Typically, when motorists see bulldozers moving dirt and rocks on the side of the road, they think ditches are getting cleaned or a new road is being built. But the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is more than just roads and bridges.
Since August, VDOT has been helping a 1,000 ft. (305 m) stretch of Stony Run Creek that runs under I-95 in Hanover County to return to a more natural state. The goal of this $112,000 stream restoration project at the Atlee Almont interchange (I-95, Exit 86) is to mitigate the stream impacts as a result of the Route 30 widening project in Hanover and Caroline counties, a project that ended in early September.
Environmental impacts are identified during the preliminary stages of a project and funds are set aside prior to construction to cover projects like the stream restoration project.
“There are federal and state environmental regulations VDOT has to adhere to in order build a road,” said Dave Fry, VDOT environmental engineer. “In all cases, we get a permit for stream impact before we begin road construction.”
During storm events, Stony Run Creek often experiences backflow from the Chickahominy River. Prior to this project, sediment would build up in the stream, causing an unnatural flow, poor water quality and the potential for flooding. By designing a more natural flow, stream capacity and water quality are improved, enabling fish to spawn and reproduce. The old section of the creek was converted to a wetland according to federal and state regulations.
One feature of this project includes the installation of rock vein structures along the bank of the creek to prevent erosion and deflect the water flow into the main culvert under the highway. These flat, angular rocks from a local quarry are positioned using bulldozers.
“It takes a lot of patience to get the stones just right,” said Fry. “It’s like putting a puzzle together.”
VDOT used natural plant species on site to reconstruct the banks of the creek. Black willow, a natural stream shrub, was planted along the bank next to transplanted river birch and alder trees.
VDOT’s “Stream Team,” a specialized group of environmental engineers from around the state, often travels to other districts for several weeks or months to take part in these environmental projects. Their participation in the 2005 restoration of the Rockfish River in Nelson County was recently selected as one of 20 new Exemplary Ecosystem Initiatives by the Federal Highway Administration.