridor project. As part of that effort, CDOT worked in cooperation with seven counties; 27 towns; two National Forests; one ski corporation; six ski resorts; and thousands of residents, business owners, truckers, and commuters. The group developed a Context Sensitive Solutions Guidance that was used in developing the PEIS and will be followed for all future (Tier 2) projects in the corridor.

The CSS Guidance includes a commitment to form collaborative “Project Leadership Teams” on all corridor projects. For the Corridor PEIS, the Project Leadership Team formed task forces to address cultural resources issues, environmental issues, and community value issues. The task forces developed potential mitigation strategies for impacts to resources for incorporation into the PEIS.

Several memoranda of understanding and agreements were adopted outlining commitments, including:

  • A Landscape Level Inventory of Valued Ecosystem Components (ALIVE);
  • Stream and Wetland Ecological Enhancement Program (SWEEP); and
  • Section 106 Programmatic Agreement for consideration of historic resources.

Comprehensive CSS Guidance Website

The CSS Guidance for the corridor is housed on a comprehensive, interactive website. The site includes a context statement and core values developed by the CSS team, outlines the collaborative decision-making process to be used, and includes background information, maps, plans and legal commitments, as well as additional tools to implement CSS throughout the corridor.

The CSS Guidance also provides design guidelines, including overarching principles as well as more targeted engineering design criteria, areas of special attention, as well as aesthetic guidance to ensure a consistent vision for the corridor projects.

For more information on the CSS process for the corridor, link to the I-70 Mountain Corridor CSS website, and to the PEIS Appendix A, Context Sensitive Solutions. The entire PEIS – including technical reports and appendices – can be downloaded at http://www.coloradodot.info/projects/i-70mountaincorridor/final-peis/final-peis-file-download.html. For additional information on the project, contact CDOT’s I-70 Mountain Corridor Environmental Manager Wendy Wallach at wendy.wallach@dot.state.co.us.

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Case Studies: Florida DOT - Florida DOT Develops Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook to Integrate Design Flexibility and Context Sensitivity

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,” 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.

Lessons Learned

FDOT officials have identified the following key lessons learned from their Traditional Neighborhood Development efforts:

  • Balance: It is not easy to balance building state DOT roadways with the needs of the places those roads runs through. Having an established program that supports Traditional Neighborhood Development allows state DOTs to build roads and provide transportation, while simultaneously supporting communities to survive and thrive along roadways.
  • Justification: Standards like Chapter 19 and guidance like the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook help provide justification and backup for decision-making, such as when an engineer or lawyer needs clear direction on what is supposed to be done and can be done in a given situation. It is important to have roadway standards that match Traditional Neighborhood Development for successful implementation.
  • Economic Development: Realizing the potential for streets as economic development. Traditional Neighborhood Development is how you build roads that make money for your community, not just roads that move money through your community.
  • Barriers: Without Chapter 19 or the Handbook, many attempts at Traditional Neighborhood Development were running afoul of existing standards. It can be onerous for an engineer to have to apply for design exceptions every step of the way. With Traditional Neighborhood Development in the Florida Greenbook, the pathway is smoother.
  • Context: Providing Chapter 19 and the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook is one way a state DOT can show it understands the issue of context and encourage communities to consider the issue of matching streets to land use to create complete streets.

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.”

Current Efforts and Next Steps

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 dewayne.carver@dot.state.fl.us.

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Case Studies: Washington State DOT - Washington State DOT Uses ‘Practical Solutions’ to Improve Project Decisions

An approach known as Practical Solutions is allowing the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to improve and maintain the state’s transportation system in a more sustainable and cost-effective manner, while getting the most value out of its transportation investments.

Practical Solutions entails focusing first and foremost on the need for the project, rather than focusing only on existing standards and how to meet them. The approach is focused on the maximum benefit to the transportation system, rather than benefits of an individual project, allowing more needs to be addressed system-wide.

Practical Solutions emphasizes managing assets to their appropriate condition and service levels and integrating transportation modes to complement each other; it advocates the right investments in the right places at the right times with the right approach. 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.

Practical Solutions Overview training in Vancouver, Washington. (Photo:WSDOT)

“Working together to align our resources and make smart, innovative, and integrated decisions to solve transportation system needs is critical in today’s resource-constrained environment,” said Steve Roark, Director of the Development Division at WSDOT.

WSDOT’s Practical Solutions approach focuses on the following principles:

  • Starting with a clear purpose and need;
  • Considering resource constraints and life cycle costs, including operations and maintenance;
  • Engaging stakeholders and looking for partnerships;
  • Considering overall system performance;
  • Considering incremental, phased solutions; and
  • Applying innovation and creativity.

An Evolving Approach

Practical Solutions began in 2013 as part of a broader reform process instituted by the state’s transportation secretary. Since that time, the approach has continued to be of vital importance across the agency, and it is included as one of WSDOT’s three strategic goals, along with inclusion (which incorporates diversity and engagement) and workforce development.

Implementation of the approach has evolved from a two-part strategy that emphasized coordinated planning and design, to broader application. Practical Solutions now applies to everything the agency does, from administration and management to maintenance, and everything in-between. For project development, the focus on project purpose and need is sustained throughout all phases: planning, program management, environmental analysis, design, construction, and operations. The ultimate goal is to enable more flexible and sustainable transportation investment decisions, integrated across all modes and coordinated with agency partners and their systems.

While cost-effectiveness and state of good repair are cornerstones of the approach, so is community engagement and interdisciplinary, collaborative decision-making. Local stakeholders are being engaged at the earliest stages of defining project scope. Project design is based on the larger context – both land use and transportation requirements. However, the approach does not mean compromising safety, environmental compliance, or standards.

Cost Savings, Timeliness Benefits

By focusing on a broader range of solutions that go beyond traditional practices, planners and engineers are encouraged to be more creative. In addition, early engagement with the public helps make customer needs an early foundation of the process. The emphasis on planning helps to avoid overbuilding and it opens up possibilities for more, smaller projects that allow for recent advances in technology to be harnessed as they unfold (such as transportation systems management and operations and transportation demand management).

For example, at certain intersections with high crash rates, WSDOT installed warning signs that flash when cars are present, reducing crash rates by 32%-50% at a cost of less than $50,000 each. This avoided costly installation of more traditional traffic signals or roundabouts that would have cost upwards of $1 million each.

In another example, WSDOT reinforced the shoulders of SR 14 between I-205 and SE 164th Avenue to provide access for buses during heavy traffic. This solution took much less time to implement than a traditional, expensive road widening project, while improving bus transit time by 17%.

Bus lanes on the shoulder provide a practical solution on SR 14. (Photo: WSDOT)

WSDOT tracks and reports on actual practical design savings for its Connecting Washington program, and those savings are reprogrammed to future projects by the state legislature.

Challenges

According to Roark, “WSDOT is working to maximize the outcomes of good, integrated planning. We’re also working to alter our design processes so that they harvest those planning outcomes (instead of redoing them after a project need is established). These are real challenges!”

“Practical solutions require full understanding of the environmental and land use context and the purpose and need for action. These, together with the overall system needs, inform the basis of our design solutions.”

In addition, he said, “it’s sometime difficult for agency staff and our partners to understand that the most reasonable and cost-effective way to address problems and needs is not to develop and implement what would be considered ‘ultimate solutions.’”

In many cases, developing integrated, multimodal solutions that are delivered in incremental or phased solutions have a much better return-on-investment than delivering the full suite of long-range solutions.

“Transportation agencies do not have the resources to address all needs, so it is crucial that they have a process to stretch their available resources as far as possible to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs,” he added.

Training

WSDOT has a wide range of training underway to help staff implement the approach. The available curriculum includes a Practical Solutions 101 session that covers basic principles, which most employees have taken, and a more in-depth 201-level course that is underway. In addition, the agency is conducting Practical Solutions labs, bringing in subject matter experts to help design teams on specific projects.

WSDOT also provides a range of resources on its Practical Solutions web page, including an overview video and an online eLearning program.

Similar approaches – including the Federal Highway Administration’s Performance-Based Practical Design – have been successfully adopted by numerous states. FHWA has provided support, including case studies, workshops, and other training efforts

Lessons Learned

For its part, WSDOT has learned some lessons along the way that may be useful to other state DOTs, Roark said.

First, the cookie cutter approach to project design is obsolete. Second, collaboration improves the quality of a 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. Fourth, small fixes can make a big difference.

And finally, Roark said, “just keep talking and asking questions throughout the process. Highlighting good approaches pays dividend and will help achieve a common understanding of Practical Solutions and how to apply it in everything we do.”

For more information, link to WSDOT’s Practical Solutions web page, or contact Steve Roark at RoarkS@wsdot.wa.gov.

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Case Studies: AASHTO Best Practice Award Winners

Case Studies: AASHTO Best Practice Award Winners - AASHTO Best Practices in Context Sensitive Solutions Competitions

Case Studies: Links to Additional AASHTO Case Studies

AASHTO/FHWA Peer Exchange: Context Sensitive Solutions. Documents and presentations from the September 2006 peer exchange on context sensitive solutions are posted on AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence Website. The peer exchange, held in Baltimore, Md., was sponsored by the AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence in conjunction with the AASHTO CSS Task Force and the Federal Highway Administration. Over 260 participants from 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Nova Scotia participated in peer exchanges, discussing the issues and challenges to implementation. During concurrent breakout sessions sixteen projects were presented to highlight the success of CSS. Participants had the opportunities to meet with other state representatives to initiate state action plans to further implement CSS within their state and agency. Project links are listed below:

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Case Studies: Links to Additional AASHTO Case Studies - Urban Projects

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Case Studies: Links to Additional AASHTO Case Studies - Small Urban Projects

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Case Studies: Links to Additional AASHTO Case Studies - Rural Projects

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Case Studies: Links to Additional AASHTO Case Studies - Design-Build Projects

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Case Studies: Links to Additional Case Study Compilations

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Environmental Justice

Recent Developments: Policies to Advance Equity, EJ Compiled by Northeast, Mid-Atlantic States

A compilation of transportation policies to advance goals of equity and environmental justice has been issued by the bipartisan group of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic jurisdictions that make up the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI). The compilation, discussed during a Sept. 29 webinar, includes policies and actions being implemented in the 12 jurisdictions as well as multi-state policies. Jurisdictions include Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia. The webinar discussed equity-related elements that may be included in a final regional agreement to cap global warming pollution from transportation fuels and achieve additional benefits through reduced emissions, cleaner transportation, healthier communities, and more resilient infrastructure. For more information, link to the Compilation of Complementary Transportation Policies in TCI Jurisdictions and Sept. 29 webinar information. (9-29-20)

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Recent Developments: Council Issues Coordination Plan to Improve Access to Transportation

Federal agencies will better coordinate transportation services to enhance access for people with disabilities, older adults, and individuals of low income, according to a Report to the President from the Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM). The report identifies a range of challenges and describes the council’s strategic plan, including goals to: improve access to community through transportation; enhance cost-effectiveness of coordinated transportation; strengthen interagency partnerships and collaboration with state, local, and industry groups; and demonstrate innovative coordinated transportation. For more information, access the report. (10-1-20)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO Virtual EJ Peer Exchange Materials Available

The Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO held an Environmental Justice Virtual Peer Exchange on July 10, in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration and the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations. The event included two panel discussions, one on integrating health into transportation planning, and another on EJ considerations for planning and environmental linkages (PEL). Access materials here. (8-4-20)

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Recent Developments: Georgetown Climate Center Issues Toolkit on Equitable Adaptation to Climate Impacts

A toolkit to aid in achieving equitable approaches for addressing climate impacts has been developed by the Georgetown Climate Center. The Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit features emerging practices, legal and policy tools, and more than 100 case studies. The toolkit explores concepts of procedural equity, including community-driven engagement; governance and budgeting; and data, metrics, and monitoring tools. The toolkit then provides in-depth exploration of eight specific subjects to help guide community-driven planning processes and implementation of solutions. These include: economic resilience; resilient affordable housing, anti-displacement and gentrification; natural resilience and green space; resilient energy and utility industry measures; resilient water; equitable disaster preparedness, response and recovery; public health; and funding and financing tools. For more information, link to the toolkit. (7-29-20)

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Recent Developments: July 10: AASHTO To Host Virtual EJ Peer Exchange

The Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO is holding an Environmental Justice Virtual Peer Exchange in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration and the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations. The two-hour virtual peer exchange will be broken up into two panel discussions, one focused on the connection between health and transportation and the other on Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL). The event will include interactive components including question and answer portions after each panel discussion and audience polling. For more information and registration, link here. (6-18-20)

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Recent Developments: Webinar Materials Available: Environmental Justice Analysis Strategies

Materials and a recording are now available from a webinar on the Environmental Justice Analysis Strategies Peer Exchange held at the 2019 AMPO Annual Conference. The session, sponsored by AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence, in collaboration with FHWA and AMPO, provided an opportunity for participants from state DOTs and MPOs to discuss challenges associated with environmental justice analyses. It included discussions of inter-agency collaboration, training, technical assistance, and capacity building needs. This webinar features highlights and updates from the session from FHWA, AMPO, and AASHTO, as well as presentations from a state DOT and MPO on their peer exchange takeaways and EJ efforts. For more information, link to the webinar and infographic. (3-24-20)

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Recent Developments: Study Evaluates Shared-Use Mobility Services in Rural Areas

A study by UC Davis found that shared-use mobility services have the potential to improve access and reduce costs in rural disadvantaged communities. The study compared the cost-effectiveness of existing inter-city transit service in rural disadvantaged communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley to hypothetical ridesharing and carsharing services. It also reviewed existing shared-use mobility pilots and consulted with experts to develop concepts for future shared mobility pilot programs in the San Joaquin Valley. For more information, link to the study. (3-25-20)

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Recent Developments: Recording Available: AASHTO Webinar on Data and Environmental Justice

AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence held a webinar on data and environmental justice analysis on Jan. 27. Presenters discussed AASHTO’s Census Transportation Planning Products Program (CTPP), a State DOT-funded, cooperative program that produces special tabulations of American Community Survey data that have enhanced value for transportation planning, analysis, and strategic direction. In addition, presenters discussed an upcoming equity module that is currently under development and a case study on how the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission is using an application for analysis. For the recording and presentation, link here. (2-20-20)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence to Hold Webinar on Data and Environmental Justice

AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence will hold a webinar on data and environmental justice analysis on Monday, Jan. 27 at 3PM ET. In this webinar, attendees will learn about AASHTO’s Census Transportation Planning Products Program (CTPP), a State DOT-funded, cooperative program that produces special tabulations of American Community Survey (ACS) data that have enhanced value for transportation planning, analysis, and strategic direction. In addition, presenters will discuss an upcoming equity module that is currently under development, and will present a case study on how the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission is using an application it made for analysis. Registration and additional information can be found here.

