Road research center receives environmental quality award

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute's Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies at Penn State was selected by the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Professionals (PAEP) to receive the 2013 Karl Mason Environmental Stewardship Award. The award was presented at the PAEP award banquet on May 9, at the Toftrees Golf Resort and Conference Center in State College, Pa.

Karl Mason served as Pennsylvania's first state environmental administrator from 1952 until his death in 1966. His holistic vision of environmental management set the pattern for the state to this day, according to a statement on the PAEP website. Mason believed and put into practice the notion that environmental protection is primarily the business of professionals who have the skills by virtue of their scientific training to manage the technical and scientific complexities of maintaining a safe, healthy and clean environment.

The award was created to commemorate his vision of a strong, well-managed environmental program. The center was recognized as making a significant contribution toward maintenance or restoration of Pennsylvania's environmental quality."

Under the direction of Steve Bloser, the Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies is the prime education and outreach conduit for Pennsylvania's Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program through the State Conservation Commission and Bureau of Forestry. The center also provides training programs and seminars to government and industry personnel throughout the country.

"The work we do is fundamentally changing the way people look at rural roads," said Bloser. "A lot of people never realized the severity of the environmental impact of roads, and that methods exist to do things better."

Created in 2000 in partnership with the state's Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program, the Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies specializes in education, outreach, research, and project oversight related to the environmentally sensitive maintenance of unpaved roads and trails. Pennsylvania's Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program provides funding to eliminate stream pollution caused by runoff and sediment from the state's 20,000-plus mile network of unpaved public roads.

"These environmentally sensitive maintenance practices stress long-term solutions," said Bloser. "The goal is to reduce sediment pollution and long-term maintenance costs associated with rural roadways. What you get in return is a more environmentally and economically sustainable rural road system."

Center researchers developed Driving Surface Aggregate, a PennDOT-approved specification that has been applied successfully to hundreds of miles of unpaved roads. With municipalities across the country facing crippling budget decisions, the prospect of providing a way for unpaved roads to require less maintenance and have a lesser impact on the local environment addresses two key concerns simultaneously.

"A key aspect of our mission is capacity building," said Bloser. While the center's efforts have reached thousands of sites within Pennsylvania, much work lies ahead. More than16,600 stream pollution sites have been identified by the center as eligible for funding. To date, the state program has funded 2,400 of the identified project sites in the past 15 years.

In addition to providing educational and technical assistance throughout Pennsylvania, the center's efforts also have assisted agencies and municipalities in Arkansas, California, Wyoming, Missouri, South Dakota, South Carolina, Michigan, Maine, Maryland, New York and Ohio. The center also receives inquiries from governments and organizations around the world.

The Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies was recently selected by the Transportation Research Board to host the 11th International Conference on Low-Volume Roads in 2015. Held every fourth year, the conference brings together practitioners worldwide in local, state and federal agencies; universities; private firms; and international organizations to discuss case histories, research results and innovative practices related to rural roadways. Previous conferences have attracted transportation professionals from all continents.

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Last Updated May 15, 2013