The National Academies

NCHRP 25-56 [Pending]

Methods for State DOTs to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector

  Project Data
Funds: $600,000
Contract Time: 30 months
Staff Responsibility: Ann M. Hartell


Increasingly, state departments of transportation (DOTs) are being asked to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector. Although there is no current federal requirement that state DOTs address GHGs, some state DOTs must comply with regulations or state mandates that require them to address GHG emissions. Other state DOTs are requested by the public, local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders to evaluate the GHG emissions impacts of their plans and programs.
Many methods and tools are available to measure GHG emissions and to evaluate expected GHG emissions reductions from transportation-related strategies. Despite the availability of methods, state DOTs face challenges to the integration of these methods into their planning and programming processes, including limited funding, incomplete data, lack of staff capacity, absence of strong incentives, and the addition of another layer of analysis to an already complex transportation decision-making process. These challenges make it difficult for state DOTs to develop and manage the transportation system in a way that will reduce GHG emissions, and to document changes in GHG emissions from the transportation sector. 
Selecting appropriate methods requires matching the needs and decision-making context of a state DOT with the characteristics of the method. Some state DOTs have adopted a method to evaluate GHG emissions reductions, yet struggle to link it with planning and programming decisions. State DOTs mandated to reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector need a robust method to evaluate reductions that provides clear direction for selecting effective transportation strategies and defensible estimates of expected impacts on emissions while accounting for confounding factors and uncertainty. Other states may be interested in methods to calculate cost-effectiveness of transportation strategies in reducing GHG emissions.
Although many effective strategies to reduce GHG emissions from transportation are not under state DOT control (e.g., vehicle fuel economy standards and low carbon fuel standards), state DOTs are well positioned to affect GHG emissions by planning and programming projects that will lead to some reduction in GHG emissions. For example, a state DOT can address congestion with a variety of techniques such as using managed lanes or adding fixed rail transit in the highway right-of-way rather than adding general purpose lanes. Methods to compare expected GHG emissions reductions among strategies can improve the link between a GHG reduction goal and transportation decision making.
In addition to decisions under the purview of a state DOT, there are other ways to reduce GHG emissions, many of which are spearheaded by other entities. For example, a local jurisdiction may adopt a land use development plan driven by a GHG emissions reduction goal. The plan may include strategies to create walkable and bikeable neighborhoods, compact employment centers, and multimodal corridors. The design and operation of the transportation network is an important part of achieving such goals; therefore a state DOT can be a vital partner in implementing such a plan and supporting progress toward local planning goals. Yet because state DOT planning and programming processes can be isolated from local planning and development decisions, state DOT decisions may erode progress toward a local GHG emissions reduction goal. To be effective partners, state DOTs need GHG emissions evaluation methods appropriate for use with partners and for collaboration across jurisdictional scales and sectoral boundaries.
Guidance on GHG emissions reduction strategies for state DOTs was developed under the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) Capacity Project C09, titled Incorporating Greenhouse Gas Emissions into the Collaborative Decision-Making Process (http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/166936.aspx). The practitioner guide and accompanying research report include information on GHG-reducing transportation strategies and a technical framework for assessing baseline GHG emissions and the effects of potential projects and strategies. The technical information was accompanied by a series of case studies of state DOT and metropolitan planning organization (MPO) efforts to assess GHG emissions in planning and project development. Although the SHRP2 project provided considerable detail on available methods, implementation of the framework has been limited. 