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Recent Developments: Group Identifies Barriers, Strategies for Transportation and Health Equity

A field scan of the current state of affairs regarding health equity in the national transportation system, along with recommendations for addressing the challenges, has been issued by Smart Growth America. The report identifies key barriers to creating a more healthy and equitable transportation system, one that would be focused on getting people where they need to go safely and affordably. The report also provides strategies in six critical areas. The group will host a webinar Jan. 23, 2020, to discuss the findings. For more information, link to The State of Transportation and Health Equity. (12-17-19)

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Recent Developments: EPA Issues 2019 Report on Environmental Justice Efforts

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued its fiscal year 2019 progress report on achievements made to enhance environmental justice. The EPA’s efforts include providing approximately $50 million under the Diesel Emission Reduction Act grant program to applicants with a proven ability to reduce diesel emissions in communities facing environmental justice concerns. The agency also says it delivered $64.6 million in brownfields grants to 149 communities to assess, clean up, and reuse contaminated properties, and deleted all or part of 27 sites from the Superfund National Priorities List. The report also catalogs various training and outreach efforts. These include reaching more than 4,000 people from government agencies in all 50 states with online training on how to integrate environmental justice into state programs, training approximately 12,350 community residents, and conducting approximately 300 workshops and community forum activities. For more information, link to the report. (11-20-19)

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Recent Developments: Dec. 4 AASHTO Webinar: Environmental Justice Analysis Strategies at the 2019 AMPO Annual Conference

AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence, in collaboration with FHWA and AMPO, recently held a peer exchange on Environmental Justice Analysis Strategies at the 2019 AMPO Annual Conference. The session provided an opportunity for participants from state DOTs and MPOs to discuss challenges associated with environmental justice analyses; including inter-agency collaboration, training, technical assistance, and capacity building needs. This webinar will feature highlights and updates from the session from FHWA, AMPO, and AASHTO, as well as presentations from a state DOT and MPO on their peer exchange takeaways and EJ efforts. For more information, link here. (11-20-19)

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Recent Developments: Group Issues Report on Equity and Smart Mobility

A new report addresses the need for greater social equity in connection with newer “smart mobility” options, such as expanded transit, transportation network companies including Uber and Lyft, and car and bike sharing. The report from the Center for Neighborhood Technology discusses how mobility links people to employment, goods and services, health care, education, social activities, recreation, and cultural activities, but that access to these transportation options in the U.S. is not always equitable. The report says that communities of color, especially those of limited means, struggle to get reliable and affordable transportation, and that smart mobility may be maintaining, or even increasing, existing inequities. The report is based on national data and local insights. For more information, link to the report. (9-13-19)

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Recent Developments: Social Equity the Focus of GIS in Transportation Newsletter

Using geographic information systems (GIS) to map environmental justice populations and examine social equity impacts is the topic of the August issue of the Federal Highway Administration’s GIS in Transportation newsletter. The newsletter includes articles about a mapping tool developed by the USDOT’s Volpe Center, the use of data and methods for identifying protected populations, and equity analysis as part of a transportation improvement program, from the perspective of a metropolitan planning organization. The newsletter also highlights news and events relevant to the GIS community. For more information, link to the newsletter. (8-14-19)

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Recent Developments: Environmental Justice CoP Survey: Webinar and Materials Available

The results of a survey of state transportation agencies’ environmental justice training needs were outlined in an AASHTO webinar held July 8, 2019. The survey focused on the frequency of trainings, information, resource gaps, emerging and innovative issues, and members' familiarity with existing resources. For more information, link to the webinar and presentation. (7-17-19)

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Recent Developments: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic States Hold Equity Workshop

A workshop on advancing equity and opportunities for communities was held on May 15, 2019, by the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that participate in the Transportation & Climate Initiative. States discussed regional policy issues and a cap-and-invest approach to reducing emissions from transportation. Presentations also highlighted economic and health disparities in areas that face pollution and that are underserved by transportation systems. For more information and a workshop recording, link here. (6-4-19)

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Recent Developments: Climate Group Developing an Equitable Adaptation Toolkit

The Georgetown Climate Center has announced work on developing a toolkit to help public agencies and policymakers build social and economic equity into climate resilience planning. The Equitable Adaptation Toolkit will feature best practices and substantive policy solutions for achieving equitable outcomes through city resilience initiatives to provide examples that communities and community-based organizations can use. It also will provide case study examples of planning initiatives, legal, and policy solutions that have been advanced through community planning, and best practice examples. The toolkit is due for release in 2020. For more information, link to the announcement. (4-1-19)

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Recent Developments: EPA Launches Environmental Justice Training for States

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a national environmental justice training program. The program consists of five training webinars, which will be accessible through a publicly available website, aimed at building capacity in the states to integrate environmental justice into decision making and develop environmental justice knowledge and expertise. Planned topics include identifying and prioritizing environmentally impacted and vulnerable communities, enhancing community involvement in the regulatory process, using an area-wide planning approach to promote equitable development, and applying EJ to state environmental impact assessments. In addition, the EPA Regions will conduct training for their respective states. For more information, link to the announcement. (3-15-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Two EJ State of the Practice Reports

The Federal Highway Administration has issued two new reviews of the state of the practice concerning environmental justice in highway programs. Environmental Justice Analysis in Transportation Planning and Programming: State of the Practice describes how state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations are considering and addressing environmental justice concerns, based on a review of all 52 DOTs and a sample of 100 MPOs. The report addresses commonly applied techniques and new EJ approaches, including identifying and engaging with EJ populations; understanding the needs of EJ populations; assessing the benefits and costs of proposed plans; determining disproportionately high and adverse effects on EJ populations; and strategies to address such effects. Addressing Changing Demographics in Environmental Justice Analysis: State of the Practice documents how MPOs and DOTs are adapting EJ analysis to understand communities undergoing rapid demographic change. The report discusses trends in the size and location of low-income and minority households. The report also highlights strategies for addressing changing demographics in EJ analysis and provides five case studies. (3-21-19)

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Recent Developments: Study Describes Use of Zoning, Land Use Policies for Environmental Justice

A report from the Tishman Environment and Design Center describes ways communities are using local zoning and land-use policies to address environmental justice concerns. The report, Local Policies for Environmental Justice: A National Scan, compiles 40 policies from across the U.S. Types of policies include bans on specific types of facilities, incorporation of environmental justice goals into municipal activities, and application of environmental review processes to new or expanded developments. Other policy types include proactive planning targeted at future development, targeted land use measures that address sources of pollution, and enhanced public health codes. For more information, link to the report. (2-21-19)

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Recent Developments: Webinar Outlines Process for Title VI Complaints

An overview of the process for filing complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act was provided in a webinar hosted by the Federal Highway Administration. The webinar covered laws, regulations, and guidance; information on filing and processing of complaints; and investigation processes and outcomes. For more information, link to the webinar and related resources. (2-5-19)

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Case Studies: Ohio DOT - Public Engagement Helps Ohio DOT Reduce Impacts from Cleveland Corridor Project

LINK TO PDF

The Ohio Department of Transportation is using public engagement methods to identify ways to reduce potential impacts on low-income and minority residents from a new 3.5-mile urban boulevard project in Cleveland.

The environmental justice efforts related to the “Cleveland Opportunity Corridor” project have been well received by residents and have resulted in several strategies approved by the impacted neighborhoods.

The project, which is expected to support the revival and redevelopment of an underserved area of Cleveland, required mitigation to address potential adverse impacts on the high percentage of low income and minority populations living and working within the project area. The project is jointly managed by the Ohio Department of Transportation, the City of Cleveland, Greater Cleveland Partnership, and the Opportunity Corridor Partnership Office.

Public Engagement

ODOT begin public engagement in 2009 to obtain input from the affected neighborhoods. ODOT and the city provided information and solicited feedback using fliers posted at churches, community centers, and recreational facilities; verbal and written surveys and questionnaires; map and design exercises; one-on-one meetings; announcements through email, media advisories, direct mail, newspaper advertisements, and press releases; and interviews with residents and local businesses.

Over time, the project team adapted to the needs of the community. For example, reader-friendly newsletters and large-size font size on printed material were created, U.S. Postal Service data were used to reach more people including both property owners and tenants, and postage stamps were made available at meetings to facilitate the mailing of comments.

In-person meetings were designed to encourage participation. Meetings were held both in the evening and during the day to address concerns about safety and to be available to older adults and small business owners. Meetings were held in neutral locations within each neighborhood, and meeting sites were located as close as possible to residents and businesses.

ODOT also allowed attendees to rank and indicate their level of support for various functional elements and amenities, such as wayfinding signage, ornamental lighting, and dedicated bike lanes and streetscape elements.

The flexibility and diversity of public involvement methods allowed the project team to identify what the community felt was important and what types of mitigation measures would be the most beneficial. These methods also allowed ODOT to reach more people in the communities and, therefore, more people were able to participate and provide their input.

Mitigation Measures

Based on these outreach efforts and the project team’s environmental justice impact analysis, ODOT and the City of Cleveland committed to various measures to mitigate potential impacts of the highway project.

One measure is the construction of two pedestrian and bike bridges. The neighborhoods in the project area abut segments of track used by freight railroad and rail transit. As part of the project, ODOT will create a bridge near the southern end of the project near the I-490/E 55th street interchange to provide access over the new boulevard for residents in the nearby neighborhood. The bridge will grant access to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority transit station just north of the boulevard.

A second bridge for pedestrians and cyclists will replace the existing vehicle bridge on East 89th Street that is scheduled for removal. This will maintain connection between neighborhoods north and south of the railroad tracks.

Additionally, ODOT is contributing $500,000 toward the planned expansion of the Kenneth L. Johnson Recreation Center, a city-owned park and fitness center that is an important community facility community. As another commitment, ODOT is providing at least $500,000 toward diversity hiring, using small and disadvantaged businesses as contractors, and providing job training and employment for people living in the vicinity of the project.

Other mitigation measures include relocation assistance for required and voluntary residential relocations, the installation of noise walls, and enhancements throughout the neighborhoods, such as improved streetscapes, enhanced bus shelters, and more street lighting.

Context-specific public engagement activities assisted the project team in identifying mitigation measures that would best meet the needs of the community. Some of these measures included providing job training and voluntary housing relocation, which are not common mitigation measures for ODOT. Others included improving pedestrian access and safety, which occur much more frequently. Since the public had the opportunity to provide their input and explain what was most important to them at multiple points during project development, ODOT was able to design the project to have lasting benefits.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

The project team knew early in project development that the Opportunity Corridor’s complexity and location would require special consideration. While the goal of the project was to improve quality of life by providing better links and mobility and supporting economic development, there also would be negative impacts.

Working closely with community leaders and engaging a national environmental justice expert helped ensure that ODOT was incorporating the concerns of the community into project planning. The agency learned the importance of working very closely with the communities and being flexible with plans to engage the public. It is important to have the ability to change and adapt both public involvement activities and the project itself to meet the public’s needs.

The project was scheduled to be completed in three phases. Sections one and two have been opened to traffic as of November 2018. Section three, which includes both of the new pedestrian and bicycle bridges, is scheduled for completion by the fall of 2021.

For more information about the Opportunity Corridor, see the project website or contact Erica Schneider, ODOT Assistant Environmental Administrator, at Erica.Schneider@dot.ohio.gov.

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Case Studies: Ohio DOT - Ohio DOT Provides Step-by-Step Guidance for Environmental Justice Analysis

As environmental justice in infrastructure planning and construction continues to be promoted at the federal level, state transportation agencies are finding ways to make the process more defined for staff and consultants.

At the Ohio Department of Transportation, recent revisions to the agency’s environmental justice guidelines update the agency’s procedures with a focus on clarifying the extent of analysis needed for projects and environmental reviews in the state.

Public outreach is an important aspect of environmental justice compliance. This public meeting was held during the planning phase for the Opportunity Corridor project in Cleveland. Photo: Ohio DOT

The ODOT Environmental Justice Guidance uses a step-by-step format to explain what practitioners must do to comply with state and federal environmental justice requirements.

The steps include identifying environmental justice populations within the study area using a mapping tool, answering a series of questions to determine whether a full-scale environmental justice analysis report is required, and if required, conducting the analysis and report as outlined in the guidance.

EJ Process in Ohio

Environmental justice has been a part of the conversation with regard to transportation projects for at least two decades.

Environmental justice populations—specifically minority and low-income groups—can be disproportionately impacted by transportation projects, and these impacts can vary depending on a project’s scale, scope and location, according to Erica Schneider, Assistant Administrator with ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services.

Like all state transportation agencies, ODOT developed its environmental justice program in response to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Presidential Executive Order 12898, Department of Transportation Order 5610.2, and FHWA Order 6640.23A.

ODOT’s environmental justice procedures resulted from many months of work with the Federal Highway Administration’s Ohio Division, Schneider said. “It was a collaborative process that took several months of discussions and a fair amount of compromise,” Schneider said. Once the division office was comfortable with it, ODOT worked with FHWA headquarters and Resource Center, she added.

Identifying EJ Populations

ODOT’s guidance uses a tiered method to evaluate environmental justice considerations. The first step relies on the Environmental Protection Agency’s EJScreen web-based tool, which places U.S. Census population data on a map at the block and block group levels. Block groups are clusters of blocks within the same census tract, generally defined to contain between 600 and 3,000 people, used to present statistical data and control block numbering.

According to the guidance, the individual performing the analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) uses EJView to locate the project or study area and, using the data filters, identifies the percent of minority or low income residents.

“Project [area] limits are identified by earlier studies (traffic, safety, etc.) that define the purpose of the project,” Schneider said. “Those limits in turn help identify the block groups that could be impacted by a project and by the activities associated with the project.”

The key threshold for environmental justice populations is 40 percent, according to the guidance. “If all of the block groups within your proposed project area indicate Environmental Justice populations below 40%, then no additional Environmental Justice analysis or coordination is required,” the guidance said.

However, if either the minority or the low-income populations are at 40 percent or above, the practitioner is required to answer a set of questions to determine potential impacts.

Determining Potential Impacts

The questions in the guidance make a decision tree that leads the practitioner to draw conclusions about whether the project will have a disproportionately high and adverse effect on the target populations.

“Our guidance is, in many ways, a screening tool to screen out projects with little to no potential to impact EJ communities,” Schneider said.

“The questions in the guidance are specifically geared toward identifying potential impacts,” Schneider said.

For example, the questions address the following issues:

  • Are there any relocations?
  • Will there be any changes to access?
  • Were any environmental justice issues that could result in a disproportionately high and adverse effect raised during public involvement?
  • Are there any other unique factors of the proposed project that could pose a disproportionately high and adverse impact on an environmental justice population?

Depending on the resulting answers, a full Environmental Justice Analysis Report may be required.

Conducting Full Analysis, Report

When a full analysis is required, a report is prepared “to determine whether or not your project will have a disproportionately high and adverse impact to an Environmental Justice population and to document any avoidance and mitigation measures,” the guidance said.

The guidance provides a general outline of what information should be included in the report. The seven basic elements include:

  1. Project description;
  2. Summary of purpose and need statement;
  3. Discussion of environmental justice populations;
  4. Discussion of impacts to environmental justice populations;
  5. Public involvement summary;
  6. Discussion of avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures; and
  7. A summary, including justification for the determination.

For projects that require in-depth analyses, the guidance urges users to work with ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services, Policy and Cultural Resources Section for more direction and project-specific assistance on determining how to address potential impacts.

Guidance Applies to NEPA Process

The ODOT guidance must be followed for all environmental assessments, environmental impact statements, and most categorical exclusion levels under ODOT’s 2015 Programmatic Categorical Exclusion Agreement.

Although the guidance is built into ODOT’s Online Categorical Exclusion System, the environmental justice process is essentially the same for more complex environmental documents, according to Schneider, except that “the documentation part is a little different.”

Projects requiring an environmental assessment or environmental impacts statement “often have a higher potential for impacts, but not necessarily,” Schneider added.

Schneider said that less than 1 percent of projects per year require a full Environmental Justice Analysis Report. But for those projects that may impact environmental justice populations, the guidance encourages staff to coordinate with ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services “as early as possible.”

Lessons Learned

Schneider noted several lessons learned in developing the process.

“We strongly emphasize a common sense approach to looking at projects,” Schneider said. “If it makes sense to look farther out [from the project boundaries], we would do so.” Regarding the decision to rely on the EJView tool, it was the result of a lot of work with FHWA division staff and EPA staff, according to Schneider. “We didn’t find a better tool to use,” Schneider said. She recommends use of EJView to other departments of transportation, unless and until something better is developed.

Additionally, Schneider emphasized the importance of making sure the analysis is meaningful.

“We constantly remind our staff and consultants that you can’t just go through the motions,” Schneider said. “Simply having less than 40 percent EJ populations or answering ‘no’ to all of the questions doesn’t mean consideration of EJ populations ends there. We still expect practitioners to use common sense. If there are EJ populations that may require specific public outreach efforts, then that needs to be done. If EJ issues are raised during public involvement activities or there are other project-related circumstances that could cause an impact to EJ populations, those need to be taken into account and addressed.”

