Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
January 2006

Context Sensitive Solutions: Integrating New Principles and Practices to Address a Range of Community Needs

Photo of a van entering a rotary.
CSS principles incorporate functionality with aesthetically pleasing design that also enhances mobility and safety. (Photo provided with permission from Project for Public Spaces.)

Transportation is an essential part of any community, yet too often traditional transportation projects are not fully responsive to the unique needs of the communities they serve. Fortunately, the increasing emphasis on context sensitive solutions (CSS) should make it easier for transportation agencies to respond to the diverse needs of stakeholders. The CSS approach incorporates a number of longstanding concepts in transportation planning and design with new and evolving strategies. This integrated approach leads to safe, logical, cost-efficient solutions that enhance the natural environment and preserve community values, whether projects are in urban, suburban, or rural areas.

As the name implies, CSS considers the total context within which a transportation improvement project will exist. It does so with a collaborative, interdisciplinary process that involves all stakeholders — agencies, private entities, and the public — early in meaningful participation. This early engagement can lead to savings of time and costs through greater public support, improved permitting processes, and more efficient compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. (See Flexible Design examples).

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in support of its Vital Few Environmental Goal, is encouraging all States to use CSS in project development by 2007. The FHWA CSS program has developed a range of activities to assist States in meeting this deadline. These activities are intended to raise awareness of CSS, provide training and education in CSS concepts and methods, and help States integrate CSS into all phases of transportation improvements. (See FHWA CSS Program Activities.) This month's newsletter focuses on CSS information resources and training opportunities for transportation professionals.

A New Online Resource for Context Sensitive Solutions

FHWA and transportation industry leaders and associations collaborated to create a CSS website www.contextsensitivesolutions.org, which provides examples of CSS projects, case studies, cutting-edge research, information, and policy documents. This resource addresses a broad range of issues, including design standards, liability, stakeholder involvement, and new techniques in transportation problem solving. A variety of support tools are provided to make the resources easily accessible to website visitors, including interactive and customized information, discussion forums of self-organized user groups, and an online newsletter that summarizes new developments in CSS policy, training, and practice. An important feature of the website is one that allows users to contribute photographs and case studies, thereby allowing future users to have access to a greater selection of CSS examples

Training the Transportation Community to Integrate CSS into Project Development

While there is widespread interest in the CSS approach, formal training in CSS principles and practices is critical to integrating CSS into project development structures nationwide. FHWA and State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) are leveraging state-of-practice training and education to reach across the transportation community, from planners to maintenance crews. As discussed below, FHWA and State DOTs are working with universities, the private sector, and other States to create training programs that promote greater understanding and encourage the use of CSS concepts in project planning, design, and implementation. See the March 2003 issue of Successes in Stewardship and the CSS website for more examples.

New FHWA CSS Training Course Available

The National Highway Institute (NHI) will be offering a new 3-day CSS course in 2006. The course explains the collaborative, interdisciplinary CSS approach and its associated benefits, such as making effective and timely decisions, gaining public trust and support, building positive relationships with resource agencies, delivering safe and financially feasible project solutions, and improving the overall project delivery process. Geared toward transportation and environmental professionals in planning, engineering, and managerial positions in both the public and private sectors, the course provides specific tools and techniques that enable successful CSS project development. Requests to schedule the course should be made to the NHI Training Coordinator at (703) 235-0534 or nhitraining@fhwa.dot.gov.

Green Highways Forum

The Mid-Atlantic Green Highways Forum was held November 8-10, 2005 in College Park, Maryland. The Forum was sponsored by the FHWA, EPA local and headquarters offices, and many other private and public sector organizations.

The Forum was the first national event to focus on the relationships among transportation, safety, and the environment. It provided an excellent opportunity to share information about the Green Highways Initiative — created to promote innovative streamlining and market-based approaches toward sustainable solutions for transportation and environmental improvements — to both the private and public sector, while receiving feedback and next steps from Forum participants. There was universal agreement from participants that while many discrete successes have been achieved, more can be done to promote green highways by working together. While this conference targeted the Mid-Atlantic States, it is hoped that it will serve as a springboard for forums and discussions around the country.

