Posts Tagged ‘transportation’

I read an article yesterday on John Waylon, a.k.a. Plasma Boy, a tinkerer who fitted 1972 Datsun body with not one but two electric engines — forklift engines — powered by battery packs. His team takes the car racing on public tracks and with its instant acceleration, the car does wonders on the quarter-mile drag races.

The Oregon Public Broadcasting video below shows the car — named White Zombie — leaving Corvettes, BMWs, and other muscle cars on the starting block.

Links of interest:


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Last Monday, March 9, the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) released a draft environmental impact report (EIR) disclosing the expected environmental impacts of reestablishing freight train operations on the Russian River Division, a 142-mile stretch of the Northwestern Pacific (NWP) line between Lombard in Napa County and Willits in Mendocino County.

This signals the start of the comment period under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The NCRA will then address written comments received from the public, agencies and stakeholders, and prepare a final EIR.

NCRA chairman Allan Hemphill says that the draft EIR indicates that “trains will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, take trucks off of 101, save energy and provide a cost-effective means to ship goods in and out of the North Coast.” The most significant impacts expected to result from restarting freight trains are related to noise and safety.

The line has been unused for freight since it was damaged by the winter storms of 1997/1998, except for a brief period in 2001 when trains rain between Lombard and Penngrove (Sonoma County).  Since then, disrepair has only worsened.

After repairs, the NCRA proposes to restart freight rail service from Lombard this fall, starting with three round-trips a week to Windsor with 15-car trains.  The service would increase as commercial conditions allow, to two round-trips a day, six days a week, from Lombard to Willits, with one 25-car train round-trip and one 60-car train round-trip per day.

The draft EIR is massive, a 750-page, 279-megabyte PDF file. The executive summary section alone is about 57 pages long.  And since the PDF is scanned, not print-generated, it’s not searchable and it doesn’t allow copy-paste operations.  Welcome to the finest technology of the 1980s.

A public hearing on the draft EIR will be held on April 15 at 6:30 pm at the Petaluma Community Center. Comments on the draft EIR are due by May 1.

Links of interest:

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According to recent articles in the Seattle Times and EcoGeek, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington are considering a plan that would allow motorists travelling along U.S. Interstate 5 to charge or change electric-vehicle batteries, or to fill fuel tanks with biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen or compressed natural gas when they stop at rest stops offering alternative fuelling stations.

(The governors are calling this a green highway, but unless we figure out to fuel cars with the trash dropped by drivers daily, I-5 won’t have quite earned that title.)

Apparently, Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington hopes to begin work in her state as early as this summer. Oregon and California are not likely to start on their sections of the project as early. One of the hurdles to the entire project will be to get approval from the federal government for commercial development alongside an interstate.

The National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) and national gasoline distribution groups oppose the project, which they say provides unfair competition. I confess, I don’t see how they can call it competition unless they start offering alternative fuelling stations of their own, and in sufficient numbers and distribution to provide an equivalent service.

I-5 stretches about 1,380 from Tijuana, Baja California to White Rock, British Columbia. Traffic volume varies along the long ribbon of asphalt, reaching 353,000 vehicles/day in San Diego, 598,000 in Los Angeles, 388,000 in Sacramento, 145,000 near Portland, and 274,000 in Seattle.

There already are dozens of alternative fuelling stations offering compressed natural gas, ethanol or biodiesel in Washington, Oregon and California, but the closest hydrogen station is right here at Humboldt State University.

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The Crescent City Daily Triplicate announced on Saturday that an appropriations bill that just passed the U.S. House of Representatives included $1.6 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge Crescent City’s harbour. The bill stills needs to pass the Senate vote and be signed by President Obama before the Corps officially gets this money.

The project would allow the Corps to improve critical spots in the navigation channel, making it safer for commercial and recreation vessels. Dredging is something that needs to be done periodically in this and other harbours, to keep the deeper parts of the navigation free from the silt and sediment carried off by streams and runoff. A large proportion of the sediment is mobilized by spring melt, carried off into streams and all the way to the sea. There is also the effect of currents which can keep moving the harbour bottom sediment.

Naturally, dredging also has impacts on the ecosystem and natural communities that populate the harbour floor. Specific programs are in place to streamline the environmental review; it’s different, for example, to maintain an official navigation channel, from proposing a project that would require the dredging of natural areas not normally impacted. In essence, some of the known impacts of dredging the channel are already studied and accounted for, and the environmental review for a specific project is made more straightforward by addressing only what is new and site-specific.

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[Reprinted from EcoGeek.]

When one considers the myriad of things becoming hybrid, tugboats are not one of those which immediately come to mind. But in southern California (where else?) the world’s first true hybrid tug was recently unveiled.