Schneider said the guidance has been well received both by consultants and ODOT staff. “It has streamlined our processes by helping screen out projects that don't require further work,” and to “target what we need to focus on,” she said.

For more information, link to ODOT's environmental justice program or contact ODOT’s Erica Schneider at Erica.Schneider@dot.state.oh.us.

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Case Studies: Pennsylvania DOT - Pennsylvania DOT Develops Separate EJ Guidance for Planning, Project Levels

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is successfully integrating input from minority and low-income populations (environmental justice [EJ] populations) and consistently documenting its EJ analyses and findings through use of planning- and project-level guidance developed by the agency.

Executive Order 12898 (1994), Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, directs federal actions to avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including socioeconomic, on EJ populations. However, Executive Order 12898 did not provide guidance on how to identify EJ populations, or how to determine if impacts are disproportionately high and adverse.

EJ Guidance at PennDOT

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) approach to implementing Executive Order 12898 (1994)—as well as subsequent Memorandum of Understanding on EJ signed by heads of federal agencies (2011) and DOT’s Final EJ Order 5610.2(a) (2012)—uses guidance documents that are distributed to districts for implementation. In addition to guidance it developed for regional planning-level EJ analyses, PennDOT, also has developed project-level guidance to promote consistency in EJ analyses conducted for relatively minor-impact projects across the state.

Two notable factors influencing PennDOT’s EJ approach include: 1) the agency is decentralized, with projects held at the district-level, and 2) around 99 percent of current PennDOT projects are Categorical Exclusions (CEs) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Pennsylvania develops planning level guidance, Every Voice Counts. Photo: PennDOT

Planning-Level Guidance

Initially, PennDOT developed an EJ guidance for statewide planning and programming processes, Every Voice Counts (2004, updated 2012). PennDOT drew from best practices and existing resources proven to work in practice to develop its EJ guidance. Every Voice Counts describes PennDOT’s regional planning-level EJ responsibilities as: 1) identifying EJ population presence within planning areas; 2) engaging EJ populations in public involvement and subsequent documentation of that engagement; 3) assessing the effects of transportation policies, investments, and programs on EJ populations; and 4) avoiding, minimizing, or mitigating, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse effects.

According to PennDOT’s Transportation Planning Manager Brian Wall, despite the initial Every Voice Counts guidance there were dramatic differences in how EJ efforts were being conducted and documented throughout the state due to the agency’s decentralized operational structure and the number of metropolitan and rural planning organizations and the various staffing levels at those organizations. Therefore, in 2012, as a result of a strengths/weaknesses assessment, PennDOT expanded its EJ guidance and provided clear examples of how to conduct an EJ analysis at the planning level.

Project-Level Guidance

After implementing its planning-level EJ guidance for nearly a decade, PennDOT developed its Project Level Environmental Justice Guidance in 2013. The guidance provides a step-by-step EJ analysis framework to ensure requirements of Executive Order 12898 are appropriately identified, considered, and documented at the project level. Because PennDOT is decentralized, the project-level guidance provides consistency across DOT districts in their approach to EJ analyses.

Additionally, with nearly all PennDOT projects falling under CEs with minimal impacts, PennDOT Environmental Planning Manager Drew Ames said that it can be tough to document EJ efforts. The project-level guidance addresses the issue of determining the presence of EJ populations, appropriate level of documentation, and determining disproportionate adverse impacts. The guidance explains what needs to be done after a project is on the Transportation Improvement Program and preliminary engineering begins, and includes criteria that would qualify a project as exempt from a detailed EJ analysis.

PennDOT provides and documents consideration of potential impacts to EJ populations for categorically excluded projects in the on-line Categorical Exclusion Expert System. For CEs falling under 23 CFR 771.117(d), that are not otherwise covered by a programmatic agreement, the system prompts preparers to answer a series of questions regarding EJ that are based on the analysis described in the guidance document.

In addition, the project-level guidance includes several real-world case studies that describe how project teams reached out to and engaged EJ populations, what data were gathered and analyzed to determine if EJ populations are located in the study area, and what project impacts and benefits were evaluated to determine if the project caused disproportionate and adverse impacts to EJ populations. Moreover, the case studies include helpful “lessons learned” so that other EJ analyses are informed by past experiences. Examples of lessons cited in the guidance include the following:

  • While review of demographic data helps to identify the presence of EJ populations, field views and discussions with local stakeholders can provide valuable insights that cannot be drawn from review of demographic data alone.
  • Enlisting EJ community representatives on community advisory committees can help gain the EJ community’s trust and support for a project.
  • The study area size and shape may require information to be collected from a variety of census data geographies, and may impact the level of effort and resources needed for data collection.
  • Project teams should always check their assumptions about adverse impacts by discussing impacts with EJ populations. What might be considered an adverse impact by project engineers and planners may or may not be interpreted as adverse by the community.

Key Takeaways

PennDOT has realized the following key points and lessons learned in implementing the agency’s planning- and project-level EJ guidance:

  • Documentation: Regardless of a project’s size, it is important to state clearly what types of information or data were considered to identify the presence of EJ populations (e.g. Census data), how EJ populations were engaged in project scoping and the development of project alternatives and any mitigation measures, and how project design may have changed as a result of input from EJ populations.
  • Balance: An EJ analysis is never a “one size fits all” analysis. It is location, community and context-driven, based on the project’s direct, indirect and cumulative impacts and how those impacts are experienced by EJ populations, both positively and negatively.
  • Process efficiencies: Providing a unified guidance for application across jurisdictions helps streamline the state’s EJ analyses and documentation. For example, the process outlined in Every Voice Counts has led to better “benefits and burdens” analysis in long range transportation planning, particularly through the use of GIS.
  • Consolidation: The guidance is intended to consolidate the wealth of information into a document that is easy to access and use for replication across the state—and for other state DOTs.
  • Context: Familiarity with a project area and its residents is irreplaceable. Taking the extra step—such as proactively speaking directly with a community—creates opportunity for more meaningful engagement, a better informed EJ analysis and proactive issue resolution promoting a more collaborative decision-making process.

Overall, PennDOT’s implementation of both its planning-level and project-level EJ guidance documents has enhanced the agency’s ability to integrate meaningful input from EJ populations into its plans, programs, and projects, and has allowed the agency to consistently document its EJ analyses and findings.

For more information on PennDOT’s planning-level EJ guidance, contact Planning-Level EJ Guidance Brian Wall, PennDOT Transportation Planning Manager at bwall@pa.gov. For information on the project-level guidance, contact Drew Ames, PennDOT Environmental Planning Manager, at johname@pa.gov.

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Case Studies: Public Outreach Using Social Media - Using Social Media to Reach Environmental Justice Communities

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Executive Order 12898 requires Federal Agencies to identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse effects of the agency’s programs, policies and activities on minority and low-income populations, often referred to as Environmental Justice (EJ) communities. Social media can be used as one of many methods to reach out to and engage EJ communities. In an effort to ensure that efforts to engage EJ communities through social media are effective, state DOTs and MPOs work to identify and develop the most appropriate social media strategy to reach and target EJ populations.

Overview

According to Pew Research Center, approximately 7 in 10 American adults use social media. The use of at least one social media site continues to grow steadily across all demographics regardless of race, ethnicity, income, age, or gender. For example, Pew research by race shows that 69 percent of people who are African American and 72 percent of those who are of Hispanic origin use at least one social media site. Seventy-four percent of the population who make under $50,000 also use at least one social media site. Most young adults age 18-29 (88 percent) use social media. From a gender perspective, a higher percentage of women (73 percent) social media than men (65 percent).

Social Media can be used as an outreach tool to:

  • Advertise upcoming community meetings or events.
  • Provide timely information and resources about transportation plans and projects.
  • Solicit input, monitor feedback, and collect reactions about upcoming or existing transportation plans and projects.

Social media data analytics tools and resources offer agencies additional insight on EJ populations to assist with future public outreach strategies that evaluate and address EJ as part of transportation planning and development. They help to provide meaningful insights and additional details about the comfortable engagement practices for particular populations that can be used to reach people who may not participate in traditional outreach and engagement efforts such as in-person meetings, helping to form a successful social media strategy. Social media guides and plans can include details and research on best practices such as tone, content, and tips on best practices for EJ communities or low-income communities. Just as with in-person interactions, social media accounts will need to fully understand how to communicate in a culturally appropriate and effective manner.

Community leaders are a key asset in understanding the cultural nuances and serving as conduits in EJ communities. For example, the Buford Highway Pedestrian Improvement project at the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) focused efforts on high school involvement by creating a public service announcement competition. GDOT used Facebook and Twitter to spread the PSA competition information and to reach a specific audience. Along with the use of social media, GDOT also utilized more traditional outreach efforts to reach high school students. These efforts included in-person community outreach efforts in supermarkets that catered to both language and cultural preferences.

While social media can be used as a tool for community outreach and engagement, it can also be a successful tool to build peer networks within an agency and to help facilitate and foster inter-agency collaboration. Social media development allows for agencies to participate in trends to learn more about user interest, coordinate with partners, interact with audiences, and highlight meetings and community events. These are all areas highlighted in the Practitioners Peer Exchange Environmental Justice Roadmap.

North Central Texas Council of Governments

In 2017, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) transportation department developed a social media design guide that provided in-depth details on graphic dimensions, typography, watermarks, layouts, design trends, and photos. NCTCOG also developed a strategic plan and style guide to modernize the tone of social media. The additional resources NCTCOG placed on social media were used to target outreach and advertising for the transportation department.

Using a variety of communication platforms, NCTCOG identified six types of posts for engagement:

  1. Transportation Related News
  2. Project and program specific information
  3. Holiday and event graphics
  4. Video
  5. Just for Fun
  6. Safety

NCTCOG’s social media strategy studied the impact of hashtags and found that posts with hashtags received two times more engagement than posts without hashtags. They also found that the time of day and the visual content made a difference in impressions and engagement. NCTCOG’s manager of public involvement, Amanda Wilson, noted, “It is extremely difficult to get the attention of social media users between busy news feeds and algorithms that don’t show an organization’s posts to all followers. We analyzed what works and doesn’t work to reach our audience and focused on changes we can make, like when we post and using visually appealing graphics, to achieve greater engagement and impressions.”

Impressions are the number of times a social media post has been seen. Social media platforms use algorithms to determine which users to show certain content and not all of an organization’s followers will see each post. Impressions can be higher if you post at correct times, use graphics that attract attention, get “likes” or other reactions, or if people share an organization’s post. The reactions, comments or shares are especially important because it amplifies the impressions – getting the message out even to people who don’t directly follow the organization.

NCTCOG Graphic

NCTCOG experienced a 25 percent higher engagement rate when social media used:

  • Human tone - communicating in a way that is more personable and conversational.
  • Fun, light-hearted content
  • Content and voice mirror pages followed by staff at NCTCOG
  • Strategic plan, style guide and design guide

NCTCOG used these strategies for AirCheckTexas, a program that assists low- and moderate-income individuals repair or replace vehicles that don’t pass a state emissions inspection. Program interest and shares have increased significantly in the program since it started advertising on Facebook. The Facebook advertising uses visually appealing graphics and a call to action with the message “ACT NOW!” Geotargeting, which is tailoring an ad based on demographics and key words, has helped to “zero in” on individuals who are more likely to qualify for the program versus advertising that is not targeted. An additional way the reach of these ads has been expanded is when people “tag” their friends who may not have seen the advertisement. This type of word-of-mouth marketing can increase the effectiveness of paid advertising.

NCTCOG also invested in paid advertising on Facebook that linked to a transportation planning survey (Mobility 2045). The paid ads targeted EJ communities, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, including ads produced in Spanish that targeted persons of Hispanic origin. In addition to expanding the reach of the survey in hopes of getting a higher number of completions, the paid advertising allowed NCTCOG to gather analytic data that showed which type of advertising was most effective. NCTCOG tested two types of ads, one using general professional language, and the other using more colloquial informal language.

The highest survey response rate came from those developed using general professional language and targeted to a general population. However, ads in Spanish targeted to the Hispanic community also had a higher response rate. For those that responded to the survey in Spanish, 90 percent were directed from Facebook advertising, showing that the advertising did help push a higher response. This was the first time social media advertising was used to specifically promote an MTP survey, but it will likely be used again in the future.

Peer Exchange Discussions

In a peer exchange discussion between Minnesota, Ohio, and Massachusetts a Transportation Planning Capacity Building (TPCB) Peer Program report highlighted the use of social media and public outreach. During the discussion representatives from state DOTs provided specific examples of public involvement strategies for their respective states. Strategies to maximize public participation included public meetings as well a full use of social media tools and efforts. Ohio Department of Transportation, Office of Environmental Services Administrator, Timothy Hill adds, “In Ohio’s project example, social media was (and continues to be) a vital tool in reaching Ohio’s public. Long gone are the days where a state DOT would post an advertisement in the paper for a meeting and people would come. Today’s world requires a full use of the social media palate and state DOTs should be flexible and know when (and how) to apply to best tools for their specific project’s needs.”

Additional Resources:

Additional Sources:

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Case Studies: Compilations

  • The Federal Highway Administration has several case study compilations, including a Transportation and Environmental Justice Case Studies booklet. There are two sets of case studies which provide examples of effective practices which promote EJ. While these case studies were developed some time ago, the themes of public involvement and data collection are still relevant to EJ in practice. The first set, Transportation and EJ case studies, features stories and identifies commonplace techniques that have been used to promote EJ in transportation planning. The second set, EJ and NEPA case studies, were developed with a focus on EJ analysis during the environmental review process.

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Environmental Management Systems

Recent Developments: Tutorial Posted on Environmental Management Systems Tool for DOTs

Resources including a recorded tutorial are now available for implementation of a recent National Cooperative Highway Research Program study on environmental management systems. The study provides an analysis of how transportation agencies currently are using Environmental Management Systems, along with a related benchmarking tool for DOTs, have been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The project (NCHRP 25-25 (111)) is intended to improve understanding and awareness of EMS and facilitate assessment of EMSs at state DOTs. A spreadsheet-based EMS “information array” provides links to literature sources, DOT examples, and survey data, as well as a prototype benchmarking tool for gap identification at the agency level. A “scrolling” version of the EMS tool also can be used to benchmark individual state programs against survey data from other DOTs. For more information, link to the final report; the Information Array; recorded tutorial and presentation slides. (3-7-19)

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Study Provides EMS Analysis, Benchmarking Tool for DOTs

An analysis of how transportation agencies currently are using Environmental Management Systems, along with a related benchmarking tool for DOTs, have been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The project (NCHRP 25-25 (111)) is intended to improve understanding and awareness of EMS and facilitate assessment of EMSs at state DOTs. A spreadsheet-based EMS “information array” provides links to literature sources, DOT examples, and survey data, as well as a prototype benchmarking tool for gap identification at the agency level. A “scrolling” version of the EMS tool also can be used to benchmark individual state programs against survey data from other DOTs. For more information, link to the study. (1-4-19)

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Case Studies: EMS Implementation Update Case Studies

The AASHTO Standing Committee on Highways report Environmental Management Systems Implementation Update (2006) found that 27 state transportation agencies either had implemented or were in the process of developing EMSs. This level of activity reinforces the growing awareness on the part of transportation agencies of the performance achievements available through an EMS. The report includes a series of case studies, which can be accessed by following the report link above. The following case studies are provided:

  • California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) - Environmental Commitment Record (ECR); Standard Tracking and Exchange Vehicle for Environmental System (STEVE); and Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report Tool (PEAR)
  • Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) - Efficient Transportation Decision Making (ETDM)
  • Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) - Environmental Management System
  • Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) - Environmental Strategic Plan and Management Systems
  • Massachusetts Department of Transportation (Mass Highway) - Environmental Management System
  • New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) - Environmental Management System for Traffic Bureau
  • New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) - New York State DOT's Environmental Initiative
  • Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PENNDOT) - Strategic Environmental Management Program (SEMP); and Categorical Exclusion/Environmental Assessment Expert System
  • Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) - Internal Environmental Systems Supporting Project Development, Construction Operations, and Facility Operations
  • Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District (Tri-Met) - Environmental Management System
  • Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) - Commitments Fulfillment EMS Work Plan
  • Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) - Environmental Management System

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FAST Act/MAP-21

Recent Developments: FAQ Document Addresses Transportation Performance Management

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)

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Recent Developments: FTA Guidebooks Address Transportation Asset Management Final Rule

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)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Reports Describe Improvement of Transportation Assets

The operation, maintenance and improvement of transportation assets is addressed in two new reports released by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The reports address FHWA’s Asset Management Rule that requires state departments of transportation to implement risk-based management plans and determine the benefits and costs over the life cycle of transportation assets. The first report, Incorporating Risk Management Into Transportation Asset Management Plans, specifies how to evaluate and prioritize risks and addresses risks associated with operations and environmental conditions. The second report, Using A Life Cycle Planning Process To Support Asset Management, provides a five step life cycle planning process and includes planning scenarios and how to use the results to improve financial planning. For more information, link to the risk and life cycle reports. (June 2017)

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Recent Developments: Workshops to Address MAP-21 Performance Management Framework

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is hosting a series of workshops concerning transportation performance management. The workshops will assist in application of technical requirements under the asset management, PM2 and PM3 final rules that implement the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act’s (MAP-21) new performance management framework. FHWA staff, state departments of transportation and municipal planning organizations will be able to adopt management systems for target setting, communication, life cycle planning and financial planning. The workshops will also demonstrate the incorporation of risk management into asset management plans and address progress and penalty requirements and how they will be determined. The first workshop is scheduled for June 20-23, in Kansas City, Mo. For more information, link to the announcement. (6-15-17)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Report Examines Use of GIS in Performance Management

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)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO Updates FAST Act/MAP-21 Implementation Plan, Rule Tracker

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 here. (12-1-16)

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Case Studies: Washington State - WSDOT Reports Significant Time Savings by Issuing Combined EIS, Record of Decision

Provisions of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) that allow environmental impact statements and record of decision documents to be combined for transportation projects have achieved significant time savings for Washington State DOT, according to the agency.

