UC Professor's Projection Model Measures the Environmental Impact of Infrastructure Proposals

Over the past decade, a global effort has been initiated to conserve and protect natural resources for future generations and to protect human health through environmental stewardship. However, the “Go Green” campaign is challenged on a daily basis by increasing land-use and transportation needs.

University of Cincinnati researcher Heng Wei, associate professor of civil engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences' School of Advanced Structures, presented research at the recent Ohio Transportation Engineering Conference (OTEC). His research focused on a model which projects traffic-related emission and energy-consumption demand based on various land-use and traffic-management scenarios. The presentation title was “Approach for Integrating Regional Level and Corridor Level Conformity Analysis.”

The Ohio Transportation Engineering Conference is a two-day conference attended by over 2,800 people from across the United States. OTEC is co-sponsored by the Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio State University, and the conference is organized to provide something for everyone interested in Ohio’s transportation industry. The program addresses the latest policies and technical information, as well as covering new ideas in transportation policies, planning, design, construction, maintenance, operation, local government, and management of transportation resources.

In 2007, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) started a new science and engineering research program called “Sustainable Water Infrastructure for the 21st Century,” also known as the Aging Water Infrastructure (AWI) program. The purpose of the AWI Research Program  is to generate the science and engineering to improve and evaluate promising innovative technologies and techniques to reduce the cost and improve the effectiveness of operation, maintenance, and replacement of aging and failing drinking water and wastewater treatment and conveyance systems.

Wei’s proposed integrated system, called the Scenario-Based Planning Support System (SB-PSS), examines the impact of management and adaptation strategies on alleviating climate-change effects. The SB-PSS is developed through the integration of actual and scenario-based land use visioning and planning, demographic changes, transportation-emission analysis, and computer forecasting and evaluation of future scenarios. This system allows developers to understand how their plans—whether malls, apartments or roadways—are going to effect the environment prior to construction. 

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The figure to the right illustrates one area in which Wei analyzed the tri-state’s most-extreme traffic zones. Cars cause even more damage to the environment while they’re idling in traffic due to their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, water and heat from their exhaust. These have a vastly negative effect on the ozone layer. For instance, there is current concern for the impact traffic back-ups on the I-75 Brent Spence Bridge is having on the environment. By using Wei’s proposed model, the future construction of a new bridge can be judged in terms of safer conditions for both the surrounding greenery and the ozone layer.

Traffic isn’t the only factor to worry about when it comes to affecting the environment. Any time a building is built, trees and other greenery are bulldozed to make way for the new project. By eliminating plant life in an area, the photosynthesis process that was being performed by them—which converts carbon dioxide in the air to oxygen, essentially cleaning it—is also removed from the ecosystem. In addition to this negative impact, other things such as traffic flow naturally increase with the increase of land use. For instance, developers of the Banks, a long-time envisioned 18-acre marquee, mixed use development that includes residential units, office space, dining, leisure and entertainment venues, would use the SB-PSS to project what effect it will have on the surrounding area of Cincinnati.

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Similarly, there’s been much discussion of constructing a light rail through the Greater Cincinnati area. The proposed passenger rail transit system would greatly decrease, or perhaps even eliminate, the heavy traffic conditions that occur daily on I-75, 471, I-275, and I-71. The graphs on the left depict Wei’s results of studying such traffic conditions and how much CO2 is emitted because of them. Builders of the light rail would simply enter their plans into the SB-PSS system prior to assembly, and it would project the positive environmental outcome it will have on the area.

Wei concluded his presentation by stating that through the quantifying sustainability analysis, the proposed SB-PSS is proven to be an effective tool in decision making for the improvement of quality of life for residents, water resource and infrastructure adaptation.

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