Maintaining the biodiversity of New York State is an important aspect of Environmental Stewardship. New York is fortunate to have a unique environment rich with many different species of animals and plants. As such, the Authority has performed numerous projects to protect species found near and adjacent to the highway. Some examples of these are as follows:
The peregrine falcon is an endangered species in New York State. In the late 1980s, the Authority had falcon nesting boxes installed on the main trusses of four major bridges along the Thruway System: the Tappan Zee Bridge which crosses the Hudson River and is located 13 miles north of New York City; the Castleton Bridge, which spans the Hudson River south of Albany; and the North and South Grand Island Bridges, both of which cross the Niagara River.
It is a symbiotic relationship. The bridges provide high vantage points for these birds of prey and create a safe nesting zone away from human interference, while the falcons keep pigeons off the bridges. Keeping the pigeons at bay is beneficial in increasing the life of the bridge as pigeon droppings are harmful to the paint and steel of the structure. Since the program's inception, the number of pigeons nesting on bridges has dramatically decreased.
Authority staff also coordinates with the NYSDEC and the New York City Department of Environmental Conservation to band falcon chicks nesting on the Grand Island and Tappan Zee Bridges, to track the livelihood of these endangered birds. Additionally, the Authority works with NYSDEC and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to monitor the Tappan Zee Bridge falcons.
As part of the construction of the new New NY Bridge, the Falcon nesting boxes will be relocated to the new bridge structure.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, approximately $23 billion is lost each year nationwide due to invasive plant impacts to agriculture, industry, recreation, and the environment. An estimated 4,600 acres of land are affected daily by invasive plants.
Therefore, the Thruway Authority (Authority) proactively takes precautions to control the spread of invasive species to unspoiled areas. During maintenance activities, such as ditch cleaning and culvert work, among the preventative measures employed are: washing vehicles and equipment before moving them from one site to another; monitoring soil movement and stockpiling for invasive species; and providing special protection to pristine, invasive-free areas, especially wetlands. Additionally, in Authority contract plans contractors are directed to take all reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of invasive plant species materials when conducting earthwork activities. The Authority also participates in an inter-agency Council to control and combat invasive species. For more information about the Invasive Species Council, please visit the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at www.dec.ny.gov/animals/6989.html.More information on invasive species in New York State can be found at the New York Invasive Species Clearinghouse website, at: http://nyis.info/.
Living Snow Fence Program
In the winter months, blowing and drifting snow can be a safety hazard for the traveling public. To help alleviate this issue, the Thruway Authority has installed "living snow fences" parallel to the highway. Rows and clusters of willow trees and evergreens were strategically planted in areas prone to heavy snow fall and blowing and drifting snow. These densely planted configurations trap some of the snow and dissipate blowing snow before it can collect on the highway.
Living snow fences were first installed in 2006, in collaboration with the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, along the I-90 right-of-way at Interchange 18A and Interchange 20 in the Town of Grand Island, Erie County.
Currently, there are thousands of willows and conifers planted system wide along the Thruway right-of-way (ROW) and at various interchanges to help reduce snow drifting across the roadway. These plantings directly result in reduced maintenance costs and greenhouse gas emissions given the need to plow less frequently in these areas.
During the planting season, our maintenance crews will continue to complete new living snow fence installations across the system and look for additional planting areas along the Thruway ROW.
New York State Pollinator Protection Plan
In 2015, the Governor established the New York State Pollinator Task Force responsible for addressing the decline in pollinators that has occurred in recent years and to develop a roadmap to conserve and grow pollinator populations across the state. In June 2016, the results from the Task Force were published in the New York State Pollinator Protection Plan, which can be found at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/administration_pdf/nyspollinatorplan.pdf .
The Pollinator Protection Plan focuses on four priority areas:
- Development of Best Management Practices for all pollinator stakeholders;
- Habitat enhancement efforts to protect and revive populations of all pollinators;
- Research and monitoring efforts to better understand, prevent and recover from pollinator losses; and,
- Development of an outreach and education program to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators and engage the public as active participants in reversing pollinator decline.