The authority to issue one combined document have saved approximately 60 days to 90 days for the first two projects for which the agency used it, state officials report.

The authority was enacted as a streamlining provision under Section 1319 of MAP-21. In addition, the law authorized use of errata pages rather than a separate standalone final EIS if only minor comments are received on a draft EIS.

The provisions of MAP-21 were aimed at cutting the time required to process environmental documents for transportation projects.

WSDOT has published two combined FEIS/RODs under the new law: a Final Supplemental EIS and Record of Decision for the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project, and a Final Supplemental EIS and Record of Decision for the SR 167 Puyallup River Bridge project, according to WSDOT Policy Branch Manager Carol Lee Roalkvam.

For both projects, the combined EIS/ROD eliminated one round of document circulation and streamlined the cooperating agency and legal review. Each project saved approximately two to three months’ time, she said.

Additionally, the I-90 project team used the related streamlining measure which allows for a Draft EIS and errata page to suffice for a final EIS.

The I-90 team noted that the new processes used together took less time that it would have taken to prepare an Environmental Assessment/Finding of No Significant, according to Roalkvam. In one year, the team went from notice of intent, to Draft Supplemental EIS, to Final EIS/ROD.

“Many state DOTs are searching for examples of quality environmental documents,” Roalkvam said. “While every project is unique, I encourage state DOTs to look at the way the I-90 team applied the MAP-21 streamlining provision and the abbreviated FEIS format to prepare a concise, complete and readable document.”

Washington State DOT combines final EIS, Record of Decision for I-90 Project. Photo: WSDOT

Combined FEIS and ROD

Prior to MAP-21, FHWA and FTA were required by their own regulations and Council on Environmental Quality regulations to provide a waiting period of at least 30 days between publication of the FEIS and issuance of the ROD.

Section 1319(b) of MAP-21 overrode that requirement. It directs the lead agency to issue the FEIS and ROD as a single document “to the maximum extent practicable,” unless one of the following conditions is met:

  • the FEIS makes “substantial changes to the proposed action that are relevant to environmental or safety concerns” or
  • “there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and that bear on the proposed action or the impacts of the proposed action.”

FHWA and FTA issued interim guidance implementing Section 1319 on Jan. 14, 2013. The interim guidance calls for a case-by-case determination as to whether it is “practicable” to issue a combined FEIS and ROD. The guidance also directs FHWA Division Offices and FTA Regional Offices to consult with headquarters before issuing a combined FEIS/ROD.

‘Errata Pages’ Format for FEIS

MAP 21 also clarified that the lead agency can issue an FEIS that consists of “errata pages” -- rather than a complete, stand-alone document -- if the agency received only “minor comments” on the Draft EIS.

This flexibility existed under the CEQ regulations even before the enactment of MAP-21. Section 1319(a) confirms that this format is acceptable.

It also requires that errata pages “(1) cite the sources, authorities, or reasons that support the position of the agency” and “(2) if appropriate, indicate the circumstances that would trigger agency reappraisal or further response.”

In the Jan. 14 guidance, FHWA and FTA described the information that should be included in errata pages, and confirmed that this documentation must undergo the legal sufficiency review required for an FEIS under 23 CFR 771.125.

For more information, link to the I-90 project documents on the WSDOT website here. The Puyallup River Bridge documents are available here.

Additional information is available from Carol Lee Roalkvam, Policy Branch Manager, WSDOT, at RoalkvC@wsdot.wa.gov.

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Geographic Information Systems

Recent Developments: Study Highlights Oregon Coordinate Reference System

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)

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Report Says Statewide GISs Could Improve Section 106 Work

State departments of transportation could provide more efficient project delivery with regard to Section 106 compliance if each state could develop and implement a single, statewide cultural resources geographic information system in a centralized location, according to a report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP 25-25/Task 90). The study examined the costs and benefits of having, using and maintaining a cultural resources GIS and its effects on transportation planning, project delivery, and compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act as well as Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. The study found that DOTs support the creation of a single, statewide cultural resources GIS. For more information, link to Application of Geographic Information Systems for Historic Properties. (11-12-15)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Releases National Highway Planning Network Version 14.05

The Federal Highway Administration has released a new version of the National Highway Planning Network (NHPN), a geospatial network database showing nearly half a million miles of highways throughout the U.S. The NHPN provides geospatially referenced information for National Highway System roads that are classified as principal arterial and rural minor arterial. It can also be used for modeling freight flows. For more information and a link to download the NHPH, link to http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/processes/tools/nhpn/index.cfm. (3-13-15)

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Case Studies: Massachusetts - Project Initiation with Mapping Tool Speeds MassDOT Project Delivery

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An online project planning application developed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is expected to speed up project delivery while improving stakeholder engagement and environmental outcomes.

The MassDOT Project Intake Tool (MaPIT) streamlines project initiation and approval while also screening against multiple databases to flag any potential permitting logjams.

Image: MassDOT

MaPIT uses a map-based interface and accesses the agency’s various transportation asset, environmental, and safety datasets to make the path from project initiation to environmental permitting, project priority scoring, and project delivery more seamless and efficient.

The process of meeting with proponents, initiating the project, and having these projects approved “has absolutely been faster,” said Michael Bolduc, Transportation Planner and GIS Specialist at MassDOT. “We’ve had a lot of really positive feedback,” he said.

Screening Against Multiple Databases

MaPIT streamlines project delivery by integrating several processes. At MassDOT, a transportation project intended for the Transportation Improvement Plan begins with two forms. The Project Need Form describes existing conditions and why a project is needed, and the Project Initiation Form describes what is being proposed and the scope of the project. Projects can be initiated either internally by MassDOT or externally by a city, town, or other local authority, according to Bolduc.

The MaPIT tool merges these two separate processes into a single online application. At the same time, as the project need is being developed, the tool screens against multiple geographic information system (GIS) layers, including:

  • road inventory,
  • highway facility information,
  • roadway condition,
  • bridge database,
  • transit routes,
  • rail inventory,
  • crash data,
  • environmental concerns, and
  • social equity concerns.

Also, mapping is handled earlier in the project cycle, which creates a better workflow for the agency’s digital mapping staff, according to Kevin Lopes, Manager of GIS Services at MassDOT.

MassDOT District Project Development teams are notified by MaPIT when a project is ready to be reviewed for approval. Upon approval, the tool pushes all the information acquired during initiation process directly into MassDOT’s project management database and system of record—known as ProjectInfo—and the project is assigned a number. Efficiencies are realized because MaPIT populates the project database with relevant data “in one fell swoop,” Bolduc said.

MaPIT is part of MassDOT’s suite of tools called geoPASS—the Geospatial Planning, Analysis, and Screening Suite—that includes interactive descriptions of planned capital investments and maps of current approved MassDOT Projects.

Tool to Do More

The tool originally was conceived as an environmental screening tool but the development team soon recognized its potential to be much more. MassDOT applied for funding under Round 2 of the SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program’s expediting project delivery focus area. SHRP2 funding was critical for getting the tool launched, said Tim Dexter, with MassDOT’s Environmental Services Section and a key member of the team developing the concept. “We had this grand idea with really no way to actually move it forward” if it weren’t for SHRP2, he said.

As the project scope expanded, the team looked at making the project initiation, mapping, and scoping process more efficient. Under the state’s system, the GIS staff would begin mapping only after projects were planned, approved, and entered into the ProjectInfo database. This required them to retrieve projects from the database and “individually draw each project, which is fairly labor intensive,” Dexter said. The MaPIT tool streamlines that process, automatically providing the project limits in a GIS format. It also can be used to create maps of project locations for public notice and engagement.

When initiating a project with MaPIT, the user draws the project boundaries on a map and then the tool automatically checks against all of MassDOT’s relevant GIS layers. “The hope is to not only help you through the application processes but also to screen against any potential problems” early in the process, Bolduc said. When considering land use, habitat, and wetland concerns, for instance, MaPIT will help planners identify any potential permitting issue and avoid problems later on, he said.

Improved Outcomes

The tool also is expected to improved environmental outcomes. For projects initiated before MaPIT was launched, the Environmental Services Section typically got involved after a project was about 25 percent designed, Dexter said. Staff would begin design reviews and the permitting process, but the scope of work would already have been set. If at that point MassDOT staff or one of the state or federal regulatory agencies had significant concerns about the design, then “we’re going backwards in the whole design process,” he said.

With MaPIT, staff are now able to ask informed questions when the project is planned, scoping the project accordingly to address those concerns. “The ultimate goal from the environmental perspective is to ask the right questions when you plan a project, before you scope it and design it,” Dexter said.

Version 1.0

MaPIT was introduced around the beginning of December 2017 to cities, towns, and other local authorities. According to Bolduc, there are many more pieces that MassDOT wants to add to MaPIT to make it even more useful. For instance, the tool currently identifies environmental justice and Title VI populations, but more could be done. According to Bolduc, there are plans to incorporate information from one of the interactive maps called the Engage Tool, which uses census data to help identify historically underserved populations.

Also, as MassDOT develops risk and vulnerability information for its transportation assets, all of the vulnerability data will be incorporated into MaPIT. Just as a project can be screened for critical habitat or crash clusters, “we’ll be able to screen for what assets may be vulnerable to severe storms, whether it’s a coastal storm or an inland storm,” Dexter said. “This is how we’re going to integrate climate change adaptation and planning into our project development process,” he said.

So far, MassDOT, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and several municipal proponents and design consultants have entered several batches of projects into MaPIT. MassDOT will have a better understanding of the benefits with regard to multi-year projects as more projects are initiated, said Bolduc.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

The project was undertaken in partnership with ESRI, the GIS company. ESRI dedicated staff to the project, helping keep the project on schedule as the team worked through requirements changes and data mappings. However, ESR went through some staffing changes mid-way through, which required MassDOT to spend time getting the replacement up to speed on the project, Lopes said.

Also, the tool requires the use of the Massachusetts government’s XML Gateway, which is managed by the state’s IT office, according to Lopes. The IT office provided MassDOT with resources to develop the project, but the development environment was not very stable and it had negative impacts on tool testing and staff training, Lopes said. However, it was a good learning experience for MassDOT.

Transferability and Advice

MaPIT could be a model for other state DOTs without too much concern about their GIS platform, Lopes said. If another state “had minimal GIS licensing, they could still get the same functionality out of it,” Lopes said. “It’s all about the data.” According to Lopes, Rhode Island is looking into doing something similar.

Also, other states that consider developing a tool should make sure the project is fully scoped before budgeting. Changes in the scope of the MaPIT development project meant that MassDOT’s budget for the effort was insufficient.

More realistic budget estimates could be developed by spending more time upfront analyzing the effort and complexities involved with working with third parties, such as ESRI and the state’s IT office.

Additionally, MassDOT suggests working closely with partners to ensure the availability of needed resources.

A video about the tool may be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM1qDgt2GiI.

For more information contact Michael Bolduc, Transportation Planner and GIS Specialist at Michael.Bolduc@state.ma.us; Kevin Lopes, Manager of GIS Services at Kevin.Lopes@state.ma.us; or Tim Dexter, Environmental Services Section at Timothy.Dexter@state.ma.us.

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Case Studies: Virginia - Virginia DOT's Environmental Data and Reporting System Improves Communication, Accountability

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:

  • stores, manages and distributes documents;
  • contains a task assignment function;
  • tracks commitments;
  • documents project details such as meetings and phone calls using the journal feature;
  • contains links for environmental permit tracking and houses regulatory agency correspondence;
  • links to VDOT’s Integrated Project Manager (IPM) system, which contains project pool information;
  • links to the GIS Integrator, which allows for digitizing project shapes and spatial analysis functionality to identify environmental impacts in a project area;
  • includes both standard and ad-hoc project reporting such as new projects, tasks schedule, and advertisement schedule; and
  • provides access to project contract and other administrative information.

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.

Current Efforts and Key Take-aways

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:

  • Economic savings: Compared to “pre-CEDAR” 2003, VDOT environmental projects in 2011 experienced notable time savings. For example, the labor hours required to complete tasks associated with a project categorical exclusion (such as a biological assessment, state environmental review, or field survey for endangered species) decreased between 33 and 50 percent.
  • Process efficiencies: CEDAR consolidates applications (project management, GIS, data storage) and makes it easier to document environmental decisions and communicate environmental commitments and project status.
  • Quality control improvements: CEDAR provides standardized spatial data and pre-approved data schemes. It provides a basis for program management and trend analysis.
  • Interagency coordination and relationship building: CEDAR helps streamline interagency coordination by supporting compliance with mandates, reducing the time required for advancing projects through regulatory approvals, compiling all external agency communication, providing transparency of environmental data from all participating entities, and increasing the visibility of project.

Transferability

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.

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Case Studies: Compilations of Case Studies - FHWA

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.

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Case Studies: Compilations of Case Studies - AASHTO

GIS for Transportation Symposium – This website includes proceedings for AASHTO’s GIS-T Symposium, including a variety of effective practices. Copies of the actual presentations made at each topic session are available on-line.

