ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP IN NYSDOT HIGHWAY MAINTENANCE
The New York State Department of Transportation operates and maintains approximately 16,500 miles of highway that occupies approximately 1 percent of the state’s land area. Due to the tendency of the highway system to follow streams, coastlines and other natural landscape features, this 1% of land is located within, over and adjacent to many very sensitive and important environmental areas. Considering that NYSDOT, like most transportation departments, is now shifting its efforts more and more towards improving, operating and maintaining the existing transportation infrastructure, as opposed to building large-scale new alignment projects, the role of incorporating environmental improvements into maintenance and operational programs is increasing in importance. The project objective was to Proactively reach out to internal and external partners to identify priorities anddevelop multi-agency strategies and projects that improve environmental conditions along NYSDOT’s rights-of-way and roadsides. The approach required thorough internal teamwork involving many regional groups and external partnering with resource agencies and environmental organizations in order identify, develop and coordinate prioritized environmental stewardship projects. These “best practices” are then implemented during highway maintenance activities. NYSDOT has 11 regional offices with each region having a Landscape Architecture/Environmental Services unit located within the Regional Design Group. Although, located within the Design Group, these Units provide environmental services to all regional groups - including maintenance. In addition, in 2001, a senior environmental specialist (a.k.a. maintenance environmental coordinator or MEC) was assigned to each regional maintenance group to supplement existing programs by dedicating full-time effort coordinating environmental issues in the maintenance group. One aspect of this effort has been a focus on incorporating environmental right-of-way and roadside “Best Practices” into regional maintenance programs. Critical elements of this strategy include fostering internal teamwork within the region and developing partnerships with external groups. By using internal knowledge and resources and external expertise and assistance, the Department’s organizational strengths can be efficiently and effectively managed to expand right-of-way roadside environmental stewardship programs. Examples of 2002 “best practices” to be discussed include: (1.) control methods for invasive plants; (2.) installation of water level control structures at chronic nuisance beaver locations; (3.) installation of water quality improvement structures near drinking water supplies; (4.) turtle mortality abatement efforts; (5.) alternative mowing strategies to enhance grassland songbird nesting habitat; (6.) establishment of living snow fences; (7.) osprey nesting enhancements; (8.) methods to reduce deer vehicle collisions; (9.) migratory bird protection on bridges; (10.) herbicide education programs; and (11.) small petroleum spill abatement measures. These strategies and Best Practices are applicable to any national, provincial, state or local transportation department with an interest in incorporating environmental improvements into daily maintenance activities.