Since the SHRP2 effort, state DOTs have gained experience in evaluating GHG emissions from the transportation sector, and new methods and tools have been developed. Among these is FHWA’s Energy and Emissions Reduction Policy Analysis Tool (EERPAT), which evaluates the energy implications of a wide variety of policy options at the state or county level. Currently available methods vary considerably in their level of detail, data requirements, rigor, and applicability to state DOT planning and programming decisions. Selecting a method to evaluate GHG emissions reductions requires understanding the appropriateness of the method for the decision-making context, identifying opportunities to integrate GHG considerations into the decision-making process, as well as gaining leadership support and building organizational capacity to apply the method. Technical issues including data availability must also be resolved.
This project will build upon the existing body of research and recent state DOT experience to develop updated guidance on methods to evaluate transportation strategies for their capacity to reduce GHG emissions and how to integrate these methods into state DOT planning and programming processes.
The objective of this project is to provide guidance on currently available, practical, and innovative methods for state DOTs to assess and advance transportation-related GHG reduction strategies in planning and programming. The guidance will support state DOTs’ efforts to integrate GHG emissions considerations into their decision-making processes as well as methods appropriate for collaborative activities undertaken with partners to shape outcomes outside the purview of a state DOT. The guidance should be relevant for the evolving role of state DOTs and be adaptable to a changing regulatory environment at the state and federal levels, while also considering uncertainties related to future travel behavior, the future vehicle fleet, and other demographic and technological changes.
The project will also broaden the practice of addressing GHG emissions in state DOT decision making through targeted implementation activities to support state DOT adoption or updating of GHG emissions reduction methods.
Accomplishment of the project objective should include, at minimum, the following elements.
The NCHRP is seeking the insights of proposers on how best to achieve the research objective. Proposers are expected to describe research plans that can realistically be accomplished within the constraints of available funds and contract time. Proposals must present the proposers' current thinking in sufficient detail to demonstrate their understanding of the issues and the soundness of their approach to meeting the research objective.
In meeting the objective of this study, the research plan should accomplish, but not be limited to, the following activities:
  • Review the state of the practice at state DOTs in evaluating GHG emissions and integrating GHG emissions considerations into planning and programming activities.
  • Develop an up to date compilation and assessment of currently available methods for state DOTs to use to evaluate GHG emissions in their own decision-making processes and in partnership with other agencies and stakeholders.
  • Develop guidance for state DOTs to select an appropriate method and identify where methods can be effectively integrated into planning and programming processes.  
  • Conduct outreach activities to increase knowledge and interest among state DOTs about available methods for evaluating GHG emissions from the transportation sector.   
  • Collaborate directly with state DOTs to implement the guidance and advance the use of relevant GHG emissions evaluation methods.
  • Develop a guidebook describing available methods for evaluating GHG emissions from the transportation sector that is informed by the literature and state DOT experience, and refined by lessons learned from the implementation activities. The guidebook should focus on the decision-making processes in state DOTs for planning (e.g., long-range, strategic) and programming (e.g., project prioritization, project selection). 
The research plan should be divided into three phases, and each phase should be divided into tasks with a detailed description of the work proposed. The research plan should include opportunities for the project panel to review and oversee the work with a suitable number of appropriate checkpoints and interim deliverables.
Phase 1: State of Practice and Draft Guidance

