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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 69 · No. 3 > On the Road to Environmental Excellence|
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-001
On the Road to Environmental Excellence
by Patricia A. Cazenas
FHWA honors the 2005 award-winning transportation projects and the people who protect or enhance natural and community resources.
An increasing number of transportation projects are yielding innovative approaches that not only improve highway safety but also protect or enhance the natural and cultural environments. The scale of projects can vary from performing a major makeover on a congested urban landscape to making more subtle improvements such as modifying winter maintenance activities to protect a watershed and educating young people about the value of scenic byways. Yet the common thread tying them together is that State departments of transportation (DOTs) are partnering with other government agencies, contractors, private groups, and individuals to create better, safer roads and leave a greener footprint on the natural environment.
Every 2 years, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) honors outstanding achievements in environmental sensitivity in highway projects through its Environmental Excellence Awards program. Introduced on April 22, 1995-the 25th anniversary of Earth Day-the awards recognize efforts that set new standards for transportation and environmental solutions.
"The awards are designed to showcase projects that surpass normal requirements and expectations," says Fred Bank, an ecologist and FHWA team leader in the Office of Natural and Human Environment. "The top candidates are those that enhance the environment beyond requirements."
Judges hail from a variety of backgrounds, including academia, Federal agencies, and private firms. No one from FHWA or the U.S. Department of Transportation sits on the review panel.
Now a decade old, the awards featured 11 categories in 2005 and attracted 238 entries, an impressive increase from the 60 candidates in 1995. And over the years, the quality of the projects continues to prove extraordinary.
"These are not ordinary projects," Bank adds. "They all excel in different ways, which makes for hard choices for the judges. With so much quality, the winners really are the cream of the crop."
Here is a closer look at this year's Environmental Excellence Award winners.
Oregon Launches Stewardship Program For Bridge Replacement
When the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) decided to tackle the problem of repairing or replacing more than 300 aging highway bridges-many of them located along key freight transportation routes-the agency huddled with 11 other State and Federal environmental and resource agencies to develop a plan that would streamline the rebuilding process. The goals were to reduce administrative processes, save time and money on construction projects, and protect the Beaver State's wetlands and endangered species.
The result was Oregon's Bridge Replacement Environmental Stewardship Program, a unique approach that includes long-range benefits intended to reap financial and environmental dividends far beyond the initial bridge repair projects. According to ODOT officials, the program provides a holistic approach that helps eliminate or reduce delays and expenses caused by environmental concerns. For example, one ongoing benefit is that design costs are expected to drop by as much as 15 percent for all future projects.
One of the program's key innovations is the creation of an environmental baseline report that informs design teams of opportunities to avoid or minimize the environmental impacts of individual bridge projects. Another new element is a set of environmental performance standards that serve as a single, common set of terms, conditions, and design targets that apply to all bridge projects and form the basis of permits from multiple agencies.
To protect wildlife areas, a Comprehensive Mitigation and Conservation Strategy (CMCS) integrates wetlands mitigation with habitat conservation. The CMCS enables ODOT to evaluate impacts at the ecosystem level and uses a single accounting system for assigning mitigation credits and debits across all agencies. The strategy establishes a program-level approach to mitigation and conservation, and creates specific conservation and mitigation banks that serve regional ecological priorities.
An outstanding example of interagency coordination and collaboration, the Oregon Bridge Replacement Environmental Stewardship Program provides significant benefits to transportation and the environment by fundamentally changing how a major construction program and numerous State and Federal environmental laws are administered and implemented within existing legal frameworks.
North Carolina Touts Scenic Byways to Elementary Students
From the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina offers motorists more than 2,700 kilometers (1,700 miles) of visually breathtaking scenic byways. Each of the 49 officially designated byway routes presents vistas of North Carolina's diverse historic, cultural, and natural treasures, not to mention a more leisurely alternative to traveling on the State's high-speed interstates and more heavily trafficked commercial routes.
As the sixth most visited State in the country, North Carolina already attracts drivers of all ages to enjoy a scenic drive. However, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) recently mapped out a route to draw future travelers-the State's elementary school students.
"We realized that the future drivers and passengers on these roads are now in North Carolina's schools," says North Carolina Scenic Byway Coordinator Jeff Lackey. "So we developed a program that would inform students about the historic and scientific importance of those routes. We worked with the [North Carolina] Department of Public Instruction to develop a curriculum that would reach out to children in the fourth and eighth grades, when their studies focus on North Carolina history. The reception has been very positive. We constantly get calls from teachers who want additional curriculum packages."
NCDOT's Scenic Byways Teacher's Guide emphasizes the importance of discovering the pristine natural environment and rich cultural history along the State's roadways. The program's materials and hands-on lesson plans and activities help educators and students gain a greater knowledge of North Carolina's byways, while providing a valuable resource on the State's geographical, historical, and cultural significance. Since 2003, NCDOT has distributed the curriculum to more than 1,500 classrooms. Each package includes a DVD and videotape of select scenic byways. Nine byways are already included in the teacher's guide, and more routes will be added in the future.
