FHA Offers Roadway Sustainability Evaluation Tool

Much to the chagrin of those forced to drive through unending construction zones during rush house, highways require a lot (and we mean a whole bunch) of maintenance. Bridges need to be supported, pot holes need to be filled, and Waterbury’s mix mister has needed updating since the day it was built.

Luckily for more contemporary project managers, and state DOT agencies, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) recently began operating a ‘self-help’ website to aid in the design, construction, and upkeep of federally funded highways.

This resource is called INVEST, which stands for Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool. It is a “free Web-based collection of best practices designed to help transportation agencies integrate sustainability into their programs and projects,” according to the FHA website.

INVEST was first launched in 2011 as a beta-test, and is now available as INVEST 1.0; which takes into account new sustainability factors found to be missing during the pilot tests. Agencies who have begun to use INVEST include the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Like CTLS, the resource aims to help states improve the overall sustainability of their roadways be understanding social, environmental, and economic factors which dictate the continued success of a large roadway. Over 60 characteristics are used by the program to suggest “best-practices” for individual projects needs and wants. By continuously updating their criteria with new improvements and changes within the system, project managers can track their progress towards a more sustainable transportation infrastructure.

Dan Lamers, Senior Program Manager for North Central Texas Council of Governments said that “It showed us that we had done a great job thinking more sustainably, but it also pointed out things we had not considered, such as improving the connection between asset management and planning and addressing infrastructure resiliency to natural hazards such as flooding,”

When the Ohio DOT was looking to improve its Innerbelt Bridge project, they turned to the INVEST system, as well. “When ODOT embarked on this project, we challenged the prospective design/build teams to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability,” said project manager David Lastovka.

The FHA says:

“Available online at www.sustainablehighways.org, the INVEST Web site offers visitors the opportunity to take a guided tour through the site and learn about sustainable highways and how to integrate sustainability best practices into projects and programs. Visitors can also browse the complete set of INVEST criteria or use the “Score” option to evaluate the sustainability of their own projects and programs. Additional resources include a glossary of sustainability terms, a list of frequently asked questions and answers about using INVEST, and information on FHWA’s Sustainable Highways initiative. A recording of an October 2012 FHWA Webinar introducing INVEST is also available.”

2013 Undergraduate Research Fellowship Seeks Applicants

CTLS is pleased to announce the third year of the Transportation Undergraduate Research Fellowship (TURF) program. The TURF program at the University of Connecticut (UConn) is an intensive summer research experience designed for junior and senior undergraduate college students who are preparing for careers in Transportation. Fellows receive $2,000 to pursue individual research projects (beginning in early June and ending mid-August) under the guidance of university faculty members and CTLS-affiliated researchers.

Fellows gain experience in proposal writing, research techniques, research project planning and research project execution. The program introduces students to projects of the sort encountered during postgraduate research training and fosters an understanding of the planning, discipline, and teamwork involved in the pursuit of answers to critical questions in transportation systems and planning. At the end of the program fellows have the opportunity to present their research to an audience of their peers and advisors.

Submission Deadline: 5:00 PM, Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Application Guidelines

CT Energy Strategy Features Alternative Fuel Sources

In the face of climate change and economic uncertainty, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced his administration’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy last week. The new strategy, compiled by the Connecticut Department for Energy and Environmental Protection, will address energy initiatives for the next year.

One of the initiatives addresses the expansion of alternative fuel vehicles in the state. (You can read about CTLS researcher Peng Zhang’s research regarding deployment of electric vehicles here.)

The report reads: “Connecticut’s current transportation system is over-reliant on oil-based fuels, which are increasingly expensive and which contribute significantly to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions profile. With 95 percent of Connecticut’s transportation energy supplied by gasoline and diesel, transportation emerges as the least fuel-diverse of any of the state’s energy use sectors.”

The report acknowledges that access to alternative fuels is limited in the state, and hopes to encourage the creation of more access points. Alternative fuels it hopes to provide on a larger scale include natural gas, propane, ethanol blends, and hydrogen. It also aims to increase the amount of public charging stations in the state.

An increase in the availability of alternative fuel sources will help prepare Connecticut for a future where gasoline will no longer be the most important way of powering our automobiles.

A full copy of the report can be found here. 

New Transportation Funding System Will Aid Sustainability in Virginia

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Virginia’s Legislature approved a complete overhaul of the systems in place to fund transportation initiatives last week. The new system will move way from the state’s traditional reliance on gasoline taxes to fund transportation infrastructure.

This proposal, which has been sent to Governor Bob McDonnell’s desk, mainly seeks to eliminate the 17.5 cent-per-gallon state tax charged at the pump.  The bill also raises the state sales tax, creates a tax on wholesale purchase of gasoline, and draws $200 Million from the state’s general fund, reports Reuters.

The Governor is expected to sign the measure.

The bill also suggests that there is a growing acceptance of renewable energy’s importance in a modernizing society. Even in a Republican state like Virginia (where the Senate, House, and Governorship are controlled by the GOP), removing the gasoline tax acknowledges that fuel usage will continue to fall nation-wide, the result of an influx of Hybrid and Electric vehicles as well as still-unstable economic situation.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in 2012 that fuel usage had dropped to 134 billion gallons, 6% less than the all-time-high in 2007. With alternative fuel sources becoming more mainstream, and the economy showing no signs of recover, Conservatives are adapting to changing situations.

Regardless of whether the Republican party ever embraces the exhaustive scientific proof that climate change is an imminent threat, measures like the one passed in Virginia reveal an understanding that as high-efficiency vehicles continue to drop in price, Americans across a spectrum of income levels and political views will jump at the chance to save a couple bucks at the pump.

Without accepting the environmental benefits instituted by a massive deployment of alternative vehicles, Virginia has acknowledged the future economic benefits felt by citizens purchasing them.

The governor said in a closing letter to the Virginia senate “As cars get significantly better mileage and more Americans choose alternative fuel vehicles, it is an inescapable fiscal reality that the gas tax is no longer a dependable, sustainable source of transportation revenue.”

One can only hope that they set the stage for states across the country to institute similar, sustainable initiatives.