Improved Environmental Performance of Highway Maintenance - A Key to Transportation Sustainability?

Focus Area



Air Quality, Environmental Process




Under $99,000


1-2 years

Research Idea Scope


In the United States, the majority of the highway system is already built. The ways in which transportation agencies maintain the current system have a major impact on environmental quality, yet in the current paradigm for addressing environmental quality this is given only limited consideration. 

Current activities that are used to maintain the system are undertaken in a regulatory environment intended to reduce negative environmental consequences. Unfortunately, the response to regulation for maintenance activities is often fragmented and on a case -by -case basis.  

A new framework is needed for integrating environmental performance and sustainability into the existing state highway maintenance system. The paradigm might draw from the environmental stewardship approach that many states have undertaken for their construction programs. 

In September 2004, NCHRP Project 25-25, Task 4, was released, titled, “Environmental Stewardship Practices, Procedures, and Policies for Highway Construction and Maintenance. This study presented a compendium of environmental stewardship practices in construction and maintenance. These best practices were collected to serve as a guide to the further development of Environmental Management Systems and environmental strategic plans both on the organization level and specific functional areas.

Recognizing that studies have already looked at the existing range of environmental stewardship practices, procedures and policies for highway construction and maintenance; we don’t want to repeat the work. Therefore this study will look at how state DOTs are assuring that maintenance operations are taking into account environmental regulations.

This research will evaluate how state DOTs are incorporating existing environmental regulations into their highway maintenance programs, how they are training their personnel and how they are measuring compliance though the use of comprehensive audits and assessments. By evaluating the measures that are most successful in demonstrating real improvements, this research will become a useful reference tool as other state DOTs look to achieve similar levels of success.  

Research Objectives/Tasks

Task 1:
Investigate and compile a synthesis and preliminary assessment of current state DOTs practices that are being implemented to make staff aware of and accountable for environmental regulations in highway maintenance. Through a literature review, survey of transportation agencies, and targeted interviews, this research should identify current DOT environmental training and auditing practices along with the metrics being used to evaluate success. What programs are state DOTs implementing? How are state DOTs evaluating their results? Are they measuring the level of notice of violations/fines incurred, fewer unforeseen problems, or fewer resources impacted?

Task 2:
Based on the preliminary findings, identify and further evaluate programs that are in place that are effectively tracking progress. Further explore how these programs are measuring the results of their effort and documenting how the end result compares to the expected outcome.  The identification of up to 2 state DOT’s from each AASHTO region will help to ensure an equal assessment across the Nation to take advantage of eco-specific regions of the country.  
These findings should specifically focus on the range, type and style of training and auditing programs that are currently being used. The results of the different training and auditing programs should be evaluated and the metrics that were used for measuring success should be identified. How did the training and auditing program develop/adjust and how was it most successful?

Task 3:
Provide an electronic draft final report for review.   The report should document the current programs and practices being used by the states that have demonstrated success in complying with environmental regulations in highway maintenance. A large focus of this report should be on the measures used by state DOTs to evaluate success. The report should also focus on practices that could easily be transferred to other DOTs for successful implementation and use.
Based on NCHRP review, finalize the report.

Suggested By

TRB ADC10 Committee - Environmental Analysis in Transportation Tim Hill, SCOE Environmental Process and Analysis Subcommittee