Since 1990, environmental research at the FHWA has been supported and managed by the Planning and Environment Core Business Unit (formerly the Office of Environment and Planning). Through the coordinated activities of the ERP, tools are developed which will increase our understanding of how transportation facilities interact with the environment. The ERP provides updated or state-of-the-art technologies, analytical methods, and predictive models that can be used to make sound transportation decisions, and that reflect sensitivity to environmental and human needs. The research conducted during the past decade reflects the changing needs and interests of our stakeholders and customers and their requests. Many of our research topics have been selected as a direct result of requests received from them.
The FHWA ERP is organized by eight research program areas under three broad focus areas, as described in The Strategic Plan for Environmental Research 1998-2003:
The goals and objectives of each of the ERP's eight program areas are detailed in its strategic plan and are summarized in Table A.
Environmental Research Program
Focus Areas, Program Areas, and Goals
|Natural Environment||Goal: Protect and improve the quality of the natural environment by developing and disseminating the tools and expertise required to predict and assess transportation impacts, apply optimal mitigation and enhancement methods, and support environmentally sound transportation initiatives.|
|Air Quality and Climate - Program Goal: Develop analytical techniques and cost-effective mitigation strategies to reduce the amount of transportation-related emissions and greenhouse gases.|
|Wetlands - Program Goal: Develop tools, techniques, and methods to reduce direct and indirect adverse impacts of Federal-aid highways on wetlands and increase net wetland acreage.|
|Water Quality, Habitat, and Ecosystems - Program Goal: Develop tools, techniques and methods to reduce direct and indirect adverse impacts of highways on water quality, habitat, and ecosystems to preserve and enhance human health, biological productivity, and ecological diversity|
|Noise - Program Goal: Develop analysis techniques, abatement methods, and effective noise compatible land use planning tools to reduce the adverse impacts of noise.|
|Human Environment||Goal: Protect and enhance the human environment by developing and disseminating the tools, techniques, and expertise required to assess the beneficial and adverse impacts of transportation decision on communities; apply optimal mitigation and enhancement methods; and support sound and equitable transportation plans, programs, and projects.|
|Communities, Neighborhoods, and People - Program Goal: Develop and disseminate the skills,tools, and information needed to achieve effective transportation decisionm,aking that protects and enhances the human environment and quality of life through full consideration of communities, neighborhoods, and people.|
|Environmental Justice - Program Goal: Develop and disseminate the tools and information to assess, proevent, and address potential discriminatory effects and disproportionaltely high and adverse health and environmetnal effects of transportation decisions on low-incom and minority populations.|
|Cultural, Historic, Archaeological, and Scenic Resources - Program Goal: Improve procedural and impact assessment methods for the identification, evaluation, and protection of historic and archaeological resources, and scenic quality.|
|Integrated Decisionmaking||Integrated Transportation and Environmental Decisionmaking - Program Goal: Develop and disseminate skills, tools and information to redisign Federal environmental and transportation decisionmaking, and to ensure an integrated process at the Federa, State, tribal, and local levels that achieves the best overall public interest decisions.|
The commitment of the U.S. DOT and the FHWA to the environment is clearly stated within their respective strategic plans. To support the Administration's environmental goals, the ERP is specifically guided by its own strategic plan. The Strategic Plan for Environmental Research 1998-2003 provides direction and focus for all of the ERP. It expresses our commitment to meet both the transportation and environmental needs of the country by preserving and improving the environment, providing customer service, and establishing partnerships with stakeholders to achieve our mission "to develop and disseminate innovative and effective research products and services that help FHWA and its partners implement surface transportation programs in a manner that protects and enhances the natural and human environment."
A Customer Driven Research Program
The FHWA has embraced the concept of environmental research that is outcome-oriented and responsive to changing customer needs. As a result, the Agency funds and carries out a wide variety of research, spanning the analytical, technical, policy, and planning arenas. The ERP facilitates environmentally sensitive and sound transportation planning and decisionmaking at the State and local levels by: 1) developing improved analytical approaches to understanding and addressing environmental impacts; 2) using technology transfer to communicate information and put tools in place for States and MPOs; 3) analyzing and developing policy options on emerging issues; and, 4) enhancing FHWA training and communications programs.
Partnerships and Collaboration
The FHWA takes its environmental stewardship role seriously and realizes that only by working in partnership with its many stakeholder groups will the goal of environmentally sound investment decisions be achieved. Thus, over the past several years, the FHWA has worked hard to nurture existing partnerships and build new ones. For example, in developing its Strategic Plan for Environmental Research 1998-2003, the FHWA sought out and received input from stakeholder groups, including States, academic institutions, MPOs, environmental advocacy groups, and others. The insights and suggestions of these stakeholders helped shape the strategic plan and have fostered closer coordination of the research program with key stakeholder groups. The FHWA has also made special efforts to include Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions of Higher Education in the research program. The ERP is designed to ensure that research efforts are coordinated, that the financial resources of the FHWA are used wisely, and that research products complement other ongoing efforts, either at the FHWA or in partnership with its stakeholders. Other activities are supported by the ERP, including those of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.
1As a result of FHWA restructuring, the Noise program area is now a part of Natural Environment.
The FHWA collaborates with other Federal agencies, State and local transportation and environmental agencies, academic institutions, and private organizations to conduct or support research. It also manages programs and activities that encourage such collaboration. One such program is the Transportation Environmental Research Program (TERP), which focuses on colleges and universities to encourage environmental research related to transportation.
Through the TERP, the FHWA hopes to better understand the complex relationships between transportation and the environment. A major benefit of the TERP is the opportunity it creates for students and faculty at colleges and universities to directly participate in the FHWA research program and to contribute by providing solutions to our research needs. The TERP also helps us increase the pool of potential researchers in the fields of transportation and environment so that we can continue to support environmentally sound decisions throughout all phases of highway development.
The TEA-21 called for the establishment of a surface transportation-environment cooperative research program (STECRP). Through the STECRP, research will be conducted on many social, economic, technological, and environmental aspects of transportation. Included in the legislation are five specific issue areas to be addressed by the program:
In addition to the specific research areas to be addressed under STECRP, TEA-21 required the establishment of a STECRP advisory board. The advisory board will make recommendations for research on environmental, planning, and energy conservation, technology, and technology transfer activities related to surface transportation. The membership of the advisory board will be broadly drawn from the transportation and environmental research community to include State and local government agencies, academic institutions, environmental organizations, and transit agencies. As provided in TEA-21, some of the research activities of the STECRP will be managed by the National Academy of Sciences. The TRB is currently managing activities related to the establishment and operation of the STECRP advisory board. Other Federal agencies are also involved in the formation and functions of the advisory board, including the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agenda for the STECRP is ambitious, and the FHWA is confident that the program will be helpful in enhancing coordination of transportation, environmental, and planning research and in the collaborative identification of research needs.