(Washington DC) - The high cost of motor fuels, coupled with decreases in spending for all modes of transportation, is presenting significant challenges and opportunities for state departments of transportation across the country.
"Many state departments of transportation are turning to technology and environmentally sensitive solutions to cut fuel consumption, improve efficiency, and save money," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. "State DOTs are facing some of the steepest revenue declines in decades. Without these innovative solutions, the impact on the condition and performance of our roads and bridges would be even greater."
State transportation departments in Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, and New Hampshire offer some examples.
The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) is currently converting 527 of its work trucks and vans to run on cleaner-burning domestic propane. The program is being funded in part through a Recovery Act grant from the state Office of Energy Development and Greater Indiana Clean Cities, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Cities program.
INDOT says the retrofitted vehicles have the same power, acceleration, and fuel economy as their gasoline-and- diesel powered counterparts, but propane costs less than half as much per gallon as gasoline. INDOT conservatively estimates replacing 500,000 gallons of unleaded gas with propane in the fiscal year beginning July 1, as the new vehicles and infrastructure to support them come online.
"Indiana is expecting to save more than $1 million in taxpayer funds over the coming year as we make this transition," said INDOT Chief Operations Officer Troy Woodruff. "The investments we are making today will continue to pay dividends as the market prices for domestic propane are expected to be favorable compared to gasoline well into the future."
INDOT's fleet of vehicles will be refueled at 115 INDOT facilities that together make up the largest statewide propane fueling network in the United States. Propone is a byproduct of natural gas processing and crude oil refining; about 90 percent comes from domestic sources. Propane is the third largest motor fuel behind gasoline and diesel, but generates 75 to 90 percent less carbon monoxide, ozone, and hydrocarbon emissions.
INDOT is also purchasing 19 new snow plow trucks that will run on compressed natural gas. They will initially be used in the Indianapolis area, where commercial fueling sites are available.
The Arizona Department of Transportation is testing a new solar-powered system to eliminate the need to keep its vehicles idling while parked near traffic. This new technology allows emergency lighting mounted on work trucks to remain illuminated even when the engine is turned off.
"Exploring innovations like solar-powered safety lighting on construction vehicles taps one of Arizona's best natural resources - abundant sunshine - and allows the department to reduce fuel and maintenance costs for these trucks," said John Halikowski, ADOT director of the Arizona Department of Transportation. "This is an effort with environmental, cost-savings, and stewardship benefits. It demonstrates our efforts to find new solutions for age-old challenges."
Currently, ADOT construction staff is field testing 37 trucks equipped with the new solar technology.
ADOT is also participating in a program to cut the department's annual travel by 15 percent by encouraging employees to use technologies such as videoconferencing and by implementing alternative work schedules to cut the total number of days employees spend traveling to and from construction sites throughout the state.
In separate programs to cut fuel consumption ADOT, the Kansas Department of Transportation, and the Michigan Department of Transportation, are encouraging employees using DOT vehicles to slow down, avoid idling, reduce the load carried by vehicles, and ensure tires are properly inflated. KDOT is also using pickups rather than dump trucks when possible and it has modified the department's summer mowing policy to cut fuel costs.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation is turning to the latest in wood-burning technology to supplement its heating systems and greatly reduce the amount of heating oil needed to keep its buildings warm. Beginning next winter, 21 NHDOT facilities across the state will utilize energy-efficient and clean-burning outdoor wood furnaces. Initial estimates put the projected annual savings at $200,000; however state officials now estimate an additional $100,000 in savings due to the escalating price of home heating oil.
"Based upon 2009 oil prices, we estimated these new wood furnaces in all 21 patrol sheds would save the state between $150,000 and $200,000 a year. With today's oil prices, we now see the potential savings at up to $300,000 a year," said Public Works Bureau project manager Ronald Huppe, Jr. Huppe estimates that savings could range between 60 percent and 90 percent of annual fuel costs during a typical winter, depending upon how aggressively the new furnaces are used.
To find out more about what states are doing to conserve fuel, a complete list of state DOT websites is available at http://aash.to/StateDOTs.