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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 67 · No. 5 > Spotlight on the South|
Spotlight on the South
by Gary Strasburg
Innovative highway projects in seven southern States demonstrate environmental leadership.
Environmental leadership takes various forms of preserving and protecting a community's resources. Transportation experts, professional planners, environmental engineers, naturalists, historical societies, and keepers of cultural integrity are learning to work hand in hand when roadways need to be expanded or modified.
Several southern States gathered last May in Raleigh, NC, at the 2003 Southern Environmental Leadership Summit to learn how they are each approaching transportation network changes in ways significantly different from the past.
"Transportation agencies in the South, with the many beautiful environmental resources in the region, have become leaders in developing transportation facilities that protect and enhance the natural and human environment," says Marcus Wilner, planning and program development manager for the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) North Carolina Division Office. "The Leadership Summit provided an opportunity for many States to showcase transportation initiatives that are fine examples of environmental leadership, stewardship, and streamlining."
Take a look at some of the environmental initiatives from North Carolina, Missouri, Texas, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Kentucky.North Carolina Develops Unprecedented Partnership
In 2003 FHWA recognized the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with an Environmental Leadership Award for their unprecedented level of communication and cooperation. Their partnership led to creation of a senior leadership team made up of the secretaries and deputy secretaries from each department, who meet monthly to discuss strategic issues about transportation and the environment. FHWA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also participate in the senior leadership team. This leadership team is the first of its kind in the Nation and serves as a model for interagency partnerships for environmental stewardship and streamlining. The team has overseen improvements in the environmental permit approval process, air quality programs, and landmark wildlife conservation.
The centerpiece of the partnership is the Ecosystem Enhancement Program, or EEP. This program will enable NCDOT to implement wetlands and stream mitigation (actions that affect wetlands, watersheds, and other open water areas, including filling, excavating, flooding, draining, clearing, or similar changes) for transportation projects in advance of construction saving time, reducing costs, and enhancing the State's valuable natural resources.
In addition, DENR and NCDOT established a formal dispute resolution procedure to ensure that difficult interagency issues are resolved early. To encourage participation by DENR staff throughout all phases of the development of transportation projects, implementation, and maintenance, NCDOT currently funds 22 positions within DENR. These staff members bring up issues and concerns early and help develop proactive ways of dealing with them. Some of the positions provide joint environmental training to NCDOT, DENR, and other State and Federal agency staff.
DENR and NCDOT identified appropriate locations to place signs along primary routes designating the boundaries of each river basin. The river basin signs were purchased through a grant from the Federal Enhancement Program, and NCDOT installed them. The State map features the 17 river basins and contact information for DENR's Office of Environmental Education, which sponsors the River Basin Signing Program.
Basinwide Restoration Plans, which are comprehensive water quality improvement plans, are being developed by DENR's Wetland Restoration Program largely through NCDOT's grant of $2.5 million annually for 7 years. These plans will enable wetlands and stream mitigation to be targeted toward addressing the specific water quality needs of a particular watershed most effectively.
The North Carolina Air Quality Roundtable, cosponsored by NCDOT, DENR, and other partners, is a workshop series convening representatives from 30 groups to work cooperatively to improve the State's response to air quality concerns related to transportation.
In January 2002, NCDOT partnered with DENR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire 1,013 hectares (2,500 acres) of land in Hoke County to establish a preserve for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. This effort preserves five colonies of woodpeckers and links together an important ecosystem of longleaf pines throughout the Southeast.
In October 2002, NCDOT and DENR contributed $720,000 toward the purchase of Bird Island, the State's last privately owned barrier island, which is now part of the North Carolina Coastal Reserve System. Bird Island contains 60 hectares (147 acres) of high ground and 466 hectares (1,150 acres) of submerged lands comprised largely of salt marsh. The island is home to many rare species.
In July 2003, NCDOT partnered with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to purchase and preserve 1,782 hectares (4,400 acres) of Needmore Tract in Swain County. The purchase is one of the most ecologically and economically important conservation efforts underway in western North Carolina.
With assistance from the Federal Enhancement Program, the State agencies also participated in the purchase of two viewsheds along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina.
