[IMAGE]VTAsheep.jpg[/IMAGE]In today's economic climate, it could be assumed that projects requiring substantial capital outlay — including any projects or vehicle purchases aimed at "going green" — would be forced to the back burner. However, the federal government's economic stimulus initiatives have made many such projects possible.

Susannah Kerr-Adler, vice president and director, sustainability, at Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB), confirms this trend. "With the new administration and the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) grants, there's a terrific mechanism to leverage that interest [in going green] even more," she says. "When you look at the TIGGER (Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction) allocations, you see alternative fuel vehicles that are getting funded that might not have been previously. You're also seeing more focus on renovating facilities to look at photovoltaic capacity, changing energy storage systems, green roofs, etc. - so there's not only the green design and environmental impact, but also using this as a mechanism to positively influence the costs of maintenance and operations."

Green vehicle purchase

LINK Transit, based in Wenatchee, Wash., serves communities in Chelan and Douglas Counties with fixed bus and trolley routes. The agency was recently awarded a TIGGER grant amounting to $2,925,000 for the purchase of five battery-powered electric vehicles to replace the diesel trolley fleet.

The agency had previously considered implementing battery-powered vehicles to take advantage of the affordable hydropower provided through the two local public utility districts, Special Projects Coordinator Greg Pezoldt says. "The problem with batteries has always been that they could not store enough energy to operate over the course of a typical daily service without being recharged," Pezoldt explains. "Until recently, recharging was limited to a slow overnight process that avoided damage to the battery from charging too rapidly. With the advent of lithium-titanate battery technology, there now exists the ability to recharge batteries in five to 10 minutes between routes."

LINK Transit plans to construct charging stations to support the new vehicles. In one possible configuration, the trolleys would drive under the overhead stationary charging stations and connect to the charger with a pneumatically deployed system.

The agency has issued a request for proposals and was set to select a vendor in March. LINK Transit and the Chelan Public Utility District are contributing a $50,000 in-kind match to fund the purchase.

The new vehicles are expected to eliminate an annual 688 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, Pezoldt says. "The overall reduction of greenhouse gases to our environment is further enhanced by the fact that the electricity used to recharge the fleet is generated through local hydropower — a clean greenhouse gas-free process."

The project has also resulted in a positive coordination with the Chelan County Port District, Pezoldt says. "This organization is our primary economic development agency and they have identified the development of battery-electric transportation technology as a business development strategy for our region. They are working with us on marketing and community support," he says. 

"LINK Transit, through the vision of our General Manager Richard DeRock, has always been a forward thinking organization," Pezoldt says. "The federal and state emphasis on greenhouse gas reduction, the development of new battery technology and the opportunity of the TIGGER grant program all came together as a way of reducing our diesel emissions and reducing the noise impacts of our transit fleet at a reasonable cost, while keeping our route efficiency to a reliable standard."

In August 2009, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), based in San Jose, Calif., purchased 70 diesel hybrid buses using $42.4 million in ARRA funding. According to the agency, the purchase contract creates 35 jobs and supports approximately 230 suppliers, vendors and other indirect support jobs.

Additionally, as the Congestion Management Agency for Santa Clara County, VTA helped secure more than $100 million in ARRA funding for cities and the county. Along with the hybrid buses, the funding went toward road rehabilitation projects and congestion management solutions. 


Upgrading facilities

The Phoenix Public Transit Department has received an ARRA grant for the refurbishment of its Central Station facility in downtown Phoenix. "We received $5 million from FTA and, with that money, we're planning a list of improvements on the site to upgrade for code compliance, to bring some sustainable features into the site and also link it to the downtown environment through a comprehensive signage package," Principal Planner Mark Melnychenko says.

The station, built in 1997 on a 2.6-acre site, serves bus and light rail as well as paratransit service. Sustainable upgrades will include the installation of thin, peel-and-stick photovoltaic sheets on the roof, shade structures and trees in the courtyard area, and water and energy-saving devices in the interior and exterior of the 5,000-square-foot building.

