ADOT to host next International Conference on Ecology and Transportation

ADOT to host next International Conference on Ecology and Transportation


ADOT to host next International Conference on Ecology and Transportation

ADOT to host next International Conference on Ecology and Transportation

September 8, 2011

When the 2011 International Conference on Ecology and Transportation wrapped up late last month in Seattle, the very exciting announcement was made that ADOT had been selected to serve as host for the next conference in 2013!

Now, maybe you’re not too familiar with the ICOET, but this conference is kind of a big deal!

It’s held every two years and showcases research and best practices related to ecology and transportation planning. According to a letter from 2011 ICOET Conference Chair Paul Wagner, each conference brings the participation of hundreds of transportation and ecology professionals from the US and more than 21 countries.

Todd Williams, director of ADOT’s Office of Environmental Services, says the conference is a chance to really highlight the great efforts ADOT makes in incorporating ecological concerns into the way we plan, build and maintain our transportation infrastructure.

A couple examples of those efforts include wildlife crossings built on Arizona’s highways (more on this next week) and ADOT’s vegetation management program.

But, ecology is broader than just wildlife and plants.

“It’s about sustainability and long-range conservation transportation planning,” Williams said

That’s evidenced by just a few of the many presentations from this year’s conference: Safety First:

  • Reducing Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions
  • New Approaches and GIS Tools for Transportation Planning and Design
  • Sustainability in Bridges: The Art and Community of Celebrating our Landscape

To be considered as a host for this conference, departments of transportation submit letters and supporting documents telling ICOET officials why their state would be a good spot for the conference.

Williams says based on that application, the ICOET committee narrows down the field and sends out additional questions to transportation officials in just a few states they’re considering. From there, they select the host state DOT.

And, while ADOT is the host for the 2013 conference, there will be plenty of co-sponsors and a lot of collaboration from other agencies, like Arizona Game and Fish, Forest Service officials and universities, according to Williams.

Take a look at the video above … it was shown at the end of this year’s conference and gave participants a look at why Arizona is a great venue for the next ICOET!

Air quality impact studied by ADOT before projects move forward

Air quality impact studied by ADOT before projects move forward


Air quality impact studied by ADOT before projects move forward

Air quality impact studied by ADOT before projects move forward

September 2, 2011

Analysis and a computer modeling program assist ADOT in determining a project's impact on air quality.

A couple months ago we told you how ADOT works to minimize the noise impact a new freeway has on surrounding neighborhoods.

Well, similar efforts also are made when it comes to air quality …

ADOT is committed to improve air quality by making sure all projects comply with federal, state and local air quality laws and regulations.

That means ADOT’s Environmental Planning Group evaluates every ADOT transportation project to ensure air quality standards will be maintained.

ADOT Noise and Air Specialist Fred Garcia says smaller projects go through a qualitative review by his team to determine if the road work will have any impact on air quality. Larger projects (ones that increase traffic capacity or that have changes in the vertical and/or horizontal alignment) will go through a much more extensive quantitative analysis.

That quantitative analysis includes a sophisticated computer modeling process that helps predict localized air pollution concentrations in neighborhoods near the project.

According to Garcia, ambient background measurements must be taken first. ADOT gets these figures from either Maricopa County or from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

That baseline number helps the modeling program generate an emissions report. From there, other conditions are entered into the program, including vehicle counts, atmospheric conditions and emission dispersion rates.

The program produces a report that can tell ADOT what the concentration of carbon monoxide will measure at different distances away from the future freeway.  The program is so sophisticated that it even takes the future design of cars into account. In coming years, vehicle manufacturers are required to make cleaner and more efficient engines … the computer program can factor that into its predictions.

Once the quantitative analysis is complete, ADOT can tell if air quality predictions will meet standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If standards are met, the project can move forward. If not, the project is modified to help meet those standards.

Transportation isn’t the only factor contributing to air pollution. Construction, manufacturing, and even wind, weather and Arizona’s terrain play a role. However, there are things everyone can do to help minimize their impact, including carpooling, using mass transit and driving less during rush hour.

For more on air quality and ADOT’s Environmental Planning Group, visit their webpage.

ADOT puts some of Arizona’s abundant sunshine to good use!

ADOT puts some of Arizona’s abundant sunshine to good use!


ADOT puts some of Arizona’s abundant sunshine to good use!

ADOT puts some of Arizona’s abundant sunshine to good use!