In Phase 1, the research team will develop draft guidance for state DOTs to evaluate GHG emissions from the transportation sector and strategies to reduce GHG emissions. The guidance will be developed through a review of relevant literature, including gray literature (e.g., research by state DOTs, transit agencies, or MPOs); and through targeted, direct engagement with practitioners. The guidance should build upon but not duplicate the knowledge from the SHRP2 C09 project. The guidance will be provided in a draft guidebook, including at minimum:
  • State of current practice of GHG emissions assessments by state DOTs; information may be collected by surveying state DOTs and augmented with other outreach.
  • Description of barriers to state DOTs adopting GHG emissions evaluation methods and implementing GHG reduction strategies.
  • Gaps in existing methods that make them inadequate or incomplete for use by state DOTs.
  • Effective GHG emissions reduction strategies from recent research (e.g., road grade reductions to improve fuel efficiency) and updates to the strategies recommended in SHRP2.
  • Actions that can reduce GHG emissions that are under the purview of state DOTs. 
  • Ways state DOTs can be effective partners in reducing GHG emissions by supporting partners’ efforts.  
  • Review of GHG emissions evaluation methods available for use by state DOTs. For each method, a critical assessment of:
    • Relevance for current use by state DOTs 
    • Potential for alignment with existing transportation planning and programming processes (e.g., provides estimate of GHG emissions for a GHG inventory; enables comparison of strategies) 
    • Appropriate context for application (e.g., corridor, region, state)
    • Applicability for use with partners
    • Data and staff resources needed for use 
    • Ability to address direct and/or indirect effects from transportation 
    • Ability to support trade-off analysis of range of options
    • Ability to evaluate the effects of emerging technologies (e.g., connected and automated vehicles, shared mobility services)
    • Format used to report GHG reductions (e.g., qualitative, direction of change only, amount of reduction, cost per ton of reduction)
    • Uncertainty in evaluation results
    • Ability to assess direct and/or indirect or spillover benefits and costs
    • Ability to evaluate revenue impacts for state DOTs (e.g., changes in fuel tax revenue)
    • Ability to characterize the anticipated time frame for effects (short, medium, or long term)
    • Degree of transparency and accountability in analysis and reporting 
    • Sustainability of the method over time
    • Other relevant or special characteristics
  • Draft guidebook for use by state DOTs to identify appropriate GHG emissions assessment methods matched to decision-making processes and that can advance GHG emissions reductions. Guidance for selecting an appropriate method should build upon the recommendations developed by the SHRP2 C09 project, including recommendations to revise processes to better integrate considerations of GHG emissions reductions.
Anticipated deliverables for Phase 1 include (1) a kick-off teleconference meeting to be held within 1 month of the contract’s execution date; (2) a technical memo summarizing information on the state of the practice collected from a survey, interviews, or other engagement activities; (3) draft guidebook; (4) outreach plan; and (5) interim meeting with the project panel to review and approve the draft guidebook and the outreach plan prior to moving on to Phase 2.
Note: Travel and per diem costs for panel members attending the interim meeting will be paid by NCHRP.  Following receipt of the draft guidebook, 2 months shall be for NCHRP review and comment. No work shall be initiated on Phase 2 activities prior to NCHRP review and approval of the draft guidebook and outreach plan.
Phase 1 is anticipated to take up to 10 months with a budget of up to $200,000. Although a detailed work plan for Phase 2 will be developed in Phase 1, the proposal should present the proposer’s current thinking for outreach approaches that may be used in Phase 2.
Phase 2: Outreach
In Phase 2, the research team will incorporate panel recommendations for revisions to the draft guidebook developed in Phase 1. This working version of the guidebook will serve as the foundation for a variety of outreach activities (e.g., webinars, workshops, peer exchanges) to share preliminary findings and invite practitioner input, especially on opportunities to improve the consideration of GHGs as part of decision making. Where practicable, outreach activities can be scheduled concurrently with other conferences, meetings, or events that will be attended by potential implementers of the guidance. The research team will also identify state DOTs interested in participating in early implementation of the guidance developed in Phase 1. The plan for the Phase 3 implementation effort should reflect NCHRP’s active implementation framework described in NCHRP Active Implementation: Moving Research into Practice, available at http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP_ActiveImplementation.pdf.
Anticipated deliverables for Phase 2 include (1) working version of the guidebook, (2) outreach activities, and (3) detailed plan for the Phase 3 implementation work.
Note: No work shall be initiated on Phase 3 activities prior to NCHRP review and approval of the plan for implementation work. Although a detailed plan for Phase 3 will be developed in Phase 2, the proposal should present the proposer’s current thinking on implementation strategies and activities that may be used in Phase 3. Proposed Phase 3 activities should be described in section 4(c) of the proposal, "Anticipated Research Results," must include the following: (a) the "product" expected from the research, (b) the audience or "market" for this product, (c) a realistic assessment of impediments to successful implementation, and (d) the institutions and individuals who might take leadership in deploying the research product.

