Friday, April 22, 2022

Moving ahead on Earth Day

By Ahmer Nizam

An old friend who is a retired National Marine Fisheries Service biologist recently recalled to me that when WSDOT began its fish barrier removal program in the 90s, it didn’t do so because of a court order but because WSDOT believed it was the right thing to do. Our decades-long commitment to sustainability is the reason why, today, the agency is a national leader among state DOTs in areas such as habitat connectivity, cultural resources protection, watershed management and climate change mitigation.

Earth Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate our successes, but more importantly, it challenges us to consider what more we can do to be even better stewards of our environment. Many of our answers are found and funded by the Move Ahead Washington transportation funding package. Through the new appropriations, we will dramatically expand efforts to reduce agency-specific and transportation sector carbon emissions by shifting modes and decarbonizing our fleets, restore habitat, aid in salmon recovery, treat highway stormwater runoff, reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, and incorporate environmental justice principals into our agency processes.

Correcting fish passages that run underneath highways across the state is one of the
 many ways our agency is working to create a healthier ecosystem.

Invest in Our Planet

This year’s Earth Day theme is “Invest in Our Planet” and the goal is to act boldly, innovate broadly and implement equitably. That’s something our agency continues to work to do.

For example, the Move Ahead Washington package provides funding for hybrid-electric ferries, zero emission buses, electric vehicle infrastructure, transit and active transportation including projects to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. It also champions equity in transportation funding with resources allocated to underfunded communities.

Investing in our planet isn’t something new for us. Some of the steps we’ve taken include:

  • Offering flexible work scheduled to help reduce roadway congestion and air pollution
  • Reducing emissions on Washington State Ferries and Amtrak Cascades fleets with new fuel-efficient or converted equipment
  • Improving fish passage in streams and waterways under state highways
  • Creating wildlife crossings to assist with safe passage of wildlife near our roadways, cutting down on possible wildlife-vehicle crashes
This group of elk are safely crossing I-90 using the wildlife overcrossing near Snoqualmie Pass. The crossings make travel safer for humans and animals alike, and there are 14 undercrossings and one overcrossing on the way on I-90.

Doing your part

One of the biggest environmental challenges our agency faces is the ever-increasing amount of litter on our state highways and medians. Each year we spend more than $4 million of our maintenance budget on litter cleanup and disposal, and yet the problem continues to grow, frustrating everyone including our crews.

We coordinate cleanups with the Department of Ecology, Department of Corrections as well as our own Adopt-a-Highway program. For example, we recently teamed with the Department of Ecology on a cleanup effort on SR 512 in Puyallup, where crews collected and disposed of more than 10,000 pounds of litter in three days.

We recently teamed with the Washington State Department of Ecology on litter cleanup on SR 512 in Puyallup where crews collected and disposed of more than 10,000 pounds
of litter in just three days.

But we need your help. We aren’t funded to have dedicated cleanup crews so our maintenance crews balance everything from road repairs, cleanup and traffic control at crashes, guardrail fixes and, yes, litter cleanup. With only so much time, staff and funding, we do the best we can to prioritize work based on safety needs. While joining the Adopt-a-Highway program is a great option for some, the best thing the public can do to help is stopping litter from ending up on the roads in the first place. Dispose of trash properly, secure loads so they don’t fly out of or off of your vehicle. And encourage your friends and family to do the same.

We are proud to be a partner in ensuring that our state’s environment will be sustainable and resilient for all citizens for generations to come. As excited as we are about our work under Move Ahead Washington, we should not lose sight that some of the greatest environmental benefits come about through our individual choices and actions. This Earth Day, I hope you will join us in reflecting on the state of our environment and ways that we can make a difference. I recall a “corrected” sign on a former teacher’s door that read, “One Person Can Only Do So Much.”

You can learn more about what we are doing to protect our environment on our website.