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CONSIDERATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS IN TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS PLANNING SUMMARY INTRODUCTION This report presents an approach for integrating environmental factors in systems- level transportation planning and decision making. The approach was based on a com- prehensive assessment of state- and metropolitan-level practices for addressing the environment in transportation planning. To facilitate the implementation of research findings, the approach is compatible with existing planning techniques, procedures, and institutional arrangements. However, the approach is flexible enough to take advantage of changes in planning regulations, institutional relationships, and emerging technolo- gies that will help make transportation agencies better stewards of the environment. A conceptual framework of transportation systems planning and project develop- ment is used to show where environmental factors could be incorporated to improve this process. As shown, environmental considerations can be included in many of the steps that normally constitute system planning and project development. RESEARCH OBJECTIVE AND APPROACH The objective of this research was to develop an approach, including procedures and methods, for integrating environmental factors in transportation systems planning and decision making at the state, regional, and metropolitan levels. The research consisted of the following tasks: 1. A review of recent and ongoing research and literature on the consideration of environmental factors in transportation and other infrastructure systems planning, highlighting innovative procedures and methods and reporting on their effective- ness in improving transportation decision-making. 2. A survey of procedures and methods used in state DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and environmental regulatory agencies for consideration of environmental implications of systems-level plans and decisions. 3. A review of federal and state policies, regulations, and guidelines that can be expected to influence the consideration of environmental factors in transportation systems planning and decision making.

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2 4. A set of case studies of state and metropolitan planning processes to synthesize current successful procedures, methods, and institutional arrangements for inte- grating environmental concerns into transportation planning. 5. Development of a planning process that provides a broadly applicable framework for assessing, evaluating, and integrating environmental concerns within trans- portation systems plans and decisions. 6. An application of the framework to demonstrate its potential effectiveness and show how it can be used to identify opportunities and challenges for enhancing environmental stewardship through transportation planning. The benefits of considering environmental factors in transportation systems planning include the following: Transportation agencies can avoid or at least minimize environmental impacts as they relate to network investment decisions; Projects that jointly meet both transportation purposes and enhancement of envi- ronmental quality can be identified more easily when environmental factors are considered; Identifying sensitive environmental areas or regions can provide an important con- text for much broader community development planning; Environmental sensitivities as they relate to project characteristics can be carried through all steps of planning, thus resulting in better projects, or at least better mit- igation strategies; Needs and purpose justification required in project development can be provided earlier in the process when environmental factors are considered; When combined with interagency partnerships, considering environmental factors in system planning can expedite environmental resource agency reviews in proj- ect planning; and Although considering environmental factors often means spending more staff time in the early stages of planning, this is more than offset with staff-time savings later in project development. MAJOR FINDINGS This research has examined many different examples of how DOTs and MPOs have considered environmental factors in transportation systems planning. In several cases, transportation agency officials are actively involved in comprehensive efforts to more effectively integrate concern for the environment, community development, and infra- structure provision. However, in most instances, this research found that transporta- tion agencies are more concerned with what happens during project development (with respect to environmental impacts) than with developing more environmentally sensitive plans. Considering environmental factors in system planning requires a com- prehensive examination of not only planning, but also of how an organization has struc- tured its interaction with environmental resource agencies and other environmental stakeholders. The following 12 questions are intended to help transportation officials assess the level to which their agencies are integrating environmental considerations into planning: 1. Has your agency included concern for the environment in its mission or vision statement? Have guidelines or standard operating procedures been developed to disseminate this vision throughout the agency?

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3 2. Has transportation planning included environmental issues in the goals and objectives statement? 3. If your agency has defined a set of performance measures relating to system or agency performance, are environmental measures a part of this list? 4. Does your agency collect data on environmental conditions on a systematic basis? Are sufficient resources available for continuing such data collection? 5. Has your state or region developed an inventory of sensitive environmental resources? If so, is this inventory used for planning or project development pur- poses, in particular, in efforts to avoid or minimize environmental impacts caused by project implementation? 6. Does your state or metropolitan area's transportation planning provide sufficient information that can be used in a determination of "need and purpose" for sub- sequent project development? 7. Does your agency systematically consider environmental factors in the defini- tion of alternatives? Is at least one of the alternatives designed to minimize envi- ronmental impacts to the extent possible? 8. Has your agency defined project alternatives that both provide transportation benefits and enhance environmental quality? Does your agency actively pursue such project alternatives? 9. Do the criteria used to evaluate alternatives include the range of environmental concerns that are of most interest to the community and to environmental stake- holders? 10. Does your state or metropolitan transportation plan explicitly consider environ- mental factors in its description of desired future investments? 11. Has your agency entered into partnership arrangements with environmental resource agencies and environmental stakeholders in order to develop common understandings of how environmental factors will be considered in system plan- ning and project development? 12. Do your agency's public involvement and outreach efforts specifically target environmental quality and its relationship to transportation system performance as an issue brought to public attention? Several important findings from this research are as follows: The scientific literature is increasingly identifying a systems-level perspective on environmental impact determination as being the most appropriate. States having strong environmental laws, not surprisingly, have undertaken more efforts to consider environmental factors in transportation systems planning. State and MPO officials expect to see more attention being given to the types of environmental impacts that are best addressed at a systems level. A small number of states and metropolitan areas have taken major steps in inte- grating environmental factors into transportation systems planning. The importance to decision making of including environmental factors in systems planning very much depends on the degree to which effects can be defined at a level that allows an understanding of consequences. The availability of powerful database management capabilities has spurred more intensive efforts to identify sensitive environmental resources. The concept of assessing the level of environmental sensitivity of habitats, ecosystems, and watersheds has been used by several planning and transporta- tion agencies as a starting point for more comprehensive community planning.

