Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Water: Polluted Runoff

Pollution Control Programs for Roads, Highways and Bridges

United States
Environmental Protection
Office of Water
November 1995

Roads, highways, and bridges contribute measurable amounts of pollutants to our nation's waters. A number of federal regulations and programs address runoff pollution during the construction, operation, and maintenance of roads, highways, and bridges. Both federal and state governments play a vital role in implementing these programs.

Coastal Zone Management Programs

The Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 established a program for states to voluntarily develop comprehensive programs to protect and manage coastal water resources. There are now 29 coastal states and territories with federally approved coastal management programs. The Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments (CZARA) of 1990 specifically charged coastal states and territories with upgrading their runoff pollution control programs to protect coastal waters.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) jointly oversee the development and implementation of these Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Programs, or CNPCPs.

EPA published Guidance Specifying Management Measures for Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in Coastal Waters to be used by states to implement management measures economically achievable measures that reflect the greatest degree of runoff pollution control to control the addition of runoff pollutants to coastal waters. The Guidance also includes best management practices, technologies, processes, siting criteria, and operating methods for roads, highways, and bridges that states can use to implement the management measures. States can use alternative management measures if they provide the same or a greater degree of pollutant control as the management measures in the Guidance. States will begin implementing their CNPCPs in 1996 and achieve full implementation by 2004.

CZARA applies to site development and land disturbing activities in the coastal management area of each State with an approved coastal management program. Certain road, highway and bridge related activities are excluded from this program due to coverage under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program. These activities include construction activities where 5 or more acres (2.02 ha) are disturbed, and activities within municipalities with municipal separate storm sewer systems that have populations of 100,000 or more.

Nonpoint Source Programs

Section 319 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) established a national nonpoint source (NPS) control program that encourages states and territories to develop programs for the control of pollution from erosion and sediment runoff and other pollutants that can affect surface and ground waters. States with EPA-approved .319 programs are eligible to receive grants to help with their implementation. States with approved CNPCPs are eligible for grants under CZMA Section 306 and CWA Section 319.

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) was established under section 402 of the Clean Water Act. Under NPDES, sources of pollution that discharge to surface waters through pipes or other distinct conveyance systems ("point sources") must have a discharge permit. Storm water runoff from roads, highways, and bridges that is carried by municipal separate storm sewer collection systems (MS4s) that serve populations of more than 100,000 must be permitted under NPDES. Highway construction projects that disturb 5 acres or more must also be permitted under NPDES.

FHWA Environmental Policy

In 1990 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued its Environmental Policy Statement, which is based on the National Transportation Policy and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirement to interpret laws, regulations, and procedures in a manner consistent with environmental protection.

The Environmental Policy Statement emphasizes FHWA's commitment to environmental protection. One of FHWA's goals is to communicate its commitment to protect and enhance the environment and emphasize the early and continuous involvement of federal, state, and local governments, private businesses, interest groups, communities, and interested individuals.

Another goal is to make environmental considerations an integral part of the federal highway program, particularly in systems planning and project develop-ment.Another goal is to design and build facilities that fit harmoniously into communities and the natural environment by avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating adverse environmental impacts and enhancing the environment to the extent practicable.FHWA also seeks to foster innovation through transportation research and development.


The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 established the Surface Transportation Program (STP), which is a block grant program that may be used by states and localities for any roads (including the National Highway System) that are not functionally classified as local or rural minor collectors.

Each state must set aside 10 percent of its allocated STP funds for transportation enhancements, which include pedestrian and bicycle facilities, acquisition of scenic easements and scenic or historic sites, scenic or historic highway programs, landscaping and other scenic beautification, historic preservation, rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings and facilities, preservation of abandoned railway corridors, control and removal of outdoor advertising, and archaeological planning and research. Many states have not used these set-aside funds.

The mitigation of water pollution due to highway runoff is another enhancement activity eligible for these set-aside funds. States are able to use a portion of their federal funding allotment for runoff pollution control devices and other best management practices to reduce the amount of polluted runoff that reaches lakes and rivers.

ISTEA also required that the Department of Transportation develop national erosion control guidelines for states to follow when carrying out federal-aid construction projects. ISTEA requires that FHWA guidelines for erosion and sediment control in coastal areas be consistent with both the CZARA Guidance for CNPCPs and the state .319 programs. FHWA has adopted the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) publication, Highway Drainage Guidelines, Volume III, Erosion and Sediment Control in Highway Construction, as guidelines.

The AASHTO guidelines reflect current state-of-the-art practices and management techniques. They cover the development, implementation, and maintenance of erosion and sediment control plans and appurtenances and provide examples of typical erosion control devices. The AASHTO guidelines provide a foundation from which states can develop erosion and sediment control guidelines specifically suited to a particular geographic region. State highway agencies should use the AASHTO guidelines, or their own more stringent guidelines, to develop specific standards and practices for the control of erosion and sedimentation on federal-aid construction projects.

Wetlands Programs

Wetlands are typically found at the low spots in the landscape, so they often receive runoff from the surrounding land. Wetlands serve as natural filters, with their ability to improve the quality of the waters that pass through them. They also protect private property from flooding and provide habitat for a variety of fish, wildlife, and plants. The Clean Water Act Section 404 program, which is discussed below, is the major Federal program regulating activities in wetlands. In addition, the CZARA Management Measures Guidance also addresses the protection and restoration of wetlands and riparian areas. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act establishes a permit program to regulate the discharge of dredged and fill material into waters of the U.S., including wetlands. This program is jointly administered by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.



Jump to main content.