State Departments of Transportation Going Green, Says New Report

state-highway-coloradoState departments of transportation across the country are successfully implementing a range of sustainable practices and programs, according to a new report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) Center for Environmental Excellence.

"This report documents how state transportation departments, municipal planning organizations, and transit providers are putting into practice proven techniques that are speeding up project delivery and cutting costs while protecting and even improving environmental resources," said John Horsley, Executive Director of AASHTO.

The report, titled Leaner and Greener: Sustainability at Work in Transportation, highlights some of the ways state transportation agencies are going green to cut costs, strengthen communities, and, of course, preserve the environment.

One such state agency is the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), which teamed up with the Audubon Society of Kansas in 2004 to implement eco-friendly mowing practices along the state's highways. In addition to promoting re-growth of prairie habitat along the 146,000 acres of land adjacent to the state's highways, KDOT's new mowing policies save the department around $1.5 million a year in lower fuel costs and superior road safety.

The program was recognized by the Federal Highway Administration in 2006 as an Exemplary Ecosystem Initiative.

Another program highlighted in the report is the Minnesota Department of Transportation's (MnDOT) investment in smart snow and ice removal projects. Each year, departments of transportation across the country spread 10 to 15 million tons of salt-based anti-icing material on roads, a practice that can do damage to water quality and salt sensitive plants.

MnDOT's Salt Solutions Program has saved Minnesota, a state with particularly cold weather, over $2 million in salt while reducing environmental impact. The agency has also built 30 miles of living snow fences - barriers made of trees, shrubs, and grasses built along roadsides - that prevent snowdrifts from obstructing roads, thereby reducing the amount of salt and fuel needed to keep roadways clear.

"At MnDOT we're committed to using innovative practices... to keep Minnesota roads safe, costs low, and the environment protected," said MnDOT Acting Commissioner Bernie Arseneau.

Still another example comes from North Carolina, where the Department of Transportation's (NCDOT) cost-efficient low-impact bridge replacement designs have supported water quality goals while reducing project costs by up to 25 percent.

"These low-impact replacement designs enable us to make the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars while improving safety and promoting economic growth with minimal impact to the surrounding environment," said NCDOT Secretary Gene Conti.

NCDOT has also implemented an agency-wide effort to recycle office paper, telephone books and cardboard.  From 2006 to 2007, the department recycled 1,106 tons of paper products, saving an estimated 18,802 trees and 3,383 cubic yards of landfill space. In addition to paper products, NCDOT recycles highway signs, scrap metal, and aluminum cans. The department recycled 2,461 tons of such items in fiscal year 2009-2010.

Leaner and Greener is the third in a series of reports from AASHTO's Center for Environmental Excellence chronicling the ways that state transportation agencies are improving efficiency and cutting costs by going green. The report can be found online at http://downloads.transportation.org/LAG-1.pdf.

Image credit: Doug Kerr, Flickr

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