Updates from the Public Lands Team - Fall 2015

FALL 2015 | www.volpe.dot.gov/publiclands

Updates from the

Public Lands Team

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Volpe staff conduct field testing at Lower Granite Lock and Dam, Pomeroy, WA, June 2014. (Source: Volpe)
Volpe staff conduct field testing at Lower Granite Lock and Dam, Pomeroy, WA, June 2014. (Source: Volpe)

Army Corps Releases Vehicle Monitoring Best Practices Guide

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) relies on estimates of visitation to enhance its transportation planning process and to better allocate its limited transportation funds. USACE sites, or “Projects,” tend to have many entry and exit points around inland lakes and rivers, rendering the task of estimating visitation particularly difficult. In order to simplify this process, USACE has deployed thousands of vehicle counters, or “meters,” to capture the number of vehicles arriving to its recreation sites.

USACE utilizes a variety of vehicle counter technologies – magnetic loops, pneumatic tubes, and infrared meters – and each has its own unique calibration requirements. Accuracy often depends on speed and density of traffic, roadway configuration, and environmental conditions.

In 2015, Volpe concluded the first phase of a pilot study to review USACE’s vehicle monitoring program, during which Volpe staff visited Projects in each of the seven USACE Divisions, and assisted with vehicle counter testing, calibration, and troubleshooting.

In August 2015, USACE released the “Best Practices Guide for Selecting and Deploying Equipment to Meter Vehicular Traffic at USACE Project Site Areas.” The Guide includes an application matrix describing the best meter types and technologies according to varying road typologies and conditions, traffic patterns, weather factors, and cost. The Guide is structured so as to be applicable to all field staff regardless of the complexity of their respective vehicle monitoring program.

Phase two of the pilot study will begin in 2016 and will include additional site visits to refine the Guide through further testing and the development of instructional videos. The pilot will be expanded to include bicycle and pedestrian counters.

Project Contact: Michael Kay

Volpe Facilitates Transportation Assistance Group Site Visit at Tonto National Forest

Unpaved Curve on Apache Trail, Tonto National Forest, Phoenix, AZ, July 2015 (Source: Volpe)
Unpaved Curve on Apache Trail, Tonto National Forest, Phoenix, AZ, July 2015. (Source: Volpe)

At the request of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), in July 2015 Volpe staff facilitated a Transportation Assistance Group (TAG) site visit to the Apache Trail (Arizona State Route 88), which runs through the Tonto National Forest. In addition to Volpe, the TAG brought together staff from USFS, ADOT, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), as well as neighboring property and business owners, to participate in a series of meetings. The meetings were primarily listening sessions to gather input about issues along the road and brainstorm potential solutions in a high-level, informal way.

The Apache Trail, located on the outskirts of Phoenix, is the sole point of access to many concession businesses, forest trails, and lakeside recreation sites. Although the road is a state highway and a popular recreation route, it retains much of the character and steep, windy geometry from when it was first developed over 100 years ago. This unique character attracts visitors and tourists to the road, but also poses challenges for maintaining the road and ensuring traveler safety. Due to the complexity of the road, expertise from a multidisciplinary team – environmental, engineering, and planning professionals from the participating agencies – was considered.

In August, based on the TAG visit and discussions, Volpe drafted a report outlining three management options. The potential actions included different kinds of infrastructure investment (e.g., new aggregate material), policies (e.g., limited permit system), and outreach actions (e.g., sharing traveler information data through signs and third-party satellite navigation aids). USFS and ADOT are reviewing the summary and will use the recommendations to help identify management actions or areas for further study. This is one of many TAGs that Volpe has facilitated or participated in with public lands agency partners.

Project contact: Logan Nash

National Park Service Organizes Workshop on Protecting Night Skies

Doll House in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. August 2015. Photo by Dan Duriscoe. (Source: International Dark Sky Association)
Doll House in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park, August 2015, Photo by Dan Duriscoe. (Source: International Dark Sky Association)

The night sky is becoming less and less visible because of “light pollution,” or excessive and inefficient lighting that reduces the apparent brightness of the stars. In fact, by 2000 it was estimated that 99% of the world’s skies were light polluted (Cinzano et al. 2001).

