MATS UTC Research at Morgan Inspires Students, Interests the SHA
A MATS UTC-funded research project at Morgan State University has, in turn, led to a student project and a proposal for a state-funded research project.
Principal investigator Dr. James Hunter explains that the goal of the MATS UTC project, Mitigating Pollutants from Highway Infrastructure for Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Compliance: Monitoring Efficacy of Best Management Practices and Advancing Decision Support, is to guide state highway agencies as they prioritize activities and resources for TMDL compliance.
The research analyzed existing literature and resources, surveyed stakeholders, identified storm water impacts from highways, assessed pollutant loads, and developed decision support tools to assess watershed impacts.
"We don't necessarily realize the impacts highway infrastructure can have on the environment, especially the aquatic environment." Hunter says.
Because of that work, researchers at Morgan, in partnership with the Center for Watershed Protection, and officials at the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) are discussing a new study involving highway characterizing pollutants collected in storm water inlets. Morgan expects to submit a final proposal to the SHA shortly.
Periodically, the SHA opens the grates on storm water inlets and uses vacuum trucks to clean them.
"What they want to know is for every time they clean out these inlets, how much of the material is trash, how much is sediment, nitrogen, metals, etc.," Dr. Hunter says. "We're tasked with analyzing these samples in the lab. The lab research is expected to guide the state in forming best management practices for treating storm water."
The research will add valuable insight into the environmental impact of highways, building on knowledge gained in the MATS UTC study.
Dr. Hunter added, "That's what our MATS UTC project has led into; our developed model assessments and tools have given us a head start on that."
Of particular concern is the amount of trash in urban areas, which causes problems for drains. "We do need to get a better idea of that quantity - what is trash and what is sediment," Hunter says. "It's all about what type of pollutants we are reducing and how much credit should the highway administration get for its efforts."
Students who helped with the literature review for the MATS UTC research were deeply impacted by what they learned.
For their recent senior capstone design project, the students designed bioswales for highway medians to collect and treat run-off, focusing on improving Baltimore's Herring Run, an urban tributary of the Chesapeake Bay that runs through Morgan's campus, along major thoroughfares, and eventually beneath I-895 and I-95.
An added bonus was gaining experience interacting with the SHA and other professional engineers on their design.