Minnesota's SouthWest Station Enhances Air Quality
Located about 24 kilometers (15 miles) southwest of Minneapolis, Eden Prairie, MN, is one of the fastest growing suburbs of the Twin Cities region. To accommodate the growing demand for more mass transit from Eden Prairie to the larger metropolitan area, SouthWest Metro Transit designed a state-of-the-art, pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented, and environmentally sensitive development strategically located near two major freeways. SouthWest Station provides more than a traditional transit bus station. The 8.5-hectare (21-acre) site includes park-and-ride facilities, a 900-space parking garage, restaurants, retail businesses, offices, and housing units.
"SouthWest Station is a mixed-use development geared to transit," says SouthWest Transit Executive Director Len Simich. "The station has 60,000 to 65,000 square feet [5,575 to 6,038 square meters] of restaurants and commercial space. Commuters can get a cup of coffee in the morning on the way to work and enjoy a relaxing dinner at the end of the day. The condos, entertainment facilities, and station are within a short walking distance for added convenience. The response has been very positive."
With an annual ridership of just under 1 million, SouthWest Transit has enjoyed steady growth in recent years, including a 20-percent increase in passengers in 2004 and another 9-percent jump so far this year. Simich adds that the park-and-ride building is averaging 85- to 90-percent capacity.
Along with extraordinary commuter convenience, the retro-looking SouthWest Station delivers a strong environmental benefit by eliminating 1,630 single-occupant vehicle trips per day-reducing daily carbon dioxide emissions by 474 kilograms (1,045 pounds). The station integrates other environmental concerns into the project with a community park and trail system in the surrounding natural areas, while ensuring that the design of the facility minimizes the time transit vehicles need to enter and exit the site.
The final design includes an exclusive busway entry lane and exit tunnel, the first of its kind in the State, designed to allow easy access to and from adjacent interchanges. Project officials point to strong partnerships as a key component in the success of the SouthWest Station, facilitating the transformation of a prime setting into a high-quality and attractive facility that provides comfort and convenience for transit riders as it promotes improved air quality.
New Jersey's South Riverwalk Preserves Cultural and Historical Resources
Five centuries of history come alive at South Riverwalk Park, a Trenton, NJ, project built above a reconstructed stretch of road and tunnel on State Route 29. Perched along the Delaware River, the 2.6-hectare (6.5-acre) park features permanent historic exhibits such as five sculptural arches depicting 500 years of Trenton history, a timeline of 97 granite stones marking important dates, informative bronze plaques, and signs that enhance park users' understanding of New Jersey's capital.
"The response has been terrific," says Pamela Garrett, environmental project manager with the New Jersey Department of Transportation. "From the start, we got everyone involved, including Boy Scouts, county and city officials, permitting agencies, resident associations, the parks department, and many others, through a tremendous community outreach effort. Since the riverwalk opened 2.5 years ago, it's been used as an outdoor classroom. A couple was married there. Historic preservation groups have used it as a case study and hosted field trips and seminars there. People have been excited by the project, every step of the process."
Creating the 3.2-kilometer (2-mile)-long park involved significant research, complex and multifaceted historical and archaeological issues, subsurface testing, data recovery, and monitoring during construction. From the project's earliest stages, workers uncovered many artifacts relating to the region's past. As a result, planners decided to include a historical and archaeological emphasis in the park's design to provide users with a tangible educational component, spanning Trenton's history from Native Americans to industrial giant and Brooklyn Bridge architect John Roebling, who manufactured wire rope cable in the city.
With a bikeway and pedestrian trail, esplanade, three pavilions, and two children's playgrounds, the riverwalk connects the nearby community to the Delaware River in a historically informative and enriching fashion. Improved access to downtown Trenton, as well as sports, recreational, and entertainment facilities on the waterfront, provides economic opportunities and supports tourism. The park also serves as an outdoor classroom, capable of educating visitors about the heritage of the Delaware Valley.
Caltrans Uses Bioacoustics To Mitigate Impacts on Fisheries
Sound travels faster underwater than it does on dry land. During bridge-building projects, pile driving can create sound waves that may be harmful to fish and other sea life.
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and its Federal partners developed an innovative technique to minimize adverse impacts on marine organisms during pile-driving work for the new east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and other Bay Area seismic retrofits. With the assistance of expert consultants, Caltrans studied the impacts on aquatic species during a pile installation demonstration. Researchers monitored the underwater sound pressure waves, observed the impacts on fish, and evaluated the effectiveness of innovative mitigation technologies.
