State DOTs working to improve public engagement around urban highways

Many highways that once cut through cities across the country are now coming of age, and the state DOTs responsible for maintaining them are beginning to wrestle with what those facilities should look like in the coming decades and, in some cases, whether they should be there at all. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has signaled strong interest in rethinking these highways and USDOT will soon be inviting applications for its $1B Reconnecting Communities program, authorized through IIJA. That will be good news for a small number of agencies facing mounting pressure from community members pushing for innovative thinking on urban freeways.

Aligning priorities across agencies

Government agencies sometimes face the criticism that they have difficulty coordinating between various silos. In the transportation sector this may stem, in part, from the historic approach of separating modes into different funding, maintenance, and development streams. While barriers still exist, some agencies are developing coherent multimodal policy to combat this. In other cases incoherence can occur when different segments of the same network fall under the jurisdiction of different agencies, each with its own priorities and maintenance approaches.

Federal government signals transportation funding priorities as states prepare

With the passing of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November, state DOTs will soon see around 50 percent more annual transportation spending over the next five years. U.S. DOT has outlined its vision for spending under the IIJA, first in a memo from FHWA, and more recently in a series of “Innovation Principles.” The message to state DOTs is that they should focus on preserving existing infrastructure, ensuring safety for all road users, protecting the environment, and reconnecting communities, all while embracing experimentation, adaptation, and collaboration. Many states are now positioning themselves to get a decent slice of the pie and to make the most of what they get.

Caltrans joins MassDOT in requiring road projects to serve all modes

Culture change at large agencies like state DOTs is slow but steady. In California’s case, the agency has taken several important steps, prompted partly by SSTI’s 2014 external review. The agency started by updating its mission, vision, and goals—shifting its focus from strictly “mobility” to “a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system.” It is now formalizing that mission in its design process through a Complete Streets policy directive.

States can target key transportation issues with federal infrastructure funds

The much-anticipated Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was finally signed by President Biden on Monday, and state DOTs are preparing for what will amount to around 50 percent more transportation spending than originally planned for over the next five years. The act includes an additional $110 billion for roads and bridges, $11 billion for safety, $39 billion for public transit, and $66 billion for freight and passenger rail (a five-fold increase).

Add Virginia to the list of states testing out “plastic roads”

Engineers at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) are studying a new type of asphalt mixture, called recycled plastic modified asphalt mixture (RPM), that could replace traditional asphalt mix. While limited research on the technology says it is a win-win for both improving longevity of roads and redirecting plastic waste from landfills, VDOT wants to confirm that the new mixture does not result in microplastic entering the environment through water runoff. 

Bike facilities often follow income gains, not the other way around

A new study found little evidence that new bike infrastructure leads to displacement of low-income households or people of color, despite the two sometimes being linked in public discourse. The data reveal some bias toward mostly white neighborhoods in terms of where new facilities are installed, but sharrows, or markings that indicate a preferred bicycle route, account for more of the difference than separated bike lanes.