Thruway Authority Best Practices
- Beginning in 2008, mowing limits have been established along the Thruway mainline, interchanges and service areas to minimize the cutting of herbaceous vegetation while maintaining safety and public concerns. The reduction of mowing results in the colonization of meadow wildflowers through succession that are beneficial to pollinators. Additional mowing limits are being evaluated at maintenance areas, service areas, and toll plazas. All areas will be reviewed for planting of perennial wildflowers.
- Tree trimming and removals are timed to consider wildlife, including bats. With the invasion of the emerald ash borer the Thruway Authority is currently experiencing high mortality rates to green ash trees in some areas. Maintenance sections work with environmental staff on utilizing select dead ash trees which do not pose a hazard to travel, for the potential colonization of pollinators and building of hives in cavities within the dead trees.
- Numerous willow bushes and lilac bushes have been planted in the Thruway's Syracuse Division to serve as living snow fences, in addition to wildflowers being planted.
- Plans for planting lilac and willow bushes as well as wildflowers at various locations throughout the Thruway mainline right-of-way is scheduled. Where appropriate, standard turf seed mixes are being substituted with wildflower mixes on current and planned construction projects.
- Projects currently in the design phase are being reviewed for the suitability of wildflower mixes and other plantings are recommended where appropriate. In addition, the Thruway Authority continues to recommend plantings beneficial to pollinators to be included in current and future construction projects.
Shoreline Stabilization Project
The shoreline of Lake Erie, in the vicinity of the Black Rock Canal, was found to be eroding due to wave action and ice scouring. Stormwater drainage from I-190 in Buffalo also appeared to contribute to the erosion.
To help mitigate and correct the problem, the Thruway Authority, in cooperation with the State University of New York College at Buffalo, installed heavy stone fill to protect 300 feet of the shoreline near stormwater outfall drainage in this location.
Shoreline stabilization will prevent further erosion and sedimentation while promoting the natural restoration of valuable habitat for a variety of warm water fish and aquatic invertebrates.
There are times when rehabilitation and maintenance of Thruway Authority (Authority) infrastructure impacts natural wetlands along the highway corridor. As such, the Authority has undertaken unique and innovative wetland mitigation projects. To ensure the projects are successful, the Authority works closely with various Federal and State agencies, including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on these important endeavors;
Montezuma Wetlands Complex Mitigation Project
As part of the 1-90 Reconstruction Project, located just east of Syracuse, the Authority worked with Ducks Unlimited, Inc. (DU), the USACE and NYSDEC to undertake a distinctive mitigation project in the Montezuma Wetlands Complex (MWC). The Authority's mitigation project restored 14 acres of valuable wetlands in the Northern Montezuma Wetlands Complex, located in the Town of Savannah in Wayne County. The site is owned by NYSDEC and is part of their Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area. The MWC provides a home for hundreds of wildlife species and functions as a major migration stop for waterfowl and shorebirds in the Atlantic Flyway. Once one of the largest wetland complexes in the Northeast, the MWC supported more than 40,000 acres of contiguous wetland habitat.
Evangola State Park Wetland Mitigation
The Authority, in partnership with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, completed a noteworthy wetland project at Evangola State Park on Lake Erie, south of Buffalo. As a result of a 2010 road reconstruction project located on nearby I-90, the wetland mitigation project created three new acres of wetlands within the Park to restore the natural landscape. These valuable wetlands provide a variety of environmental benefits as well as educational and recreational opportunities for the public to enjoy. The wildlife habitat will help support the natural food chain, create a stopover for migrating waterfowl, foster a breeding habitat for migratory and nesting bird species, and provide a winter home for amphibians, Additional features of the project include walking trail and interpretive signs. In 2013, the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York selected this project as its Gold Award Winner.