Wisconsin has a comprehensive transportation network that includes roads, highways, airports, railroads and harbors. This system is essential to our economy because it moves workers to jobs, raw materials to factories, finished products to markets and travelers to their destinations. Building and maintaining transportation infrastructure can, however, result in environmental impacts to waterways, wetlands, fisheries, endangered species and other resources.
The DNR's Bureau of Environmental Analysis and Sustainability (EAS) works cooperatively with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and with local highway transportation departments to avoid and minimize environmental concerns with the construction and maintenance of highways, roads, bridges, culverts, airports, railways and harbors. For each county, there is an EAS regional staff person who serves as the transportation liaison contact.
Potential environmental impacts
Staff from the DNR take measurements at a highway-stream crossing. A new bottomless culvert structure was installed that allows fish and other aquatic animals to pass.
Crossing waterways and wetlands with roads, bridges, culverts and runways can result in water flow changes and habitat impacts. Aquatic habitat can be lost due to shoreline armoring and dredging activities. Siltation of waterways and wetlands can result from inadequate erosion control measures on construction projects. Fish and other aquatic animals can be blocked from passing through an improperly designed bridge or culvert.
Improper timing of construction and maintenance projects can impact bird, bat and fish reproductive cycles. Invasive species can be spread by construction and maintenance activities, as well as by vehicles using transportation facilities. Habitat fragmentation and disruption of animal movements can also result from siting transportation facilities.
Emergency maintenance and construction
Coordination with DNR is needed before repairs are made to public municipal roads and culverts washed out during a flood event. DNR is committed to working with municipalities to provide quick turnaround on decisions and consultation. During a flood emergency and times of imminent danger, we understand that some temporary repairs need to take place immediately to open roadways. Those activities can be reviewed after the fact and may still require appropriate authorization for activities in waterways and wetlands. Please contact the DNR transportation liaison for your county.
DNR encourages municipalities to follow the General Permit eligibility standards #22, #23, and #24 found in WDNR-GP2-2012 to install stream spanning structures. Research continues to show that such structures are flood-resilient and will often result in long-term cost savings for the municipality. To learn more, check out Long Term Cost Considerations and the “Learning” tab on this page.
Municipal highways and permits
Municipal Transportation projects include construction, reconstruction or maintenance of a roadway, bridge, arch or culvert that is being carried out under the direction and supervision of a city, village, town or county, and may impact waterways and/or wetlands.
Best management practices (BMPs)
Best management practices (BMPs) are vital to a successful municipal transportation projects. Please view our presentation for detailed information on municipal highway projects.
The 2015 Wisconsin Act 55 included changes to Wisconsin Statute 30.123. The act includes a new exemption for culvert replacements. The act modifies the applicability of the exemption listed in 30.123(6)(d) to read:
The construction or placement and the maintenance of a replacement culvert that is placed in substantially the same location as the culvert being replaced if the replacement culvert is constructed or placed using best management practices to comply with water quality standards under subchapter II of chapter 281.
For a culvert project to be determined to be exempt from permitting, please follow these steps:
- Contact the transportation liaison for the county in which the project is located.
- Use the information worksheet to request an exemption determination. Include photos, if possible.
- WDNR will respond within 15 days regarding eligibility for exemption.
- BMPs for water quality need to be followed before, during and after construction.
Please contact the transportation liaison for the county in which the project is located.
The Transportation Liaison (TL) will discuss the scope of the proposed project with the applicant. The information worksheet can be filled out and given to the TL, or you may fill it out together in the field. This information can be used by the TL to determine if the proposed project qualifies for an exemption. The worksheet can also be used by the applicant to satisfy the requirement described in 2015 Wisconsin Act 55 that created ss. 30.123(9) requiring that municipalities that place culverts that are exempt under 30.123(6) retain a record of the culvert placement. The record should include the date on which the replacement culvert was constructed or placed, the dimensions of the replacement culvert, and the location of the replacement culvert.
Local units of government may need to obtain waterway, wetland and storm water permits for a proposed transportation project. Local transportation officials and their consultants can find permit information and forms below.
Please contact the transportation liaison for your county to determine if your project needs a permit.
Municipal Transportation General Wetland & Waterway Permit (GP)
The WDNR-GP2-2012 General Permit for Municipal Bridges, Arches & Culverts is a general permit (GP) that is available for a discharge to waters and wetlands of no more than 10,000 square feet that is necessary for the construction, reconstruction or maintenance of a roadway, bridge, arch or culvert that is being carried out under the direction and supervision of a city, village, town or county, under s. 30.123, Wis. Stats.
See WDNR-GP2-2012 General Permit Application Checklist for detailed instructions. A complete application for the GP includes information about the applicant, project plans, maps, photos, and an analysis narration that describes what alternatives were considered during the planning process.
All application materials can be sent to the transportation liaison for your county.
General permit WDNR-GP2-2012 authorizations are provisional and require that project proponents obtain any other local, state or federal permits before any work may proceed. Please contact the county zoning administrator to determine if permits are needed.
Municipal Transportation Individual Wetland & Waterway Permit (IP)
Please contact the transportation liaison for your county to set up a pre-application meeting before applying for an individual permit. See the Municipal Transportation Pre-Application Meeting Checklist to adequately prepare the necessary materials for initial consultation.
See Municipal Transportation Projects Individual Permit Checklist for detailed instructions.
Municipal Transportation individual permit applications need to use the WRAPP to begin the process.
All application materials can be sent to the transportation liaison for your county.
Storm water permitting
The Wisconsin Pollutant Elimination Discharge System (WPDES) Notice of Intent Permit process is used to regulate all storm water discharges that result from disturbing one or more acres of land. This permit is needed for both transportation and non-transportation related projects. See Construction site storm water permits for more information.
United States Army Corps of Engineers wetland permits are required for discharges to federal wetlands. For public transportation projects, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued general permit GP-003-WI. This federal general permit may be used for activities whose purpose is to construct, expand or improve transportation projects (e.g., roads, highways, railways, airport runways and taxiways) in waters of the United States.
A local road culvert on a Waupaca County trout stream is analyzed by DNR EAS staff.
To learn about assessing stream crossings, check out Great Lakes Road Stream Crossing Inventory Data Sheet and Great Lakes Road Stream Crossing Inventory Instructions.
DNR staff may also be available to teach data collection methods. For assistance training volunteers, contact:
Road/Stream Crossing Workshop
This workshop was held April 12-14, 2016 at UW-Platteville. All workshop presentation materials are available at the links below.
Workshop agenda and information:
How streams work:
Biological consequences of habitat fragmentation:
Fisheries of the driftless region:
How roads and crossings affect streams:
Long term cost benefits of stream friendly road crossings:
Inventory, assessment and prioritization:
Municipal roadway projects - permits and exemptions:
Municipal roadway projects - best management practices:
Stream crossing design & exercises, part 1:
Road-stream crossing construction:
Stream crossing design and exercises, part 2:
Sources of funding:
Putting it all together:
Introduction to computer aids and analysis regarding aquatic connectivity:
Funding for projects to improve stream connectivity
There are many opportunities to secure additional funding for projects that strive to improve stream connectivity. Opportunities include:
- inventories of streams within a watershed,
- replacing barriers on trout streams,
- replacing barriers near lakes,
- projects in flood damaged areas,
- projects in the Great Lakes watershed, and
- replacement of high priority barriers to stream connectivity.