The photovoltaic technology will provide solar energy for the station, and will also allow the department to contribute energy back into the grid. The system can generate up to 30 kilowatts of electricity per day — more than one-third of the structure's daily consumption of electrical energy. The same technology has been successfully implemented at the downtown convention center, Melnychenko notes.

New LED lighting and an efficient HVAC system will also be installed, providing additional energy savings, and new plumbing fixtures will reduce water use by 25 percent. Department officials estimate that the station renovation will achieve in total a 79 percent energy savings annually.

In addition, pervious concrete hardscaping will be installed to minimize retention, Melnychenko says. The coloring and landscaping will provide a visual link to nearby municipal projects, in particular, a new park to the north of the facility.

"The number one concern that we had on the site, due to its use and the harsh environment we're in, is shade," Melnychenko says, so another component of the project is the installation of tensile shade structures that use a fabric material to shield people from sun and rain. Similar shade structures have already been installed at two of the agency's light rail stations. "That type of structure also provides a lot of ventilation and it will be needed because of the 100-plus degree weather through eight months of the year. We're also integrating vertical shade features because in the afternoon, our customers waiting for buses get hit with the sun coming from the west and so we're integrating some vertical features that would help block the sun while they're waiting in line for the bus." About a dozen deciduous shade trees will also be planted in the central courtyard area in order to provide shade.

Melnychenko says the agency has been planning the refurbishment since 2007, prioritizing the various upgrades needed at the site. "Originally, it was going to be both locally and federally funded and due to the economic conditions we had to make some cuts; we wondered whether we were going to move forward with the project as we had envisioned," he says. "Then, the ARRA funding became available, and we felt that this was a strong project for ARRA. It's a very highly visible site for the region."

Although the ARRA grant did not come with a green requirement, Melnychenko says sustainability was always part of the department's approach to the station refurbishment project. In fact, they hope to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for the facility. "What we're doing at this site, it's a test, especially with LEED certification and the changes that need to occur regarding maintaining the site and the other requirements for LEED," Melnychenko explains.

Construction, set to begin later this spring, will be phased to keep the site operational during the refurbishment.

A system-wide approach

VTA in San Jose, Calif., established its Sustainability Program in 2007 with the aim of reducing consumption of natural resources, creation of greenhouse gases and the generation of pollution; promoting the environmental benefits of taking public transportation; eliminating waste and maximizing return on investments; and creating an organizational culture of sustainability.

VTA is also one of the pilot phase signatories to the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) Sustainability Commitment at the Bronze level. At this level, the agency aimed to achieve a 2-percent decrease in water usage, criteria air pollutant emissions, water pollutant discharge, GHG emissions, energy use (electricity, fuel), recycling levels and waste, and vehicle miles traveled per capita.

For fiscal year 2008-09, the agency approved a $3 million budget for green sustainability facility improvements. Working with local energy utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the agency identified rebate programs and performed a cost-benefit analysis in order to implement a comprehensive package of improvements to facilities and changes to procedures.

Consumption of natural resources by the agency in fiscal year 2008 — including diesel fuel, electricity, natural gas, water, paper and solid waste — added up to $20.4 million in costs. With the changes implemented, VTA calculates annual savings of $800,000, meaning the investment of $3 million will be paid back in about three years.

Among the changes were retrofitting showerheads and faucet aerators with low-flow equipment (saving $10,000 and 1 million gallons of water); working with the IT department to save energy and resources related to computers; replacing some older vehicles with hybrids; a biodiesel pilot program; and educating employees to reduce, reuse and recycle.

In addition, the agency improved its irrigation equipment, fixing leaks and installing weather-based irrigation controllers. These devices adjust irrigation schedules automatically based on temperature, humidity and wind speed. They also allow staff to monitor the irrigation system remotely through a Web-based interface. The savings add up to $40,000 and 12 million gallons of water annually.