August 24, 2011

A top view of the solar panels.

When prices at the pump started to spike a couple years ago, ADOT began looking at ways to cut fuel costs for the 4,200 vehicles in its fleet. And, believe it or not, the idea for a very promising solution came from the roof of a pretend cop car … well, sort of.

Around two years ago ADOT Assistant Director John Nichols was contacted by a company with a new product to demonstrate. It was a stand-in law enforcement vehicle touted as an item that could help ADOT save money. The premise was that it would alleviate the need for a real law enforcement officer at construction sites.

It wasn’t going to work for ADOT, but Nichols had a look and was intrigued by the lights on top of this fiberglass shell of a vehicle. They stayed on even though the car had no engine.

They were powered, he was told, by solar energy and a large pack of lead acid batteries. The solar panels were on the outside of the vehicle and the rest of the mechanism was hidden in the “car.”

It was about this same time that Nichols was involved with ADOT’s efforts to cut fuel costs. In an attempt to find out where fuel-use could efficiently be limited, 117 ADOT vehicles were equipped with a device that provided data on aspects of the vehicle’s operation. It could tell things like average speed, location and even the amount of time ADOT vehicle engines spent idling.

Surprisingly, the data showed that the average vehicle idled about 60 percent of the time it was in use … but with good explanation.

“The reason they idle is because they’re running emergency lighting,” said Nichols, adding when crews are working on the side of the road the lights are crucial to their safety and to the protection of motorists.


Solar-powered emergency lighting is being tested on 50 ADOT vehicles.

The emergency lighting takes a lot of energy to operate and if crews didn’t leave their vehicles running, the lights could kill the battery pretty quickly.

After seeing the solar panels work so well to power lights on the fake vehicle, Nichols wondered if something similar could perform in the same way to power emergency lights on ADOT vehicles and thereby prevent the need for idling and save fuel.

That’s when Nichols asked the company that had come up with the faux police vehicle to work on a solar lighting prototype that might work for ADOT.

“We wanted to test the concept,” Nichols said. “Would solar lighting be able to reduce the amount of idling?”

The company produced a rudimentary prototype and two ADOT vehicles were chosen to test it out – one from maintenance and one from construction.

When the results were in, Nichols says the average idle time went from 60 percent of the time the vehicle was in use, down to 7 percent.

“It was pretty significant,” he said. “That really got our attention.”

But, the prototype wasn’t going to work across the entire fleet. Soon ADOT put out a request for proposals seeking a sleek set-up that would be easy to install and not bulky.

“We challenged the industry … they saw the practicality of this application,” Nichols said.

Eventually a product was settled on to test on a larger scale.

The lights now being tested on 50 ADOT vehicles come with supplemental lithium battery packs that are charged by the solar panels. They also have sensors that can adjust the brightness of the light depending on the time of day. Another bonus is that the new solar lights take only 45 minutes to install. The older non-solar lights take much longer to hook up.

The plan is to try them for an extended period of time, make sure any issues are worked out and then deploy them as standard.

“Our analysis showed they’ll pay for themselves in the first year of use,” Nichols said.

Research Center guides ADOT toward transportation innovation

Research Center guides ADOT toward transportation innovation


Research Center guides ADOT toward transportation innovation

Research Center guides ADOT toward transportation innovation

August 8, 2011

The ADOT Research Center studies ways to improve transportation in Arizona.

Much has changed since ADOT got its start in 1927.

Back then, the agency was known as the Arizona State Highway Department and roads certainly were built a little differently. Methods, materials and technology have changed so much since then.

Amazingly, they’re still evolving today …

ADOT keeps up with transportation advancements through research. The ADOT Research Center oversees that research, which is aimed at improving all aspects of transportation in the state and beyond.

But, don’t think the studies and research produced by this team just sit on a shelf once completed.

The information generated by ADOT’s Research Center focuses on evaluating new materials and methods. ADOT’s researchers look at developing design and analysis techniques and study the underlying causes of transportation problems.

In other words, this research leads to better methods, innovative practices and new ways of doing things, giving Arizonans a better value when it comes to transportation!

