Road Management & Engineering Journal
Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.
October 1, 1998
TranSafety, Inc.
(U.S. and Canada)
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Fax: (360) 335-6402

State DOTs and Watershed Management Agencies Collaborate on Planning

In "Integrating Planning for Transportation and Watershed Management," a paper prepared for the Transportation Research Board's 77th Annual Meeting (January 1998), Marie Venner discussed the need for collaboration between state departments of transportation (DOTs) and various resource agencies concerned with watershed management issues. Venner emphasized that "integrating planning for transportation and watershed planning" creates a number of "distinct" benefits for state DOTs, resource agencies, and communities--including much better use of information, resources, time, and money. She followed her discussion with an appendix on funding sources for this type of integration.


The Water Resources Planning Act of 1965 focused the spotlight on watershed planning, and since then the beam has intensified. As a result, state DOTs "have had to adjust to continual change in standards, regulations, and expectations in the environmental field." For example, "the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to reorganize all water programs according to a watershed framework." Part of this reorganization involves developing "a more inclusive and collaborative approach" to watershed planning. State DOTs are actively involved in this collaboration, because transportation "can have significant impacts" on watersheds. Construction "can decrease storage capacity or restrict stream flow" and "fragment wildlife corridors and degrade habitat." It can also affect wetlands "through direct fill of those wetlands in the right-of-way, through alteration of the hydrological regime, or sedimentation from runoff."

Even after completion, highway projects continue to affect watersheds. Highway runoff can increase erosion and decrease water quality, because it may contain a number of heavy metals. A study in California "found that tail-pipe emissions from diesel-fueled and unleaded-fueled vehicles contributed over 10 percent of the total mean annual load for mercury, a pollutant for which EPA standards are tightening dramatically." In addition, "auto tire wear contributed more than 10 percent of total cadmium and zinc loadings in the watershed, and brake-pad wear made highways and autos a priority source of copper in stormwater runoff."


Several state DOTs have been groundbreakers and innovators in the collaborative effort of watershed management and transportation planning. In 1996, Florida passed a law "that DOT as well as environmental protection officials have championed as a money-saving measure and an example of new levels of cooperation." Under this law, "DOT pays . . . $75,000 for every acre of wetland it 'destroys,' which in turn goes to the state's water management districts to restore and preserve wetlands and fight invasive species." The new law also stipulates that "all agencies must engage in long-range planning." Further, "a recent conflict between FLDOT [the Florida DOT] and several resource agencies which entailed six months of weekly mediation culminated in a new cooperative agreement for interagency planning and information sharing early in the transportation planning process."

In Delaware, a watershed project called Whole Basin Management includes the goal of integrating the Delaware DOT's (DelDOT's) efforts with other agencies in the public and private sectors. The project will also integrate databases, "a tool DelDOT may find particularly useful . . . [in] identify[ing] areas potentially contaminated with hazardous waste, to avoid the substantial unplanned expenses that arise from discovering contaminated soils or buried materials in the right-of-way." DelDOT is responding in kind by "working on making their databases compatible with those of resource agencies" and "provid[ing] aerial photography for resource agencies to do freshwater wetland mapping."

Venner noted, "Maryland DOT is now emerging as a national leader among DOTs in stream restoration." She added, "In several watersheds where wetland restoration opportunities were few, Maryland DOT performed stream restoration work." Moreover, "the highways, aviation, and transit divisions of Maryland DOT have participated in an interagency project crossing three watersheds," and the DOT has "participated actively in the assessment process and has been a leader in the ongoing implementation efforts." These efforts have promoted both good public relations and more cooperation among agencies.

Massachusetts is known for having "one of the strongest state regulatory programs for wetlands," and the DOT "is actively coordinating with the state and localities on watershed restoration plans and identified potential mitigation sites." The DOT also initiated water quality monitoring and reduced salting on highways. In fact, "watershed planning has changed the way Massachusetts DOT does business in a number of areas."

According to Venner, "Washington may be the lead state in the country in coordinating watershed and transportation planning." The researcher continued:

WSDOT has committed to recognizing quality-of-environment issues in all phases of planning, construction, and operation, effectively balancing the storm water quality impacts of WSDOT facilities and highways with other traditional goals of the department. WSDOT created a national precedent with their effort to develop an environmental mitigation bank financed by a state revolving fund.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) "recently agreed to contribute $125,000 to document and report on WSDOT's watershed efforts, as a national demonstration project." WSDOT has also developed a way to prioritize the areas selected for "highway stormwater improvement."

Washington "boasts a wide range of watershed initiatives," and "WSDOT is an integral partner on the Watershed Coordinating Council that integrates special objectives in watershed planning efforts and the efforts of numerous water, wetlands, and watershed resource related teams." In cooperation with the Council, "WSDOT selected the Snohomish Basin to demonstrate WSDOT's ability to incorporate a watershed approach into the project development and mitigation process." WSDOT leads the interagency team responsible for this pilot project. In addition to other contributions, WSDOT has contributed financially to the project in many significant areas.

These state DOTs have recognized that "successful integration of transportation and watershed planning is a strategic, integrated, and collaborative [effort] which usually involves substantial information sharing."

The "EPA has also served as a coordinator for comprehensive, joint interagency watershed planning efforts," and the following state DOTs "have partnered with EPA on a variety of these watershed projects": Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire, California, New York, New Jersey, and Nevada.


Venner concluded that "integrating transportation and watershed planning allows multiple objectives to be accomplished." DOTs, resource agencies, and communities all reap the benefits and get more for their investments of time, money, and resources. Communities and resource agencies become part of the DOT "decisionmaking process." Integrated planning also consolidates and streamlines what has "historically" been a "fragmented approach" and allows agencies to prioritize and monitor projects more effectively.

Integrated planning enables DOTs to meet their own objectives while they meet environmental objectives. It puts in motion a process that avoids future problems or conflicts and creates a structure for dealing with them if they do occur. In addition, integrated planning goes a long way toward improving public relations, public service, and public perception. Venner emphasized, "DOTs have a real opportunity to play a leadership role in this round of regulatory refocusing, especially if they are willing to share decisionmaking with resource agencies and make timely internal investments in their staff and information technology."

Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.

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