The Carolyn Dorothy, displayed before a large crowd in the Long Beach, California area on January 23, was built by Seattle, Washington-based Foss Maritime. This tug joins a fleet of existing standard tugboats servicing the needs of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

This hybrid tug, partially built with funds contributed from both ports, is expected to “significantly reduce emissions” compared to its conventional siblings. The design seems to have made the EPA happy, as the governmental agency gave it an award of excellence last year.

So what exactly makes this “Green Assist” tug a hybrid? Foss first detailed this project back in 2007. In place of a traditional tugboat engine, this boat is powered by two 670 horsepower battery packs coupled with two 335 horsepower diesel generators.

The company added that although the main engines in the hybrid tug will have lower horsepower than the existing Dolphin engines, overall the tug will have the same total horsepower as its sister tugs. A key features to the implementation of this design is a specialized power management system, which helps lower fuel consumption and reduce emissions.

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richardsongrove2I forgot to mention that Caltrans extended the comment period on the environmental impact report (EIR) for Richardson Grove widening project.  The public can submit comments until March 12, by sending them by mail to:

Deborah Harmon, Senior Environmental Planner
CA Department of Transportation
1656 Union Street
Eureka, CA 95501

or to:

Kim Floyd, Project Manager
CA Department of Transportation
P.O. Box 3700
Eureka 95502

Or by e-mail to deborah_harmon@dot.ca.gov or to  Kim_Floyd@dot.ca.gov.

Links of interest:

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Richardson Grove State Park, by TheJosephBoys

Richardson Grove State Park, by TheJosephBoys -- Creative Commons license: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic

I wrote a couple of times in December about the draft environmental impact report (EIR)/environmental assessment (EA) prepared by the California Department of Transportation for the Richardson Grove improvement project. I thought I’d share the comments I sent to CalTrans.

As a reminder, the comment period has been extended by one week to end on Friday, January 30, 2009.


California Department of Transportation
1656 Union Street
Eureka, CA 95501

Attention: Deborah Harmon, Senior Environmental Planner

Object: Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project Draft Environmental Impact Report/ Environmental Assessment

Ms. Harmon,

I have read the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project Draft Environmental Impact Report/ Environmental Assessment (draft EIR/EA) and I would like to offer some comments. I am an environmental engineer with over a decade of experience in conducting environmental impact assessments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and similar regulations, and I live in Humboldt County.

I believe that some aspects of the project have been insufficiently studied to meet the requirements of NEPA and CEQA. Aspects I am concerned with are the traffic and safety impacts, effects of decompaction and recompaction on the root mass of old-growth trees, and the range of alternatives proposed.

Traffic. Although the draft EIR/EA evaluates the existing traffic component of the environmental setting, it provides no analysis of the effects on traffic and road safety that can be expected to occur due to the increased capacity and the new presence of larger freight vehicles, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 (STAA)-compliant trucks that are the reason for this project. The document offers no projection of the expected volume and composition of traffic, or the resulting effect on accident rates.

I note that there is mention that:

Caltrans is also considering reducing the existing posted speed limit of 40 mph through Richardson Grove to 35 mph as an independent action from the proposed operational improvement project.

However, there is no discussion of the effects on traffic and safety of the project with and without this measure.

Traffic and safety considerations are particularly important to discuss because there is a perception in the general public that the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project is proposed in response to safety concerns and will help improve conditions, even though the draft EIR/EA clearly states that no such improvement is expected to result. It does not say, however, whether conditions are expected to worsen.

Old-Growth Trees. Construction activities will result in excavation, decompaction, backfill, and recompaction of soils in and near the root zone of old-growth trees, particularly Coast redwoods, which is harmful to the trees. The draft EIR/EA analyses the projected effect by stating that:

Many of the large redwoods within and adjacent to the project area are likely affected by compaction resulting from the existing Route 101 roadway and park facilities (campsites, trails, roads, park structures). The proposed project is not anticipated to substantially increase the magnitude of compaction that presently exists.

However, no effort is made to support this conclusion with data. I would like to see a discussion of the results of comparable construction work conducted in old-growth areas in the past, such as the along other segments of U.S. 101, the Newton B. Drury Parkway, U.S. 199, etc. Were the old-growth redwoods unharmed by such work? If there were instances of trees being damaged, how frequent were they?

Alternatives Range. While it appears that several design options and alignments were evaluated as part of the proposed project, the draft EIR/EA provides very little information on or analysis of realistic alternatives bracketing the proposed project. I do not believe it has met the requirements of CEQA and NEPA in this regard.

I hope the final EIR/EA will be revised to provide more information on these topics; as it stands, I believe the document does not provide sufficient information to support a determination of no significant impacts, with or without mitigations.


Sophie Lagacé

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