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. These requirements and initiatives include:

    • Federal and state hazardous and solid waste management and disposal requirements;
    • Opportunities to recycle and reuse wastes from transportation as well as other operations; and
    • Efforts to provide productive uses for property that has been or may be contaminated by hazardous substances.

This overview will describe the applicability of these requirements and concepts to transportation activities.

Waste Management

Waste management encompasses the handling and ultimate disposal of hazardous wastes from active operations, hazardous wastes at closed and abandoned sites, and solid wastes.

The management, transportation, treatment, and disposal of hazardous wastes from ongoing activities is regulated at the federal level by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) of 1984. Pursuant to these laws, states have been authorized to implement and enforce their own hazardous waste requirements. These regulations establish “cradle-to-grave” requirements for all parties involved with hazardous wastes – from entities that generate these wastes, to the organizations that transport these wastes, to the facilities that receive the wastes for treatment and disposal.

Closed and abandoned hazardous waste sites are regulated under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). CERCLA was subsequently reauthorized and amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986. This Act, which is more commonly known as Superfund, provides EPA with the ability to respond to actual or threatened releases of hazardous substances from closed or abandoned sites. The response to contamination includes evaluation of the threat posed by various sites, identification (based on the evaluations) of sites to be placed on the National Priorities List (NPL), and implementation of removals and remedial actions to eliminate or contain the threat. States can identify sites to be included in the NPL and, in some instances, have pursued remedial actions.

Hazardous Wastes

In the course of transportation project development, sites contaminated with hazardous wastes (from active or recent operations, as opposed to closed or abandoned sites) must be identified, the type and extent of contamination must be assessed, and the type, cost, and responsibility for removal or cleanup determined.

Some guidance on this topic is currently provided in FHWA’s Environmental Review Toolkit.

Transportation construction projects do not generally result in substantial quantities of hazardous wastes. Nevertheless, it is critical that handling, transport, and disposal requirements related to a specific project are recognized by transportation agency personnel and contractors.

For example, significant amounts of hazardous waste could be generated by construction efforts that are combined with bridge and transportation facility paint removal and repainting. Sand blasting or similar actions to remove coatings could result in the generation and need to safely dispose of substantial quantities of lead contaminated waste in compliance with RCRA requirements.

Transportation operations and maintenance activities also may generate a variety of hazardous wastes, including, but not limited to:

      • lead-contaminated paint chips and sand blasting materials,
      • spent solvents and degreasers,
      • waste pesticides and herbicides,
      • acids, and
      • spent equipment fluids.

Such wastes must be handled, stored, transported, and treated or disposed of in accordance with RCRA requirements. Under RCRA, facilities that meet the criteria for a “small quantity generator” do not require RCRA permits and do not have to meet various reporting requirements. The vast majority of transportation operations and maintenance activities and facilities meet the criteria for a “small quantity generator.” However, it should be understood that these facilities should manage their hazardous wastes as if they did have a RCRA permit and that transport, disposal, and treatment requirements remain in effect.

While a contractor is responsible for compliance with RCRA requirements for wastes it generates, transportation agencies should recognize RCRA-related requirements in bid and contract documents and implement procedures and processes for agency personnel to evaluate and ensure contractor compliance.

Many transportation agencies have examined their operations and maintenance activities and equipment to determine their hazardous waste sources, identify alternatives that generate less hazardous or non-hazardous wastes (possibly with vendors and suppliers), and use the alternative equipment, materials, and practices.

Solid Wastes

Solid wastes are non-liquid, non-soluble materials ranging from municipal garbage to industrial wastes and may include demolition wastes, and liquids and gases in containers. Solid waste management, collection, and disposal are principally governed by state and local regulations, ordinances, and acts. At the Federal level, the Solid Waste Disposal Act sets standards for the environmentally safe disposal of solid wastes. State and local requirements conform to these standards.

Considerations regarding solid wastes in transportation project planning and development may include:

      • the quantity of solid wastes that may be generated in various alternatives;
      • the need to transport these wastes from project sites;
      • the impact of such transport on affected communities; and
      • waste disposal requirements and costs.

Such considerations would be recognized in project environmental documents and may affect project decisions. Waste transport and disposal requirements would, at some point in the project, entail coordination with regulatory agencies. Identification and planning for such needs at the planning stage would ensure timely and compliant project completion.

Transportation operations and maintenance activities can lead to the generation of significant quantities of solid wastes, including:

      • packaging,
      • wood and metal debris,
      • animal carcasses,
      • vegetation,
      • scrap metal (e.g., signs and guard rail),
      • road base material, and
      • rest area refuse.

Construction activities also can lead to the generation of significant quantities of solid wastes. Construction solid wastes include: construction debris, scrap lumber and metal, and other bulk wastes. Handling, transport, and disposal requirements applicable to the type and quantity of solid wastes generated in a transportation project should be:

      • identified and recognized in design documents and plans;
      • included in bid and contract documents; and
      • used as the basis for mechanisms that would ensure agency and contractor compliance throughout construction.