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Invasive Species/Vegetation Management

Recent Developments: DOTs Participate in Landmark Agreement to Conserve Monarch Butterfly

State departments of transportation are among parties that have signed onto an historic agreement for protection of monarch butterfly habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Illinois-Chicago signed an integrated, nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA) and Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for the monarch butterfly on energy and transportation lands throughout the lower 48 states. The agreement encourages transportation and energy partners to participate in monarch conservation by providing and maintaining habitat on potentially millions of acres of rights-of-way and associated lands. Actions taken under the agreement may preclude the need to list the monarch or could speed its recovery under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agreement also provides regulatory assurance and predictability in the event the monarch butterfly is listed as endangered. For more information, link to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement web page. (4-8-20)

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Recent Developments: Synthesis Report Issued on Landscapes for Urban Freeway Roadsides

A synthesis of state transportation department practices for landscape development along urban freeway roadsides has been issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (Synthesis 539). The report addresses sustainable design and maintenance practices in connection with urban landscape development, integrated vegetation management plans, maintenance agreements, the management of the illegal use of the right-of-way such as unpermitted vendors and unauthorized occupants, and work zone safety for maintenance crews. Water conservation and protecting irrigation systems from unauthorized use are also addressed. The report found that more documentation is needed of current landscape practices and policies concerning high-visibility urban freeways with limited pedestrian access, and that guidance is needed on how to incorporate the issues at the project planning stage so that state DOTs can be proactive with design, construction, and maintenance. For more information, link to the report. (8-8-19)

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Recent Developments: DOTs to Partner in Conservation Effort for Monarch Butterflies

State transportation agencies would play a key role in an unprecedented conservation effort for the monarch butterfly announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Under the agreement, voluntary conservation efforts will be undertaken by a coalition of transportation agencies and energy companies on highway and energy rights of way in the hopes of precluding the need to list the monarch as an endangered species. In return, the agreement would provide regulatory assurances to participants that additional conservation measures would not be required if the butterfly were to be listed in the future under the Endangered Species Act. For more information, link to the FWS’ Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement on Energy and Transportation Lands. (4-12-19)

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Recent Developments: Report Identifies Urgent Situation for Western Monarch Butterfly

A report that evaluates the key challenges to the western monarch butterfly population has been issued by the Environmental Defense Fund. The report identifies an 86 percent drop in the population since last year, and finds that the reasons for the decline involve various factors including the development impacts on habitat, pesticide exposure, climate change, parasites, and disease. The report concludes that partnerships between landowners, resource agencies, and conservation groups are necessary to reverse the decline. For more information, link to the report. (4-2-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Updates List of State DOT Pollinator-Friendly Practices

The Federal Highway Administration has updated its list of pollinator-friendly practices in roadside vegetation management by state DOTs. There are now programs featured from 33 state DOTs, including pollinator habitat programs, guidelines, project enhancements, and vegetation management efforts. For more information, link to the State DOT Pollinator-Friendly Practices section on the FHWA Pollinators website. (2-19-19)

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Case Studies: Colorado - Colorado Landscape Architecture Manual Provides Guidance, Best Practices

At the Colorado Department of Transportation, effective landscape architecture provides benefits beyond just a pretty view.

In fact, CDOT regards one of the major focuses of landscape architecture to be the “protection and enhancement of natural systems affected by the transportation system.”

To ensure this, the transportation agency recently issued the CDOT Landscape Architecture Manual (2014). The manual, which took about two years to write, brings together all information relevant to highway landscape design including aesthetic, sustainability, environmental, and landscape considerations.

Glenwood Canyon is an example of Western Slope Canyons and Valleys, one of CDOT’s five designated design zones. (Photo: CDOT)

The intent of the manual is to ensure that federal and state requirements are addressed uniformly across the agency’s decentralized regions and the state’s diverse geography. “Transportation design is required to fit [in with] the existing physical environment using context sensitive design and practices,” according to Mike Banovich, a landscape architect who has been with CDOT for 25 years.

Banovich said CDOT undertook creating the manual because it recognized the need to create guidance that would “improve program quality and compliance.”

Focus on Context

The manual presents landscape architecture as a component of the entire planning and design process for transportation projects, using a multi-disciplinary approach. There is a “direct relationship” between design and place, the manual says.

With that in mind, the manual provides broad-ranging guidance on how to plan and design landscapes that appear natural, conserve water, protect resources, and are sustainable for the life of the road or highway.

The intent is to “expand transportation design decisions beyond strictly functional and engineering criteria within a Context Sensitive Solutions approach,” according to the manual.

Protecting vegetation, designing areas for new plantings, and controlling noxious weeds are key components of the landscape architect’s job and the manual discusses best practices and requirements under state and federal laws. Each of these tasks involves many variables, not the least of which are climate and geography.

Use of ‘Design Zones’

The identification of design zones is “critical to creating a relationship between transportation and landscape,” the manual said.

According to the manual, the state of Colorado encompasses five design zones:

  • High Plains (east of Denver),
  • Front Range Urban (Denver and its suburbs),
  • Southern Rocky Mountain,
  • Western Slope Basin, and
  • Great San Luis Valley (at the border with New Mexico).

“By understanding the characteristics of each zone, CDOT can design unified corridors with consistency and a recognizable sense of place in each zone,” the manual said. For example, “the road alignment should respond to the dominant land form of a zone while the plant palette should be derived from plant species native to the zone and micro-climatic conditions. Details, such as colors and textures, applied to transportation facilities could be reflective of the cultural and landscape context.”

The design zones are consistent with the ecoregions described in the Federal Highway Administration’s Vegetation Management: An Ecoregional Approach handbook, issued in 2014. The handbook defines ecoregions as areas of similar geographic, vegetative, hydrologic, and climatic characteristics, and emphasizes the use of native plants along roadsides to reduce maintenance costs, provide better erosion control, and create ecological diversity.

Native Plants a Requirement

At CDOT, a nearly four-decade-old policy requires department personnel and contractors to use native or dryland adaptable plants on all landscaping projects. To implement that policy, the manual directs landscape architects to preserve or salvage existing vegetation in the project area. If that is not practical, the area must be replanted with native species and must follow the principles of xeriscaping, a technique that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation.

“Xeriscaping is very important [at CDOT] because Colorado is primarily a semi-arid cold desert experiencing drought and extreme weather fluctuations,” Banovich said. “CDOT’s objective is to use native plants adapted to our arid climate in non-irrigated conditions.”

Additionally, the manual directs that existing topsoil must be preserved and reused, which includes stockpiling during the construction phases of projects. Topsoil can be imported from elsewhere only as a last resort.

Threats from Invasive Species

Like many states, Colorado faces threats from invasive plant species that diminish the value of cropland, rangelands, and native habitat. The state has enacted legislation that identifies noxious weeds that are to be contained, controlled, or eliminated. Also, state law for the protection of stream-related fish and wildlife requires the department to consider noxious weed eradication while planning for construction projects in riparian zones, according to the manual. Additionally, construction equipment and stockpiled topsoil must be kept free of invasive weeds.

Vegetation planted or maintained in highway rights-of-way must not create unsafe conditions for drivers and vehicles. The manual discusses the importance of maintaining sight distances for drivers, having trees and other large plantings set back from the roadway, and avoiding conditions where too much shade can cause visual hazards or allow ice to form on road surfaces. Additionally, newly constructed features in rights-of-way should include landscape designs that minimize rainwater runoff and the need to irrigate.

Role of the DOT Landscape Architect

In addition to laying out the standards and best practices, the manual provides information on the role of the landscape architect in the transportation department. The landscape architect is a valuable participant in projects from the early planning stages through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and even after completion, according to the manual. Many state departments of transportation such as CDOT have landscape architects on staff.

The landscape architect’s role is “to act as the design liaison between environmental specialists and engineers…by incorporating environmental needs and requirements into the project objectives,” Banovich said. Additionally, stormwater management and water quality have “become important components” of the landscape architect’s job in recent years, Banovich said.

According to the manual, planting design concepts are a result of the landscape architect’s training in elements such as color, form, line and texture. The placements of plantings on the highway right of way serve to:

  • Protect against erosion.
  • Minimize water use through the use of native drought tolerant species, mulches, and the use of irrigation systems designed for low precipitation systems.
  • Promote stormwater reduction runoff practices via interception and root infiltration.
  • Screen undesirable views from the highway and screen highway from adjacent land owners.
  • Guide traffic.
  • Avoid root or foliage contact from deicers.
  • Minimize maintenance requirements.
  • Provide shade at scenic overlooks or at rest areas.
  • Frame and emphasize a view.
  • Screen highlight glare.
  • Mitigate impacts to surrounding communities.
  • Reduce driver monotony.
  • Provide wildlife habitat.
  • Salvage, protect or reuse existing vegetation, when possible.
  • Mitigate for wetland/riparian impacts.

Lessons Learned

For other DOTs considering creating their own landscape architecture manual, Banovich suggests obtaining “concurrence from DOT leadership” while also involving environmental resource specialists.

Additionally, it is important to “define the use of the manual in a policy objective which in turn will justify the use of the manual” as a part of the DOT’s operational procedures, Banovich said.

For more information, link to the CDOT Landscape Architecture Manual or contact Mike Banovich, RLA, CDOT Ecological Design Unit Manager, at michael.banovich@state.co.us.

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Case Studies: Virginia - VDOT Program Aids Pollinators While Supporting Transportation Goals

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.

Plants such as this aster attract pollinators on Virginia roadsides. Photo: VDOT

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.

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Case Studies: Washington State

Case Studies: Washington State - Reduced Roadside Mowing Policy Promises Multiple Benefits in Washington State

Reduced fuel consumption, fewer carbon emissions, better weed control, cost savings and improved habitat for pollinators are among the many benefits of the Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) new policy to reduce mowing on the state’s roadsides.

WSDOT’s revised mowing policy, adopted in 2015, changes the focus of roadside maintenance from aesthetics in favor of a more natural approach.

Under the revised mowing policy, WSDOT has eliminated almost all mowing that had been conducted for aesthetic reasons in areas with wide rights of way extending beyond 30 feet from the pavement edge. The change will result in a one-third reduction in mowing for non-safety-related reasons annually, according to an agency summary.

The policy specifies that routine mowing “will generally be limited to one pass adjacent to the paved shoulder except in rare cases where a wider annual mowing swath is necessary for safety or for specifically indicated vegetation control.”

Most areas beyond the 30-foot limit that had previously been managed with routine mowing will now be designated as “naturally managed areas” and left to grow mostly naturally, unless hazard trees or designated noxious weeds need to be controlled. Certain higher profile areas will be selectively managed as meadows where all weeds are controlled and natural succession of desirable native plants is encouraged.

With the new mowing policy, areas beyond the first pass will be managed for natural succession of desirable plant species. (Photo: Washington State DOT)

In a related effort, the agency is conducting a pilot study during the summer of 2015 that will be the first published research in the country to provide a cost/benefit analysis of grazing (using goats) as a mowing tool in state highway rights of way.

All of these actions are part of a multi-year strategy by the agency to create more self-sustaining and lower-maintenance roadsides that are complimentary to the surrounding native ecosystems, according to Ray Willard, Roadside Maintenance Program Manager at WSDOT.

Benefits of Reduced Mowing

Benefits of reduced mowing include lower fuel consumption—the department expects to save approximately 2,500 gallons per year of diesel fuel for mowing equipment—and an associated reduction of 23 metric tons in CO2 emissions.

WSDOT also expects to save money in labor and equipment costs. The department will be able to divert its maintenance crews to higher priority work and also switch from using large tractors with wide mowing decks to smaller, more efficient and versatile mowers. Overall, WSDOT expects to save approximately $550,000 each year in mowing costs.

The revised policy will also provide more effective nuisance weed control in designated high profile areas. In freeway interchanges and designated scenic corridors, WSDOT will carefully coordinate mowing patterns and timing with other vegetation management treatments with the goal of removing unwanted nuisance weeds and trees and encouraging more desirable native roadside plant communities over a series of years.

Looking out for Pollinators

Another benefit of reduced mowing is improved habitat for pollinators such as honey bees and butterflies, a topic that has recently taken on national significance. In June 2014, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum directing federal agencies to take actions to protect pollinator species, including calling on the Department of Transportation to work with state DOTs to increase pollinator habitat along roadways.

Roadsides can offer pollinators improved forage for food, breeding, or nesting, and help link fragmented habitat, according to a literature review released by the Federal Highway Administration in May 2015. The report supports the development of best management practices for pollinator habitat protection and enhancement in highway rights of way.

The Transportation Research Board is also planning a webinar on promoting the practice of integrated vegetation management and managed succession over routine mowing, according to Willard, who also serves as research coordinator for TRB’s Roadside Maintenance Operations Committee (AHD50).

Federal leadership together with the agency’s executive leadership on the pollinator issue were contributing factors leading to WSDOT’s revised mowing policy, according to Willard. “What we have now is really good motivation from the top down that we should be taking a more natural approach to managing roadsides,” Willard said.

He also pointed to an FHWA publication, Vegetation Management: An Ecoregional Approach, which he said laid the groundwork nationwide for this new approach.

System Tracks Acres Mowed

To monitor progress in implementing the new policy, WSDOT maintenance staff will be deploying the department’s new Highway Activity Tracking System (HATS). The system allows field staff to document their vegetation management activities in greater detail using tablet computers and geographic information system mapping.

In the past, documenting the number of acres mowed was “kind of a wild guess,” according to James Morin, Maintenance Operations Manager at WSDOT. “You knew how wide the mower was and roughly how far you travelled.” But under the new system “as long as [maintenance crews] turn on their iPADs, they’ll know exactly how many acres they mowed.”

HATS will be integral to implementing the revised mowing policy because it will allow the department to document savings in terms of fuel consumption, carbon emissions and other lifecycle costs, according to Willard.

Public and Agency Outreach

As roadsides begin to take on a more natural and less manicured appearance, people will continue to question and debate the merits of visual quality vs. environmental sustainability, Willard said. “It is important that we collect and maintain clear scientific evidence of the overall environmental benefits from mowing less,” he added

The popular desire to see neatly mowed roadsides carries over into the culture and historic practice of highway maintenance, where agencies receive positive feedback when the roadsides are mowed, Willard said.

There’s also the potential for political pressure on state DOTs to mow for aesthetics in the name of tourism, quality of life, or for the benefit of neighboring businesses, according to Willard.

To help educate the public, WSDOT is developing a four-page color print folio on the revised mowing policy and is developing similar language to feature on its website.

To help convince the agency’s staff, managers have focused on the benefits to the natural environment. “The maintenance employees take a lot of pride in a neatly cared-for roadside, so it’s really [about] shifting from seeing the roadside as a pretty thing to seeing it as a beneficial thing to the natural environment,” Willard said.

Where environmental considerations alone might not convince staff, the economic savings are also compelling, according to Morin. “If we can have a native roadside that’s high functioning, we don’t typically have as many weed issues and it doesn’t cost us as much in terms of effort or money to maintain,” Morin said.

An important factor in WSDOT’s success in implementing the new policy has been having planning guidelines and objectives that are consistent statewide, yet still offer flexibility to the local maintenance areas, according to Willard. For WSDOT this has involved updating the integrated roadside vegetation management plans for each of the state’s 24 maintenance areas to incorporate reduced mowing on a case by case basis.

Another key strategy within the new policy is encouraging local governments to “adopt” freeway roadsides through their cities if they desire a more park-like appearance. WSDOT has developed permits to allow this type of local participation where appropriate.

Testing Goats as ‘Biological Mowers’

In a related effort to evaluate a more natural approach to vegetation management, WSDOT is conducting a pilot project using grazing goats as a mowing tool on state highway rights of way.

“Goats are basically biological mowers,” Willard said, and can perform a similar function as mechanical mowing but without burning fossil fuels and generating carbon emissions. Another advantage is that some weed seeds are sterilized as they pass through a goat’s digestive system, allowing for more effective weed control than mechanical mowing. Goats can also easily access steep and uneven terrain.

However, concerns over the use of grazing in highway applications include higher costs associated with fencing, watering and supervising the animals; liability; and potential distractions to drivers, according to an agency summary of the research.

While there has been extensive research on grazing for vegetation management and weed control over the years, the feasibility and cost/benefit of grazing in the highway right of way has not been well documented. To help do this, WSDOT is conducting field trials using goats in three different vegetation management situations and terrains around the state.

The study is testing goats for routine mowing of unwanted weeds and brush around fenced stormwater ponds at several sites near Vancouver, using goats donated by a WSDOT maintenance employee. The trials also will study water quality impacts in areas with standing water and potential outflow.

Goats clear grass and weeds near Olympia area interchange. Photo: Washington State DOT Flickr Photostream

A second site in Spokane is studying the use of goats to prevent or delay seed production in a noxious weed infestation along US 395.

Finally, the department is using goats to clear unwanted vegetation from a former homeless camp along Interstate 5 in Olympia.