To get an idea of how this research ends up influencing the way ADOT operates, take a look at the seven emphasis areas within the ADOT Research Center :

  • The Environment emphasis explores the interaction between transportation and the environment. Studies from this discipline look at air quality policy, emissions reduction, transportation-generated noise, wildlife and other environmental topics.
  • The Maintenance emphasis researches how to enhance the maintenance and operation of roadways. A recent study is evaluating the effects of snowplow and deicing chemicals on rubberized asphalt pavements.
  • Materials and Construction studies scrutinize the products and methods used in constructing roads. One study from this emphasis provided research into the noise reduction properties of rubberized asphalt.
  • Research within the Structures emphasis area aims to apply effective modern technology and resources to enhance the implementation of bridge management systems, including the repair of over-stressed bridge decks.
  • Traffic and Safety research not only investigates engineering principles to help solve traffic problems, but it often takes into account the psychology and habits of drivers. Research projects have included a study on seat belt usage in Arizona.
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems analyzes ways to integrate advanced communication technologies into transportation infrastructure. Study topics have included freeway ramp metering, electronic message signs and emerging technology.
  • The Planning and Administration discipline looks to our transportation future – how ADOT can best meet travelers’ needs as the population grows, our society evolves and technology offers more options. This emphasis also addresses organizational issues within ADOT. One ongoing study within this emphasis will report on how new media can bolster ADOT’s community outreach.

There’s much more to learn about this team. Visit the Research Center’s webpage for additional information and stay tuned. In the future we’ll blog about the ADOT Research Center ’s library and product evaluation program.

Don't Trash Arizona!

Don't Trash Arizona!


Don't Trash Arizona!

Don't Trash Arizona!

June 28, 2011

Don't Trash Arizona! aims to educate and increase public awareness of the impacts of roadside litter.

Last month we told you about the thousands who take on the immense task of cleaning up Arizona ’s roads through ADOT’s Adopt a Highway program – more than 800 tons of trash is picked up off the state highways each year because of these volunteers!

But, picking up trash is just part of the equation when it comes to the very big job of keeping the roads clean. Education is the key to changing littering behaviors and teaching people how roadside trash really affects our state.

That’s where Don’t Trash Arizona! comes in. A joint effort between the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and ADOT, Don’t Trash Arizona! was launched in July 2006 utilizing funding from Proposition 400. The program’s aim is to increase public awareness of the economic, health, safety and environmental impacts of roadside litter.

If you’re not convinced throwing trash on the side of the road is a big deal, check out these facts from the Don’t Trash Arizona! website:

  • Roadside litter costs the Phoenix region about $3 million and nearly 150,000 labor hours each year to pick up trash along Valley freeways.
  • Besides ruining our beautiful desert vistas, litter leads to traffic accidents and freeway delays. Each year, approximately 25,000 accidents are caused from dangerous debris on roadways.
  • Littering is not only unsightly, it can cause environmental and health problems. Cigarette butts, for example, contain toxic chemicals that can end up in storm drains and contaminate our water systems.

The good news is that recent research has found the efforts of Don’t Trash Arizona! are paying off. A 2010 survey found that 74 percent of Maricopa County residents reported they had not littered at all during the past year, which, for the first time, represented an increase from previous years (only 69 percent had reported not littering in 2009).

We urge you to check out the Don’t Trash Arizona! website. There, you’ll find some great information, fun giveaways and, most importantly, ideas on what you can do to help!

Listen Up: ADOT works to minimize noise impacts

Listen Up: ADOT works to minimize noise impacts


Listen Up: ADOT works to minimize noise impacts

Listen Up: ADOT works to minimize noise impacts

June 6, 2011

Concrete noise walls reduce traffic noise by blocking the path that sound waves travel from the traffic to the residential area.

Most people don’t find the sound of traffic especially soothing …

ADOT certainly recognizes this and is constantly working to minimize the impacts to surrounding neighborhoods from the noise of new freeways.

You would think figuring out the impact of noise could get tricky because everyone perceives it differently – a sound that’s irritating to you might be tolerable to someone else.

But, federal law requires that ADOT estimate the future noise levels from new freeway projects, and if traffic noise approaches or exceeds 67 decibels, noise abatement must be considered. ADOT has taken it a step further, though, and considers 64 decibels to be the acceptable threshold to consider noise abatement for new projects.

The amount by which noise levels will change in a residential area also is a factor. A road project that will cause noise levels to increase by 15 decibels or more is considered an impact and noise abatement measures must be considered.

Just to give you an idea of what a decibel measurement means … a whisper could register at about 20 decibels, normal conversation comes in around 60 decibels and if you were standing about 15 feet from a loud rock band, you’d be hearing sounds measuring roughly 130 decibels.

