The large scope of its statewide Bridge Replacement Program enables Oregon to utilize economies of scale to improve efficiency and apply context-sensitive and sustainable solutions.
Ambitious Construction Program Fosters Comprehensive Approach
In 2003, when the Oregon State legislature authorized $1.3 billion for the replacement or repair of more than 350 aging bridges over the next decade, it was clear that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) faced a huge challenge. However, to some at ODOT it was also apparent that this challenge presented enormous opportunities. They recognized that only a programmatic and context-sensitive approach would enable the State to deliver this ambitious program within the mandated timeframe and in keeping with ODOT's environmental goals.
In the past year, ODOT has leveraged the magnitude of the bridge replacement program to capture economies of scale and to achieve environmental stewardship and streamlining goals. Recently launched initiatives include the early collection and compilation of environmental data for a statewide Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database, the development of performance standards, and a programmatic approach to permitting and mitigation banking.
A New Way to Do Business: Integration and Collaboration
The Oregon Bridge Replacement Program has fostered a new approach to doing business that fully integrates environmental stewardship and streamlining into planning, design, and construction. This approach — which applies ODOT's "CS3" philosophy of Context-Sensitive and Sustainable Solutions — includes the following initiatives:
- Developing "One Process." To integrate environmental compliance and build collaborative relationships with resource agencies, ODOT developed a "one process" approach based on batched programmatic permits and agreements. The agreements include a recently signed joint biological opinion for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a Regional General Permit with the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and a programmatic approach to managing State archaeological excavation permitting in collaboration with State tribal groups.
- Prioritizing Baseline Environmental Reports. The Bridge Replacement Program places a premium on collecting extensive environmental context data, or baseline reports, before design and programming. The primary purpose of these reports is to develop plans that prioritize impact avoidance. Field teams collected environmental data for each bridge along a 90-acre area called the "area of potential impact." The data are being incorporated into what will be Oregon's first environmental GIS database. Plans for the database include an interactive Internet mapping application by which all data — with the exclusion of sensitive archaeological and endangered species data — will be available to the general public.
- Promoting a Statewide Mitigation and Conservation Program. From an ecological systems perspective, the benefits of mitigation banking are clear, especially when on-site mitigation of small areas would represent minimal or no progress toward resource recovery. However, a shortage of mitigation banks hindered this approach in Oregon until recently. ODOT has leveraged the statewide scope of the bridge program to strengthen Oregon's mitigation banking program. Using a programmatic approach that combines wetland mitigation and ESA conservation into one agreement, ODOT and resource agencies determined eco-province priorities and identified multiple new sites for mitigation banking. This early buy-in from resource agencies will be crucial in streamlining mitigation in the future.
Context-Sensitive Solutions and Public Involvement
The Bridge Replacement Program is the largest public investment in transportation in Oregon since World War II. As such, it provides an unprecedented opportunity to create an integrated design signature across the State. Aesthetic design packages called "palettes" offer local communities a range of treatment options. Local Area Commissions on Transportation (advisory bodies chartered under the Oregon Transportation Commission) determine what bridge type is most appropriate for their area.
Public outreach meetings will also address other issues, such as construction scheduling and ways to minimize impact on local businesses.
- Agreeing on Performance Standards. At the inception of the Bridge Replacement Program, ODOT convened a series of meetings with USACE, NOAA, FWS, and Oregon State Lands to develop aesthetic and "green bridge" performance standards. Attempting to avoid past mistakes in which resource specialists got caught up in engineering and design specifications, ODOT has defined these performance standards as simple statements of desired outcome, such as "allow normative physical processes within the stream-floodplain corridor." Design solutions to meet the standards are left to designers and construction crews. Design teams perform a preconstruction assessment and send preliminary designs to the appropriate agencies for approval. Public involvement is vital to determine aesthetic characteristics of the replaced or rehabilitated bridges (see sidebar).
Reducing Costs, Enabling Sustainability, and Providing Lasting Value
ODOT staff estimate that their environmental stewardship and streamlining efforts will produce a 10-percent reduction in program delivery cost. Foremost among these efforts is avoiding the "design and defend" mentality, which typically leads to iterative redesign. In the past, redesigning their way out of environmental conflict could add as much as 30 percent to initial costs; getting the design right the first time will save significant resources. Additional savings are expected through the programmatic approach to permitting. ODOT predicts that environmental permitting costs for a typical bridge will drop from around $100,000 to around $70,000. Most concretely, ODOT has already shaved two years off of the construction schedule.
In terms of the program's contribution to environmental sustainability and stewardship, ODOT staff cite gains such as better impact avoidance and minimization through context statements and baseline reports, environmental enhancement through green bridge design standards, community satisfaction through public involvement and design choice, and more significant mitigation through mitigation banks.
The legacy and transferability of the program also speak to its worth. Previously, financial constraints necessitated that ODOT operate in a project-by-project manner, and the agency was not able to develop statewide environmental GIS or a comprehensive approach to mitigation banking. But the large scale of the Bridge Replacement Program has endowed ODOT with a critical mass of funding that enables its new comprehensive approach. In addition, improved relations with permitting agencies are expected to provide lasting value in both the cost and tenor of future environmental negotiations.
An important lesson learned from the Bridge Replacement Program is that environmental streamlining and stewardship must begin at home. According to one ODOT official, "if we have had any success it is because ODOT imposed streamlining on themselves before imposing it on other agencies." Similarly, ODOT staff emphasize the importance of understanding and accommodating the missions of resource agencies.
See http://www.odot.state.or.us/otia/otia3index.htm and http://odotbridgesee.org for more information.
Elton Chang, Environmental Engineer
FHWA Oregon Division
530 Center Street NE, Suite 100
Salem, OR 97301
Phone: (503) 587-4710
Fax: (503) 399-5838
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Look What's New!
Six new priority projects as part of Executive Order 13274 were announced in August.
Visit http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/WCPD-2002-09-23/html/WCPD-2002-09-23-Pg1577.htm to learn more about the Executive Order and its priority projects.
- I-5 North Coast Corridor (California)
- Extension of CT Route 11 (Connecticut)
- Route 411 Connector (Georgia)
- Nelsonville Bypass of US Route 33 (Ohio)
- Trinity River Parkway (Texas)
- St. George Utah Replacement Airport (Utah)