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Ecosystem Impacts of Roadway Construction, Operation and Maintenance

A representative research project: ecosystem impacts of roadway construction, operation and maintenance.

The unique rural, geochemical and topographical characteristics of West Virginia result in many technical challenges related to roadway construction and environmental impacts (e.g., acid loading, lack of suitable substrate for revegetation, high dissolved metal concentrations, etc.); visual examples are presented in Figures 1 and 2.

terraced roadway
Figure 1. Typical terraced roadway cut with evidence of iron staining.
acid impacted retention pond
Figure 2. Typical acid impacted retention pond/quasi-wetland naturally developed on reclaimed mine refuge located adjacent to proposed roadway construction project.

Our unique approach...

  • Combine traditional environmental engineering with ecology to develop a comprehensive knowledge of runoff characteristics and impacts on natural systems.
    • Establish baseline ecosystem quality characteristics.
  • Water quality.
  • Fish density and diversity.
  • Benthic macroinvertebrates (bottom-feeding bugs).
    • Monitor during and after construction.
    • Develop and recommend best management practices for current and future construction projects.
James Cunningham and Brad Messenger
Figure 3. Graduate students James Cunningham (left) and Brad Messenger (right) calibrate instruments in the field prior to collecting and analyzing water samples
Jaime Sayre
Figure 4. Jaime Sayre, BS '99, MS '01, collects water samples from Laurel Run, the subject of her MS thesis research.

As a result, the group is able to develop watershed-scale plans for the remediation of acidic drainage, a step which goes well beyond what is typical!

  • Combine treatment of runoff waters with watershed-scale remediation.
  • Due to geochemical characteristics of waters and historical land use patterns, many waters in the vicinity of new highway construction are impaired.
  • We are developing innovative plans to use highways to collect and treat watershed waters in addition to runoff waters.
  • Focus on passive treatment processes that fit the surroundings, which leads to novel approaches to watershed-scale remediation.
acid drainage impacted stream
Figure 5. WVU-CEE researchers survey an acid drainage-impacted stream adjacent to proposed roadway construction.
Mark Grant
Figure 6. Mark Grant, MS 00, an associate engineering scientist, collects water samples from the outlet of an impoundment.

Bringing undergraduate teaching together with research - the best of both worlds!

  • Funded research is planned with specific tasks that undergraduate students can contribute to.
  • When undergraduates work along side faculty and graduate students, undergraduates obtain:
    • Exposure to scientific and applied research
    • An avenue for potential transition to graduate school
    • Valuable practical skills which increase marketability
  • Graduate students develop leadership and mentoring skills.
  • Faculty and the program grow stronger by developing well-rounded, experienced students!
Jeff Ross and Andy Tuel
Figure 7. Undergraduate students Jeff Ross (left, MS 00) and Andy Tuel (right, MS 00) participate in water quality monitoring along the Laurel Run study site.