National Academies Press: OpenBook

A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies (2011)

Chapter: Chapter 2 - What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies?

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies?." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2011. A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14598.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies?." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2011. A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14598.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies?." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2011. A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14598.
×
Page 5
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies?." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2011. A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14598.
×
Page 6
Page 7
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies?." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2011. A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14598.
×
Page 7
Page 8
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies?." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2011. A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14598.
×
Page 8
Page 9
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies?." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2011. A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14598.
×
Page 9

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What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies? 3 Ch ap te r 2 Wh at Do es Sus tain ab ili ty Mea n t o T ra ns po rt atio n A ge nc ies? GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF SUSTAINABILITY What is sustainability? What is a transportation agency’s role in supporting sustainability? While attention to sustainability has grown, defining and incorporating sustainability into day-to-day business presents a challenge to agencies. In general, sustainability encompasses a holistic consideration of economic, social, and environmental progress—usually referred to as sustainability dimensions—with a long-term perspective. Sustainability includes not only conditions today but addresses the needs of future generations as well. And sustainability incorporates equity among socioeconomic and demographic groups, both today and over time. The fundamental principles of sustainability as envisioned in this guidebook are that sustainability entails meeting human needs for the present and future while: • Preserving and restoring environmental and ecological systems, • Fostering community health and vitality, • Promoting economic development and prosperity, and • Ensuring equity between and among population groups and over generations. This guidebook follows the traditional triple bottom line approach to sustainability as expressed by the environmental, social, and economic dimensions. Additionally, the researchers view the principle of equity as reinforcing the other sustainability dimensions, as a support to the three-legged Trans por ta ti on agencie s s h ould appl y th e general sust ainab ili ty principles wi th in th ei r s pecif ic tr anspor ta ti on c ont ext. They ca n s et thei r o wn goal s t o s uppor t b roader sust ainab ili ty an d p la y their par t i n p ro mo ti ng a s us ta inabl e f uture.

4 A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies sustainability stool (see Figure 1). Equity is not seen as a separate leg of the stool; instead, it is seen as an overarching principle that plays a major part in each of the other principles. Achieving sustainability should not be a trade-off among the principles, but rather an intersection of all of these principles. As communities strive for sustainability, they work to make decisions that will promote, rather than diminish, progress in each of these principles. Figure 1. Principles of sustainability and the significance of equity. SUSTAINABILITY AND SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORTATION Globally, sustainability requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach and the participation of a wide set of actors. The transportation sector can be viewed as a major contributor to the bigger picture of sustainability. Transportation agencies can set their own goals to support broader sustainability and play their part in promoting a sustainable future. This guide can help transportation agencies assess their goals relative to the higher level principles of sustainability, while recognizing that each agency—from any sector—is constrained by its mission and scope of authority. The aim is to help transportation agencies do their part—to operationalize the general sustainability principles within their specific transportation context. How Can Transportation Agencies Apply Sustainability Concepts? Transportation sustainability extends beyond the organizational boundaries of national, state, and local transportation agencies, and it cuts across the various divisions and departments that are part of a transportation agency. Sustainability applies to every stage of decision-making: planning, design, and implementation of projects and infrastructure, as well as day-to-day

What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies? 5 operations and maintenance. Therefore, to make progress in incorporating sustainability, agencies need to acknowledge the overlaps among their organizational boundaries and be willing to collaborate. In addition, the presence of an authorizing environment or the specifics of legislative mandates influence how sustainability is implemented. Many agencies, across all levels of government, are responsible for transportation infrastructure in the United States: • National level - Congress and the Executive Branch - U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) - FHWA - Federal Transit Administration • State level - State DOTs - Independent state toll authorities • Regional and local level - Metropolitan planning organizations - Local public works and transportation departments - Public transit agencies - Local-level toll authorities Given this broad set of transportation agency actors, sustainability performance measures are needed that can support the work of individual agencies and provide insight into progress on a broader scale. Within any transportation agency, sustainability can be influenced by decisions that are made at several different points in the project development process—usually by separate organizational units that are often compartmentalized. For example, protection of watersheds depends—in equal measure—on choices made by different agency offices that are responsible for which projects get built, how they are designed and constructed, and how they will be maintained over their lifespans. Typically, transportation decisions include long-range planning, programming, environmental review, project design, construction, maintenance, and operations. Ultimately, each of these steps in project development and infrastructure management affects sustainability and can be used as opportunities to develop and confirm sustainability goals and actions. These steps and their roles in an agency’s sustainability approach are discussed in the following. • Long-range transportation planning – State DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) use the long-range planning process to develop a vision for state or regional transportation investment—building on a variety of complex national, state, and local transportation interests and considering the levels of funding anticipated. States and regions use different approaches to develop their long-range transportation plans (LRTPs),