Phase 3: Implementation and Final Reporting
In Phase 3, the research team will execute the implementation work plan. Implementation activities will be identified in collaboration with interested state DOTs and NCHRP. Activities may include piloting of methods identified in the Practitioner Guide; a state DOT staff training program on the use of GHG emissions evaluation methods; tailored guidance to state DOT leadership on selecting an appropriate method; data collection and/or post-processing needed for adoption of a method; designing process improvements for integration of a GHG emissions evaluation method into a statewide plan or project prioritization effort; and supporting state DOT participation in an interagency workgroup undertaking a GHG reduction effort with partners. The research team will revise the working guidebook to include any needed refinements revealed during the implementation activities.
Anticipated deliverables for Phase 3 include (1) delivery of implementation activities in collaboration with three to five state DOTs; (2) a technical report summarizing the project activities; and (3) final guidebook for state DOTs to select and implement evaluation methods of GHG emissions reductions, incorporating lessons learned from implementation activities. 
Note: Travel for research team or participants in implementation activities will not be paid by NCHRP and should be included in the project budget. Phase 3 shall include 3 months for NCHRP review and approval of final deliverables.
A. Proposals should include a task-by-task breakdown of labor hours for each staff member as shown in Figure 4 in the brochure, "Information and Instructions for Preparing Proposals" (http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/crp/docs/ProposalPrep.pdf). Proposals also should include a breakdown of all costs (e.g., wages, indirect costs, travel, materials, and total) for each task using Figures 5 and 6 in the brochure. Please note that TRB Cooperative Research Program subawards (selected proposers are considered subawards to the National Academy of Sciences, the parent organization of TRB) must comply with 2 CFR 200 – Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards. These requirements include a provision that proposers without a "federally" Negotiated Indirect Costs Rate Agreement (NICRA) shall be subject to a maximum allowable indirect rate of 10% of Modified Total Direct Costs. Modified Total Direct Costs include all salaries and wages, applicable fringe benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel, and up to the first $25,000 of each lower-tier subaward and subcontract. Modified Total Direct Costs exclude equipment, capital expenditures, charges for patient care, rental costs, tuition remission, scholarships and fellowships, participant support costs and the portion of each lower-tier subaward and subcontract in excess of $25,000.
B. Item 4(c) of the proposal, "Anticipated Research Results," should include the proposed Phase 3 activities, along with proposers’ initial thoughts on how to promote further implementation beyond the current project, criteria for judging the progress and consequences of implementation, and a realistic assessment of impediments to successful implementation.
C. Item 4 in the proposal, “Research Plan,” is limited to 25 pages.
D. Item 5 in the proposal, "Qualifications of the Research Team," is limited to 1 page for each member of the research team. Additional qualifications or CVs included in an appendix will not be considered.
E. Item 5 shall include a section labeled "Disclosure." Information relevant to the NCHRP's need to ensure objectivity and to be aware of possible sources of significant financial or organizational conflict of interest in conducting the research must be presented in this section of the proposal. For example, under certain conditions, ownership of the proposing agency, other organizational relationships, or proprietary rights and interests could be perceived as jeopardizing an objective approach to the research effort, and proposers are asked to disclose any such circumstances and to explain how they will be accounted for in this study. If there are no issues related to objectivity, this should be stated.
F. Proposals are evaluated by the NCHRP staff and project panels consisting of individuals collectively very knowledgeable in the problem area. Selection of an agency is made by the project panel considering the following factors: (1) the proposer's demonstrated understanding of the problem; (2) the merit of the proposed approach; (3) the experience, qualifications, and objectivity of the research team in the same or closely related problem area; (4) the strength of the plan for implementation and pilot activities; (5) the proposer's plan for participation by Disadvantaged Business Enterprises--small firms owned and controlled by minorities or women; and (6) the adequacy of the facilities.
Note: The proposer's plan for participation by Disadvantaged Business Enterprises should be incorporated in Item 12 of the proposal.
G. Copyrights - All data, written materials, computer software, graphic and photographic images, and other information prepared under the contract and the copyrights therein shall be owned by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The contractor and subcontractors will be able to publish this material for non-commercial purposes, for internal use, or to further academic research or studies with permission from TRB Cooperative Research Programs. The contractor and subcontractors will not be allowed to sell the project material without prior approval by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. By signing a contract with the National Academy of Sciences, contractors accept legal responsibility for any copyright infringement that may exist in work done for TRB. Contractors are therefore responsible for obtaining all necessary permissions for use of copyrighted material in TRB's Cooperative Research Programs publications. For guidance on TRB's policies on using copyrighted material please consult Section 5.4, "Use of Copyrighted Material," in the Procedural Manual for Contractors.

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