Now you might be asking – how do you figure how noisy a new road will be before it’s even built?

Well, experts from ADOT’s Environmental Planning Group use sound pressure level meters to take readings of current noise levels in several areas near a proposed project site.

Measurements aren’t taken during rush hour because traffic is typically a little slower and quieter. Measurements are instead taken at the peak traffic noise hour, when traffic is free-flowing and cars are able to drive the speed limit, but the road is at maximum capacity.

Those measurements and the area’s topographic and weather information are plugged in to a very sophisticated computer program. It creates a model of the area and can tell ADOT what noise levels to expect if a new freeway is built, or an existing freeway is widened.

If it is determined a project will cause a noise impact to the area, ADOT has a few options, including:

  • Install noise walls or berms
  • Implement traffic control measures (speed limits, etc.)
  • Modify the proposed freeway alignment

On top of everything, the abatement method chosen has to meet multiple criteria showing that it is reasonable and feasible … a noise wall isn’t reasonable if the residents of the neighborhood don’t want it or it is cost prohibitive and it isn’t feasible if it won’t effectively reduce noise levels.

A little more on noise walls …

Barriers, such as concrete noise walls, reduce traffic noise by blocking the path that sound waves travel from the traffic to the residential area.

When sound waves hit the noise wall, they must bend over and around it. This is known as diffraction, which absorbs the sound energy, thereby reducing noise. For every decibel of reduction, it is necessary to increase the height of the wall by two feet. Noise walls are most effective when the distance between the source and the receiver is no more than 400-500 feet.

ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are currently studying the use of rubberized asphalt or “quiet pavement,” which can noticeably reduce traffic noise levels. When ADOT/FHWA completes the study, the results will determine whether quiet pavement can be used for noise abatement.

While no analysis, wall or special pavement can completely eliminate traffic noise, ADOT does have one of the most progressive noise abatement policies in the nation and that is something the citizens of Arizona may find soothing.

HOV Lanes: Why we build them when we do

HOV Lanes: Why we build them when we do


HOV Lanes: Why we build them when we do

HOV Lanes: Why we build them when we do

June 2, 2011

Crews are busy adding more than 80 lane miles of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to two Valley freeways – 30 miles in both directions on Loop 101 in the west Valley and 12 miles on east- and westbound Loop 202 in Chandler that will link directly to HOV lanes on the Loop 101 (Price Freeway) and Interstate 10.

The payoff for having these HOV lanes is significant. Not only do they help improve traffic flow and encourage carpooling, but they also expand transit opportunities (think express bus service). People who use them save time and money; and, we all enjoy the benefits of cleaner air thanks to fewer auto emissions.

But you’re probably asking yourself the same question we at ADOT are frequently asked: Why don’t we build the HOV lanes when we build the freeway?

It’s a good and fair question. To answer it, we’ll use an analogy that should hit home for just about anyone who’s ever purchased a house. We all dream about the add-ons we’d love to have from the get-go: the in-home theater, the furnished game room or the gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances. Most of us, though, don’t have the budget to get everything at once, so we start with what we can afford to meet our needs at the time, and save up or secure additional financing later for the improvements on our wish lists.

It’s quite similar when it comes to building our Valley freeways. Constructing them to 100-percent capacity all at once is usually not financially feasible. As a result, we build and improve freeways in phases, using the funding that is available when the project is scheduled to begin.

The funding comes from the voter-approved, 20-year extension of the half-cent sales tax (2006-2026). Revenue is programmed for freeway projects identified in the Maricopa Association of Government’s Regional Transportation Plan and is used for projects throughout the Maricopa County region to ensure that transportation needs in all parts of the Valley are met.

Back to those HOV lanes … we planned for their eventual construction very, very well. It’s no coincidence that we have ample space available down the center of the freeway mainlines. In fact, we plan and build freeways from the outside-in, so we have the land we need and the blueprint for design as soon as we get the thumbs up to begin the next phase of work. What appear to be dirt medians are precisely measured alignments for new lanes; even overpasses are built so additional lanes will fit beneath them 5, 10 even 20 years later.

Just like the homeowner who envisions next summer’s swimming pool on that barren plot of land in the backyard, we at ADOT are saving up – and planning ahead – for the safe and efficient traffic flow of tomorrow.