"Protecting the environment is a top priority at NCDOT," says Deputy Secretary Roger E. Sheats, head of environment, planning, and local government affairs for the agency. "With this aim in mind, our leadership team has focused every attention on our partnership with DENR. Our success is a direct result of our common vision and serves as proof that it is possible to build a transportation system that protects and enhances our State's precious and natural resources."
Learn more about NCDOT's environmental stewardship and streamlining efforts at www.ncdot.org/secretary/envsteward.
Missouri Addresses Interstate's Environmental Issues
In 1999, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) conducted an internal feasibility study of I–70 between Kansas City and St. Louis to determine the condition of the road and the need for improvements. One of the Nation's oldest interstate highways, I–70 was built between 1956 and 1965. In fact, the first section of interstate constructed nationwide was in St. Charles County just outside St. Louis. The study concluded that improvements were needed and that potential changes would be identified through a tiered environmental approach that was expected to reduce the traditional environmental study process by 2 years.
The tiered approach was the first for Missouri and started in January 2000. It was set up to be a collaborative decisionmaking process to obtain early input and acceptance from the Federal and State resource agencies on the process and strategy that could be advanced in the second-tier studies. The study offered a broad view of seven improvement possibilities that ranged from doing only repair and maintenance to alternatives that could accommodate high-speed rail. It also allowed for an expansive view of the nearly 322 kilometers (200 miles) of the corridor. After analysis and public input, the widening and reconstruction strategy of the existing highway was chosen as the best way to address the corridor's issues of safety, congestion, road condition, and environmental impacts. The study team identified seven sections with independent utility and logical termini that could be advanced as separate environmental studies during the second-tier studies. The team presented these in the first tier final environmental impact statement (EIS).
The second tier studies were launched in 2002 to determine how best to implement the statewide strategies while being sensitive to the needs of the local communities. Comprehensive environmental and community impact decisions are being made throughout this process, supported by a general engineering consulting firm and seven section consulting firms. In addition to the environmental studies for each section, one of the three subcommittees that were formed (see page 33) completed a corridorwide enhancement plan to illustrate the context-sensitive solutions that are possible to mitigate impacts and showcase Missouri and the communities along I–70.
The project must address natural resource issues at Overton Bottoms at the Missouri River crossing in central Missouri and Mineola Hill/Loutre River Valley about 64 kilometers (40 miles) east of Columbia. Two other subcommittees were formed to consider the special challenges at Overton Bottoms and Mineola Hill. Overton Bottoms involves floodplain, wetlands, and recreational issues that could lead to the development of a nature interpretive center-rest area. Mineola Hill has archaeological and historic sites, a threatened and endangered species, a State park, recreational issues, steep grades, and natural areas just off the existing highway. Adding to these challenging environmental issues, existing development flanking I–70 in Columbia and the approach to metropolitan St.Louis will make widening efforts difficult. In the rural areas, most affected businesses are located in the immediate area of each interchange.
The process has involved thorough examination of local options within the context of engineering standards to avoid, minimize, and mitigate natural and community impacts. One of the most contentious locations is at Kingdom City where a number of travel service businesses are located close to a confined diamond interchange and are totally dependent on the interstate traffic.
MoDOT continues to involve agency partners, communities, and other local citizens rigorously in the decisionmaking process to obtain their ideas and keep them informed. The comprehensive approach will allow MoDOT to proceed with needed short- to intermediate-term investments, says Bob Brendel, outreach coordinator for project development with MoDOT. As an example, since 13 bridges within the corridor will soon need to be replaced, completion of the environmental study will help determine how those bridges would span the ultimate facility so that MoDOT does not build a structure that would need to be replaced in 5 to 10 years during any lengthy rebuilding process.
To learn more about this MoDOT project, visit www.improveI70.org.
Texas Initiates a Grand Vision
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) formed the Texas Environmental Resources Stewards (TERS) in July 2002 as the result of two initiatives. First, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to streamline the environmental approval process. Second, in the spring of 2002, newly inaugurated Texas Governor Rick Perry called for creation of a transportation system to rival the scope of the interstate highway network. Governor Perry's vision is to have 6,440 kilometers (4,000 miles) of transportation corridors within Texas incorporate separate lanes for cars and trucks; separate tracks for high-speed passenger rail, commuter rail, and freight rail; and a 61-meter (200-foot)-wide easement for utilities such as fiber optic cable and pipelines for water and petrochemicals. The Governor tasked TxDOT with preparing an action plan to create the new system, dubbed the "Trans-Texas Corridor."