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4 Some planning efforts are defining transportation plan alternatives that focus on minimizing environmental impacts. Successful consideration of environmental factors in system planning will require substantive public involvement and participation of environmental stake- holders. By conducting environmental assessments earlier in systems planning, project development has been made more effective. State DOTs are implementing other changes to agency operations to expedite projects through project development. A context-sensitive solutions (CSS) approach to project development is viewed by DOTs and MPOs as a "winwin" situation. INSTITUTIONAL STRATEGIES TO IMPLEMENT CHANGE Each of the successful efforts identified in this research of incorporating environ- mental factors into the policy, planning, or project development activities of a trans- portation agency was implemented with deliberation and consideration of how such a change could be best carried out in the organization. Although each of the case studies presented different aspects of incorporating environmental factors into organizational procedures or agency culture, the strategies usually had many common characteristics. These characteristics include the following: Top Management Support--Every example of successfully incorporating envi- ronmental considerations into systems planning examined in this research had either an elected official or a top agency official as its champion. Whether enabling the interagency partnerships that are often critical in such a process and/or chang- ing organizational structures or mindsets, support is needed from top managers in the agency. Organizational Assessment--A realistic assessment of an organization's capabil- ities in implementing a new approach toward planning and project development is often a prerequisite for organizational change. Such an assessment would exam- ine not only organizational structure and interagency relationships, but also whether the right mix of personnel skills are available in the agency. Internal Implementation Strategies--Implementing a new process or design approach requires careful thought on how change will be implemented. Examples from this research range from establishing an agency task force with responsibil- ities to recommend action, to the creation of a new high-level management posi- tion with responsibility for the "environment." Institutionalize Change in Standard Procedures--Institutionalizing change within organizations usually requires a careful assessment of what motivates the individ- uals providing the service or producing the product. Within transportation agen- cies, this usually means understanding the standard operating procedures that guide agency action. Many of the state DOT efforts highlighted in this research institutionalized their activities by changing the standard operating procedures for both planning and design. Resources--The obstacle most cited by DOT and MPO officials as hindering the incorporation of environmental factors into transportation planning was "compet- ing objectives that detract from environmental considerations." In one sense, this could be interpreted as a resource allocation problem. The case studies illustrated the level of support that was deemed necessary to assure success. In New York, the DOT hired environmental managers for every district in the state to act as cat-

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5 alysts for the Environmental Initiative. In Minnesota, the DOT dedicated full-time staff to the effort of changing the organization's internal procedures. In Florida, millions of dollars have been spent on the environmental screening tool that serves as the foundation of the efficient transportation decision-making (ETDM) process. All of these efforts were critical to the success of the initiatives in each agency. External Implementation Strategies--Much of the success in considering envi- ronmental factors in systems planning relies on establishing agreements with envi- ronmental resource agencies that articulate the respective roles of each participant in planning and project development. The usual means of doing this is through memoranda of understanding. The more complex planning efforts highlighted in this research (i.e., those for the Lake Tahoe Region; Pima County, Arizona; and Riverside County, California) involved a large number of agencies, numerous environmental groups, and extensive public participation. The success of these efforts was in part as much due to managing the process as it was in technical analysis. Defining Benefit--Changing organizational procedures and approaches to trans- portation planning and project development could require significant changes in the attitudes and mindsets of agency staff. Convincing environmental resource agencies to change their standard procedures and approaches similarly require such changes. The case studies indicated that one of the necessary first steps in bringing about such change is clearly articulating what benefits will occur when a new approach is adopted. Partnership Benefits--Environmental resource agencies often hesitate to partici- pate in a process where environmental factors are considered early in system plan- ning. This hesitation is primarily caused by a concern that such early participation could be construed as approval of a project long before some of the specific effects are known. State transportation agencies that have successfully formed partner- ships with their respective resource agencies have done so by promising to con- sider seriously the likely effect of transportation projects on the environmental factor at issue, and often supporting environmental staff review. FUTURE RESEARCH In many ways, this research project suggests a rethinking of how systems planning is conducted in the United States. At the very least, it suggests a different mindset among most transportation planners and engineers of how environmental factors should be considered during planning. This research project also focuses attention on the types of environmental issues that will likely be faced in the future, and thus the types of expertise that will be necessary if these issues are to be dealt with in a serious way. The following proposed research topics are designed to get the transportation pro- fession to this point: Understanding the systems effects of ecosystems, human development, and trans- portation investment--Scientists have been focusing on ecosystem health for many decades and are just now beginning to understand many of the complexities that characterize ecosystem health. Some attention has been given to the negative effects of human activity on ecosystems, although most of this research has been at the macro level (e.g., number of wetlands and wetland functionality lost). Very little attention has been given to the relationship between ecosystem health and transportation investment. Such research would examine the basic science