As part of the study, WSDOT will document all costs associated with labor, feed, transportation, and fencing of the goats and will issue its findings in a research report, expected in fall of 2015.

The initial finding of the research is that in general, goats have a very limited application for roadsides, according to Willard. One type of situation that may prove effective is in controlling vegetation within fenced stormwater ponds, where the animals don’t require constant supervision and don’t present a potential distraction to drivers.

For more information, link to WSDOT’s Vegetation Management Program and Pollinators and the Roadside webpages or contact Ray Willard at WillarR@wsdot.wa.gov.

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Case Studies: FHWA Compilations - FHWA Pollinator Website Case Studies/Practices

NEPA Process

Recent Developments: CEQ Issues Draft Guidance on Considering GHGs under NEPA

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has issued draft guidance for how federal agencies should consider greenhouse gas emissions in conducting environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. Unlike prior guidance, which said environmental impact statements should include an estimate of projects’ greenhouse gas emissions, the draft guidance calls for such projections only when they are “substantial enough to warrant quantification, and when it is practicable” to do so. Comments on the draft will be accepted until July 26. For more information, link to the draft guidance. (6-26-19)

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Recent Developments: Study Examines Use of Categorical Exclusion PAs to Streamline Project Delivery

Programmatic agreements with the Federal Highway Administration concerning categorical exclusions are a good first step toward more streamlined environmental reviews, according to a report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program Project 25-25. The study found that many state departments of transportation have entered into agreements that create a framework for decision making about actions that qualify for categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act. Examples of programmatic agreements for categorical exclusions used by the DOTs in Arizona, Connecticut, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, were reviewed. The report includes lessons learned, the text of the nine PAs, and a model agreement created by the FHWA. For more information, link to the report. (3-16-19)

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Case Studies: Florida - Florida DOT Develops Standard Process to Conduct Cumulative Effects Evaluations

The Florida Department of Transportation has developed comprehensive guidance on determining the potential cumulative effects of transportation projects on sensitive resources in the state.

The Cumulative Effects Evaluation Handbook is intended to provide a standard process that is efficient, legally sound, and flexible while ensuring that potential impacts on resources are fully considered and documented in the environmental review process, according to Marjorie Bixby, manager of the Environmental Management Office at FDOT.

The handbook, published in December 2012, outlines when cumulative effects evaluations are needed and provides a 10-step process to guide practitioners. The goals of the process were to provide legally sufficient evaluations; enable project time and cost savings through an efficient, standardized approach; reduce sources of disagreement over methodologies; identify potentially controversial projects early in project development; and reduce costs by using area-wide evaluations for multiple projects.

Bixby, along with FDOT Natural & Community Resources Administrator Xavier Pagan, said that development of the handbook has provided needed consistency in a process that had often been complex, confusing, and time consuming. The handbook was developed with input from state and federal transportation agencies, resource agencies, and other stakeholders such as planning organizations.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, environmental impacts must be considered for federal actions – such as federally funded or permitted highway projects. Such impacts include direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the action. Quoting regulatory definitions, the handbook says direct effects “are caused by the action and occur at the same time and place” and indirect effects “are caused by the action and are later in time or farther removed in distance, but are still reasonably foreseeable.”

“Cumulative impact is the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (Federal or non-Federal) or person undertakes such other actions.”

While transportation agencies generally have had success analyzing direct and indirect effects for their projects, cumulative effects analyses have been more problematic – resulting in an increasing number of successful legal challenges in recent years.

The FDOT Cumulative Effects Evaluation Handbook addresses effects on resources such as the endangered Florida Panther. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The handbook describes how cumulative effects evaluation differs based on the project’s class of action under NEPA – categorical exclusion, environmental assessment, or environmental impact statement. It also provides guidance on types of projects for which a cumulative effects evaluation might be appropriate. These include: new facilities or those requiring substantial right-of-way; projects with direct or indirect impacts on environmental resources, particularly resources that are declining or that have protected status; projects that increase access to areas suitable for development; and projects where other planned actions may impact resources affected by the project.

Ten-Step Process

When further analysis is needed to address concerns about cumulative effects, a cumulative effects analysis should be conducted, focused on specific resources of concern. The handbook outlines the following 10 steps:

  1. Initiate the cumulative effects evaluation: this can be done early in the process, during scoping, to help focus studies on resources of concern.
  2. Identify resources of concern: this includes elements of the natural and human environment -- focusing on resources in poor or declining conditions that may be substantially affected by the project or other activities in the area.
  3. Define the study time frame: this involves establishing and documenting the outer years of the time horizon for identifying past and future effects.
  4. Determine the potentially affected resource area (PARA): this is the geographic study area used in the evaluation and should encompass the resources affected by the project to the extent in which its alternatives contribute to the cumulative effects on the resources
  5. Evaluate past and present impacts on the resource: this includes an analysis of past and present effects, including the current condition of each resource, how it got to its current state, and major trends affecting the health of the resource – including protective regulations or conservation programs.
  6. Evaluate effects of reasonably foreseeable future actions: this includes identifying future actions that may affect the resources of concern – including all types of actions, not just transportation projects – and describing the direct and indirect effects of these actions.
  7. Add direct and indirect effects of build alternatives: this summarizes the direct and indirect effects of the project alternatives, focusing on resources of concern for the evaluation.
  8. Assess the potential for cumulative effects: this involves using information from previous steps to consider how a particular resource responds to change and to estimate the combine effects on each resource of concern. Each project alternative is evaluated separately.
  9. Identify potential mitigation measures: all relevant reasonable mitigation measures to avoid, lessen, remedy or compensate for adverse effects must be identified and discussed, even if they are outside the jurisdiction of the agency.
  10. Document results: this involves completing the cumulative effects evaluation portion of the environmental document, using the level of detail appropriate for the class of action. The evaluation should be separate from the direct and indirect effects. The cumulative effects evaluation “should explain what the effects are, how they were analyzed, why the analysis methodology(s) are reasonable, and what the results of the analysis mean.”

According to the document, “It is important that all of the identified analytical elements be included in the cumulative effects evaluation. However, the steps may be modified to meet the needs of the project. The level of assessment and documentation depends on the nature of the project, the severity of impacts, and the potential for controversy.”

While the 10-step process is aimed at the project development phase for individual projects, the guide also allows for initiating the process in area-wide planning. Following this approach, the first six steps would begin during area-wide planning without focusing on any specific project, allowing the resource-based analysis to be used on any project proposed in the area.

Developing the Process

FDOT officials noted that the process was developed starting in 2006, following release of guidance from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program and AASHTO on indirect and cumulative effects.

Previously, each FDOT evaluation was done slightly differently, on a case-by-case basis. But Pagan said as more projects came online, the agency realized this approach was not workable. FDOT decided it needed a simpler and more consistent process. “We realized we can’t have it be case by case; we’re too big of a state, with too many projects and too many NEPA studies not to have a standard process,” he said.

A task group was assigned to develop the cumulative effects evaluation process, including representatives from 11 state and federal agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, FDOT districts and Turnpike Enterprise, legal counsel, and consultants. The process also needed to fit with FDOT’s Efficient Transportation Decision Making (ETDM) process, the state’s comprehensive approach for considering potential environmental effects during transportation planning. The process was developed over several years under former FDOT employee George Ballo and a team composed of the Central Environmental Management Office staff and consultants.

The cumulative effects evaluation process was based on research of effective practices used by state DOTs, input from stakeholders, as well as case law to help determine a sound process for such evaluations.

Lessons Learned

Pagan said having the cumulative effects evaluation process documented in a handbook is an effective way to ensure consistent application for FDOT. Since publication of the handbook, about 7 environmental impact statements have been prepared using the process, and the document has been well received by transportation practitioners and resource agencies alike, he added.

The FDOT process could be replicated by other state DOTs, he said, noting that the handbook was based in part on successful procedures developed by transportation agencies in California and Texas. Pagan and Bixby both said a key issue in developing the process was defining terms such as direct effects, indirect effects (previously known as secondary effects), and cumulative impacts. “Stakeholders needed to understand that those terms represent different things and how those things apply to transportation project delivery,” Bixby said.

Initially, FDOT had called its process the “indirect and cumulative effects process,” Pagan said. “One of the things that became obvious was that we needed to separate them.” Some stakeholders did not realize that you cannot have a cumulative impact if there are no direct or indirect impacts, he added.

Pagan also noted that agencies conducting cumulative effects analyses should use caution in identifying resources of concern. “If you’re going to identify resources of concern early, don’t make effects determinations during planning that can tie you down or cause issues when it’s not really appropriate to do so that early,” he said. “If you’re going to do it really early, be careful how you do it.”

In addition, Bixby advised being “open and communicative with the relevant agencies and stakeholders – and keep the agency with jurisdiction over the resource informed.” Because these groups helped FDOT develop its process, the handbook encourages things like looking at long-range plans, talking to metropolitan planning organizations, and talking to counties about their development plans. “It’s important to get the right players involved,” Pagan added.

“Ultimately we see that it’s very important to have a standardized process that in itself is flexible enough to apply to all sorts of situations, depending on the nature of the project and the nature of the resources in the project area,” Bixby said. The 10-step process can be applied to a variety of situations and adjusted as needed. At the same time, it documents that FDOT has carefully conducted a thorough cumulative effects determination, she added.

For more information, link to the Cumulative Effects Evaluation Handbook and the accompanying Cumulative Effects Evaluation Quick Guide; or contact Marjorie Bixby, Manager, FDOT Central Environmental Management Office, at Marjorie.Bixby@dot.state.fl.us.

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Case Studies: Montana

Case Studies: Montana - Montana DOT Develops Guidance for Indirect Effects Analyses

A guidance document developed for the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) will provide needed consistency and efficient procedures for determining the indirect land use and environmental effects of transportation projects in the state.

Issued in the summer of 2013, MDT's Indirect Effects Desk Reference provides an overview of regulatory requirements related to indirect effects, a step-by-step screening process to determine what level of analysis is warranted and a framework for conducting detailed analyses, where needed.

View from Montana Highway 200. (Photo: Montana DOT)

MDT developed the guidance to help agency staff and consultants determine the potential for induced growth effects from road projects, taking into account the state's unique rural setting, according to Heidy Bruner, Environmental Services Engineering Section Supervisor at MDT. MDT plans to incorporate the guidance into its Environmental Manual this summer for use on upcoming projects, Bruner said.

The guidance will help ensure compliance with requirements for analyzing projects' potential indirect effects under the National Environmental Policy Act and Montana Environmental Policy Act.

Screening Process Developed

The screening process considers information that is readily available early in the project development process regarding the characteristics and location of the project.

A five-part screening process provides a list of questions for staff to consider. These include:

  • whether the project is exempt, such as highway maintenance and rehabilitation on the same alignment with no increase in capacity;
  • whether the project has an economic development purpose included as part of the purpose and need;
  • whether the project will substantially improve accessibility based on indicators such as travel time to key destinations;
  • whether developable land is available in the areas served by the project;
  • and whether the project region is experiencing population and/or employment growth.

Using this initial screening process, the vast majority of MDT's projects will not require detailed analysis.

Detailed Analyses

The Desk Reference provides a framework with the following steps for conducting a detailed analysis, where needed:

  • determine study goals and methodology;
  • define study area boundaries and time horizon;
  • assess existing and future no build land use patterns;
  • assess future build condition land use conditions and indirect land use effects;
  • assess the potential for indirect impacts on sensitive resources;
  • develop potential mitigation measures; and
  • document the process and results.

For the actual indirect effects analysis, the guidance recommends a combination of "collaborative judgment," which determines the "no build" vs. "build" incremental change in land use, and "allocation models," which determine the allocation of growth predicted through collaborative judgment to specific sub areas. "Collaborative judgment incorporates input from other people knowledgeable of the study area (local experts) to inform conclusions about future land use conditions, whether through informal interviews or more formally through a Delphi panel. Allocation models can allow the analyst to distribute a defined amount of indirect land use change at a disaggregate level (such as allocating growth in county to individual municipalities or allocating growth in a city to census tracts or traffic analysis zones," the summary said.

Research Informed Development of Guidance

The guidance document was based on the results of research on MDT's existing practice, including a review of environmental documents developed for projects, interviews of MDT staff, and a survey of resource agency staff. The research also included a review of relevant case law to determine how courts have interpreted when indirect effects analyses are adequate.

Researchers determined that indirect land use effects assessments in Montana had been conducted in an "ad hoc" manner. While some environmental documents provided well-thought out explanations of the relationship between the project and potential future land development, none of the documents followed a clearly defined assessment process.

Process Offers Needed Consistency

Bruner said the research showed that there was not a large deficiency in the agency's process for conducting indirect effects analyses. Nevertheless, the new procedures offer needed consistency and structure that has been well received.

MDT has conducted training to ensure that staff and consultants have an efficient process for meeting requirements for indirect effects analyses under NEPA and MEPA. The process will be updated going forward, as needed, and will be coordinated with future updates to the MDT Environmental Manual. Bruner said the process is flexible and could be transferable to other state DOTs, but it would need to be tailored to the unique communities of each state.

According to Leo Tidd, a member of MDT's consultant team with The Louis Berger Group, the Desk Reference incorporates concepts and best practices that could be adopted by other states. "The basics of right-sizing the level of analysis to the project issues, documenting the rationale for decisions, avoiding inconsistencies within the environmental document (such as stating the purpose includes economic development, but then failing to analyze the environmental impact of that development) apply everywhere," Tidd said.

The process used to review the state of the practice at MDT could be applied by other states to assess how they are doing on this issue, he added. In addition, the screening process could easily be adapted for use in other states to improve NEPA document timeliness and defensibility, he said. "The questions themselves are not specific to Montana and deal with drivers of land use change that are universal," Tidd said.

For more information, including a final research report, summary report, and training presentation, link to Assessing the Extent and Determinates of Induced Growth on the MDT website at http://www.mdt.mt.gov/research/projects/planning/growth.shtml or contact Heidy Bruner at hbruner@mt.gov.

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Case Studies: Ohio - Ohio DOT Launches Expanded Online Environmental Documentation System

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has launched an expanded and renamed version of its online environmental documentation system and is steadily adding time-saving bells and whistles. The system, formerly known as CE Online, has been rebranded ENVIRONET to reflect the comprehensive capabilities of the system and to allow for future planned enhancements.

ENVIRONET facilitates the electronic processing of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents. Categorical exclusions (CEs) can be fully completed online because the forms are built into the system. The associated electronic project file houses supporting documentation. While Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statement (EISs) still need to be completed outside the system, both the environmental document and its associated documentation are uploaded to the electronic project file set up for the project.

The electronic project file is a very important part of the system since it allows real-time access to draft and final supporting documents. Subject matter reviewers can check out draft technical reports, make comments, and check them back in. Once the technical report is approved, it can be finalized in the system. This capability allows for version control and the system also tracks when documents were uploaded, when they were modified, and by whom.

EnviroNet System Screenshot, Courtesy Ohio DOT

The system also provides a standardized process for uploading reports, technical studies, agency coordination, and decision-making documents. It allows the user to select appropriate drop-down options to consistently name documentation. The process is capped off with an electronic review and approval function, meaning no printing, signing, scanning and uploading is required. Users have access to particular sections of the system based on their respective roles.

“Rebranding is a reminder that our system offers more than just streamlining CE preparations,” said ODOT Assistant Environmental Administrator Erica Schneider. “One of EnviroNet’s greatest benefits is that it provides all sorts of real-time information to our project team. There’s no longer a need for mailing or e-mailing information back and forth.”

ODOT has continued to save approximately $100,000 per year since its CE Online went live in 2012, Schneider said. Even better, savings could double as additional enhancements are added.

NEPA Assignment a Motivator

In December 2015, ODOT assumed federal authority for NEPA reviews from the Federal Highway Administration, giving the state agency added responsibilities for ensuring environmental compliance. These new responsibilities provided additional motivation to add new capabilities to the system, explained Kevin Davis, Environmental Supervisor with ODOT. For example, the system now includes a Project Details Tab that allows ODOT users to enter dates for specific environmental milestones related to the project, whether it’s a CE (the vast majority), EA, or an EIS.

“We now are required to closely track time savings,” he explained. “Using the project file, we can access completion dates for each stage of a project from start to finish. With these details in hand, we can identify exactly where we are saving time or, in some cases, exactly where we need to find ways to work more efficiently.”

Another recent addition is the FHWA Auditing Tool. During annual audits under the NEPA assignment program, auditors can log in at the home page, select the date range they are seeking, and view all of the documents approved during that time period.

Lessons Learned, Advice to Other DOTs

In planning and developing enhancements to ENVIRONET, ODOT has gathered suggestions from inside the agency and also used information from similar online systems in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Texas. Virginia DOT, for example, has integrated a GIS component into its system, an enhancement ODOT now is considering.

Schneider said developing an effective system that can be built to grow and adapt requires funding, patience, and time. The original system cost about $600,000 to develop and it took just over a year.

She offered the following advice to other DOTs contemplating building similar systems:

  • Gain and maintain strong support from upper management.
  • Develop a front-end detailed communications plan. Processes, roles, and protocols should be clearly spelled out to avoid duplication and misunderstandings.
  • Plan on dedicating a lot of time to working with programmers and subject matter experts as the system is developed.
  • Involve everyday users of the system at the beginning of development. Learn about their needs and solicit their ideas. Before deployment, carry out user acceptance testing and make changes where needed.
  • Provide comprehensive training to all users. Go beyond “train-the-trainer.” Conduct classroom training. Develop a website that provides guidance on tasks such as how to check out a document for review.

Looking Ahead

As of October 2016, more than 6,600 projects were housed in ENVIRONET including approved documents, those in process, and those submitted for review and/or approval. More than 600 people had been granted access to the system, including ODOT staff, regulatory agencies, and consultants. The eventual goal, Schneider said, is for all involved resource agencies to carry out their reviews using ENVIRONET and to make all approved environmental documents available to the public online.

Another planned enhancement will facilitate the completion and coordination of Ecological Survey Reports. Under the current system, regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receive as many as 60-70 such reports a month. They are uploaded to an internal local drive and sent out in batches via an extranet site at the end of the month. The new feature, which would incorporate the report into the CE form, is scheduled for incorporation in 2017.

For more information, contact Kevin E. Davis at Kevin.Davis@dot.ohio.gov or Erica Schneider at Erica.Schneider@dot.state.oh.us of the Office of Environmental Services at ODOT or visit the Office of Environmental Services Environmental Documentation web page.

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Case Studies: Texas - Texas DOT Offers Simplified Guidance to Assess Projects' Indirect and Cumulative Effects

Challenges associated with assessing the indirect and cumulative effects of transportation projects across Texas have been eased by a revised and simplified set of handbooks and guidance documents developed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

TxDOT faces a distinctive challenge when assessing the indirect and cumulative effects of its projects across the state: the state lacks a statewide land use management policy and manages its lands at the local level. The lack of a statewide approach to land use creates varying conditions across the state that make a strictly defined indirect and cumulative effects process unfeasible—the same project could have drastically different indirect and/or cumulative effects under contrasting land use conditions created by the various land use policies of different cities.

For example, where one city may employ strict zoning laws, other cities may frequently and broadly grant variances; an interchange project that may reasonably be assumed to have a ½-mile radius Area of Influence (AOI) in the first city may require an AOI with a radius of several miles in the second city because the second city’s less strict zoning creates the possibility of a geographically much larger AOI.

The varying land use climates across the state and extensive use of frontage roads parallel to limited access facilities create an interesting challenge for Texas: how to create guidance that balances streamlining the indirect and cumulative effect analyses with the unique conditions presented by different local approaches to land use regulations.

TxDOT's indirect and cumulative impacts guidance helps streamline implementation of projects such as the FM 2493 Road Widening EA Project in Smith County, Texas. Photo: Texas Department of Transportation

Developing the Guidance

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)’s guidelines for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementation (40 CFR §§1500-1508) established the requirement for federal agencies to consider direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts in the NEPA process. Subsequent guidance and resources provide further direction on considering indirect and cumulative effects under NEPA (e.g., AASHTO Handbook 12, NCHRP Report 466, FHWA Interim Guidance and Q & A, and NCHRP Project 25-25, Task 43).

TxDOT developed its own cumulative impacts guidance in the early 2000s, which was met with positive feedback from around the state and other DOTs. Soon after, the agency began developing a guidance that incorporated both indirect and cumulative impacts. Following the suggestion of FHWA Texas Division, the more comprehensive guidance document pulled from a variety of sources like the NCHRP Report 466—the Transportation Research Board’s Desk Reference for Estimating the Indirect Effects of Proposed Transportation Projects—to provide TxDOT project teams with a step-by-step process. Initially implemented in 2009, minor updates to the guidance document in 2010 added keys for success and how to approach small projects through added-capacity Categorical Exclusions.

Implementing the 132-page guidance document proved both successful and challenging. The guide acts as a detailed “how-to” resource of indirect and cumulative impact analysis methods. TxDOT learned, however, that document users found its size cumbersome and struggled with the unfamiliar technical terms (e.g., notable feature, impact-causing). In response, TxDOT split the guidance into two separate guidance documents—one for indirect effects and one for cumulative effects—and simplified them by consolidating the number of steps, removing technical jargon, and splitting out easily convoluted concepts, such as growth-related effects and encroachment effects. TxDOT also added an Indirect and Cumulative Impacts Handbook to provide a high level overview of the steps to conduct a thorough and defensible analyses of indirect and/or cumulative impacts that may occur as a result of a transportation project.

Nicolle Kord, TxDOT’s indirect and cumulative impacts expert, said the agency has “attempted to structure our guidance to be more accessible to a wider audience; in particular for those new to indirect and cumulative impact analysis.” For example, she said, TxDOT “attempted to make these complex ideas easier to understand by breaking them up into their individual parts (indirect encroachment impacts, indirect induced growth impacts, and cumulative impacts) as well as by removing jargon and putting guidance in plain language.”

Key Features of the Guidance Documents

The following table illustrates several key features of TxDOT’s indirect and cumulative effects guidance documents that contribute to their efficacy.

Lessons Learned

From its original cumulative effects guidance through its most recent guidance updates, TxDOT emphasized the following lessons that may be transferable to other state DOTs:

  • Know your state: A blanket approach to indirect and cumulative impacts analysis does not work in Texas. Though other state DOTs may have a more uniform statewide land use climate, it is critical to know your area and understand that indirect and cumulative impacts are complex and often call for a case-by-case approach. Texas uses decision trees (Induced Growth Indirect Impacts Decision Tree and Cumulative Impacts Decision Tree) to help determine which projects need indirect and cumulative impact analyses.
  • Simplify: TxDOT’s simplified approach to indirect and cumulative impact analyses made it more approachable for district environmental staff, who are project and technical experts but not necessarily versed in all aspects of NEPA.
  • Consider process improvements: By emphasizing technical reports and coordination early in the NEPA process, TxDOT was able to shorten their review cycles, save time and money, and produce stronger analysis in its documents.
  • Provide one-on-one coaching: In addition to regular conference calls (“NEPA Chats”) with districts to identify and provide guidance on various NEPA issues, TxDOT found great value in one-on-one coaching with district subject matter experts on individual projects rather than implementing agency-wide theoretical classroom training in how to apply the guidance.

For more information on TxDOT’s approach to Indirect and Cumulative Effects, contact Nicolle Kord, Environmental Specialist, Texas DOT at Nicolle.Kord@txdot.gov.

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Noise

Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Enhanced Traffic Noise Model

The Federal Highway Administration has released a new version of its traffic noise model software application that brings improved functionality and analysis of sound. Traffic Noise Model Version 3.0 is based on maps, providing multiple visual representations of the area and project being modeled. TNM 3.0 fixes some of the limitations of version 2.5, includes improved acoustical analysis, and adds a variety of new features. The FHWA has a video available, a “getting started” guide, and a fact sheet that provide an overview of the new features. Training is being developed to instruct users on the features and functions and how best to use them to conduct a traffic noise analysis. For more information and access to the software, link here. (2-7-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Posts Updated Roadway Noise Construction Model

The Federal Highway Administration has posted an updated version of the Roadway Noise Construction Model. The RCNM version 2.0 is an improved model for predicting construction noise and the effects of noise reduction efforts. The model will calculate the acoustic environment associated with highway construction equipment and activities. It is not required to be used on Federal-aid projects. The model was developed through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP 25-49). For more information, link to the NCHRP report and the model. (4-8-19)

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Issues Report on Highway Noise and Historic Properties

Practices that state transportation agencies have used to mitigate the long-term effects of noise on historic properties are the focus of a new report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. NCHRP Project 25-25, Task 106, Highway Noise & Historic Properties: A National Review of Effects & Mitigation Practices, provides six case studies as examples of the current state of practice where project officials have resolved instances of adverse effects from increased traffic noise. The practices, ranging from conventional noise walls to sound-reducing landscaping, have involved extensive collaboration and consideration of the project context. For more information, link to the report. (3-7-19)

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Recent Developments: Summary of Noise Practitioners Summit Now Available

A summary of the 2018 AASHTO Noise Practitioners Summit is now available on the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO Website. This event brought together noise practitioners from states throughout the country, as well as staff from AASHTO and FHWA, to discuss emerging topics of interest in the field and define a roadmap for the future of noise programs and research. The summary and presentations from the summit are available here. (1-11-19)

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Case Studies: California - Caltrans Uses Air Bubble Curtain Technology to Protect Wildlife During Bridge Implosions

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is using cutting-edge technology to remove the marine foundations of the former East Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge while protecting area wildlife and reducing project cost and schedule.

The technology controls the blast sequence down to microseconds by using a computer system to precisely detonate hundreds of small individual charges to implode the foundations, thus greatly reducing impacts. At the same time, Caltrans is implementing a blast attenuation system that creates a shield of air bubbles to abate resulting sound waves and pressure.

Cutting edge technology helps protect the environment during implosion of this former bridge pier. (Photo: Caltrans)

“By employing leading edge technology, we have reduced the temporal environmental impact of our demolition work from years to seconds,” said Stefan Galvez-Abadia, Chief, Office of Environmental Analysis and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Environmental Manager. “Simultaneously, we are working more safely and efficiently and saving money.”

The agency’s other option would have been to build a cofferdam, he said, which is an enclosure around each foundation pumped dry to enable loud, heavy machinery to carry out the demolition work. With a limited construction window each year, it could have taken up to four construction years to remove each foundation, a very expensive undertaking. In addition, this approach can result in continuous environmental impacts and safety risks.

“Real-time results have exceeded those anticipated by the model,” Galvez-Abadia said. “Both in-water noise and pressure as well as water quality impacts were significantly less than anticipated. We view this cutting-edge technology as another valuable tool in our toolbox.”

Caltrans’ implosion technology supplements additional steps it routinely takes to protect wildlife. The marine foundations are located in a portion of the San Francisco Bay that contains several fish species protected by the Endangered Species Act as well as marine mammals protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Caltrans avoids impacts to most of these species through seasonal work windows. However some species are present in the Bay year round and the agency has developed specific work windows to avoid impacts to these species to the greatest extent practicable.

History of Project

The reason for removal dates back to 1989, when a segment of the bridge partially collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake. Although it reopened later that year after extensive retrofitting, experts decided that the East Span needed to be more earthquake-resistant than would be possible by retrofitting the existing bridge. Construction of a replacement span began in 2002 and was opened to traffic in 2013. After beginning to dismantle the original span’s superstructure in 2013, Caltrans began to remove its foundations as stipulated in the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the replacement span.

The first of the former East Span’s 21 foundations, called Pier E3, was imploded in November 2015. Two more foundations followed suit in 2016, and an additional six to thirteen are slated for demolition in 2017 and 2018, when the project is slated for completion.

Permits, Protections

Caltrans’ engineers and environmental team spent years working closely with a variety of resource agencies to determine how best to minimize potential environmental impacts to area wildlife and habitat.

Before beginning the project, the agency received federal permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). State agencies granting permits included the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. These permits covered the building of the new bridge as well as the removal of the original bridge by mechanical means.

As the implosion work advances, Caltrans will continue to implement its impact avoidance and minimization measures. In addition, marine mammal species in the area will be protected via monitoring of pre-established exclusion zones around each foundation. If marine mammal species such as harbor seal, sea lion, or harbor porpoise, are spotted, the implosion will be delayed until the individual has moved outside the zone. Water quality and air quality monitoring also will continue to be conducted.

Perhaps the most powerful piece of the protection arsenal is Caltran’s air bubble curtain. To activate the system, a compressor pumps air through a manifold of perforated pipes set in a steel frame. Multiple frames contiguously surround the foundation and are activated just before the implosion process begins. The escaping air bubbles create a continuous shield, or wall, that provides a robust acoustic barrier.

Lessons Learned and Advice

Caltrans has tweaked several of its procedures along the way, said Galvez-Abadia. For example, after analyzing the results of the Pier E3 Demonstration Project, then determining that potential impact areas were less than modeled and subsequently consulting with associated resource agencies, the expanse of the wildlife exclusion zone was reduced to reflect the minimized impacts.

He recommends that other state departments of transportation consider adopting a similar approach for their own underwater implosion work provided they adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Allow sufficient time to develop and tailor the technology and time of year to the particular locale and scenario – in Caltrans’ case, it took about two years;

  • Ensure that those carrying out the work possess a high level of expertise and will not cut corners;

  • Identify appropriate work windows when the least number of species may be affected;

  • Reach out early to local environmental stakeholder groups as well as resource agencies, and continue the dialogue throughout the process.

The technology behind the air curtain will be added to Caltrans’ Technical Guidance for Assessment and Mitigation of the Hydroacoustic Effects of Pile Driving on Fish. The current version provides guidance on the environmental permitting of in- and near-water pile driving projects. It includes an extensive collection of data on pile driving under a variety of conditions that can be used as an empirical reference for the permitting process.

For more information on Caltrans’ bridge marine foundation implosion work, contact Stefan Galvez-Abadia, Chief, Office of Environmental Analysis and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Environmental Manager, at stefan.galvez@dot.ca.gov. Information also is available from Dr. Brian Maroney, SFOBB Project Manager and Chief Engineer, at brian.maroney@dot.ca.gov.

A video describing the environmental monitoring efforts is available here.

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Case Studies: Texas - TxDOT's Traffic Noise Toolkit Helps Streamline Compliance

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.”

Compliance and the Toolkit’s Origins

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.

Using the Toolkit

“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.

Work in Progress

“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 ray.umscheid@txdot.gov, or go to http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/division/environmental/compliance-toolkits/traffic-noise.html.

