Transportation systems plans provide the basis for selecting and developing transportation projects. However, because of their long time frames and broad scopes, systems plans often are developed without enough consideration of the human and natural environmental implications of plan implementation. This phenomenon creates problems in that some important projects are very difficult, if not impossible, to implement because of environmental consequences that could have been identified, considered, and possibly avoided much earlier in the planning process. Furthermore, insufficient consideration of environmental factors in transportation systems planning may cause decisionmakers to miss opportunities for adopting systems plans that are consistent with statewide and regional environmental goals and for implementing larger scale environmental mitigation and enhancements.
Environmental factors are typically more closely examined during specific project development and, in some cases, during corridor planning analysis. Federal and state law and sound planning practice call for considering environmental factors within the development of transportation systems plans. At present, there are few generally accepted processes, procedures, and analysis methods for considering environmental factors in transportation systems planning. In addition to "fatal flaw" analyses, there are other environmental considerations that are more appropriately addressed at the systems planning level. These include purpose and need determinations, areawide air and water quality, ecosystem analysis, watershed evaluations, secondary and cumulative impacts, and social and community impacts. Cost-effective, macroscale analysis methods, such as GIS applications and air-quality modeling, could be employed for evaluating systems plans. However, these and other methods are not widely applied in systems-level transportation planning. If elements of transportation systems plans are to proceed through project development to implementation, systems-level environmental considerations must be taken into account earlier in the planning process. The purpose of this research is to develop planning methods and procedures for application early in systems-level planning.
The objective of this research is to identify, develop, and describe a process that includes procedures and methods for integrating environmental factors in transportation systems planning and decision making at the statewide, regional, and metropolitan levels.
To accomplish this objective, the following tasks are envisioned: (1.) Review recent and ongoing research and literature on consideration of environmental factors (e.g., areawide air and water quality, species and habitat conservation, secondary and cumulative impacts, environmental justice and community impacts, and historic and archaeological resources) in transportation systems planning. Highlight innovative procedures and methods and the findings of recent research, and report on their effectiveness in improving transportation decision making (2.) Survey procedures and methods employed by state DOTs, MPOs, and other transportation agencies, as well as environmental and regulatory organizations, for assessing and considering environmental implications in systems-level decisions and plans. (3.) Synthesize current and successful procedures and methods. Identify which procedures and methods can have immediate application, those that require long-term investments, and the estimated costs and benefits associated with these practices. (4.) Review significant federal and state policies, regulations, and guidelines that can be expected to affect consideration of environmental factors in transportation systems planning and decision making (5.) Develop an initial planning process description providing a framework for assessing, evaluating, and integrating environmental concerns within transportation systems decisions. Include the identification of potentially effective procedures and methods, along with obstacles to their implementation. (6.) Develop an outreach plan to present the process to various national organizations and agencies. The outreach plan should include group discussions with various transportation practitioners. (7.) Prepare an interim report covering Tasks 1 through 6 for NCHRP review and comment. Meet with the project panel to discuss feedback and gain approval for the remaining tasks. (8.) Conduct outreach described in Task 6. (9.) Prepare a revised process based on the feedback from Task 8. The process should include an explanation of the decision making relationships; technical requirements (e.g., data and analytical methods); necessary staffing capabilities; public involvement; interagency coordination; financial commitments; and methods for tying the systems planning considerations into more detailed processes such as corridor planning, subarea planning, modal development planning, priority programming, and project development. (10.) Obtain panel review and approval of the revised process. (11.) Prepare and present the results of this project at a national forum, such as the TRB Annual Meeting or the AASHTO/TRB mid-year planning meeting. (12.) Prepare a final report that documents the entire project. The report should also identify additional methods and tools that are needed but that do not currently exist and make recommendations for future research needs.
The project has been completed.
The final report has been published as NCHRP Report 541
. The appenixes to this report are available online as NCHRP Web-Only Document 77