In June 2003, Governor Perry signed legislation giving TxDOT the authority to proceed with the Trans-Texas Corridor, which includes the I–69 corridor, among others, and will incorporate what is learned by TERS in implementing I–69. The State's 1,610 kilometers (1,000 miles) of I–69, with 13 to 15 Segments of Independent Utility (SIUs), will include some Trans-Texas Corridor design elements. The interstate is one of the original 21 Congressional High Priority Corridors in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 and also was chosen in 2002 as a streamlining pilot project under TEA-21. Therefore, another precipitating factor for TERS was the initiation of the I–69 project for which the State chose to assess the environment of the entire corridor in one fell swoop.
The TERS working committee includes staff from TxDOT, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FHWA, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Governor's office, and The Nature Conservancy of Texas. The group's goals are to identify high-priority ecological and potential mitigation areas, while streamlining the regulatory processes.
"Agreeing on what is important is not easy," says Dominique Lueckenhoff, former transportation liaison with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Leaders of each agency are involved in and support the process. TERS is designed to improve how we collaborate in areas of ecological concern with our sister agencies."
"A big focus of TERS is planning," says Dianna Noble, director of TxDOT's environmental affairs division. "TERS will help us avoid and minimize impacts on the environment."
One tool used by the group is a geographic information system (GIS)-driven model that assesses ecosystem health and terrestrial and aquatic resources. The department's environmental affairs division currently has more than 70 sets of data in the system, ranging from soil types to the locations of bird rookeries. Once the GIS data are complete, the data layers will be available to TxDOT district offices and project consultants through a Web site.
"TERS will identify problematic areas early in the planning process. The advantage of using TERS-generated data on a project is that it will be faster, provide better collaboration between agencies, and identify priority areas that need to be avoided," says Jimmy Tyree, a TxDOT TERS representative.
"The immense scale of I–69 will provide an opportunity to expand the data sets for the GIS system and fine-tune the TERS approach to solving new challenges in protecting the environment while efficiently moving the project ahead," adds Tyree. "TERS is an open-ended system that is constantly updated and improved. It is an excellent tool for protecting Texas' important environmental resources while meeting the demands of large transportation projects."
For more information on the Trans-Texas Corridor, visit www.dot.state.tx.us/ttc/ttc_home.htm.
Florida Protects Key Deer
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) received the 2003 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) Center for Environmental Excellence Best Practices in Environmental Stewardship Project Award for its work to protect the endangered Key deer, found only in the keys of southern Florida.
About the size of a large dog, Key deer are the smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer. Bucks range from 711 to 813 millimeters (28 to 32 inches) at the shoulder and weigh an average of 36 kilograms (80 pounds). Does stand only 610 to 711 millimeters (24 to 28 inches) at the shoulder and average 30 kilograms (65 pounds). In the 1940s, the Key deer nearly became extinct, but thanks to the establishment of the National Key Deer Refuge in 1957 and strict law enforcement, the population now is stabilized at around 600–700.
Today, road kills are the Key deer's greatest threat, accounting for at least half of the annual mortality rate. In the late 1980s, FDOT implemented speed reductions, posted deer crossing signs, established a no-passing zone, and introduced a roadside clear-cutting maintenance program to remove trees and shrubbery along U.S. 1 in Big Pine Key where 50 percent of all Key deer road kills occur.
In 1993, however, FDOT recognized the need for a different approach to reducing Key deer fatalities, a concerted effort that would involve various stakeholders. During the next 10 years of research and study, FDOT worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the National Key Deer Refuge; Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission; the Key Deer Protection Alliance; the public; and leading authorities on Key deer biology. These agencies and other stakeholders agreed that the final solution had to provide for a reduction in highway mortality of Key deer but allow them to cross U.S. 1 to access habitat on both sides of the roadway. Improving driver safety and minimizing other environmental impacts also were equal considerations for the project.
As a commitment to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FDOT agreed to modify components such as the deer guards and fencing if necessary and to fund post-construction monitoring research to evaluate use of the crossing system by Key deer. To conduct the research, Texas A&M University is using radio-marked collars, global positioning system (GPS) collars, and infrared-triggered cameras to provide information on marked deer. The university researchers collected pre-construction data to compare with post-construction data on survival, mortality, movement, and dispersal of Key deer.
