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In addition to beautifying North Carolina's highways, the bright poppies planted by NCDOT's Roadside Environmental Unit keep drivers alert.
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North Carolina highway basics
For the birds

Award-winning strategies ensure projects won't harm wetlands.

Another example of the North Carolina DOT's (NCDOT) role as stewards of the state's complex ecosystem is its wetlands mitigation project.

Wetlands, such as bogs, marshes, forest floodplains, and vernal ponds, trap and store stormwater and agricultural runoff. In North Carolina, wetlands also provide habitat for more than 70% of the state's endangered and threatened species.

NCDOT's Natural Environment Unit carefully investigates plans for highway and bridge projects to see whether any wetlands will be impacted by the construction. For every disturbed acre of wetland, NCDOT restores at least 2 acres.

“The main goal is to maintain certain vegetation counts and groundwater requirements,” says transportation engineer Byron Moore. “After we establish a restoration system, we monitor its progress for at least five years to ensure its survival creates a permanent replacement for what was damaged.”

In 2003, NCDOT received two environmental excellence awards from the Federal Highway Administration, both for mitigating wetland damage. One of these sites was Tulula Creek, a 235-acre wetland.

During the mid-1980s, golf course developers began draining the wetland by building a network of ditches that connected to Tulula Creek's natural channel. They were ordered to abandon the project because it violated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Act and altered the wetland's ecology, hydrology, and soil chemistry.

NCDOT bought the site in 1994 and partnered with several organizations to re-establish the hydrology of the dredged creek by constructing a new channel and blocking the outlets of the drainage ditches.

“More people are noticing how much work we put into restoring the land and mitigating our impact on natural places,” says Moore. “Our work makes North Carolina a better place to live—not just for humans, but for birds, animals, insects, and plants, too.”