Internship Location: Virginia Department of Transportation’s Research Council (VTRC)

Hi! My name is Kaitlyn Elliott, and I have spent a little over a month at the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Research Council (VTRC). This summer I am doing environmental research for VDOT. I am the only Environmental Science intern, but there are plenty of other interns doing jobs ranging from pavement testing to analyzing cost estimates. Currently, I have six different projects I am working on.

This project is also expected to show that there are fewer deer collisions, making roads safer for drivers, another main goal of VDOT

Wildlife Crossing- VDOT has added fencing along parts of I-64 to help direct animals to use underpasses instead of crossing the road to reach other areas of their habitat. I am looking at photo and video data to determine if the fencing has been effective at reducing deer crashes, and if animals are using the underpass more frequently than before the fencing was put in place. This project is helpful in many ways, including saving VDOT money, as cleaning up animal carcasses is an expensive job. This project is also expected to show that there are fewer deer collisions, making roads safer for drivers, another main goal of VDOT. It has been a lot of fun getting to see how well the fence is working and all the cute animal photos, above are some of my favorites.  

Sandbags- At the moment, Virginia does not have rigorous specifications for sandbags, which are used in a lot of VDOT’s construction projects. As a result, bags are used that break down before the completion of a project. This is important because many of the bags are used in areas inhabited by endangered species and construction materials need to be held in place to maintain the endangered species habitat. I am currently looking into other states’ specifications, what bags are on the market, and how they differ when it comes to UV radiation resistance.     

Dewatering Bags- These bags are used at construction sites to control sediment flow into a stream. They filter water and hold back sediment, although there have been concerns about sediment escaping the bag. For this project, I have done several turbidity tests at different sites to see how the water compares upstream, downstream and directly out of the bag. This is another important project when considering threatened and endangered species, as a change in turbidity due to construction can cause issues for these sensitive species. 

Seed Mixtures- When VDOT does construction they are required to reseed and clean up their construction. Concern has risen with the effectiveness of the seed mixtures currently in use. Many times the mixture must be reapplied and it does not always do the best job at retaining water. I am looking into what our current practices are and what other states in similar areas are going to prevent these issues.

Erosion and Sediment Control Sustainability- Many products that fall under erosion and sediment control are not biodegradable, recyclable or reusable. This makes them costly to remove and dispose of. Finding a more environmentally sustainable product or another method to replace them would be both cost-effective and more environmentally friendly. I am looking into different products on the market that are biodegradable versions of what we use and how they compare using ASTM methods, which give technical standards for testing materials. I am also researching how composting can be used instead of non-reusable/biodegradable silt fencing for erosion control.

Solar- This has probably been my favorite project so far. Many states such as Vermont, New York, Colorado, Oregon, and Massachusetts have been able to put solar panels on rest areas and on the right-of-way of highways. I am looking into what other states have done so far and what they plan to do. I have reached out to several other DOT’s for information and guidance. I have also looked into what Virginia laws say about solar in the right-of-way (ROW). It seems that solar could be a feasible project for Virginia because the state allows utilities in the ROW, so no new legislation would need to be passed. Not only would solar help keep the cost of electricity down for VDOT, but it would also help offset their carbon footprint.