Environmental Consultation Peer Exchange

Summary Report

January 27, 2009

Prepared for:
Integrated Planning Work Group

Submitted by:
ICF International
9300 Lee Highway
Fairfax, Virginia 22031

Contact:
Terence Plaskon
(703) 934-3624

Table of Contents
Executive Summary
Program
Background
Summary of Presentations
Peer Exchange Observations
Conclusion
Appendix A: Agenda
Appendix B: Participants

Executive Summary

This report summarizes the results of the Environmental Consultation Peer Exchange held January 27, 2009 at the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters.  The Integrated Planning Work Group for Executive Order 13274 convened the peer exchange to highlight models of successful coordination among environmental resource agencies and State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and/or Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) during the transportation planning process and through project development.  Agencies often face challenges in coordinating the transportation planning and environmental review processes – due to limited staff resources, available funding, or familiarity with their respective agency’s planning process.  The purpose of the Environmental Consultation Peer Exchange was to explore these types of challenges and showcase several approaches that agencies have taken to coordinate on environmental issues and successfully meet the consultation requirements of Section 6001 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), as implemented by the final rule on statewide transportation planning and metropolitan transportation planning.1

Participants at the peer exchange included representatives from State DOTs; MPOs; environmental resource agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and related stakeholders.  Participants included both those in attendance and those participating remotely via Internet web conferencing.

The peer exchange included three presentations, each followed by a facilitated discussion of the information presented.  Each of the presentations illustrated an approach on how resource and transportation agencies are working together to meet Federal environmental consultation requirements.

During the first presentation, representatives from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), USFWS, and Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments presented examples of early collaboration and data sharing, through an initiative known as Planning and Environmental Linkages adopted by CDOT.  This presentation was followed by representatives from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), USEPA, and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.  This group presented on the benefits of DOT-funded environmental resource positions for transportation planning.  Finally, representatives from USFWS, the Conservation Fund, and on behalf of the Maryland State Highway Administration, presented on the advantages of using a “Green Infrastructure” approach to corridor projects by highlighting work being done on the U.S. Route 301 Waldorf Transportation Improvements Project in southern Maryland.

The peer exchange concluded with a virtual roundtable discussion on lessons learned and recommendations that included attendees, presenters, and remote participants via teleconference.  During the discussion, two major themes emerged: (1) the need for additional collaboration during the decision-making process; and (2) the need for additional information on defining mitigation strategies.  Both resource agencies and transportation agencies want to make informed decisions, which can best be achieved when they are fully aware of decisions made by the other.  For example, the MPOs expressed a strong desire to be involved in conversations regarding land use planning, so that transportation planning decisions could be congruent with land use decisions.  Additionally, all participants expressed an interest in receiving additional guidance and direction for crafting mitigation strategies within the context of a regional transportation plan, in order to comply with SAFETEA-LU Section 6001 requirements.

The virtual roundtable discussion culminated with peer exchange participants identifying strategies for further exploration, including the need to define mitigation strategies in the context of regional planning and identify best practices by which to engage environmental resources agencies and local governments.  Participants also expressed interest in additional peer exchanges on topics such as funding opportunities for dedicated positions.  Participants supported further exploration of these strategies to allow other agencies to benefit from the experiences of these participants and the approaches they have successfully applied – meeting both transportation and environmental protection needs.

Program

The Integrated Planning Work Group (IPWG) convened the Environmental Consultation Peer Exchange to highlight models of successful coordination among resource agencies and transportation agencies during the planning process and through project development.2  Participants at the peer exchange included representatives from State Departments of Transportation (DOTs); Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs); and environmental resource agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  Participants included both those in attendance (14 individuals) and those participating remotely (an additional 10 individuals).  The remote participants called in via teleconference lines and viewed the presentations through Internet web conferencing.  Both groups of participants led presentations and participated in the facilitated discussion following presentations, as well as participated in the virtual roundtable session which concluded the peer exchange.

The goal of the peer exchange was to showcase examples of how DOTs and MPOs conduct consultations with resource agencies and identify approaches and notable practices that can best facilitate integration of transportation planning and the environmental review process, fully meeting regulatory requirements.

The peer exchange program consisted of three presentations on approaches to environmental consultation.  Facilitated discussion followed each presentation.  The program concluded with a virtual roundtable discussion on lessons learned and recommendations that included presenters as well as remote participants via teleconference.

