Integrating Road Safety into NEPA Analysis:
A Primer for Safety and Environmental Professionals
3.0 Considering Safety Before the NEPA Process
The passage of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) in 2005 opened a new era for transportation safety planning. SAFETEA-LU established a core highway program focused on safety and required all states to develop a Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP). The SHSP identifies the top priority road safety issues in the state, and describes strategies for addressing the problem, including education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency response.
SHSPs do not typically contain lists of specific safety projects for implementation, and thus do not link directly to project development and NEPA review. Rather, they are intended to be implemented through linkage to other planning processes, specifically state and regional transportation plans and transportation improvement programs (TIP), and other planning processes (pedestrian, bicycle, commercial motor vehicle safety, freight, Highway Safety Program, and Highway Safety Improvement Program). Figure 3.1 illustrates how these linkages are intended to occur. This integration advances the safety agenda because it reflects statewide priorities, provides a blueprint for action for key agencies, and influences resource distribution. Examples of how plan integration is accomplished include:
- Explicitly addressing transportation safety within the scope of statewide and metropolitan planning organization (MPO) long-range transportation planning (LRTP) process integrates the SHSP into the LRTP.
- S/TIPs, developed by the states and MPOs, are capital programming documents. These programs are resource constrained, and identify projects and funding that reflect society’s mobility, operational, and safety needs. Therefore, they should support the emphasis areas and strategies in the SHSP. SHSP emphasis area strategies and actions can be used as tools for selecting and prioritizing HSIP investment decisions.
- Consistency between Highway Safety Plans (HSP) and SHSP emphasis areas will better channelize the Federal funds targeting identified highway safety problems.
- The Commercial Vehicle Safety Plan (CVSP) aims to reduce the number and severity of crashes and hazardous materials incidents involving commercial motor vehicles (CMV) through consistent, uniform, and effective CMV safety programs. CVSPs may also address some of the behavioral safety elements of the SHSP. Note: Many, if not most, states continue to work on developing these linkages.
Figure 3.1 Integrating SHSP Priorities into other Plans and Programs
Note: State safety-related plans are shown in grey; state nonsafety-related plans are shown in white;
and metropolitan transportation plans are shown in light blue.
3.2 Linking The NEPA Process to Safety Planning
Begin consideration of safety prior to the NEPA process, particularly during safety planning processes. Linking safety planning to project development processes helps in:
- Reducing roadway-related fatalities and injuries;
- Making individual projects consistent with (or supporting) regional- or state-level safety goals and plans;
- Integrating safety to the project purpose and need;
- Facilitating safety stakeholders to provide early input into the project; and
- Including safety considerations during the design, construction, and operation phases.
The degree of linkage may depend on whether the project is safety-focused and the amount of public engagement that has occurred. Safety-focused projects should directly support specific strategies listed in the SHSP. For example, if analysts identify run-off-road crashes as an issue at the project site, they should reference the SHSP and incorporate strategies identified in the SHSP to address run-off-road crashes. If the project is funded with Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funds, it should be included in the HSIP project list, as well as in both a long-range plan (LRP) and a program document (TIP); and the NEPA document should reference any safety analysis conducted to demonstrate the existence of a safety problem at the project site (e.g., results of network screening to identify high-crash concentration locations).
For both safety projects and nonsafety projects, check to ensure the project is consistent with the overall safety goals listed in the SHSP, which should integrate with state and regional planning goals (As per CFR 924.9(J)). For example, if the SHSP sets a goal of reducing crashes by 50 percent, regional transportation plans could incorporate at least the same crash-reduction goal, and include safety benefits as a project prioritization factor. Individual projects competing for funding in the region should be able to reference this goal and demonstrate whether they support it. Finally, projects should incorporate any systemic safety improvements identified in the SHSP or other safety plans. Systemic safety improvements are safety countermeasures appropriate for deployment on most or all facilities prone to certain types of crashes, as opposed to targeted deployment only at safety “hotspots” (locations where an unusually high number of crashes has occurred). Examples of systemic safety countermeasures could include:
- Improved delineation and installation of rumble strips on all rural roads to prevent run-off-road crashes;
- Installation of cable median barriers on all major highways to prevent cross-median head on collisions;
- Installation of high-visibility crosswalk markings and pedestrian countdown signals at all urban intersections; and
- Use of oversized, high-visibility signage in all areas where older drivers are prevalent.
Incorporating systemic safety features into projects recognizes the fact that while crashes may historically occur more in some places than others, this is in part due to random chance. Future crashes can occur in any place at any time.
3.3 Transitioning into the NEPA Process
The results of safety planning and traditional transportation planning processes may be very useful in NEPA analysis. However, this information is frequently lost or disregarded during the transition to NEPA review, if it is collected at all. When initiating the NEPA process, consult with transportation planners and safety professionals for collection and use of relevant materials and data. Examples of useful information might include:
- State, regional, or project analysis of high-crash locations. Analysts can use this information to demonstrate the existence of a safety issue at the project site, and can cite it during the development of the project purpose and need statement (see Section 5.0).
- Results of corridor planning studies. Major corridor studies conducted in advance of the NEPA process may contain crash data analysis, public input, or other safety-related data practitioners can reuse during the NEPA process (As per 23 CFR 450.212). The Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) initiative promotes the use of the information developed in corridor and other planning studies to inform the NEPA process. See the FHWA’s Planning and Environmental Linkages web site: http://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/integ/index.asp.
- Input from safety experts. Safety experts may have examined conditions at the project site during an RSA, or during investigations of fatal crashes in the project corridor. NEPA practitioners can collect and reuse this information during NEPA analysis.
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