The National Academies

NCHRP 08-36/Task 142 [Completed]

Advancing Sustainability through Multi-Agency Collaborations
[ NCHRP 08-36 (Research for the AASHTO Standing Committee on Planning) ]

  Project Data
Research Agency: The RAND Corporation
Principal Investigator: Susan Resetar
Effective Date: 6/6/2017
Completion Date: 3/2/2020


Sustainability, including social, economic, and environmental aspects, is a common goal in the transportation industry that cannot be achieved by a single agency or multiple agencies acting separately. Over time, sustainability in transportation has evolved beyond the environment to include elements such as livability, health, and economic development, which state DOTs have not explicitly embodied in their missions. Furthermore, MAP-21 and now FAST have elevated considerations for sustainability in transportation through the inclusion of non-traditional performance areas. As the definition of sustainability takes on new dimensions and agencies are expected to evolve and adopt new ways to measure and monitor progress, what are the implications to statewide planning? How can agencies plan and account for sustainability-related outcomes of their investments when performance areas are affected by the policies and decisions of multiple agencies or sectors? 

Making progress on sustainability and other complex shared goals requires an active multi-agency collaboration and an understanding of how each agency might translate, measure, and act upon each goal. Multi-agency collaborations create opportunities to coordinate policies, share data, and pool funds that help agencies measure and generate multi-faceted sustainability outcomes from transportation and development decisions. There is precedence for multi-agency collaborations that have tackled sustainability challenges but the results and replicability of those partnerships are not well documented. The Sustainable Communities Partnership initiated collaboration among US DOT, HUD, and EPA to advance sustainability outcomes of infrastructure and community development. How were the goals/guiding principles developed and translated by each agency? How well has the partnership advanced its guiding principles at federal, state, regional, or local levels, and have those guiding principles resulted in more sustainable developments? Are there other coordination models that have achieved sustainability objectives and could be scaled up or down?

Transportation agencies recognize that there are limitations on ways they could influence societal benefits. The Transportation Research Board, for example, has acknowledged this challenge and has started to invite “non-traditional” partners like health, housing, and other professionals to the annual meetings and to participate in interdisciplinary committees like the Health and Transportation subcommittee. On the agency side, states, like Washington State, have experimented with multi-agency coordination on shared goals, usually under the direction of top executives. As complexity and interconnectedness of agency goals increases, the need for collaboration also increases. Can we learn from past (or other countries’) experiments with multi-agency collaboration on ways to initiate, govern, and sustain those types of collaborations? Or would such effort require a brand new model? Through successful multi-agency collaboration models, it is anticipated that DOTs, transit agencies, or MPOs could develop and monitor performance measures that affect or are influenced by more than one agency in order to fully capture the sustainability impacts of transportation changes. Also, a collaborative model could change the way both transportation projects are implemented and partner agencies leverage their resources to improve transportation outcomes (for example, public health agencies promoting active transportation and as a result reducing single-occupant vehicle trips).


The purpose of this study was to learn from previous multi-agency collaborations in the United States or abroad that promote sustainability objectives and measurable outcomes related to transportation investments:

1) What were the successes and challenges faced by the partnership(s)?

2) Can the partnership(s) model be replicated by state agencies? In focusing on sustainability, the study will need to evaluate partnership models that can capture environmental, social, and economic factors of transportation investments and evaluate trade-offs amongst those three factors.  

Anticipated Work Tasks

In 2013, the Urban Institute released the report Can Federal Efforts Advance Federal and Local De-Siloing? Lessons from the HUD-EPA-DOT Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which reviewed successes of the HUD-EPA-DOT Partnership for Sustainable Communities and future opportunities for de-siloing planning and project development. The study focused on HUD’s Regional Planning Grant program but acknowledged programs from other departments as well.  Similarly, NCHRP 750 Volume 4: Sustainability as an Organizing Principle for Transportation Agencies and NCHRP 708: Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies examines issues of institutionalizing sustainability at transportation agencies and developing performance measurement frameworks.  In addition to the sustainability-specific literature, there are resources on that discuss strategies like planning and environmental linkages, context sensitive solutions, or scenario planning that could be leveraged for more successful partnerships in this area.  This study would build on the aforementioned efforts and potentially examine examples from other countries to understand the role of partner agencies in achieving sustainability objectives from transportation and how to advance strategies that can lead to successful, on-going collaborations. 

This study is complete and available as NCHRP 08-36: Guidebook for Multi-Agency Collaboration for Sustainability and Resilience.

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