6 A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies and the outcomes are different as well. Transportation plans vary from broad policy statements to specific and detailed preferred investment strategies. An LRTP will often help quantify long-term needs, revenues, and funding gaps; identify and define investment strategies; and/or establish a framework, priorities, or other guidance to drive shorter-term investment decisions. The LRTP can also reflect the state and local sustainability objectives, policies, and programs. While state DOTs and MPOs have significant leeway in how they develop and use their LRTPs, all agencies must comply with federal planning laws, regulation, and guidance. States must self-certify their long-range transportation planning process in conjunction with the submittal of a Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) at least once every four years. States also must develop plans around planning factors that establish various considerations that must be incorporated into state planning processes. Long-range planning is a point at which expectations for sustainability performance can be discussed— particularly in terms of desired sustainability outcomes—and broad performance goals established that drive subsequent investment patterns. • Short-range transportation programming – State and local transportation departments use capital programming to match priority transportation project needs with the funds to fulfill them. The short-range capital program is a generic term used to describe (1) an agency’s list of high-priority transportation projects with well-developed scopes and precise budgets to be built in a defined time frame, and (2) the process used by a state to arrive at the list by deciding how money for transportation will be spent among competing project needs. An effective capital program will combine many short-term, project-level spending decisions in order to make progress in achieving long-term transportation goals. Development of a state or local capital program is usually a collaborative effort between the state DOT and their local and federal partners. Therefore, transportation programming is a point at which broad expectations about sustainability established in long-range planning can be translated into explicit targets associated with implementation of a specific set of projects. • Project-level planning – Once a transportation project is identified in a capital program, project delivery begins with planning, which takes place before environmental documents are prepared. In general, planning efforts are most extensive for major projects with potential for significant environmental impacts. Minor projects—such as guardrail replacement, acquisition of new buses, or roadway resurfacing—may involve little or no planning activity. The planning phase helps agencies to identify project needs, community concerns, and potential solutions. In many states, early consideration of environmental issues before an environmental document is prepared is an increasingly common part of project planning. Project-level sustainability performance measures may be used to inform project-level planning decisions. • Project-level environmental review – Transportation infrastructure projects that receive federal support must follow an elaborate environmental review process to ensure that the impacts of federal actions on the environment are considered before the project goes forward. Federal environmental review procedures are guided by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which also functions as an umbrella process for

What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies? 7 assuring compliance with numerous other media-specific environmental laws and regulations that include permitting and consultation activities involving a variety of federal agencies. Some states have their own, more stringent environmental review procedures that exceed NEPA in certain aspects. Frequent federal partners in the environmental/NEPA process include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (U.S. ACE), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), and others. Most commonly, state DOTs lead the environmental process, but transit agencies or large local transportation departments may also manage these processes. NEPA establishes three classes of environmental review actions for transportation projects. These classes are based on the magnitude of their anticipated environmental impacts. An environmental impact statement (EIS) is required for major projects where a significant environmental impact is anticipated, such as construction of a new segment of controlled access freeway. As in planning, project-level sustainability performance measures may be used to inform project-level environmental decisions. • Design, land acquisition, and permitting – Once the NEPA process is complete and basic horizontal and vertical alignments for the project are agreed upon, detailed engineering plans can be prepared. Most design work is unrelated to environmental mitigation. Design work may include environmental compensation or enhancement features, such as storm- water control facilities, wetland mitigation, or noise walls. Permits from natural resources agencies, such as the U.S. ACE, may also be required at this phase during project delivery and require time to prepare and approve. Permits may be required for wetland restoration, storm-water runoff control, conservation of historic resources, or special construction management techniques. Sustainability may also find its way into design and right-of-way (ROW) determination related to such components as aesthetics, compatibility, multimodal accommodations, construction requirements, and materials and equipment selection. Design, land acquisition, and permitting are points at which the predictions made during planning and environmental review can be verified and translated into outcome measures of sustainability. • Construction, maintenance, and operations – During construction, DOTs use contractors to build projects and typically retain an overall project management and oversight role. There can be major sustainability considerations in construction, maintenance, and operations. Construction and staging footprints can affect the amount of land affected by construction. Many projects require erosion control practices and storm-water management that can reasonably be described as environmental costs. Decisions are made on many reconstruction projects to work at night or on weekends, to reclaim or recycle materials from the existing facilities, and to preserve portions of a facility that can continue to serve satisfactorily for the project life. Many of the considerations described also apply to maintenance. Disruption of service, regardless of mode, can be a major sustainability consideration. Sustainability also influences selection of materials and methods and frequency of maintenance; operations affect the ultimate performance of the transportation facilities and services. DOTs at all levels use many tools to deliver efficient and safe operations. How construction, maintenance, and operations work is done can be designed to support an agency’s sustainability goals.

