ICT/IDOT Propose Economical, Practical Approaches to Control Erosion

Road construction projects affect more than just the flow of traffic—they also alter the flow of stormwater and the amount of sediment transported by this water, leading to pollution of our streams, lakes, wetlands, and reservoirs. One effective way to reduce stormwater runoff and soil erosion resulting from roadway construction projects, and thus reduce water pollution, is through the use of vegetation such as native grasses and other plants.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) wanted to ensure that construction projects have a minimal impact on the environment and so asked researchers at the Illinois Center for Transportation (ICT) to conduct a study, “Native Vegetation Establishment for IDOT Erosion Control Best Management Practices” (R27-104). Co-principal investigator Heidi Howard of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Engineer Research and Development Center in Champaign, Illinois, explains, “The goal of this project is to examine IDOT’s current seeding policies and approved seeding mixes and make recommendations for practices that maximize erosion prevention. Our report will provide IDOT designers and field engineers with techniques to enhance and ensure desirable native prairie plant establishment on IDOT projects.”

To accomplish the research goals, the team analyzed current IDOT policies and compared them with those of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, other state departments of transportation, and federal land management organizations such as the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Next, the team looked at existing seeding practices and mixes in Illinois to determine which techniques and seed combinations led to successful roadside vegetation growth. From that, they developed best management practices to more effectively support IDOT’s goal of environmentally friendly transportation management while reducing overall costs. One unique aspect of this study is that it took into account the regional climate differences throughout the state when making recommendations.

Scott Marlow, Environmental Policy Manager for IDOT’s Bureau of Design and Environment and chair of the technical review panel that supervised the project, explains the benefits of the study: “This research will result in improved mixes of native vegetation that will provide environmental as well as aesthetic benefits for Illinois roadsides. The planting of native vegetation is a simple and effective method of bringing back prairie species that used to be abundant in the state.”

The research report and recommendations will be available soon on ICT’s website. Go to http://ict.illinois.edu, click on “Publications” from the Research tab, and then search for project R27-104.

-February 28, 2014