For more on the Green Highways Forum and Green Highways Initiative, see http://www.greenhighways.org/.

North Carolina Delivers CSS Courses to Current and Future Professionals

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) wanted to train its employees statewide on its vision of excellence in design, environmental stewardship, and customer focus. Accordingly, NCDOT approached North Carolina State University's Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) to develop a CSS course. To date, more than 1,200 NCDOT employees, FHWA staff, consultants, Federal and State agency regulators, and regional and local government staff have been trained in the CSS approach to transportation planning, project development and design, construction, operations, and maintenance. Contact Ehren D. Meister from NCDOT for more information.

CTE, in conjunction with NCDOT, also offers the CSS Summer Academy, an undergraduate summer program. Students learn the principles of CSS in the classroom, and learn how to apply them to real-world projects through field trips and an internship with NCDOT. Building on this success, FHWA and NCDOT have contracted CTE to develop a graduate-level course to train future civil and environmental engineers in CSS principles and practices. The first course will be offered during fall semester 2006 at North Carolina State University. It will then be adapted for civil and environmental engineering programs nationwide. For more on the courses mentioned here, see http://www.itre.ncsu.edu/CTE/Education/index.asp.

Information Sharing Helps Utah Implement CSS

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is making big changes with its small but growing CSS program. Since it began employing CSS practices, UDOT has stressed its objective to implement CSS statewide in the entire project development process, from planning to maintenance. UDOT has trained more than 1,000 of its employees through various training programs since 1998. All new employees, for example, are introduced to CSS principles as part of their initial training. CSS training is an internal program at UDOT, but program developers have adopted strategies from several States with successful CSS programs. These States understand that information sharing can help all participants achieve a common goal: a safe, efficient, aesthetically pleasing transportation system that protects community, historical, and environmental interests. Contact Angelo Papastamos to learn more.


The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Center for Environmental Excellence holds an annual competition for best practices on a chosen topic. The 2005 and 2006 awards are in the area of CSS. For the 2005 competition, entries were requested in three categories, and winners were selected from 75 applications from 33 States. Selections included New York State DOT for Best Institutional Change, Oregon Transportation Investment Act State Bridge Delivery Program for Best Program, and Minnesota TH 38, Edge of the Wilderness National Scenic Byway Corridor for Best Project; seven notable practices were also chosen.

Next Steps — Transforming Ideas into Action

FHWA and State DOTs are making great strides to educate the transportation community about CSS. The next steps will entail putting these concepts into action nationwide. Through continued information sharing and training — and ongoing support from FHWA — transportation agencies will leverage best practices and develop more transportation projects that account for environmental, aesthetic, and community needs from start to finish.

Contact Information

Program Assistance

Keith Moore
Program/Policy Development Team
Office of Project Development
& Environmental Review
Room 3222
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: 202-366-0524

John Obenberger
Preconstruction Group Leader
Dept. of Infrastructure
Office 3134
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: (202) 366-2221

Shari Schaftlein
Program/Policy Development
Team Leader
Office of Project Development
& Environmental Review
Room 3222
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: 202-366-5570
Technical Assistance

K. Lynn Berry
Community Impact Specialist
FHWA Resource Center
61 Forsyth Street, SW
Suite 17T26
Atlanta, GA 30303
Phone: (404) 895-6212

Keith Harrison
FHWA Resource Center
201 Mission Street, Suite 2100
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 744-2657


Take a look at the new SAFETEA-LU guidance on the FHWA website. Two recent additions include:
  • Guidance for Determining De Minimis Impacts to Section 4(f) Resources explains the amended 4(f) legislation to simplify the processing and approval of projects that have only de minimis impacts on lands protected by Section 4(f).
  • Guidance on use of limitations on Claim Notice discusses Section 6002(a), which includes a provision limiting the time period for filing claims that challenge permits, licenses, or approvals issued by Federal agencies for a highway or public transportation capital project, such as transit. The provision creates a maximum statute of limitations period of 180 days after publication of a notice in the Federal Register announcing the permit license or approval.

"Successes in Stewardship" is a Federal Highway Administration newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining and stewardship practices from around the country. To subscribe, visit the Registration Site, or call 617-494-3137.
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