Environmental Review Toolkit
NEPA and Project Development

Integrating Road Safety into NEPA Analysis:
A Primer for Safety and Environmental Professionals

1.0 Introduction

This primer presents techniques to address safety in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. It is designed with two audiences in mind: NEPA practitioners interested in learning the basics of how to incorporate scientific safety analysis into NEPA documents; and safety professionals (planners and engineers) interested in understanding the basics of the NEPA process and where safety consideration can be incorporated.

The primer is intended to educate practitioners on ways to incorporate meaningful consideration of safety impacts in NEPA documents, and to avoid cursory or simplistic treatment of safety. For example, NEPA analysis frequently assumes safety will be maximized solely through adherence to roadway design standards. Yet traffic crashes continue to be a frequent occurrence, even on newly constructed roadways; and nationally, tens of thousands die each year in traffic crashes. Addressing this problem requires considering more than standards to maximize the safety of new transportation projects.

The Importance of Improving Road Safety

Traffic crashes have an enormous impact on human society, causing suffering, death, disability, and associated economic impacts. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2008 Traffic Safety Facts Report, about 37,000 individuals died in traffic crashes in 2008 and about 2.3 million were injured in the United States. In 2000, NHTSA estimated the annual economic cost of crashes at $230 billion.

Given the enormity of the problem, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) considers safety its primary focus. Former U.S. DOT Secretary Rodney Slater stated, “Safety is our North Star by which we in DOT will be guided and judged.”

The agency’s mission includes the guidance that “Safety should be considered first, every time, and at every stage of a project.” This directive inspires work throughout the agency and is a leading motivator of this report.

The NEPA process provides a unique opportunity to improve safety for new roadway projects. The process should:

  • Include a safety analysis commensurate with the complexity of the project as part of the review process;
  • Utilize the best available safety data specific to the project location in the review process;
  • Involve safety analysis using the best available information and tools;
  • Promote dialogue with the general public and key stakeholders about the safety aspects of the project;
  • Address potential safety issues associated with construction; and
  • Incorporate innovative educational and enforcement techniques to address issues, such as speeding or impaired driving.

1.1 Primer Organization

The primer contains the following sections:

  • Considering Safety Prior to the NEPA process;
  • NEPA Overview and Levels of Documentation;
  • Public and Stakeholder Outreach;
  • Purpose and Need Statements;
  • Alternatives Analysis;
  • Defining the Affected Environment; and
  • Analysis of Environmental Impacts and Mitigation.

Appendix A contains related resources, including links to on-line courses, tools, and research documents covering topics such as the basics of the NEPA process, road safety analysis, and safety countermeasure selection. Appendix B contains case studies illustrating best practices in incorporating safety into the NEPA process.

1.2 Using the Primer

The primer is intended to provide basic information to help practitioners get started in understanding how to improve consideration of safety in NEPA analysis. References to more comprehensive resources are provided, where appropriate.

Practitioners can use this primer to:

  • Link safety planning processes to NEPA analysis;
  • Identify and gain input from safety stakeholders during public outreach and scoping;
  • Understand the value of using safety analysis techniques to identify and address substantive safety problems, and to compare project alternatives; and
  • Identify opportunities for safety mitigation and going above and beyond required mitigation to enhance safety.

Note that this document serves two audiences – NEPA and safety practitioners – in an effort to inform both groups on safety-NEPA process linkages. Those with NEPA training may wish to skim over information on the basics of the NEPA process; similarly, those with safety background may wish to skim information on the fundamentals of safety science and planning.

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