Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

Colorado's STEP UP Environmental Streamlining Initiative Enables Better, Faster Transportation Planning

This 'modeling boundary' map reflects the area covered by NFRMPO's land use and transportation models. Photo by NFRMPO.
This "modeling boundary" map reflects the area covered by NFRMPO's land use and transportation models. Photo by NFRMPO.



This map shows the extent of the North Front Range MPO, including municipalities and counties. Photo by NFRMPO.
This map shows the extent of the North Front Range MPO, including municipalities and counties. Photo by NFRMPO.

In two fast-growing Colorado counties north of Denver, fragile ecosystems near proposed transportation projects will get added protection thanks to an environmental streamlining pilot project. The project involves resource agencies and identifies ecosystem impacts right at the start of the transportation planning process.

Historically, resource agencies reviewed transportation improvement projects and issued a permit for each one, ensuring that full and early resource agency involvement enhances cooperation. Earlier identification of ecosystem impacts in transportation planning will avoid costly and time-consuming project delays.

The pilot project is called Strategic Transportation Environmental and Planning Process for Urbanizing Places, or STEP UP. STEP UP covers the urbanized portions of Larimer and Weld Counties and creates a partnership between the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization (NFRMPO).

Below are some highlights on the STEP-UP initiative:

  • STEP UP is a corridor-based approach, focusing corridors along which development occurs rather than individual transportation projects. The NFRMPO area is large enough to foster regional and ecological benefits that compensate for impacts from a single transportation project or the cumulative impacts of several projects;
  • STEP UP uses a Geographic Information System (GIS)-based environmental database, allowing for more informed decision making;
  • STEP UP includes high-quality visual data. For example, an adaptation of STEP UP by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments displays not only sidewalks but "social trails," the areas between where the sidewalk ends and where it picks up again;
  • STEP-UP has revised the long-range, project-based 2030 Transportation Plan to create the statewide, corridor-based 2035 Plan. This long-range plan incorporates ecosystem considerations and resource agency input early in the planning process;
  • STEP UP features a web-based, interactive screening tool that tracks resource agency comments on potential transportation projects and enables resource agencies to consult with each other online. The user friendly tool includes a participation matrix that shows how agencies can participate in transportation planning both in the short term and the long term.

The arrival of STEP UP is timely. For decades, transportation decision makers needed a tool that integrates land use, transportation, and environmental planning. When the STEP UP partner agencies launched the pilot project in 2003, no collected environmental data existed in transportation plans. As a result, STEP UP partners began working with some of data collected by consultants on the North I-25 Environmental Impact Study. In the pilot project, more data layers were added, including layers on floodplains, wetlands, hazardous waste sites, and threatened and endangered species such as bald eagles and the Colorado butterfly plant. In the future, more data will be added on topics such as historical resources and wildlife information that is separate from threatened and endangered species data.

STEP-UP may be refined for expansion to other counties in Colorado. In the meantime, North Front Range and other metropolitan planning organizations will be able to make better, faster planning decisions by identifying the red flags that would otherwise stop proposed transportation projects.

For more information contact: Suzette Mallette, smallette@nfrmpo.org

Land-use categories used to project the numbers of households and employees for the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. Photo by NFRMPO.
Land-use categories used to project the numbers of households and employees for the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. Photo by NFRMPO.
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