A 3.2-kilomer (2-mile) section of U.S. 1 between Mile Markers (MM) 31 and 33 on Big Pine Key was chosen for a wildlife crossing system built specifically for the Key deer. The area is undeveloped, with naturally occurring mangrove wetlands on either side of the road. The crossing system includes four components:
In the short time since the wildlife crossings were completed (January 2003), the number of deer killed in this section of highway has decreased significantly. One fatality occurred in August when a deer was able to cross a deer guard. However, in previous years, 15 to 20 deer had been killed in this same stretch of road.
Lights have since been installed at the deer guards to further discourage the deer from crossing. Key deer biologists are watching closely to see how the project affects movement patternsthat is, whether some deer shift their movement away from the "safe" crossings and move to adjacent "unsafe" open areas on U.S. 1.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and FDOT consider the project a success. "The project restored areas of biological connectivity for Key deer habitat that had been bisected by U.S. 1 in the 1930s," says Catherine Owen of FDOT's District VI Environmental Management Office. "It represents FDOT's dedication to work with the local community, regulatory agencies, and the Fish and Wildlife Service to implement a plan that maintains the continuity of vehicular traffic while achieving the objectives of significantly reducing mortality of the Key deer and providing the deer safe access to a large portion of their habitat."
The success of the project was due to a combination of collaboration, best science, and a flexible design process that enabled critical elements to be modified or refined. Other States have requested information pertaining to the deer guard design.
Mississippi Preserves a Historic Community
Mississippi Highway 463, also known as Mannsdale Road, begins in the city of Madison just north of Jackson, the State Capitol. It extends northwest 13 kilometers (8 miles) to Highway 22. Land use along the route varies from light commercial to upscale suburban to rural. The area includes an important historic district with the remains of a former plantation at Mannsdale. The area's historical value is further enhanced by the 150-year old Chapel of the Cross place of worship. The chapel is on the National Register of Historic Places and has potential for nomination as a National Landmark.
Because of intensive growth in the area, the road needs to be widened from two to four lanes. The project could affect the Chapel of the Cross, whose congregation has a 150-year history in this area. Local residents wished to limit growth in the area to preserve its rich culture. The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) is incorporating the principles of context-sensitive design by developing two alternatives based on the needs of the public and the community and MDOT's desire to preserve the area's cultural resources.
Early in the project's development, MDOT assembled a citizen's advisory team, including businesses, civic organizations, neighborhood groups, church congregations, and individual citizens in the project area. The team was formed to help the project's decisionmakers understand and address citizen' concerns. The citizen's advisory team will remain a part of the decisionmaking process throughout the project's environmental, design, construction, and maintenance phases.
To provide additional traffic capacity without destroying the character of the community, MDOT recognized that decisions had to enhance rather than conflict with the area's cultural heritage. The goal was to design and build the project so it would emphasize and preserve the area's spirit and history.
A second team, put together by MDOT, includes an environmental consultant, experts from FHWA and MDOT specializing in context-sensitive solutions, design engineers, location engineers, landscape architects, historians, archeologists, civil rights specialists, public involvement specialists, right-of-way professionals, and maintenance specialists.
"This team and the citizen's advisory team are moving the process from impasse to the selection of solutions that will enhance the history and culture of the area," says Cecil Vick, environmental team leader of the Mississippi Division of FHWA. "MDOT is not making decisions based on its perceptions of what would be best for the community. Rather, it took the time to learn about the community's values and incorporated those values into decisions about the project's construction."
Vick adds, "The ongoing process is moving toward a design that provides optimal traffic capacity while touching lightly on the land. The new roadway will have a low profile with minimal visual impact. It will use landscaping, lighting, and architectural features that blend into the terrain and complement the area's historic character. Through this process, MDOT should arrive at solutions to mounting traffic problems that if unchecked would eventually have their own destructive impact on a culturally rich historic community."South Carolina Employs Context-Sensitive Solution
The Cooper River Bridge Project in South Carolina is the largest single transportation project in the State's history. It is also a successful example of context-sensitive solutions.
