Highways with scenic views in (left to right) Arizona, Colorado, and Arkansas. Linking Conservation and Transportation Planning provides opportunities to protect the natural environment while meeting community and accessibility needs. Image courtesy of FHWA.
Transportation agencies continually strive to enhance the quality of the projects delivered while reducing the project delivery time. Agencies can improve projects and achieve better environmental outcomes by incorporating environmental concerns earlier in planning and by including stakeholder input as part of the decision-making process. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) supports many different integrated approaches to project planning, including Linking Planning and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Linking Conservation and Transportation Planning, and using the principles and framework outlined in Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects. Using strategies recommended in these programs, agencies can avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts earlier in long-range planning in addition to protecting natural resources. These strategies also include recommendations to meet certain provisions of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) (see sidebox).
To showcase these strategies, the FHWA Office of Project Development and Environmental Review, NatureServe, and Defenders of Wildlife recently hosted three workshops, entitled "Linking Conservation and Transportation Planning." The workshops emphasized sharing information, tools, and methods among agencies at the local, state, regional, and national levels so that conservation strategies can be incorporated earlier in the transportation planning process. Workshops were held at Little Rock, Arkansas, in May; Denver, Colorado, in August; and Phoenix, Arizona, in November. Attendees included planning, project development, and environmental staff from local, state, and federal transportation and resource agencies.
- Considers environmental concerns in long-range, statewide and metropolitan planning
- Consults with resource agencies
- Develops participation plans for input on projects
- Defines an "Environmental Review Process"
- Involves participating agencies and the public in developing project purpose and need and a range of alternatives
- Makes funding available for resource agencies to contribute to process improvements for activities that expedite and improve transportation planning and project delivery
Tools and Techniques
Workshop participants discussed existing data storage and analysis tools used in the planning and environmental review processes. Additionally through the Linking Planning and NEPA Workshops and similar initiatives, participants shared experiences and initiated specific activities to expand their use of these tools so that they can better incorporate environmental concerns earlier in the planning process. Participants also learned about new conservation-related decision-making support tools and methods, discussed how to improve information sharing and coordination across agencies, and reviewed how to revise their transportation planning processes to incorporate conservation strategies.
Communication Is Key
Enhanced communication and information sharing was a major outcome of the workshops. After discussing available tools and resources and the limitations of each agency, transportation and resource agency staff came away with a better understanding of each others' objectives and assets and with the expectations that their agencies will be able to work together more effectively in the future. Participants also indicated a commitment to identify next steps for further integration of conservation and transportation planning.
Resources for Improving Project Development
The Linking Conservation and Transportation Planning Workshops are part of a broader set of FHWA initiatives to improve project development processes and meet the SAFETEA-LU provisions relative to agency and stakeholder consultation and environmental mitigation. The following resources provide agencies with tools to improve planning and environmental processes. The end result should be better products and stronger interagency relationships.
Technologies to Link
- Interactive Regional Scenario Analysis
- Integrated Aerial Data Collection
- Road and Rail Alignment Optimization
- Web-Based Environmental Screening
- NEPA Document Preparation and Review Expert System
- Restricted Activity Zone Mapping
- Electronic Asset Management System
- Life Cycle E-Engineering
For more information, refer to the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Research Results Digest 304.
- Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) is an approach to transportation decision-making that considers environmental, community, and economic goals early in the planning stage and carries them through project development, design, and construction. The PEL website includes implementation resources, information on Linking Planning and NEPA Workshops, and links to related integration resources.
- Eco-Logical, a document agreed on by eight federal agencies, encourages ecosystem-based planning and greater flexibility in regulatory processes. It is essentially a "permission document," providing a framework for doing business in a new way.
- Green Infrastructure is an approach to planning and implementing interconnected "green-space" systems (such as protected lands, parks, and trails) with existing and planned "gray" infrastructure (such as roads and buildings). Green Infrastructure can provide geographic resource information and conservation priorities that can be used as input in the transportation planning process.
- GIS In Transportation promotes geographic information systems (GIS) as a valuable data analysis and data sharing tool that can be used to improve transportation analyses and strengthen planning and environmental linkages.
Linking Conservation and Transportation Planning Workshops are an effective tool in helping to promote streamlining efforts. Opportunities and potential obstacles documented at the workshops will be shared with other states to improve planning processes nationwide.
For more information and materials from each Workshop, visit the Defenders of Wildlife website at http://www.defenders.org/programs_and_policy/habitat_conservation/state_wildlife_grants/index.php/.