Background

Executive Order 13274 was issued in September 2002 to promote environmental stewardship in the nation’s transportation system and to streamline the environmental review and development of transportation infrastructure projects.  An interagency Task Force oversees implementation of the Executive Order.  One of the responsibilities of the Task Force is to identify and promote policies that can effectively streamline the environmental review process for transportation infrastructure projects while promoting environmental stewardship.  The Task Force created three work groups to focus on likely opportunities for process improvements and improved Federal coordination regarding aspects of the environmental review process: (1) the Purpose and Need Work Group; (2) the Indirect and Cumulative Impacts Work Group; and (3) the IPWG.

Integrated Planning

Integrated Planning is an approach that recognizes the continuing need to link short, as well as, long-range transportation planning and corridor level planning done by State and local governments to the planning processes performed by resource conservation and management agencies.  The IPWG is focused on identifying lessons learned and best practices for linking planning, project development, and environmental analysis.  The emphasis is on early coordination between transportation planners and resources agencies.  Enhanced early coordination between transportation and resource agencies, including other environmental stakeholders, can better result in opportunities for protection of the environment with better decision-making and less chance for costly delays.

Integrated planning can shorten the time needed for environmental reviews of projects by bringing together the necessary agencies and stakeholders early in the process.  Early coordination has the potential not only to provide better protection of natural and cultural resources, but also to maximize the efficient use of scarce staff and financial resources by flagging potential problems before the narrowing of alternatives options and the completion of detailed design work.  Integrated planning can also enable agencies to examine the resource impacts of multiple projects, thereby providing opportunities to develop more effective environmental mitigation measures.

The idea of an environmental consultation peer exchange was raised initially by the IPWG in its Two-Year Work Plan (June 2007).  The plan advocated that outreach and training opportunities be advanced that would encourage cross-training and relationship-building.  The IPWG established a subcommittee to focus on advancing this work and to consider the best methods by which to do it.  This group decided on the peer exchange workshop and coordinated its planning.

SAFETEA-LU Section 6001

The focus of the peer exchange was on Section 6001 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).  SAFETEA-LU included numerous changes related to transportation planning, including significant new opportunities for consideration of environmental issues in the statewide and metropolitan transportation planning process (as implemented by the final rule).  Section 6001 requires certain elements and activities to be included in the development of long-range transportation plans, including:

Goals of Peer Exchange

The goals of the Environmental Consultation Peer Exchange included:

There are a number of challenges for transportation and environmental resource agencies to overcome to be successful in their consultation.  For transportation agencies, challenges include limited guidance or examples of incorporating mitigation into regional transportation plans and a lack of training on the role and process of resource agency reviews.  For resource agencies, challenges include limited availability of staff and funding to contribute to mitigation plans in a regional transportation plan and unfamiliarity with the transportation planning process.  The peer exchange was designed to help address some of these challenges and showcase strategies and approaches that may overcome them.

Summary of Presentations

This section presents a summary of the major concepts of the presentations given at the Environmental Consultation Peer Exchange.  Each presentation serves as an example of the type of consultation that could occur between resource and transportation agencies given a strong working relationship.

Colorado: Early Collaboration and Data Sharing

Michelle Scheuerman, Colorado Department of Transportation;  Alison Michael, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Craig Casper, Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments
Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has championed a concept known as Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) in order to ease the transition of issues the agency faces during the planning process – from the planning stage to the NEPA analysis stage.  Often within the industry, there is no overlap in personnel between the planning and NEPA stages of a project.  Thus, there is a chance that a portion of the decision-making history could be lost.  Without knowing what stages in planning a project has already gone through, NEPA project teams often re-do work that has already been done.3  CDOT’s history with PEL began with the development of the Strategic Transportation, Environmental, and Planning Process for Urbanizing Places (STEP UP) pilot project.  STEP UP was designed to streamline environmental review and regional planning.  The project is led by a partnership between FHWA, CDOT, USEPA, and the North Front Range MPO.  Since 2003, STEP UP has served as a model for statewide planning and environmental linkage review.

Since implementing STEP UP, CDOT has established a dedicated position, PEL Program Manager, to develop effective relationships with resources agencies.  CDOT has found that this position helps the agency forge a crucial link between transportation planning and project delivery to advance NEPA analysis in the planning process.

CDOT has also designed a Linking Planning and NEPA On-Line Training Guide available to the public.4  The training guide explains how to incorporate planning process elements into project-level environmental review.  For example, the guidance addresses how data, analysis, and products from planning can be incorporated into NEPA decision-making.