This $667 million design/build project will replace the deficient Grace Memorial and Silas Pearman bridges over the Cooper River. When completed, the new Cooper River Bridge will connect Charleston with the town of Mount Pleasant, and it will be the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America.
From start to finish, the public participated in choosing the bridge type, shape, and lighting. The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) has an onsite community bridge office where members of the public can ask questions or provide comments about the bridge. SCDOT also hired community liaisons to assist with community issues and concerns.
The level of community involvement on this project resulted in several suggested mitigation and enhancements activities, many of which have been or will be incorporated into the project including:
In addition, SCDOT is using the philosophy of context-sensitive design to reduce the potential effects of the bridge's lighting on loggerhead turtles. After the turtles lay their eggs on the beaches, the hatchlings find their way to the sea by following the natural light of the moon or toward what appears to be the brightest light. To reduce the potential adverse effects of the bridge lighting, SCDOT implemented a variety of measures:
"Not only will the new Cooper River Bridge be a beautiful and safe structure that everyone had a part in, but it will also be a model showing how SCDOT and FHWA are implementing context-sensitive solutions to deliver a high-quality transportation facility," says FHWA South Carolina Division Administrator Bob Lee.Kentucky Incorporates Environmental Justice
The Commonwealth of Kentucky, through the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC), has developed an environmental policy that could serve as a benchmark for future projects and mitigation efforts nationwide. The Newtown Pike Extension project, located in Lexington, KY, in Fayette County, is an example of implementing that policy. The project is a new 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) boulevard connecting West Main Street at Newtown Pike and South Limestone Street at Scott Street, plus a 10-hectare (25-acre) neighborhood redevelopment to mitigate environmental justice impacts.
The Newtown Pike Extension has been part of Lexington's planning as far back as the late 1930s. Previous attempts were opposed because they did not adequately address impacts to the communities along the route. With the completion of the environmental study in June 2000, the creation of a citizens advisory committee, and an intense public involvement process, the project began to pick up momentum.
A planning consultant created a corridor plan that was incorporated in the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Comprehensive Plan. The corridor plan provided the framework to address environmental justice issues involved in redevelopment.
As the public involvement process began, the citizens advisory committee and affected neighborhood residents requested that the project fund a community liaison employed by the project itself, not by the county government, KYTC, or FHWA. Dorothy Coleman was brought on board to be the public's voice for all aspects of the project. "Her role facilitating communication and building trust has been a key to the success of the project to date," says Bill Gulick, assistant State highway engineer in the State Highway Engineer's Office.
With the corridor plan approval in November 2002 and the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) underway, the cumulative socioeconomic impacts of construction became clear. The new road would increase property values, and market forces would pressure Davis Bottoms, a low-income housing area, to redevelop, forcing the existing residents out of the downtown area. To keep the community intact, a complete neighborhood reconstruction is planned for the 10-hectare (25-acre) area, with new streets, utilities, an upgraded park, and enhanced community services. The project will be partnering with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide housing opportunities in the reconstructed neighborhood.
This project is one of the first opportunities the KYTC has had to incorporate road planning and neighborhood planning in one project. It filled a gap in urban road design by using Lexington's municipal resources to mitigate local problems and involved partnering with the University of Kentucky and FHWA. On August 12, 2002, former Kentucky Secretary of Transportation James C. Codell III, University of Kentucky President Lee Todd, Lexington Mayor Pam Miller, and Jose Sepulveda of FHWA signed a guiding principles agreement that neighborhood redevelopment and housing will be top priorities for the project.
Visit http://transportation.ky.gov/KYTCEP1.HTML to learn more about the policy driving the Newtown Pike Extension.
These are just a few examples of environmental leadership in the South. It takes this kind of commitment and leadership to make changes and to work more closely with partners and the community.
Gary Strasburg is the public affairs specialist for FHWA's Resource Center-Atlanta (RC-A). In that position since March 2002, he brings a wealth of experience as a public affairs officer with the Air Force Reserve. In that capacity, he was able to publicize many Air Force Reserve activities and looks forward to the opportunity to highlight the work that is being performed by the RC-A. He can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 404–562–3668.
For more information on the summit or for contacts on the individual projects, contact Marcus Wilner, planning and program development manager, FHWA North Carolina Division Office, at 919–856–4330, Ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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