Caltrans, FHWA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service collaborated to streamline the environmental process through rapid response and emergency consultations on this cutting-edge issue. The researchers developed a highly effective bubble curtain system that substantially diffused pile-driving noise and significantly reduced the project's impacts on fish. "The bubble curtain is actually a system of manifolds that surround a pile while it is being driven," explains Bart Ney, public information officer for Caltrans District 4. "There are a series of concentric rings that have small openings on the inside that blow air out of them and create an insulating field of air bubbles. A barge at the site pipes air through the manifolds. As the pile is driven, the bubbles around it attenuate the sound wave."
The successful results from this and other Bay Area projects led to the formation of the multiagency Fisheries and Hydroacoustics Working Group. Composed of agency representatives supported by a panel of scientific experts, the workgroup developed Effects of Sound on Fish, a report that establishes the current national scientific framework and common understanding of hydroacoustic effects on fish. The report also includes recommendations to guide the analysis of pile driving and suggests further research that will support the development of final guidelines for managing and minimizing the effects of pile driving on aquatic ecosystems.
NCDOT Leads Nation in Environmental Research
The NCDOT environmental research program is recognized as one of the Nation's most comprehensive and diverse. Through effective collaboration and partnerships with regulatory and resource agencies, NCDOT is able to deliver efficient and environmentally sensitive transportation projects.
The NCDOT program includes research in wetland and stream mitigation, freshwater mussels, genetic isolation of species, wildlife passages, and water quality. In addition, the researchers actively study issues involving air quality, alternative fuels, historic resources, and community impact assessments.
For each project, a technical steering and implementation committee directs the research, reviews progress, and participates in implementation of the results of the research. Although NCDOT solely funds the environmental studies, it invites experts from a number of regulatory agencies to participate on the committees and provide advice on research needs and direction. These partnerships enable NCDOT and the other agencies to work together to discover innovative solutions to environmental concerns. The regulatory agencies develop a sense of ownership in the solution rather than just the problem. In addition, the environmental research program has created positive relationships with the academic community, including a number of colleges and universities.
NCDOT has made great strides with its environmental research program and has contributed to the important mission of providing safe, cost-effective, environmentally compatible transportation projects.
Boston's Big Dig Contributes to a Livable and Sustainable Community
Officially, it's called the Central Artery/Tunnel Project. Around Boston, MA, most people know it as the "Big Dig"-a construction project widely regarded as the largest, most complex urban highway undertaking in America's transportation history. This wide-reaching project is transforming the city's historic landscape as it replaces an elevated highway with an underground roadway that will enhance the compact, walkable character of downtown Boston.
To relieve congestion, the project decreased the number of on and off access ramps to help separate local and interstate traffic. Along with dramatically easing surface traffic, the project will yield several first-rate parks and greenways that will benefit Boston's residents, workers, and visitors. One park, called the Rose Kennedy Greenway, will be created on land once occupied by the old central artery elevated expressway that cut off downtown Boston from its waterfront.
Further, the Big Dig involved one of the most comprehensive environmental impact statements since the establishment of the National Environmental Policy Act. Throughout the design and planning stages, project contributors collaborated and held hundreds of community meetings with a number of constituencies, including stakeholders living or doing business in directly affected areas, as well as Federal, State, and local agencies.
Ultimately, the project will help increase accessibility, improve environmental quality, and enhance the livability and vitality of the neighborhoods in downtown Boston.
NYSDOT's Route 25 Project Improves Water Quality In Greenport
Improving transportation safety was just one of the goals of the New York State Department of Transportation's (NYSDOT) State Route 25 (Front Street) project. The reconstruction also aimed to preserve the natural environment and scenic quality of the village of Greenport in eastern Long Island.
Developed as part of a waterfront redevelopment effort, the multifaceted project maintained the community's historic character and demonstrated environmental sensitivity while improving mobility. Through partnerships with community stakeholders, NYSDOT and village officials made enhancing wetlands and water quality a major focus. A significant achievement was the overhaul of the entire stormwater drainage system, with resulting improvements in the quality of the roadway runoff before it reaches Greenport Harbor.
Other key elements included eliminating deficiencies in the treatment of stormwater, repairing deteriorated drainage structures, improving water quality in the harbor area and waterfront, and creating two functional basins near the waterfront that resemble natural ponds. These basins fit harmoniously with the waterfront ecosystem and village improvements, while filtering sediments from runoff, providing wetland habitat, and attracting waterfowl.
Specific waterfront improvements also included replacement of the headwall and bulkhead and the addition of a boardwalk. The result is a functional drainage system that is in harmony with the waterfront ecosystem, roadway, and village improvements. This project illustrates that government agencies and communities can work together to resolve aesthetic, traffic safety, and environmental concerns by integrating innovative and emerging techniques for stormwater management and wetland creation into an overall transportation plan to protect and enhance water quality in an urban area.