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6 involved with this relationship and develop methods and tools that can be used to investigate ways of reducing the influence of transportation-induced disruptions. This research would have to be truly multi-disciplinary to bring the scientists knowledgeable about ecosystems together with engineers and planners who under- stand the construction and operational characteristics of transportation system performance. Understanding the political, social, and land-use contexts for transportation plan- ning, and how they influence the opportunities for, and constraints on, consider- ing environmental factors during systems planning--This research has identified several cases where initial steps have been taken to integrate community planning, infrastructure provision, and environmental assessment. In many cases, these plan- ning activities have evolved in separate institutional constructs, and it is only through the intervention of community activists, political leadership, or legislative mandate that such integration has been attempted. Research is needed to better understand the different social and political contexts that foster such coordinated planning, as well as those that serve as a hindrance. Developing tools for integrated environmental/transportation systems planning-- Although the survey of MPO officials indicated that the inadequacy of analysis tools for addressing environmental problems at the systems level was not consid- ered a serious constraint, it is likely that these officials did not have the integrated concept proposed in this research in mind. It is very clear from this research that one of the prerequisites for getting mutually beneficial systems planning partici- pation from the environmental and transportation communities is to have an analy- sis capability that provides important indications of potential problems. This was shown in Florida to be one of the key determinants for environmental resource agency participation. Although GIS capabilities are important points of departure for identifying sensitive environmental areas, additional analysis tools and meth- ods are needed to develop a level of comfort at the systems level that the decisions being made are done so with good information. Investigating the use of monitoring and surveillance technologies--The sensitiv- ity of ecosystem health to disruption is often so fragile that minor changes in conditions can have significant negative effects. If environmental quality is an important planning concern, then systems planning should include the continuous monitoring of the environmental health of the state or region. This could entail the use of satellite imagery, environmental sensors, biological indicators, and com- munity quality-of-life measures. Minnesota DOT's movement toward environ- mental indicators as part of its family of performance measures is indicative of the types of direction that DOTs and MPOs might take. Developing environmental resource protection/conservation plans--Such plans are not new to environmental professionals, but they are new to transportation offi- cials. This research project would examine the process used to develop these types of plans and answer questions such as the following: What are the goals of such studies? Who is involved? What are the typical results? What have been the fac- tors of success and failure? What are the data needs? How do the results relate to transportation systems planning? Given the principles of ecosystem management that have come to the fore in environmental policy, the transportation community needs to know more about what these types of studies mean to transportation sys- tems planning. Developing performance measures to track progress toward environmental goals--Various experiences with sustainable transportation planning (both in this country and internationally) suggest that performance measurement and public

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7 reporting are critical components of demonstrating agency accountability and credible progress toward environmental goals. While a comprehensive set of per- formance measures and indicators may not have been identified by any particular agency, several agencies--including Oregon DOT, Washington State DOT, Penn- sylvania DOT, and Eugene, Oregon's Lane Council of Governments--have undertaken programmatic initiatives on performance measurement and reporting. This research will examine the links between environmental goals/objectives and measures/indicators of performance, appropriate scopes of measures for tracking how well agencies are achieving predefined goals, the need for a dynamic set of measures to reflect changing emphases on various environmental issues, and best practices of performance measurement for considering the environment in trans- portation planning. Assessing organizational strategies for environmental stewardship--Except for New York State DOT, there are very few examples where transportation agencies have examined all of their activities from the point of view of environmental stew- ardship. This research project would develop guidelines on how an organization could conduct such an analysis (different for the ISO 14001 approach). All of the organizational activities would be examined and strategies developed to foster increased consideration of environmental factors in all aspects of an agency's daily functions.