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8 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION AND RESEARCH APPROACH INTRODUCTION was based on a comprehensive assessment of state- and metro- politan-level practices for addressing the environment in trans- Understanding the environmental consequences of trans- portation planning. To facilitate the implementation of research portation investment decisions has been a concern of trans- findings, the approach is compatible with existing planning portation decision-makers for many decades. Although techniques, procedures, and institutional arrangements. How- before 1970 many transportation plans performed a cursory ever, the approach is flexible enough to take advantage of examination of the likely community and environmental changes in planning regulations, institutional relationships, and impacts of proposed system investment, it was not until the emerging technologies that will help make transportation agen- 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its cies better stewards of the environment. application to all types of federally funded projects that envi- ronmental analysis and assessment became an important component of transportation planning and project develop- RESEARCH OBJECTIVE AND APPROACH ment. Initially, the major effect of NEPA occurred in project development where environmental assessments or environ- The objective of this research was to develop an approach, mental impact statements were conducted to determine including procedures and methods, for integrating environ- the significance of potential environmental impacts and to mental factors in transportation systems planning and deci- identify strategies to mitigate these effects. In response to a sion making at the statewide, regional, and metropolitan growing societal awareness of environmental quality and levels. The research consisted of the following tasks: numerous federal and state laws concerning the considera- tion of various environmental impacts, state and metro- 1. A review of recent and ongoing research and literature politan transportation plans began to include "environmental concerning the consideration of environmental factors impact" as an important part of evaluation. Other studies, in transportation and other infrastructure systems plan- such as alternatives analysis, major investment studies, and ning, highlighting innovative procedures and methods corridor studies, also examined the probable environmental and reporting on their effectiveness in improving trans- impacts of proposed transportation alternatives. However, portation decision-making. identifying project-specific environmental problems or 2. A survey of procedures and methods used in state so-called "fatal flaws" usually did not occur until a project DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) had entered project development, usually many years after and environmental regulatory agencies, for considera- the project had first been considered. tion of environmental implications of systems-level National experience has shown that waiting until the project plans and decisions. development stage of transportation decision-making to deal 3. A review of federal and state policies, regulations, and with environmental issues that might have been resolved ear- guidelines that can be expected to affect the considera- lier (for example, during systems planning) can result in sig- tion of environmental factors in transportation systems nificant delays in project completion. In addition, identifying, planning and decision making. defining, and prioritizing projects that occur in transportation 4. A set of case studies that synthesize current, successful planning and programming might have had different (and bet- state and metropolitan planning, including procedures, ter) results if more information on likely effects had been methods, and institutional arrangements for integrating available earlier. An important question thus becomes, is there environmental concerns into transportation planning. some way of considering environmental issues earlier in sys- 5. The development of planning that provides a broadly tems planning that will help to reduce project development applicable framework for assessing, evaluating, and time later on and lead to better projects? integrating environmental concerns within transporta- This report presents an approach for integrating environ- tion systems plans and decisions. mental factors in systems-level transportation decision-making, 6. A demonstration of how environmental stewardship can at the state, regional, and metropolitan levels. The approach be incorporated throughout transportation planning.
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9 Several important concepts serve as the foundation for the environmental resources, and engineering decisions become research plan that guided this project. These concepts merit an important means of enhancing the environment. attention here because they provide the basis for the specific Transportation systems planning is an important input tasks and the corresponding research approaches undertaken into the investment and operations decisions that during the research. strongly influence transportation system performance. The trend in environmental assessment in most fields Linking environmental considerations to transportation sys- has been toward a broader "systems" perspective. tems depends on determining what is transportation systems Although this research project is one of the first to examine planning. Systems planning consists of many steps, all of a systems-level consideration of environmental factors in which can be viewed as potential opportunities for integrat- transportation, others have examined the concept of taking a ing environmental considerations. As will be discussed later systems perspective on the interaction between the natural in this report, systems planning ranges from the initial defi- and built environment. In many ways, the concepts of sus- nition of a community vision to the actual monitoring of the tainable development and sustainable cities (discussed in performance of the projects that have been implemented. The Chapter 2) reflect the idea of considering environmental fac- view adopted in this research is that the primary purpose of tors earlier in planning and decision-making. The important systems planning is to provide the information necessary and connection between the ecosystem and human activity needed by decision makers to make choices about investment has been recognized for a long time by biologists and ecolo- in the transportation system. This information not only gists and has found its way into professional practice in relates to expected changes in transportation system perfor- many environmental disciplines, and there is much the trans- mance resulting from that investment, but also to other types portation profession can learn by looking at these other of expected effects on the natural and built environment. In disciplines. a society increasingly sensitive to environmental quality and The definition of affected areas within individual envi- community quality of life, this information must include an ronmental impact categories and, therefore, the bound- understanding of environmental consequences. aries of analysis, have been broadening. Some environ- Some aspects of current environmental analysis should mental impacts have been viewed from a systems, or regional, be moved earlier into the planning process. Much of the perspective. A good example of this is air quality, which has experience with connecting (rather than integrating) envi- received considerable attention with regard to the regional ronmental analysis and transportation planning has led to application of processes and tools. Other impact categories repetition and seeming redundancies in the process. System have been evolving along similar lines. Water quality and plans that considered environmental issues were followed by water resource planning, for example, have been expanding corridor studies that considered the same issues. Eventual the boundaries of analysis to include entire watersheds. project-level analyses also considered these same issues, Wildlife and natural habitat analysis now encompasses entire because they were required to do so by regulation. In many ecosystems. Environmental justice considerations are being cases, this redundancy was appropriate because of the need viewed as more than neighborhood-specific effects; pro- to analyze environmental impacts at different scales of analy- grammatic effects on entire populations are part of the analy- sis. At other times, however, the repetition seemed unneces- sis. Therefore, effective environmental assessment of specific sary. A possible example of this is the determination of environmental impacts requires a much broader analysis per- "purpose and need" for environmental analyses. This step spective, and a strong linkage to systems-level planning. could be undertaken at the systems planning level and car- Consideration of environmental factors in transporta- ried through the entire process (with appropriate safeguards tion systems planning must be more than a glorified to make sure that such determination remains valid over the "fatal flaw" analysis. Historically, environmental factors lifetime of the systems plan). This research project looked for have been incorporated into planning and project develop- similar opportunities where integration, rather than simple ment decisions as potential problems that need to be connection, could occur. identified and mitigated. This is primarily because of the Advances and enhancements in the technology of analy- engineering approach of reducing the scale of analysis to sis and planning have made the consideration of environ- such a level that the "environment" was simply a conse- mental factors earlier in systems planning more feasible quence of facility development. The real challenge, and one and the results easier to understand. The decade of greatest that is likely to characterize infrastructure decision-making environmental awareness and community activism was even more in the future, is to consider how the environment arguably the 1970s. Following the passage of NEPA in 1969, can be enhanced by infrastructure decisions, rather than how numerous government agencies and universities set about we mitigate negative environmental impacts. How do we developing the methods and tools that would be used to ana- build with the natural environment instead of through it? lyze and evaluate the environmental impacts of infrastructure How do we make sure infrastructure investments improve development. Because the focus of NEPA was on specific proj- the quality of life of all groups of society? Driven by ects, many of these methods were developed for application at such a concept, transportation agencies become stewards of the micro scale, where clear connections and relationships