This past September in Fort Collins, CO, Volpe assisted the National Park Service (NPS) with organizing and conducting research used to lead a training workshop on minimizing the negative effects of artificial light sources in national parks. This initiative is part of a broader effort on the part of NPS to protect natural darkness as a precious resource, as recommended in a recent NPS report, “A Call to Action” (National Park System Advisory Board 2012).

An integral part of preserving, protecting, and restoring night skies in parks is selecting, designing, implementing, and maintaining fully sustainable lighting. The NPS lighting roundtable training brought together an interdisciplinary panel of experts including lighting designers, engineers, biologists, planners, environmental advocates, resource managers, facilities-maintenance, and public-safety professionals. More than 40 people attended the workshop. Volpe conducted research in the following areas:

  1. The regulatory context for reducing lighting in the national parks;
  2. Intersection and roadway design improvements that can facilitate light reduction or elimination in national parks; and
  3. Opportunities for NPS to work on a joint energy efficiency and light pollution reduction program with the Department of Energy’s Lighting Accelerator. 

The outcomes from the training will include a list of technologies available and how effective each are at reducing light pollution in parks and protected areas. A printed booklet summarizing these recommendations will also be produced, and will be disseminated as a resource for the entire agency.

Project Contact: Coralie Cooper

Volpe Provides On-Site Support for Pacific Northwest Long-Range Transportation Planning

Erica Simmons at Mount Saint Helens National Monument. October 2015. (Source: Volpe)
Erica Simmons at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, October 2015. (Source: Volpe)

The Pacific Northwest Federal Lands Collaborative Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRTP) is the first effort to develop a Collaborative LRTP with multiple Federal Land Management Agencies (FLMAs) in a multi-state region in the United States. The project, led by FHWA’s Western Federal Lands (WFL) Division Office, involves multiple FLMAs, State Departments of Transportation (DOTs), and other partners in Oregon and Washington. For the past two years, the Volpe Center has supported the CLRTP by facilitating meetings, conducting research, and developing plan content. This summer, Volpe provided an extra level of support for the CLRTP by sending a staff member, Erica Simmons, to the Pacific Northwest to provide on-site technical assistance.

Splitting her time between WFL in Vancouver, WA, and the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Oregon State Office in Portland, OR, Erica’s detail lasted three months, from July to October 2015. While there, Erica dedicated her time to several tasks, including:

  • Analyzing baseline conditions for the CLRTP’s goal areas;
  • Learning from the BLM, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) about their existing planning processes and transportation systems in the region; and
  • Drafting content for the multi-agency “umbrella” CLRTP and the agency-specific LRTPs for the BLM and USFS.

“Working in the two offices was very helpful,” Erica said. “It helped me gain a deeper understanding of each agency, their missions, and the challenges that they face with transportation planning.” Erica also got to know some of the Federal Lands in the region, including Crater Lake National Park, the USACE’s Bonneville Dam, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and several BLM recreation sites and National Forests.

The Volpe Center will continue to support the CLRTP now that Erica has returned to Massachusetts. The project is scheduled to be completed in late 2016.

Project contact: Erica Simmons

Welcome to our newsletter!

The Public Lands Team shares Updates twice a year to highlight recent activities and news.

In this newsletter

About the Public Lands Team

Primarily organized within Volpe's Center for Policy, Planning, and Environment, our team helps federal land management agencies resolve complex transportation challenges at both the program and project levels.

Our work draws on expertise in a variety of fields, including policy and program development, multimodal systems planning, alternative fuels and vehicle selection, environmental compliance, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

You can read more about our team here.

About the Volpe Center

The Volpe Center, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, develops transportation innovations for the public good. Part of the U.S. DOT’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, Volpe partners with public and private organizations to assess the needs of the transportation community, evaluate research and development, assist in the deployment of transportation technologies, and inform decision- and policy-making.

Contact the Public Lands Team

For questions, general information, or to speak with us about getting started on a new project, please contact Eric Plosky at (617) 494 - 2785 or volpepubliclands@dot.gov.