CDOT held a Statewide Environmental Forum in March 2007 to bring together local transportation officials and representatives from resource and regulatory agencies to further discuss the linkages between planning and environmental review.  At the forum, representatives from the transportation agencies were organized at tables according to their region, while the different resource agencies rotated from table to table in order to discuss each region with the planners.  CDOT found the forum to be a successful way for both regulatory and resource agencies to share information.  Additionally, within the past two years, CDOT has led five PEL Corridor Studies, including studies in Denver, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs.  Finally, CDOT has created a PEL Questionnaire that raises questions for planners to consider when transitioning from planning to the NEPA Process.  The questionnaire is available at the FHWA PEL website.5

Since adopting a PEL approach, CDOT believes it has strengthened both its environmental and financial stewardship.  CDOT has also built successful relationships with resources agencies which assists the agency with collaboration early in the process, and has helped it document decisions, effectively reducing the need to revisit decisions already addressed during the planning stage.  CDOT plans to continue its education and outreach efforts on PEL, and the agency continues to work on developing additional training materials, partnerships, and a web-based decision tool.

At the conclusion of CDOT’s presentation, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) shared lessons it has learned on data sharing and early collaboration.  The agency emphasized that it was key to have as much data as possible on one map (or set of GIS data layers) in order to have the most comprehensive review of a situation.  PPACG determined that it is essential to conduct iterative re-evaluation across a variety of agencies in order to best collaborate on planning and environmental reviews.

California: DOT-Funded Positions for Planning

Katie Benouar, California Department of Transportation; Connell Dunning, USEPA; and Stacey McKinley, representing Sacramento Area Council of Governments
California has 18 Metropolitan Planning Agencies and 41 State-Designated Regional Transportation Planning Agencies.  To facilitate linking land use and transportation, the State initiated the California Regional Blueprint Planning Program (Blueprint Program).  The Blueprint Program encourages recognition of housing, environment, economic development, and equity in regional plans.  It offers grants to provide more opportunities for collaboration on these issues and promotes consensus on a preferred growth scenario for each region that identifies the impacts of transportation on land use.

Since its initiation, California has seen the Blueprint Program enhance planning and collaboration.  In order for collaboration to be successful however, participating agencies need a common language and understanding of the issues.  To meet these needs, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has provided funding for positions with resource agencies.  Caltrans-funded positions with resources agencies have assisted in this process to foster interagency coordination and information-sharing.  Since 1999, Caltrans has dedicated about $2.25 million per year to fund dedicated transportation positions with resources agencies.  Caltrans currently has about 27 positions with seven different agencies, including USEPA, USFWS, and USACE.

During the peer exchange, Caltrans provided specific information on the recent funding of a USEPA liaison position dedicated to transportation planning for a one-year pilot project for $85,000.  Caltrans is using State Planning and Research Funds to fund the position.  The funded position shares USEPA and resources knowledge to help the Caltrans regions in the planning process.  This position also assists with the Blueprint Program.  The dedicated position has been critical in facilitating interagency coordination and information sharing; this approach has been widely viewed as a success.

When preparing the job description together, Caltrans and USEPA recognized that the pilot year would be an opportunity for both networking and education across the agencies on one another’s planning processes.  The success of this pilot is measured by the opportunity to provide feedback on regional transportation plans, though it may take several years for the process of consultations on mitigation strategies to become truly standardized.

Caltrans has found the dedicated position to be especially beneficial in improving early coordination, identifying potential pitfalls earlier to streamline project decision-making, and creating better working relationships.  The position also allows for a better understanding of each agency’s mission and lends to developing a common language across agencies for the SAFETEA-LU requirements.  Likewise, USEPA has found the planning-focused position at Caltrans to be a successful way for the agency to identify important issues prior to the development of future environmental documents (such as Environmental Impact Statements).  The early involvement of USEPA in planning allows for early consultation that can facilitate the comprehensive integration of environmental factors into transportation planning.

Finally, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) shared the MPO perspective and emphasized that the major challenge is how to engage resources agencies while developing plans.  USEPA encourages the inclusion of resources agencies in transportation planning activities so MPOs can ensure that their regional transportation plans consider all environmental resources.

Maryland: Corridor Transportation Improvements – A Green Infrastructure Approach

Craig Shirk, Gannett Fleming (representing Maryland State Highway Administration; Richard Starr, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Kris Hoellen, The Conservation Fund
Maryland U.S. Route 301 is a 13-mile corridor in southern Maryland that has long been recognized as an area in need of transportation improvements related to current and projected traffic congestion in the area.  While the project has been ongoing since the early 1990s, it was put on hold from 1999-2001 due to environmental impact concerns.  The project was restarted in 2005 with a brand new approach characterized as a “Green Infrastructure” approach.