Raleigh's Reedy Creek Greenway Honored as Boon for Nonmotorized Traffic
Located in west Raleigh, NC, the Reedy Creek Greenway system provides a paved, multiuse pathway for bicyclists and pedestrians, connecting residential areas to two college campuses, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Prairie Ridge education center, a university research forest, and William B. Umstead State Park. The planning and implementation of the greenway system was a collaborative effort involving many private and public stakeholders.
One of the greenway's highlights is a 200-meter (660-foot) pedestrian bridge over the I-440 Beltline, a major six- to eight-lane freeway around the city. An important link in the region's alternative transportation system, the greenway offers residents an opportunity to walk, run, and bicycle on a safe, scenic trail that connects neighborhoods inside the Beltline to some of the area's most visited cultural and recreational sites.
CDOT Creates Plan for Managing Snow on Mountain Pass
As it crosses the Continental Divide, U.S. Route 40 reaches an elevation of 3,446 meters (11,307 feet) above sea level on Colorado's Berthoud Pass Mountain. Built as a wagon trail in 1874, the two-lane road measures as little as 7.6 meters (25 feet) wide in places. As might be expected, snow-approximately 1,270 centimeters (500 inches) of it annually-causes problems on the narrow pass during many months of the year. After heavy storms, maintenance crews have limited space to plow and pile the mounds of snow cleared from the road. And although sand spread on the roadway helps provide traction for motorists during winter, it also causes sedimentation problems once warmer weather arrives.
To improve safety and reduce maintenance issues on the mountain pass, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) created a plan for roadside management and maintenance that involves widening the highway to three lanes measuring 20 meters (66 feet) wide, adding safety barriers, and installing snow storage areas between the road shoulders and safety barriers. A system of ditches and culverts, with numerous inlets, will ensure that leftover sand is transported with the snowmelt and runoff through a piped system to a number of strategically placed sediment basins.
Once the sand reaches the concrete sedimentation basins and settles out, maintenance crews can recover it and return the clean water back into the Hoop Creek watershed. Sloped access ramps permit loaders to enter and easily remove the sand from the storage areas; sweeping operations facilitate removal of any additional sand. Also, cut-and-fill slopes from the original highway construction were terraced, stabilized, and replanted to prevent erosion.
CDOT established these measures as permanent best management practices along Hoop Creek, and the agency expects these changes to provide substantial improvements in water quality. This project demonstrates that cost-effective management and maintenance activities can promote environmental protection and protect water quality near roadways.
Excellence in Environmental Leadership: William Ruediger
A longtime advocate of habitat protection, Bill Ruediger is one of the leading practitioners of the emerging science of road ecology. Serving as the ecology program leader for highways in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, he led numerous interagency efforts over the years to address the effects of roads and highways on large, wide-ranging carnivores. During his career, he has led several statewide and regional efforts to identify wildlife habitat linkages and establish habitat conservation plans for use by transportation and resource agencies.
In 2001, he participated in a technology scanning tour cosponsored by FHWA and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to examine how countries in Western Europe address the effects of highways on wildlife mortality and habitat connectivity. Transportation agencies also benefited from Ruediger's continued support of the International Conference on Ecology and Transportation series and from his expertise in road and highway development. He played a major role in leading the conference to its current status as the foremost international gathering of transportation and ecological experts.
The 2005 Excellence in Environmental Leadership award recognizes Ruediger's outstanding career, marked by leadership, commitment, foresight, and tireless efforts to improve habitat connectivity and protect wildlife along U.S. highways.
A Place of Honor
For those interested in tossing their hats-or projects-into the ring, the next application period opens April 22, 2006. Starting on that date, the entire process, including obtaining and submitting applications, can be completed online. During the open application period, FHWA will promote the process through newsletters, e-mail, and other venues.
"Any project that uses Federal-aid highway funds is eligible," says FHWA's Bank. "We encourage everyone who qualifies to apply because it's really a win-win situation. FHWA gets to recognize its stakeholders, the State DOTs, and they get to acknowledge their partners, which can include other government agencies, companies, and private environmental organizations. The awards are a great way to create an awareness of how the DOTs are practicing good environmental stewardship, which goes a long way in helping them deal with agencies and the public."
Award winners share the spotlight during a special ceremony at FHWA headquarters. "The winners are very enthusiastic," Bank says. "We cover the expenses for one representative from each winning entry to join us at the presentation and receive their award from the FHWA administrator. In many cases, [the winning organizations] pay for other staff members to come along."
Although this year's ceremony is over, the fanfare continues. More information on the 2005 winners is available at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/eea2005/index.htm. In addition, FHWA plans to publish a 2006 daily planner environment that features a different winner each month.
Patricia A. Cazenas, P.E., L.S., is a highway engineer in the FHWA Office of Natural and Human Environment in Washington, DC. She is the program manager for the Environmental Excellence Awards.
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