By integrating their planning efforts, State DOTs and their partners can promote an ecosystems approach to transportation development. Photo: Chris Peterson
Implementing an Ecosystem Approach with Integrated Planning
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and other Federal agencies support an ecosystem approach to infrastructure development. However, successfully implementing national standards at the state and local levels — where infrastructure projects are carried out — presents a myriad of challenges.
The ecosystem approach is characterized as a method for sustaining or restoring natural systems and their functions and values. Based on a collaboratively developed vision that integrates ecological, economic, and social factors, it is applied within a geographic framework defined primarily by ecological boundaries. While agency professionals involved in transportation planning, design, review, and development are eager to balance infrastructure needs with conservation strategies, they may lack the tools to work together toward ecosystem management. Many are recognizing the need for comprehensive planning that integrates the conservation strategies and infrastructure needs of all stakeholders — linking transportation planning with the planning activities of resource agencies and land management agencies, as well as with local planning organizations.
Benefits of Integrated Planning
Integrated planning can help agencies to identify opportunities to address environmental impacts early in project development and to develop mitigation options that address the highest-priority needs in an ecosystem. The key characteristics of integrated planning include:
- Collaborative partnerships among stakeholders
- A common language with which to develop shared goals and evaluate alternatives
- Planning that leads to a shared conservation strategy
- Adaptive management in planning, using appropriate performance measures
Because it enables cooperative problem solving among government agencies, public entities, and private groups or individuals, integrated planning can mitigate some of the challenges that agencies often face such as:
- Conflicting priorities and project scales among agencies or field offices, or national, regional, and local concerns
- Inconsistent terminology, data, and performance measures across agencies
- Varying geographic frameworks, and ecological and political boundaries
- Miscommunication among stakeholders
Integrated planning ensures that the needs and concerns of all participating stakeholders are addressed, enabling more predictable development and conservation outcomes.
Support for Integrated Planning
In 2003, when Executive Order 13274, Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Review, was issued, an Interagency Task Force to promote environmental streamlining and stewardship was created. FHWA leads the Executive Order Interagency Task Force efforts and has a prominent role in the Task Force Working Group on Integrated Planning, which meets frequently to discuss integrated planning barriers, priorities, and progress. The Working Group has identified key issues and is developing a broad range of recommendations for helping agencies move toward integrated planning.
In addition to the Task Force, FHWA is partnering with other Federal agencies to write a handbook for Federal field staff. The handbook steering committee is composed of representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife Agency, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, State Departments of Transportation, and FHWA. Drawing on useful practices and lessons learned at the State and local levels — including the need for more and improved data sharing — the handbook will outline a collaborative, comprehensive approach to addressing the highest-priority needs in an ecological region. The handbook will provide step-by-step processes, tools, techniques, and resources to enable Federal staff to work in partnership with State, local, and non-profit organizations to initiate integrated planning and deploy creative approaches to mitigation.
Start Your Integrated Planning Efforts with Partnerships
To start applying the basic concepts of integrated planning, no changes to existing legislation or regulations are necessary. Cooperative partnerships among government agencies and other stakeholders are essential because each agency, district, office, and community has different concerns and resources. Collaborative partnerships and formal partnership agreements can help foster the trust necessary for planning effective environmental solutions. Once you determine what relationships to cultivate, what data are available, and what tools you and your partners have, you can begin to use locally available expertise and resources to identify projects that previously may have seemed too complicated to tackle.
- Develop partnerships at various levels in your own agency as well as in other participating agencies.
- Build relationships with municipal, county, and state governments.
- Include special-interest stakeholders — nonprofit organizations, community groups, property owners, and concerned citizens — and maintain their involvement throughout the planning process. Their input can help ensure that resources are targeted at the highest priorities. Just as important, the planning effort can help create a basic understanding among stakeholders of the competing demands that confront most agencies.
Carol Adkins, FHWA
400 Seventh Street SW
Washington, DC 20590