Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
March 2005

Improving Environmental Performance in Construction and Maintenance

Sound pressure levels associated with underwater pile driving can be dangerous to fish and other species: Caltrans has used bubble curtains, which prevent barotrauma.

Sound pressure levels associated with underwater pile driving can be dangerous to fish and other species: Caltrans has used bubble curtains, which prevent barotrauma.

Integrating Stewardship and Efficiency

In recent years, State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) have been placing new emphasis on environmental performance related to construction, operations, and maintenance activities. In the past, DOTs mainly focused on environmental compliance, but agencies across the country are now taking a more holistic approach to meeting environmental stewardship goals. Incorporating stewardship priorities into construction and maintenance helps DOTs achieve continuous improvement in environmental performance.

DOTs that are interested in this emerging approach don't have to "reinvent the wheel" and develop their practices from scratch — agencies can learn from each other's experiences. Thanks to a project conducted through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), a new tool can quickly get useful resources into the hands of DOT staff. This work was sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Adapting and Adopting Proven Practices

The project report compiles more than 7,000 innovative practices in highway construction and maintenance, as well as policy, organizational, and management approaches to improving environmental performance. Instead of spending scarce resources to develop new programs, agencies can "adapt and adopt" selected practices into their own operations. From "Bird and Bat Roosts in Bridges" to "Road and Roadside Dirt and Debris," this encyclopedic document describes a broad range of sample practices and provides links to examples, design drawings, or more detailed technical guidance or procedures.

Environmental Stewardship Practices, Procedures, and Policies for Highway Construction and Maintenance (NCHRP Project 25-25 (04)) is a joint effort of AASHTO's Standing Committee on the Environment and two subcommittees of the Standing Committee on Highways — Subcommittee on Construction and Subcommittee on Maintenance.

Gary McVoy, Director of Maintenance for New York State DOT and member of the Standing Committee on the Environment, described the impetus behind the project: "field staff know stewardship is the right thing to do, but lack training and information to do it. Environmental Stewardship Practices, Procedures, and Policies for Highway Construction and Maintenance will give these people the tools they need to do the job they want to do."

Why Focus on Construction and Maintenance?

Construction and maintenance activities encompass all areas of a highway system. So highway improvements-even seemingly minor ones-can have far-reaching impacts.

  • Great Potential. These two DOT areas contribute to some of the most significant environmental impacts and also offer great opportunities for improvement.
  • Dual Benefits. More consistent, integrated systems can improve efficiency as well as environmental performance.
  • Broad Base. Maintenance and construction often comprise the majority of a DOT's work force.
  • Showcase Opportunity. Projects are often quite evident to the public and can visually demonstrate stewardship commitment.

The project team reviewed thousands of best management practices and DOT standards and manuals to create this substantial document, which includes practices from 48 states and nations around the world, including Canada and Australia. The report is designed to be user-friendly, with a detailed table of contents and thousands of links to more information. DOTs should be able to easily extract and re-use the relevant information.

Featured Practices Make Financial and Environmental Sense

A benefit for transportation agencies is that many of the report's featured practices not only preserve the environment; they also help keep costs down. Reduced salt usage is a good example of such a dual-purpose practice. Many maintenance departments have long held a philosophy of over salting "to be on the safe side." PennDOT's Smart Salting program addresses this issue with regular training that helps staff make better decisions about how much salt is actually needed. While keeping the safety of the motoring public at the forefront, the Smart Salting program raises staff awareness of application rates, the location of streams and wetlands, and other relevant factors. This enables them to apply just enough salt without over salting. In addition to saving on materials, PennDOT saves on cleanup costs after the winter season.

Other practices that promote a healthy environment as well as healthy finances include:

  • Stockpiling topsoil during construction to facilitate revegetation.
  • Treating weeds on site to cut down on maintenance costs for weed control in the future.
  • Optimizing highway lighting for safety and efficiency.
An Oregon Wedge daytime bat roost is installed in Texas. The roost si an inexpensive method for retrofitting bridges and culverts to provide a home for bats, many of which are not endangered species, but are also beneficial to farmers.

An Oregon Wedge daytime bat roost is installed in Texas. The roost is an inexpensive method for retrofitting bridges and culverts to provide a home for bats, many of which are not endangered species, but are also beneficial to farmers.

Putting Words into Action

Some states are already using the report. Utah DOT's Chief Environmental Engineer, Brent Jensen, is encouraging his staff to use the report as both an assessment tool to measure UDOT's progress in relation to successful practices across the country and as an on-the-shelf reference and training tool. Mr. Jensen assigned chapters to his staff for review and found that, while UDOT is using most of the recommended practices or something similar already, the compendium offers many ideas to further advance environmental stewardship. UDOT will begin rolling out new or improved practices in spring and summer 2005 to evaluate effectiveness locally.

How to Get Started

The report is available at the AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence website http://environment.transportation.org. The Center, which operates in partnership with the FHWA, works to "promote environmental excellence in the efficient delivery of transportation projects." AASHTO has committed to ongoing implementation activities in support of the project, which will likely include mechanisms for peer-to-peer technical assistance and for incorporating feedback and keeping the report current. The implementation team met in January during the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board to discuss awareness activities and next steps. In the meantime, AASHTO's Subcommittee on Construction hopes to identify a handful of practices to be featured at the Subcommittee's Annual Meeting in August.

Transportation agencies that would like to begin implementing new or improved stewardship practices can get additional assistance from the Center for Environmental Excellence by contacting the Center's Director, Shannon Eggleston.

Look What's New!

  • NHI 142005 course: "NEPA and the Transportation Decision Making Process."

    • March 8-10, Hollidaysburg, PA
    • March 22-24, Springfield, IL
    • April 5-7, Fresno, CA

  • Accelerated Construction Technology Transfer (ACTT) Workshop

    • March 15-16, Project NEON, Las Vegas, NV

Contact Information

Shannon Eggleston, Director
Center for Environmental Excellence
AASHTO
444 North Capital Street,
NW Suite 249
Washington, DC 20001
Email: seggleston@aashto.org
Phone: (202) 624-5800


"Successes in Stewardship" is a Federal Highway Administration newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining practices from around the country. To subscribe, call (617) 494-6352 or email esnewsletter@volpe.dot.gov.

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