A Green Infrastructure approach can be defined as “Strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, working landscapes and other open spaces that conserve ecosystem values and functions and provide associated benefits to human populations.”  This approach is similar to that of FHWA’s Eco-Logical approach, which essentially is an approach that values the sustainability of the ecosystem in developing infrastructure projects, and emphasizes a collaboratively developed vision that integrates ecological, economic, and social factors.

Green Infrastructure plans can help both State DOTs and MPOs meet SAFETEA-LU Section 6001 requirements.  By considering ecological boundaries, as well as economic and social factors, transportation planners can expect more streamlined project reviews, ultimately saving time and money.  Ecosystem-based mitigation will lend to predictability, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness in the planning process.  Regions of the country that have green infrastructure plans can also assist State DOTs in identifying potential areas of mitigation during the long-range planning process as required in Section 6001.

As a part of the Environmental Stewardship Initiative for the Maryland U.S. Route 301 study, an Interagency Work Group was formed, as well as three subject-specific work groups: natural resources, community resources, and watershed modeling.  The Natural Resources Working Group for the Route 301 study is independent from the project development team in order to provide scientific validity for agency buy-in and is comprised of representatives from The Conservation Fund, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Natural Resources Working group used a green infrastructure approach to help identify green infrastructure conservation and restoration priorities that went beyond the compensatory mitigation required by law in relation to the Route 301 highway improvements project.  A series of community meetings were convened to obtain input on environmental stewardship priorities from public agencies and local residents.  The public input was combined with ecological analysis to create a green infrastructure network that will assist the Interagency Work Group in selecting a portfolio of mitigation and environmental stewardship projects based on a selected alignment and its associated community and environmental impacts.

This approach is meant to maximize enhancement, protection, and improvement of natural, community, and cultural resources.  While the approach is non-regulatory and strictly voluntary, the end goal is to leave the environment better than it existed prior to the project.  For the Route 301 project, this approach represented a procedural and policy shift.  It stressed a commitment to bridge major stream crossings, develop an Interagency Work Group process, and emphasize environmental stewardship.

USFWS has been involved in the ecosystem-based mitigation/green infrastructure approach for the Maryland U.S. Route 301 project area, specifically on stream corridor evaluation.  USFWS has assessed existing stream conditions and analyzed the restoration potential for those streams.  USFWS assisted in the Green Infrastructure process by developing objectives and making implementation recommendations for potential conservation and restoration sites.  USFWS found the Green Infrastructure approach for the Maryland U.S. Route 301 project to be a successful way for transportation planners to demonstrate commitment to the environment.

In addition, The Conservation Fund is developing an optimization tool for the Maryland State Highway Administration to use as a way for different agencies involved in compensatory mitigation and transportation projects to work together to identify projects that should be prioritized based on a scoring process.  This type of tool can help to determine which projects are most cost-effective to pursue.

A Green Infrastructure approach, as applied in Maryland, allows for early planning, coordination, and effective communication.  The approach also enhances protection and restoration of natural resources while lessening impacts.  After its involvement in the Maryland U.S. Route 301 project, the resource agencies involved stated it would encourage more transportation projects to incorporate the Green Infrastructure approach.

The Green Infrastructure approach used for Maryland U.S. Route 301 has been recognized and even adopted by other agencies interested in ecosystem based mitigation.

Peer Exchange Observations

The peer exchange participants were involved in facilitated discussions after each of the three presentations.  During the discussions, two major themes emerged, including: (1) the need for additional collaboration on decision-making and (2) the need for additional information on defining mitigation strategies.  Both resource agencies and transportation agencies want to make informed decisions, which can best be achieved when they are fully aware of decisions made by the other.  For instance, the MPOs expressed a strong interest in being involved in the conversations about land use planning so that transportation planning decisions can be aligned with land use decisions.  Additionally, all participants expressed interest in receiving additional guidance and examples of mitigation strategies within the context of a regional transportation plan in order to comply with SAFETEA-LU Section 6001 requirements.

The following sections summarize observations from the discussions:
MPOs and State DOTs face different challenges and opportunities in addressing the new SAFETEA-LU requirements

A variety of tools and resources are available for agency coordination, and for planners to engage local government and resources agencies in the consultation process

There are successful strategies available to help make decisions “stick” so that planning decisions are aligned with NEPA.

Tracking decisions made during the planning process is a helpful way for resources agencies to understand how their comments are incorporated into decisions.

Conclusion

Based upon the facilitated discussion and observations that followed, participants at the Environmental Consultation Peer Exchange recommended that the IPWG explore the following strategies:

Exploration of these strategies is a logical next step following this peer exchange.  Addressing these issues would allow other agencies to benefit from this peer exchange and the successful approaches exhibited by its participants in meeting both transportation and environmental needs.

