The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, conducted a field study from September 2005 through September 2007 to characterize the quality of highway runoff for a wide range of constituents. The highways studied had annual average daily traffic (AADT) volumes from about 3,000 to more than 190,000 vehicles per day. Highway-monitoring stations were installed at 12 locations in Massachusetts on 8 highways. The 12 monitoring stations were subdivided into 4 primary, 4 secondary, and 4 test stations. Each site contained a 100-percent impervious drainage area that included two or more catch basins sharing a common outflow pipe. Paired primary and secondary stations were located within a few miles of each other on a limited-access section of the same highway. Most of the data were collected at the primary and secondary stations, which were located on four principal highways (Route 119, Route 2, Interstate 495, and Interstate 95). The secondary stations were operated simultaneously with the primary stations for at least a year. Data from the four test stations (Route 8, Interstate 195, Interstate 190, and Interstate 93) were used to determine the transferability of the data collected from the principal highways to other highways characterized by different construction techniques, land use, and geography.
Automatic-monitoring techniques were used to collect composite samples of highway runoff and make continuous measurements of several physical characteristics. Flowweighted samples of highway runoff were collected automatically during approximately 140 rain and mixed rain, sleet, and snowstorms. These samples were analyzed for physical characteristics and concentrations of 6 dissolved major ions, total nutrients, 8 total-recoverable metals, suspended sediment, and 85 semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), which include priority polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalate esters, and other anthropogenic or naturally occurring organic compounds. The distribution of particle size of suspended sediment also was determined for composite samples of highway runoff. Samples of highway runoff were collected year round and under various dry antecedent conditions throughout the 2-year sampling period. In addition to samples of highway runoff, supplemental samples also were collected of sediment in highway runoff, background soils, berm materials, maintenance sands, deicing compounds, and vegetation matter. These additional samples were collected near or on the highways to support data analysis.
There were few statistically significant differences between populations of constituent concentrations in samples from the primary and secondary stations on the same principal highways (Mann-Whitney test, 95-percent confidence level). Similarly, there were few statistically significant differences between populations of constituent concentrations for the four principal highways (data from the paired primary and secondary stations for each principal highway) and populations for test stations with similar AADT volumes. Exceptions to this include several total-recoverable metals for stations on Route 2 and Interstate 195 (highways with moderate AADT volumes), and for stations on Interstate 95 and Interstate 93 (highways with high AADT volumes). Supplemental data collected during this study indicate that many of these differences may be explained by the quantity, as well as the quality, of the sediment in samples of highway runoff.
Nonparametric statistical methods also were used to test for differences between populations of sample constituent concentrations among the four principal highways that differed mainly in traffic volume. These results indicate that there were few statistically significant differences (Mann-Whitney test, 95-percent confidence level) for populations of concentrations of most total-recoverable metals
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Quality of stormwater runoff discharged from Massachusetts highways, 2005-07
Scientific Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey
Massachusetts Water Science Center
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