Adopt a Highway to help maintain Arizona's beauty

Adopt a Highway to help maintain Arizona's beauty


Adopt a Highway to help maintain Arizona's beauty

Adopt a Highway to help maintain Arizona's beauty

May 20, 2011

It’s a sad truth, but trash thrown onto our state’s roadways really adds up.

That’s because it’s not just a few random soda cans, cigarettes or empty bags littering the roads and surrounding areas. In reality, more than 800 tons of trash gets picked up in Arizona each year.

We owe a big thanks to the thousands of volunteers who take on that cleanup effort through ADOT’s Adopt a Highway program.

The Arizona Adopt a Highway program, which currently has 1,577 volunteer groups on board, got its start in 1988. It came after the Texas Department of Transportation in 1985 developed the very first Adopt a Highway group in the nation.

Many states have followed and have a similar program in place that allows any individual or group to adopt a highway as a volunteer or through a maintenance provider as a sponsor.

As you can imagine, using volunteers to pick up trash is a real benefit to Arizona. Stats for 2008 show that Adopt a Highway provided a statewide labor benefit of nearly $4 million.

According to Stephanie Brown, ADOT’s Adopt a Highway coordinator, one big advantage of using volunteers is that ADOT maintenance crews are freer to work on roadway repairs that may impact the flow of traffic and aren’t tied up picking up litter.

What to expect …

If you’re thinking about volunteering, don’t worry, groups do not take on an entire highway! Brown says most volunteers are only responsible for stretches ranging from one to two miles along available state, interstate or United States highways.

You can expect to complete a two-year permit application to start with. ADOT asks that groups clean up their section of highway three to four times a year whenever it fits your schedule. ADOT provides the trash bags, safety vests, and general safety information.

Once you’re signed up and ready to go, you and your group will pick up trash, bag it up and place it on the side of the road … ADOT picks up the bags and takes it from there. As a token of appreciation, ADOT will install an Adopt a Highway sign recognizing your group on your stretch of road!

Find out more about ADOT’s Adopt a Highway program.

Environmental impacts carefully studied by ADOT

Environmental impacts carefully studied by ADOT


Environmental impacts carefully studied by ADOT

Environmental impacts carefully studied by ADOT

May 18, 2011

The impact of roadway construction on the surrounding environment is considered by ADOT.

ADOT can’t just construct a freeway wherever and however it wants…

Building a road actually requires a lot of careful planning, thought and exploration long before the first construction crews ever arrive on site. 

A potential project gets examined from every angle, but it’s the road’s environmental impact that gets one of the closest looks – and for good reason.

Think about it … if no thought was given to a project’s environmental effect, neighbors living nearby the new road would certainly see, hear and maybe even smell the consequences -- not to mention any potential long-term impacts to the environment.

So, it’s a good thing ADOT thoroughly takes into account a project’s possible impact. In fact, ADOT has an entire team devoted to just that.

Experts working within the Environmental Planning Group provide assistance at each stage of a transportation project and they ensure every project complies with applicable environmental laws and regulations.

The primary federal environmental law they are guided by is called the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA for short. NEPA acts as an umbrella for other federal, state and local environmental laws and regulations. Just some of the environmental aspects ADOT considers under NEPA are:

  • Water quality
  • Air quality
  • Noise impacts
  • Historic and cultural resources
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Environmental Justice
  • Threatened and Endangered species
  • Public involvement

In addition to NEPA, there are dozens of other environmental laws on the federal, state and local level that oversee everything from conserving native Arizona plants to farmland protection … EPG takes all these into account, too!

To determine what a project’s impact might be, EPG’s planning and technical sections will do things like conduct surveys to seek out threatened and endangered species in the area; analyze the social and economic impacts of a project; hold public meetings and hearings; consult with the state historic preservation office; and take readings and make predictions on air and noise impacts.

Through planning, EPG can help projects avoid or minimize negative project impacts. Some of the steps taken in the past have included:

  • Building noise walls and berms.
  • Salvaging native plants and re-planting them once construction is over.
  • Designing erosion control features.
  • Building wildlife crossings.
  • Including aesthetic treatments like landscaping, the creation of natural looking rock cuts and the addition of murals and sculptures.

The end result, hopefully, is a project that fits in with surrounding area and preserves the state’s unique natural and social environments.

There’s a lot to this subject and we’ve only touched the surface. In the coming weeks we’ll examine in more detail some of the environmental impacts ADOT considers before designing and building new projects … so stay tuned!