Appendix A: Agenda

Environmental Consultation Peer Exchange
U.S. Department of Transportation, Conference Room 7
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC
January 27, 2009

8:30 a.m. Welcome and Introductions Rob Ritter (FHWA)
Raja Veeramachaneni (FHWA)
8:45 a.m. Overview of Peer Exchange Janet D’Ignazio (ICF)
9:15 a.m. Example #1: Early Collaboration and Data Sharing Michelle Scheuerman (CDOT)
Alison Michael (FWS)
Craig Casper (PPACG)
9:45 a.m. Facilitated Discussion Janet D’Ignazio (ICF)
10:30 a.m. Break
10:45 a.m. Example #2: DOT-Funded Positions for Planning Katie Benouar (Caltrans)
Connell Dunning (EPA)
Stacey McKinley (SACOG)
11:15 a.m. Facilitated Discussion Janet D’Ignazio (ICF)
12:00 p.m. Lunch
1:00 p.m. Feedback on morning discussions Janet D’Ignazio (ICF)
1:15 p.m. Example #3: Corridor Transportation Improvements –
A Green Infrastructure Approach
Richard Starr (FWS)
Kris Hoellen (Conservation Fund)
Craig Shirk (Gannett Fleming)
2:00 p.m. Facilitated Discussion Janet D’Ignazio (ICF)
2:45 p.m. Break
3:00 p.m. Virtual Roundtable Discussion
  • Other Model Examples
  • Opportunity for Remote Participant Input
  • Common Challenges and Opportunities
  • Recommendations for Future Activities
Janet D’Ignazio (ICF)
4:30.m. Wrap-Up
  • Related Activities
  • Emerging Issues
Mike Culp (FHWA)
Spencer Stevens (FHWA)
Gina Barberio (Volpe Center)
5:00 p.m. Adjourn

Appendix B: Participants

In-Person

Name Agency Email
Michelle Scheuerman Colorado Department of Transportation michelle.scheuerman@dot.state.co.us
Alison Michael U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service alison_michael@fws.gov
Craig Casper Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments ccasper@ppacg.org
Katie Benouar California Department of Transportation katie_benouar@dot.ca.gov
Connell Dunning U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dunning.connell@epa.gov
Stacey McKinley The McKinley Group stacey.mckinley@gmail.com
Richard Starr U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rich_starr@fws.gov
Craig Shirk Gannett Fleming cshirk@gfnet.com
Laura Bachle U.S. Environmental Protection Agency bachle.laura@epa.gov
Dan Johnson Federal Highway Administration danw.johnson@dot.gov
Shana Baker Federal Highway Administration shana.baker@dot.gov
Spencer Stevens Federal Highway Administration spencer.stevens@dot.gov
Raja Veeramachaneni Federal Highway Administration raja.veeramachaneni@dot.gov
Carol Legard Advisory Council on Historic Preservation clegard@achp.gov
Gina Barberio U.S. DOT Volpe Center gina.barberio@dot.gov

Remote Participants

Name Agency Email
Jennifer Moyer U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jennifer.a.moyer@usace.army.mil
Nelson Castellanos Federal Highway Administration nelson.castellanos@fhwa.dot.gov
Tamara Hollowell North Central Texas Council of Governments thollowell@nctcog.org
Jean Riley Montana Department of Transportation jriley@mt.gov
Buddy Cunhill Florida Department of Transportation buddy.cunhill@dot.state.fl.us
Chuck Weinkam Coastal Resources chuckw@coastal-resources.net
Bill Haas Federal Highway Administration william.haas@fhwa.dot.gov
Jimmy Travis North Carolina Department of Transportation jtravis@dot.state.nc.us
Kris Hoellen The Conservation Fund khoellen@conservationfund.org
Lisa Pool Mid-America Regional Council lpool@marc.org

 

1 Federal Highway Administration 23 CFR Parts 450 and 500; Federal Transit Administration 49 CFR Part 613.
2 Resource agencies include Federal, State, and tribal agencies responsible for land use management, natural resources, environmental protection, conservation, and historic preservation.
3 See information provided by FHWA, Colorado Division, Planning and Environmental Linkages Questionnaire at http://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/integ/case_colorado2_quest.asp
4 Training guide available at http://www.coloradodot.info/programs/environmental/planning-env-link-program
5 http://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/integ/case_colorado2_quest.asp
6 http://www.loc.gov/crsinfo/