VTA also installed energy efficient lighting fixtures in shop areas as part of PG&E's customer energy efficiency program, resulting in a 15-percent reduction in energy usage at those facilities. Occupancy sensors have also been installed in meeting rooms, and exit signs now feature LED lights instead of incandescent. The agency received about $57,000 in rebates from PG&E for the retrofits.

Perhaps its most innovative "green" practice, instead of contracting to a weed abatement company, VTA opted to contract with a livestock operation to bring a herd of 400 sheep and goats to the transit facilities to maintain lawns without the use of gas-dependent mowers, fertilizers or herbicides. The effort started out as a pilot program, but is now an ongoing practice at VTA, at a cost savings of about $19,000 annually, the agency reports.

Through a public-private partnership with Skyline Solar in Mountain View, Calif., VTA provided a site to install a solar power plant and, as a result, has rights to all power generated by the 23-kilowatt plant, saving an estimated $20,000 in electricity.

Lastly, one of the major energy-saving efforts adopted at VTA is turning auxiliary power off in parked light rail vehicles during non-service early morning hours, cutting power to the HVAC system, the lighting and air compressor unit. This practice, which required a strategic planning period in order to avoid impacting light rail service, saves the agency $1,000 per day and three million kilowatt hours per year.


Sustainability Commitment

APTA began its Sustainability Commitment program as a pilot in 2009, and has relaunched it this year with the hopes of adding to the 44 transit agency and business members who signed on during the pilot phase.

As well as providing guidance and recognition for agencies and businesses that have made great strides in going green, the program is broadening its approach to sustainability. "It's economic sustainability as well, trying to grow customer ridership, marketshare and funding support," says Rich Weaver, senior program manager in APTA's policy department. The definition of sustainability that's been emerging as the "green" trend has taken root is often referred to as a three-legged stool, including economic, environmental and social responsibility, he adds.

This definition mirrors the growing emphasis by the Obama administration on livable communities. "Bike and pedestrian access were very much a strong component of the recently announced TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants and they are something we're taking a look at in those livability and sustainability criteria," Weaver says. "We're looking at how we can affect vehicle miles traveled per capita in service area of operations, to get the land use link or other non-motorized access to your stations - incorporating bike and ped access in a bigger way is going to be really important."

In terms of federal support for green efforts in the transit industry, Weaver says FTA's TIGGER grants are helping agencies with the incremental costs of going green in buildings and facilities. "The federal funding partnership is going to be critical to making these [projects] happen," he says.

At APTA's Sustainability and Public Transportation Workshop last year, the livable communities issue was addressed with representatives from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in attendance. "They're just getting off the ground, talking about how they're aligning their programs for sustainable, livable communities," Weaver says. "We're going to be moving that forward this year in New York."

The workshop will be held in New York City this year July 25 to 27.

Other resources available from APTA include its Sustainability Webpage, where information on the Sustainability Commitment, upcoming workshop and sustainability standards and resources are compiled. One resource that has emerged from the Commitment's pilot phase is the Compendium of Transit Sustainability Practices, available on the Website as a downloadable PDF.

PB's Kerr-Adler reaffirms the importance of transit's involvement in the Obama administration's new emphasis on livable communities. "With HUD, DOT and EPA forming their Livable Communities approach, I think there's going to be a lot more focus on transit's role within that sector," she says. "That's being defined right now at a federal level but I would suspect within the next year or two, certainly as grants start becoming available, that's going to be as prevalent as energy efficiency and green design, where the focus has been these past few years."

In that vein, VTA's Tom Fitzwater, manager of environmental programs and resource management, says the agency has developed the Community Design for Transportation (CDT) Program's, A Manual of Best Practices for Integrating Transportation and Land Use "to encourage projects that are creative, enhance connections with transit facilities, employ innovative and high-quality design, improve the pedestrian environment, enhance economic vitality, make better use of the land, infrastructure, and resources, and/or improve community connectivity, livability, sustainability, and sense-of-place."

Through the CDT Grant Program, VTA has granted $13.5 million in funds over the last three budget cycles to member agencies and local jurisdictions for projects that are located in a core, corridor or station area and have a pedestrian and transit component, he says.