Many transportation agencies have implemented effective solid waste management practices in the course of operations and maintenance activities. These include:

      • periodically reviewing requirements to identify any changes that may affect them;
      • establishing systems and procedures to ensure conformance; and
      • periodically evaluating waste management and disposal practices for compliance.

Information on RCRA hazardous waste requirements for waste generators (i.e., the transportation agency or the agency’s construction contractor) is available from EPA’s Office of Solid Waste, Hazardous Waste web page. State environmental agencies typically provide additional or similar guidance and related information on their websites.

Agencies also should be aware of RCRA requirements for underground storage tanks (USTs) used for petroleum products. UST requirements established at the Federal level are implemented by each state. Information is available from EPA’s Underground Storage Tank program as well as the regulatory agencies in each state.


As described by EPA, “Recycling is a series of activities that includes collecting recyclable materials that would otherwise be considered waste, sorting and processing recyclables into raw materials such as fibers, and manufacturing raw materials into new products.”

In transportation applications, recycling also encompasses recovery (capturing materials for further use as opposed to collection for disposal) and reuse (using recovered materials in their original form/purpose).

A variety of Federal, state, and local requirements and initiatives have been established to either mandate recycling or encourage voluntary recycling. In addition to these external drivers, several transportation agencies and partner businesses and industries are pursuing recycling initiatives ranging from pilot and demonstration programs to full-scale implementation efforts.

The Recycled Materials Resource Center (RMRC) is a federal-university partnership that serves as a key resource providing research and outreach for the highway community and a catalyst for beneficial use of recycled materials. The Center was started in 1998 at the University of New Hampshire through an agreement with FHWA. The RMRC was renewed in 2007 by FHWA for an additional 4 years. The University of Wisconsin at Madison has joined the RMRC as a major partner to provide additional expertise as well as providing a more national perspective to the Center. As part of the new agreement, FHWA mandated that the RMRC seek funds through a pooled fund study to provide support for research and outreach activities.

FHWA Recycled Materials Policy

Transportation planning and project development activities provide an opportunity to identify and consider recycling and reuse options. Inclusion of recycling and reuse options in transportation planning and project development addresses FHWA and individual state environmental stewardship goals and helps in fulfilling FHWA’s Recycled Materials Policy (February 2002).

FHWA and numerous other Federal and state agencies strongly encourage recycling and reuse in roadway construction efforts. FHWA’s policy states, in part:

“Where appropriate, recycling of aggregates and other highway construction materials makes sound economic, environmental, and engineering sense. The economic benefits from the re-use of nonrenewable highway materials can provide a great boost to the highway industry. Recycling highway construction materials can be a cost-saving measure, freeing funds for additional highway construction, rehabilitation, preservation or maintenance.”

“Recycling presents environmental opportunities and challenges, which, when appropriately addressed, can maximize the benefits of re-use. The use of most recycled materials poses no threat or danger to the air, soil, or water.”

“The engineering feasibility of using recycled materials has been demonstrated in research, field studies, experimental projects and long-term performance testing and analysis. Significant advances in technology over the past decade have increased the types of recycled materials in use and the range of their applications. When appropriately used, recycled materials can effectively and safely reduce cost, save time, offer equal or, in some cases, significant improvement to performance qualities, and provide long-term environmental benefits.”

Opportunities in Design, Construction, Operations and Maintenance

During transportation design, agencies may

      • Identify and characterize the costs and benefits of recycling and reuse opportunities,
      • perform engineering and constructability evaluations of recycling and reuse opportunities, and
      • develop project plans and documents that incorporate recycling and reuse opportunities.

As projects proceed to construction, agencies may include recycling and reuse instructions and details in bid and contract documents and proceed to implement recycling and reuse opportunities.

In addition to asphalt pavement recycling, recycling and reuse opportunities in highway construction include:

      • asphalt concrete,
      • Portland cement concrete,
      • granular base,
      • embankment or fill,
      • stabilized base, and
      • flowable fill.

The waste and by-product materials that are widely used for such applications include:

      • baghouse fines,
      • blast furnace slag,
      • coal bottom ash/boiler slag,
      • coal fly ash,
      • flue gas desulfurization (fgd) scrubber material,
      • foundry sand,
      • kiln dusts,
      • mineral processing wastes,
      • municipal solid waste (msw) incinerator ash,
      • nonferrous slags,
      • quarry by-products,
      • reclaimed asphalt pavement,
      • reclaimed concrete material,
      • roofing shingle scrap,
      • scrap tires,
      • sewage sludge ash,
      • steel slag,
      • sulfate wastes, and
      • waste glass.