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Case Studies: Federal Highway Administration

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Planning & Environment Linkages

Recent Developments: Guidebook Issued on Multimodal, Integrated Corridor Management

A guidebook to assist transportation officials with planning and implementing multimodal, integrated corridor management (ICM) approaches has been issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP 13-131). ICM uses technology and operational strategies to address recurring and non-recurring congestion and to optimize performance of the transportation infrastructure. ICM promotes interjurisdictional coordination and the use of a broad toolbox of transportation system management and operations strategies to optimally detect, monitor, and respond to events and changing conditions. The guide provides an overview of current recommended practices for the planning, design and development, and operations and maintenance of an ICM system. For more information, including the report, fact sheet, Q&A document, and presentation, link here. (8-14-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Launches On-Demand PEL Webinar

The Federal Highway Administration has launched an on-demand webinar featuring planning and environment linkages (PEL) tools and practices. The webinar consists of three presentations from PEL experts and practitioners working in various roles related to PEL. Topics include an overview of PEL authorities and available resources from FHWA, information about a state-level implementation of PEL in Colorado, and the early involvement of resource agencies (specifically, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) when using PEL approaches. For more information, link to the webinar. (July 2020)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Posts PEL Peer Exchange Summary

A summary of an August 2019 peer exchange on planning and environment linkages, held in Austin, Texas, has been posted by the Federal Highway Administration. Under a PEL approach, information and analysis completed during planning can be used during project development and in the environmental review process, improving efficiency and accelerating project delivery. Using a PEL approach may involve early public involvement and early coordination with resource agencies. The summary describes areas of discussion at the exchange, including an overview of PEL, a demonstration of the PlanWorks PEL application, and state implementation overviews from Texas, Nebraska, Idaho, Montana, and Florida. For more information, link to the report. (1-15-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Examples of State Practices on Planning and Environment Linkages

Examples of Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) approaches in state DOTs has been posted by the Federal Highway Administration. The report is a compendium of interviews regarding their PEL implementation. The DOTs provided valuable insights and lessons learned that informed the development of the FHWA’s PEL Guidebook. These summaries provide highlights and key takeaways from FHWA’s discussions with nine states, including: AR, AZ, CO, MT, MI, NC, PA, UT, and WA. For more information, link to the report. (1-8-20)

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Issues Guide on Transportation Performance Management

A guide book on setting and achieving transportation performance targets has been issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The guide book (NCHRP Report 920), provides practical guidance to transportation agencies to help improve their use of data for performance management of safety, pavement, and bridge conditions; transit asset state of good repair; system performance; freight; and mobile source emissions. The guide book is organized around six data life-cycle stages and includes a discussion of what is involved in implementing each step and some of the critical choices to be made. It also provides a framework for assessing current data management practices and a source of ideas for practice improvement. For more information, link to the guide book. (11-5-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Provides Update on Maine DOT’s Atlantic Salmon Programmatic

The Federal Highway Administration has posted an updated case study on the Maine Department of Transportation’s Atlantic Salmon Programmatic Consultation. Maine DOT reported that its monitoring of completed projects has improved regulatory compliance and ensured beneficial environmental outcomes, while adaptive management has allowed the agency and its partners to incorporate new information to adjust the program to meet efficiency and conservation goals. The in-lieu fee program, which was finalized at the end of 2018, has added flexibility to the programmatic consultation process. For more information, link to the case study. (10-29-19)

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Recent Developments: Updated Briefing Book Describes Transportation Planning Process

An updated guide that explains the transportation planning process for transportation officials has been issued by the Federal Highway Administration. The briefing book covers the basics and key concepts of metropolitan and statewide transportation planning and provides references for additional information. It has been updated to reflect the most recent legislative changes concerning transportation planning. For more information, link to the guide. (10-29-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Clarifies Eligibility for Use of Planning Funds

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a memo reminding its division offices about eligibility requirements for use of metropolitan planning funding. In particular, the memo addresses eligibility for management systems and performance planning, bicycle-pedestrian counting equipment, and Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) versus National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The memo includes examples of recent eligibility issues and whether activities are eligible as direct or indirect costs, or not eligible. For more information, link to the memo.

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Recent Developments: Fiscal Constraint Flexibilities Clarified by FHWA

Clarifications regarding flexibility of fiscal constraint requirements in statewide transportation improvement programs (STIPs) and transportation improvement programs (TIPs) are discussed in a memo issued by the Federal Highway Administration. The memo addresses how to include advanced construction in the STIP/TIP and provides advice on determining whether a future funding source is "reasonable." For more information, link to the memo. (9-23-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Planning, Environment Linkages Peer Exchange Reports

The Federal Highway Administration has issued summary reports for three peer exchanges held in various locations regarding Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL). Peer exchanges in Maryland, Illinois, and Colorado were held in December 2017, December 2018, and April 2019, respectively. The purpose of the events was to discuss approaches and effective practices for state transportation departments regarding PEL. PEL uses transportation planning to inform the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The reports include discussion of PEL approaches and PEL products, PEL’s relationship to NEPA process, regulatory requirements for taking advantage of PEL approaches, and PEL approaches in peer states. For more information link to the reports for Colorado, Illinois, and Maryland. (9-16-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Report on Freight and Land Use Travel Demand

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a report that identifies best practices and tools for better understanding how land use, local economic development, and demographic factors drive freight movement, trip generation, and freight demand analysis. The report looks at the changing definition of what constitutes freight, a broader audience for freight decision making, and some of the emerging topics in freight. Some of the recommendations from the project will be incorporated into an update to the Quick Response Freight Manual (QRFM). For more information, link to the report. (July 2019)

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Recent Developments: New Performance-Based Planning Case Studies Issued by FHWA

The Federal Highway Administration has issued four new case studies that provide lessons learned with regard to performance-based planning and programming, a strategic approach to planning in which data supports decisions that ultimately help to achieve performance goals. The new case studies discuss the data collection strategies, the selection of performance measures, and interagency collaboration practices from the Maricopa Association of Governments, San Diego Association of Governments, Lewis Clark Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Rockingham Metropolitan Planning Organization, in Arizona, California, Idaho, and New Hampshire, respectively. For more information, link to the case studies. (6-17-19)

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Recent Developments: Researchers Develop Tool to Measure Effectiveness of Public Involvement

A toolkit to measure the effectiveness of public involvement in transportation have been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Research Report 905, Project 08-105). The toolkit, which includes survey instruments, a scoring tool, and guidelines for use, is designed to collect feedback from the public on several indicators of effectiveness and compare that feedback with the transportation agency’s perceptions. The combined responses then can be used to compare the effectiveness of different public involvement strategies over time. For more information, link to the report. (5-6-19)

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Recent Developments: Newsletter Highlights Use of Eco-Logical for Project Delivery

The state of the practice in use of the Eco-Logical landscape approach to infrastructure planning is outlined in the Jan. 2019 issue of Federal Highway Administration’s Successes in Stewardship newsletter. The issue provides examples of the Eco-Logical approach and its benefits, agencies that are using the approach, and ways it can be used to accelerate project delivery. For more information, link to the newsletter. (1-8-19)

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Case Studies: Federal Highway Administration - FHWA's Planning and Environment Linkages Effective Practices

FHWA Planning and Environment Linkages Website tracks Effective Practices including a collection of case studies that summarize the experience of a state or metropolitan area that implemented the PEL approach to transportation decision-making. The case studies document why and how change was achieved, some of the challenges encountered, and a few lessons learned.

For more information, link to the Effective Practices web page.

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Case Studies: Federal Highway Administration - FHWA Eco-Logical Case Study Series

Case Studies: Utah - Utah DOT’s Web Mapping Tool Helps Link Planning, Environmental Decisions

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has developed a powerful interactive planning tool, UPlan , that provides a comprehensive data repository where users from state, local, and federal agencies and the public can share data. With this wealth of information in hand, transportation planners, as one of many user groups, can make more informed, strategic decisions that reflect a broad understanding of the potential impacts each project may have, including its environmental impacts.

“UPlan gets everyone on the same page,” said Becky Hjelm, GIS Manager at UDOT. “It’s a visual tool that connects our users to current, relevant business systems and data sets within UPlan as well as data sets outside it.”

UPlan data takes the form of hundreds of dynamic GIS web maps and apps that incorporate information from multiple datasets. For instance, transportation planners interested in environmental links to a project can simultaneously view the locations of critical environmental attributes such as streams, wetlands, rare plant habitats, and historic sites, along with maps of planned transportation projects scheduled to be carried out in the same geographic area. Users can search for data in a variety of ways.

Diverse Users

Currently, according to Hjelm, there are approximately 100 UPlan users who actively are creating content, And there are hundreds more who come to Uplan for the information they need. Users include representatives from transportation agencies, resource agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, local governments, citizen groups, and the public. A very small percentage of the data in UPlan is sensitive. Access is to sensitive data is handled in two ways, 1) by providing secure access via a login; and 2) an MOU with the responsible agency defining acceptable use. One way around the sensitive data concern is to provide what is called a buffer data set, which provides general but not precise locations.

Hjelm said one positive outcome of UDOT’s investment in web GIS development is the Utah Mapping and Information Partnership (UMIP), a coalition of Utah state agencies that includes the Department of Environmental Quality, UDOT, the Department of Public Safety, and other agencies, as well as a handful of Utah counties.

UPlan originated in 2008 when UDOT planners and engineers realized that they were spending inordinate amounts of time looking for data that was in silos and scattered across agencies. They decided that it would be well worth investing time and money to create a single location where relevant data from a wide variety of sources could be gathered and housed for convenient access.

In 2011, UDOT applied to AASHTO’s Technology Implementation Group and UPlan was accepted as a Focus Technology within its Innovation Initiative. Since then, the UPlan model has been piloted in 39 states, and a number of them have developed, or are in the process of developing, their own state-specific version of the repository.

One of the strongest benefits of UPlan, says Hjelm, is that it opens up opportunities for collaboration that did not easily exist in the past. By sharing information with partner agencies and stakeholders early in the planning process, transparency is created that can foster greater trust across agencies. It also creates conditions in which more efficient, effective, and sustainable approaches to projects can be identified.

uPEL Report

One of UPlan’s most useful applications has been its ability to identify potential environmental impacts of projects and generate what is called Utah’s Planning and Environment Linkages Report (PEL) (uPEL report). Each report summarizes all of the environmental and community resources that are intersected by a potential project’s footprint. Resource information on nearly 20 topics can be drawn upon for the analysis, such as floodplains, rare plants, Section 4(f) lands, environmental justice concerns, and historic sites. An accompanying factsheet with each report provides information related to the project needs, forecasts, conditions, and other current and planned work in the area. More information about uPEL can be found in the uPEL User Guide

Utah DOT's uPEL User's Guide helps link planning and environmental decisions. Source: UDOT

Underlying each uPEL report are the collaboration and integration principles that form the basis for FHWA’s Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) approach to transportation decision-making. Using the approach means 1) considering environmental, community, and economic goals early in the transportation planning process; and 2) using the information, analysis, and products developed during planning to inform the environmental review process.

Hjelm cited several examples in which uPlan and uPEL have been used to great benefit. The first was the Uinta Basin Rail project in which it was used to screen 26 possible alternatives for laying approximately 4500 miles of track. What normally would have taken a few years of investigation was achieved in a few months.

In another case, uPEL was used to support analysis for a Programmatic Biological Assessment (BA) for the Utah prairie dog. UDOT conducted a GIS analysis to identify locations where Utah prairie dog habitat intersected highways using UPLAN and uPEL. Then, UDOT and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted one single Section 7 consultation that cleared an entire sub-set of projects for a 20-year period. The Programmatic BA enabled UDOT to streamline compliance with the Endangered Species Act while helping to ensure conservation of the Utah prairie dog.

Continuous Improvement

Hjelm said that although uPEL in its current form definitely has proven its worth, UDOT is planning to overhaul the application in several significant ways. First, the format of uPEL reports is being revised so that the information can be dropped more easily into required documentation for National Environmental Policy Act compliance. In addition, changes are being made that reflect changes in the system’s data sets.

In addition, the current online User Guide is being revised to make the information more easily understood and include lessons learned. The guide explains how uPEL works, how reports are generated, and the benefits of using it as a planning tool. It also contains sections on each environmental system included in the repository (e.g., floodplains) and describes how transportation projects can affect that system, repercussions if that is the case, datasets about the system that are included in the repository, and contacts for more information.

Code Available to Other States

Hjelm said the code behind UDOT’s uPEL is being offered free to other state DOTs who are interested in creating their own PEL-type application. Although they will have to invest considerable time modifying the framework and populating it with data to fit their needs, obtaining the code “should provide a starting point.” Several other states have, or are developing, tools that are similar to uPEL, she said. Each state will have its own challenges with data sharing.

Her primary advice to other state DOTs who may be contemplating a PEL-based tool: Be bold in your thinking and be patient with the process. Sharing data and building constructive relationships with other agencies and citizen organizations sometimes can take time. But the time invested, especially at the beginning of the process, is well worth the effort over the longer term.

UPlan and uPEL will continue to evolve to reflect constantly changing circumstances, she adds. One option UDOT is exploring is the possibility of incorporating 3-D maps. The ultimate goal is to have information flow seamlessly across multiple disciplines including engineering, design, construction, operations, maintenance, and environment.

For more information, contact Becky Hjelm, GIS Manager, UDOT, at bhjelm@utah.gov, or visit the UPlan website.

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Project Delivery/Streamlining

Recent Developments: FHWA 'Successes in Stewardship' Newsletter

View the most recent issues of FHWA's Successes in Stewardship Newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining practices from around the country:

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Recent Developments: U.S. DOT Issues Policies on NEPA Page Limits, One Federal Decision Process

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued two interim policies related to expediting environmental reviews for transportation projects: one on implementation of the One Federal Decision (OFD) process under the National Environmental Policy Act and a second on limiting the page length of NEPA documents. The OFD interim policy addresses how the department and its operating agencies – as well as state DOTs with NEPA assignment – will implement the OFD process for environmental reviews and authorization decisions. It implements Executive Order 13807, which required federal agencies to use the OFD process for major infrastructure projects and established a two-year goal for completing federal environmental reviews. The policy also provides direction on issues including determining covered projects, agency responsibilities, developing permitting timetables, pre-scoping activities, concurrence points, and dispute resolution. In addition, it provides information on estimating environmental review costs for purposes of tracking projects on the federal permitting dashboard. The NEPA page-length guidance calls for agencies to limit the text of environmental impact statements to 150 pages (or up to 300 pages for complex projects) and to limit the text of environmental assessments to 75 pages (or 150 pages for mitigated findings of no significant impact). It also provides best practices for effective NEPA documents. For more information, link to the OFD Interim Guidance and the NEPA Page Limits Interim Guidance. (8-22-19)

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Recent Developments: FTA, California Transit Agency to Begin Expedited Project Delivery

The Federal Transit Administration has announced that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in California will be the first to participate in the agency’s Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program. The agencies will begin discussions about new and innovative approaches to expedite delivery and financing of transit projects. The Santa Clara VTA put forward a project, known as the Silicon Valley Phase II Project, to extend the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) heavy rail network into San Jose and Santa Clara. The agency is one of seven to express interest in being part of the program. For more information, link to the announcement. (7-8-19)

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Recent Developments: Tool to Measure Public Involvement Effectiveness Provided in Research

A tool transportation agencies can use to measure the effectiveness of their public involvement efforts has been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. NCHRP Research Report 905 provides a practitioner-ready toolkit, which includes a survey, a scoring tool, and guidelines for scoring. It can be used to collect feedback from the public on several indicators and compare that feedback with the agency’s own perceptions. For the report and related resources, link here. (6-19-19)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO Seeks Poster Ideas for COES Meeting in Minneapolis

AASHTO is seeking poster presentations for the Committee on Environment and Sustainability Conference Reception and Poster session on Aug. 6th, from 6 to 8 pm at the Radisson Blu in Minneapolis. The poster session is a valuable opportunity for DOTs, universities, and consultants to present recent projects, case studies, or innovative solutions to emerging environmental topics. Send a one page description to Oscar Bermudez (obermudez@aashto.org) by June 21st. If selected, you will be notified by July 12th. For more information, link here.

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Recent Developments: ARTBA Gives Out Transportation Project Environmental Excellence Awards

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association presented the 2019 “Globe Awards” to transportation agencies and construction contractors for contributions to environmental protection and mitigation. The first place award in the large projects category was for the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge replacement in North Carolina, which took steps to minimize impacts on turtle nesting grounds and piping plover habitat. The second place for large projects was awarded to Washington State DOT for the Alaskan Way Viaduct/SR 99 Tunnel project in Seattle, which includes, among other things, advanced stormwater and pollution handling systems. For more information, link to the announcement. (5-15-19)

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Recent Developments: Researchers Develop Tool to Measure Effectiveness of Public Involvement

A toolkit to measure the effectiveness of public involvement in transportation have been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Research Report 905, Project 08-105). The toolkit, which includes survey instruments, a scoring tool, and guidelines for use, is designed to collect feedback from the public on several indicators of effectiveness and compare that feedback with the transportation agency’s perceptions. The combined responses then can be used to compare the effectiveness of different public involvement strategies over time. For more information, link to the report. (5-6-19)

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