Day 4 Keynote

A Tale of Two Interwoven Realms — the Human and the Natural Environments

Transportation Research Board's Committee on Environmental Analysis and Ecology

12:30 – 1:30 PM (PT) | 3:30 – 4:30 PM (ET)

About the Presentation

Here, we explore how we have reshaped our approaches to tackling the intricate and often complex social and human issues as well as dealing with the darker fruits of centuries of human expansion into the broader ecosystem—all within the context of transportation and travel.

In one realm, we will look at the human side of transportation. Fundamentally, transportation projects have a need to embrace community needs and welcome democratic decision-making. Of course, these require people to have access to the right information and the ability to make their thoughts heard. Public contributions on transportation endeavors can and have exposed a full range of maladies from habitat fragmentation and species loss to revealing adverse social, economic, health, as well as cultural effects on the low-income and communities of color. Likewise, transportation endeavors must meet a gamut of laws and implementing rules. A balance is often difficult to strike and, at times, we fail to meet the core objectives. Many practices have changed over the decades in an attempt to improve on our past shortcomings. This portion of the address will highlight some of the innovative advances made to achieve success and meet the significant challenges faced in matters of public involvement, equity, legal sufficiency, and environmental analysis.

The other realm is exemplified by creature not even weighing a gram—the Monarch Butterfly. Stirred by warmer temperatures and longer periods of daylight with the coming spring, Monarchs begin their extraordinary annual migration. The Eastern Monarchs, in particular, travel as far as 3,000 miles from their winter home in Oyamel Fir Forests of central Mexico to return to their summer breeding grounds that lie as far north as the southern reaches of Canada. They have been making this incredible journey every spring for more than 10,000 years…but today their survival is threatened. Fortunately, there is a ray of hope. A number of organizations are choosing to change how they use their vast lands and are providing habitat for the Monarch and other pollinators. If successful, this program could help turn the tide on a bleak future for a vital part of nature.

Part 1: Equity, Equality, and Virtual Public Involvement
Carolyn Nelson

This portion of the keynote address compliments the discussion related to transportation and the natural environment with that of the human environment. The revelation of impacts to humans is necessary as transportation projects are meant substantially to serve the broad communities through which they pass. Therefore, the centerpiece of this environmental realm rests squarely with the project proponents ability to equally assess and equitably involve all parties. This has proved to be difficult and the decades-long problem has lent itself to creating vast pockets of underserved communities.

The pandemic, which in some ways has exacerbated our ability to involve the public has also helped promote a potential solution. Across this nation many state departments of transportation—through innovation and a quest for efficiency—have more completely embraced something called Virtual Public Involvement. The end goal in using this more modern alternative to in-person only meetings is to expand the transportation professionals outreach thereby enabling proponents to connect with greater numbers of all people in all communities in ways which more traditional public involvement forums could seldom, if at all, reach. The outcomes are encouraging and leave us with a promise of improved equity, legal sufficiency, and improved accountability to all we serve—which is the heart of all environmental analyses.

Part 2: Use of Transportation Rights of Way for Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Conservation
Kristin Gade and Martin Palmer

This portion of the address provides the core intent and key aspects of the voluntary conservation programs of state and county transportation agencies and energy utilities through the US Fish and Wildlife Service Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA). This agreement offers one of the most exciting and perhaps effective ways to help the monarch butterfly and other pollinators which are on the decline. To date, more than 45 energy and transmission companies along with state DOTs are voluntarily committing their own resources to advance monarch butterfly-friendly management practices on millions of acres of right of way. If successful, this program could turn decline into recovery and thus guide us away from the darker and more disastrous consequences of the human effects on habitat.

About the Speakers

Carolyn Nelson
Senior Project Development and Environmental Specialist
FHWA Heaquarters, Office of Project Development and Environmental Review

Carolyn Nelson is a Civil Engineer who works as a Senior Project Development and Environmental Specialist for Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA)Headquarters’, Office of Project Development and Environmental Review.  She is responsible for providing technical assistance and project oversight regarding National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance to FHWA Division Offices, federal partners, State and local agencies.  Carolyn is the FHWA NEPA lead for Environmental Justice, Title VI, CSS/D, and Public Involvement.  Carolyn has worked in the FHWA Michigan Division Office as an Area Engineer and the Design Program Manager.  Prior to FHWA, Carolyn worked for the Michigan DOT for 13 years as a Geometric & Safety Engineer, Road Design Engineer and Project Development Specialist.  She also worked for CH2M Hill (now Jacobs) on NEPA and Preliminary/Final Design Projects.  Carolyn is a Licensed Professional Engineer and holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil Engineering from Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, LA and Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan respectively.

Kristin Gade, PhD
Natural Resources Subcommittee of the AASHTO Committee on Environment and Sustainability

Kris Gade is an ecologist with expertise in vegetation management, wetlands, wildlife connectivity and regulatory compliance. She completed a doctorate in Biology/Urban Ecology at Arizona State University and works in Environmental Planning at Arizona DOT. She serves as co-chair of the Natural Resources subcommittee of the AASHTO Committee on Environment and Sustainability, on the Advisory Committee for the Monarch Butterfly CCAA and is a member of the TRB Standing Committees on Environmental Analysis and Ecology (AEP70) and Roadside Maintenance Operations (AKR20).

Martin Palmer
Engineering Manager
Washington State Department of Transportation

Martin Palmer is an Engineering Manager with the Washington State Department of Transportation. He is also co-chair of the TRB Standing Committee on Environmental Analysis and Ecology in Transportation. Through his four decade career with the WSDOT, he has worked in the fields of construction, design, traffic, engineering support services, program management and environmental. In this last field, he spent six years covering environmental documentation, and air quality and noise studies as well as leading the WSDOT Seattle Region Environmental Services office for close to a decade. He has been involved with the Transportation Research Board on environmental issues since 2000.