Transportation operations and maintenance activities present a variety of recycling and reuse opportunities, including the following:

      • demolition debris (concrete, steel, rebar, aluminum);
      • equipment tires (recapped, shredded, combustion);
      • engine oils and lubricants;
      • equipment antifreeze;
      • glass, paper, plastics (from rest areas and employee eating areas);
      • signs;
      • vehicle batteries;
      • guard rail; and,
      • packaging and shipping pallets.

Best practices and processes used in transportation agencies to recycle and reuse include:

      • identify waste streams, disposal practices, and life cycle costs for these wastes;
      • review options to recycle or reuse materials (quantities and/or costs can be used to prioritize efforts);
      • identify facilities or activities where recycling and reuse practices can be validated;
      • implement pilot efforts;
      • roll out the recycling and reuse efforts department-wide; and
      • track and consider for public release the economic and environmental benefits of the department’s recycling and reuse efforts.

An increasing number of communities are implementing mandatory recycling programs. These programs may apply to businesses and other government agencies.

Information Sources

Recycling and reuse information and ideas for transportation design and construction activities are available from a variety of sources, including:


As defined by EPA, the term “brownfields” refers to “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

EPA estimates that there are more than one-half million brownfield sites across the United States. Under Superfund, environmental contamination at abandoned or underutilized properties could trigger cleanup liabilities for parties that acquire these properties. Brownfields requirements and initiatives seek to alleviate such liabilities.

Activities to encourage the use and development of brownfields sites are driven by Federal and state actions, including:

    • FHWA’s Brownfields Redevelopment Policy,
    • CERCLA, SARA, RCRA (including the RCRA Brownfields Prevention Initiative),
    • the Community Reinvestment Act and its Brownfields Action Agenda, and
    • incentives and other programs in more than 20 states.

Relevance to Transportation

The use and development of brownfield properties can be a major consideration in and opportunity for transportation and transit development and planning activities. The following excerpt from the EPA and Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations document titled Redeveloping Brownfields with Federal Transportation Funds provides a useful overview of and introduction to the importance of brownfields in planning and project development.

“Cities and metropolitan areas face new transportation demands every day. Despite expanding road and transit capacity, and implementation of innovative system management, traffic congestion continues to be a challenge, with all its repercussions.

“We have an opportunity to bring land use into the transportation equation. In addition to new highway and transit facilities, good land use policies can help regions continue to grow without worsening traffic or reducing the quality of life that draws residents and businesses in the first place.

“Reusing brownfields is particularly smart land use because of brownfields’ central location and connection to existing transportation systems. Their reuse has two benefits:

Value. Redevelopment cleans up and reuses underused and potentially dangerous land right where it’s most valuable—central to the most people, to the most businesses, and to existing, paid-off infrastructure. In sum, redevelopment turns a liability into an asset.

Growth with less traffic. Redevelopment that’s central to people and businesses reduces the traffic from new jobs and housing in two ways: first, more of these trips can be by foot and by transit, placing less demand on roads. Second, for trips on roads, central location means that the trips are on average shorter, reducing demand for road space. And often these trips are on roads that have been underused since the decline of the industry that used to occupy the brownfield. Putting trips on those roads can be far less costly.”

As described above, transportation projects may involve the acquisition and use of brownfields properties as part of transportation facilities and roadway improvements or it may involve transportation improvements to facilitate the redevelopment of brownfields properties.

Policy, Programs, Guidance

No longer focused on avoidance, FHWA’s policy goal has been to support consideration and use of brownfields properties. FHWA’s Policy Revision to Support the Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative states, in part:

“The new policy supports the Brownfields Initiative by encouraging participation in transportation projects that include the use and redevelopment of contaminated sites when appropriate.”

The initiative referenced in the above FHWA policy is an EPA effort that is designed to empower states, cities, tribes, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields. EPA’s Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative encompasses four basic activities of which partnerships and outreach are most relevant to transportation professionals. Under this activity, EPA establishes partnerships with federal agencies (including U.S. DOT and FHWA), states, tribes, cities, and other organizations to ensure a coordinated approach to addressing brownfields.

EPA leads and coordinates brownfields redevelopment efforts on a nationwide level. However, the success of any brownfields action depends upon the cooperation of numerous parties. In the case of transportation projects or brownfields actions that incorporate transportation improvements, the participation of FHWA and state transportation agencies is critical to the successful redevelopment and use of brownfields properties.

The following are programs, requirements, and other information that support and facilitate transportation agency involvement in and use of brownfields:

      • SAFETEA-LU Section 1956, Brownfields Grants, amends CERCLA to encourage the purchase of brownfield properties for transportation projects by enabling the EPA Administrator to make brownfield grants or loans to eligible entities for such projects.
      • Surface Transportation Program (STP) flexible funding can be used for roads that enhance access to brownfields properties that are being redeveloped.
      • Transportation Enhancement (TE) Funding. TE funds to contribute toward the revitalization of local and regional economies. Transportation projects that involve brownfields properties could be considered as contributing to economic revitalization as use of such properties returns problematic assets to productive use.

The following resources provide additional information on transportation and brownfields: