State departments of transportation (DOTs) and other transportation agencies routinely establish commitments to complete specific environmental impact avoidance or mitigation as part of project planning and design under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and related federal and state laws and regulations. Federal agencies and state DOTs are responsible for ensuring these legally binding commitments are implemented throughout the life of a project and ultimately fulfilled. Proper implementation of environmental commitments affects all phases of project delivery including planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance.
Tracking environmental commitments is essential to ensuring that specific commitments are implemented. DOTs face challenges in the successful documentation and verification of such commitments. Common challenges include inconsistencies with terminology and language and failure to ensure that commitments are incorporated into design, construction, operations, and maintenance. Lost and unfulfilled commitments can lead to legal issues, violations and fines from regulatory agencies, loss of public trust, and ultimately poor environmental outcomes.
Research is needed to provide a comprehensive approach to documenting and verifying environmental commitments.
The objective of this research is to produce a documentation and verification process workflow with tools to facilitate the definition, implementation, monitoring, verification, and maintenance of environmental commitments established through the life of a project.
Accomplishment of the project objective will require at least the following tasks.
Task 1. Conduct a literature review to identify practical issues and challenges as well as the experiences of the state DOT community and other industries to identify, document, track, and verify environmental commitments. At a minimum the literature review shall:
- Identify the elements of an effective environmental commitment;
- Identify appropriate criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of various practices, including any performance measures proposed or adopted by agencies;
- Identify current practices for identifying, assigning responsibility, tracking, verifying, querying, and reporting environmental commitments;
- Identify available tools, databases, and other resources that could be adopted by state DOTs to effectively track environmental commitments; and
- Identify the costs, benefits, challenges, and needs of the DOT community.
Task 2. Conduct a survey or other form of outreach with state DOTs and other appropriate stakeholders that solicits the perspective of practitioners across functional units and disciplines. The outreach should be conducted with staff representing agencies of a variety of geographical, environmental, and legal contexts.
Proposers should articulate a strategy for practitioner engagement to collect broad industry perspectives as well as to solicit and discuss specific examples of policies, processes, tools, and documents.
In addition to seeking the perspectives of agency staff responsible for and involved in environmental mitigation and compliance, this engagement should seek to:
- Collect samples of documentation processes, requirements, tools or databases, and practices in use by state and local transportation agencies, and from other industries such as the utility or development industries;
- Identify the costs and benefits of the various processes, etc., that are in operation, e.g., staff training/competencies, direct costs, indirect costs (time), maintenance of programs or systems, data consistency; and
- Identify the institutional and functional barriers and motivations to implementing successful environmental commitment documentation and tracking.
Task 3. Prepare a synthesis of the state-of-the-industry practice using the data and information collected in the previous tasks. This synthesis should document the processes and systems in place at state DOTs to document, monitor, track, and verify environmental commitments. It should identify staff and agency functions involved in these processes, the methods used for communicating and tracking environmental commitments during different phases of project execution, and identify the challenges and gaps in practice to be addressed in the final products of this research.
Task 4. Prepare a detailed outline of the content and format of a proposed environmental commitment process and verification workflow and tools for review and comment by the project panel.
The components of the workflow and tools shall include the following:
- The parameters and purpose of an environmental commitment process and tracking systems, including appropriate terminology, legal and regulatory context, and other factors driving the need for effective tracking of environmental commitments;
- A project timeline for establishing, implementing, and tracking environmental commitments over the full life cycle of a project, from planning to post-implementation operations and maintenance;
- Performance criteria of an effective system for mitigating/tracking systems and workflows;
- A compendium of established and recommended environmental commitment methods and practices for the identification, documentation, and tracking of environmental commitments for a project throughout the project lifecycle. It should be flexible to accommodate the unique needs of state DOTs and should accommodate commitments agreed to inside and outside of the NEPA regulatory structure;
- Consultation methods, documentation, and record keeping;
- Methods for managing, extracting, querying, and reporting project level environmental commitments;
- Methods for managing change in environmental mitigation commitments, such as those caused by the late discovery of environmental impacts or mitigation technologies or techniques;
- Methods (and sample language, as appropriate) for establishing formal roles and responsibilities with external parties for compliance with commitments; and
- Methods for risk management, particularly through contract language and agency agreements that ensure long-term management and compliance with environmental commitments.
Task 5. Prepare an interim report that summarizes the process and outcomes of the previous tasks.
Task 6. Fully develop the draft workflow in accordance with the outcomes of Task 5 discussions with the panel and NCHRP.
Task 7. Organize and facilitate a virtual peer exchange to review the draft products of this project with representatives of state DOT’s responsible for environmental commitment tracking and implementation. The research team shall prepare a list of participants and the format of the peer review in consultation with NCHRP.
Task 8. Revise the draft workflow, tools, and peer review materials taking into account the feedback gathered during the peer review.
Task 9: Prepare the final deliverables including:
- An environmental commitments documentation and process workflow;
- Tools that will facilitate the development, execution, and validation of environmental commitments established for a project through its entire lifecycle;
- Presentation materials that explain the purpose and value of project products, and recommendations and lessons learned from the research to agency staff and leadership;
- An implementation plan focused on the practitioner that markets and encourages adoption of the products of this research, including potential pilot applications to demonstrate implementation; and
- A conduct of research report that describes and documents the full research project.
STATUS: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP. The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.