8 A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies What About Legislative Mandates? The concept of sustainability presents a legislative and organizational challenge because its broad environmental, social, and economic reach cuts across organizational and disciplinary lines that exist within the federal, state, and local governments. These divisions of expertise exist in the private sector as well, which also responds to the legislative frameworks created by government. The authorizing environments of state DOTs and other transportation agencies are driven by their mission statements, strategic goals, and other mandates—and today these may include a focus on sustainability. For agencies to legitimately address concerns related to sustainability, their authorizing environment should enable them to do so. In the United States, there is currently no federal regulation that explicitly focuses on sustainability. However, the social and environmental regulations that do exist—such as NEPA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)—provide a patchwork framework for state DOTs and other transportation agencies to address components or elements of sustainability. Indeed, SAFETEA-LU and its two predecessors (ISTEA and TEA-21) called for transportation agencies to promote economic development while protecting the environment and sustaining the quality of life. Further, while there is currently no regulation on sustainable development itself, important elements of the concept are expressed in existing environmental, social, and sector-specific regulation. In effect, transportation agencies are already operating under a nonintegrated form of sustainability agenda, whether this is explicitly recognized or not. The lack of federal legislation on sustainable development or sustainable transportation provides states the opportunity to take the lead in creating an authorizing environment conducive to sustainability. Many states and state DOTs have created authorizing environments to pursue sustainability goals. While these legislative frameworks establish the motivation for change, it is important that state DOTs and other transportation agencies invest time in understanding how sustainable development manifests itself in their particular case; that is, each region is likely to face a different combination of environmental, social, and economic challenges that will shape the agency response to these challenges. USING PERFORMANCE MEASURES FOR SUSTAINABILITY Performance measures are broadly defined as quantifiable criteria that can be used to track progress toward specific goals or objectives. Ideal performance measures are easily understood, provide a clear indication of moving toward an established goal, and can be tracked using accessible and available data. Sustainability performance measures are those that have been selected or organized by a set of sustainability goals and objectives. Sustainability performance measures can be freshly created to specifically support the defined objectives. However, many conventional performance measures that DOTs use to monitor and track progress may also be useful to track sustainability. Some are likely to have stronger links to sustainability than others. Recognize that it is the application of a collective set of measures, aligned with the objectives and goals and viewed within the context of the sustainability principles, that make them relevant to a sustainability framework.

What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies? 9 Using Performance Measures Performance measures can be used in a variety of ways: • Description – They can help describe the effect of your program or policy. • Evaluation – They can be used to assess your progress and diagnose what problems or barriers you are encountering that need to be addressed. • Accountability – They can be used to set targets for specific staff or programs and can measure how well they are doing in reaching those goals. • Decision-support – They can help inform which approach would support the most sustainable outcomes. • Communication – They can be used to explain to your partners or the public what your program or policy is achieving. While most performance measures can generally be applied for the applications listed above, some types may be uniquely suited to certain applications. Knowing what you want to accomplish with the results of your performance tracking will help you define measures that best fit the purposes you have in mind. Applying Performance Measures in Different Contexts Performance measures can be applied over different time frames at different levels and types of operation within your agency. Applying measures at any of these different levels can provide useful information, but they will be used in different ways. For example, measures to assess the sustainability of your right-of-way vegetation-management program over a one-year cycle will be defined differently than measures to assess the sustainability of your agency’s long-range plan. Some agencies have found it useful to start by designing measures for one component of their overall program and building from there. Others begin with an agency-wide, multiyear perspective and drill down. Performance measures should add value to your decision making. The following chapter guides you through some questions you can ask to design a successful performance measurement approach.

Next: Chapter 3 - Getting Organized: Setting Yourself Up for Success »
A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies Get This Book
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TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 708: A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies describes the underlying principles of sustainability as it relates to transportation, possible goals that can be used to address those principles, and performance measures that can be used to address those goals.

Aspects of sustainability-related performance measures, including data sources and examples of use, are discussed. A reference compendium of performance measures has also been provided.

In addition to the guidebook, the contractor’s project Final Report contains the results of the literature review, surveys of the state of the practice, case study interviews, detail on research methodology and findings, and a discussion of future research needs is available on the NCHRP Project 08-74 website.

A CD-ROM, included in the print version of the guidebook, contains an Excel-spreadsheet-based version of the performance measures compendium located in Appendix B of the guidebook. The spreadsheet allows the existing measures to be modified, and macros enable the user to generate and export a custom list of measures. Instructions for using the spreadsheet are found in Appendix C.

The CD-ROM is also available for download from TRB’s website as an ISO image. Links to the ISO image and instructions for burning a CD-ROM from an ISO image are provided below.

Help on Burning an .ISO CD-ROM Image

Download the .ISO CD-ROM Image

(Warning: This is a large file and may take some time to download using a high-speed connection.)

An article on NCHRP Report 708 was published in the January-February 2013 issue of the TR News.

CD-ROM Disclaimer - This software is offered as is, without warranty or promise of support of any kind either expressed or implied. Under no circumstance will the National Academy of Sciences or the Transportation Research Board (collectively “TRB’) be liable for any loss or damage caused by the installation or operation of this product. TRB makes no representation or warranty of any kind, expressed or implied, in fact or in law, including without limitation, the warranty of merchantability or the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, and shall not in any case be liable for any consequential or special damages.

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