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Model Language in Transportation Plans

FHWA-HEP-11-002

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May 13, 2010

Prepared for

Federal Highway Administration

Prepared by

ICF International
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Table of Contents

  1. 1 - Introduction
  2. 2 - Model Language in State and Regional Transportation Plans
    1. 2.1. What is climate change?
    2. 2.2. How does transportation contribute to climate change?
    3. 2.3. How does climate change affect transportation?
    4. 2.4. Why should transportation plans address climate change?
    5. 2.5. How does the plan address climate change?
    6. 2.6. What existing policies and programs on climate change are relevant to the plan?
    7. 2.7. What steps should transportation agencies take to address climate change?
  3. 3 - Climate Change in Transportation Improvement Programs

1. Introduction

Discussion of climate change is becoming more common in transportation planning documents. Many state DOTs and MPOs are recognizing the role that transportation policies and investments play in contributing to climate change and conversely, the potential impact of climate change on transportation systems. Long range transportation plans (LRTPs) in particular are highlighting climate change among a new generation of environmental and sustainability issues that shape transportation planning objectives.

At present, there is no federal regulatory requirement for state DOTs and MPOs to consider climate change in transportation plans. As such, agencies that are working on climate change are creating their own models for integrating climate change into their transportation plans. These models are reflected in the language that agencies use about climate change in their planning documents. Many agencies provide a robust explanation of why climate change is a transportation planning issue, context about latest developments in climate change policy, and establish new policies related to climate change.

This document provides excerpts from MPOs' and DOTs' transportation plans that discuss climate change. It is intended to guide other agencies in discussing climate change in their own plans. Although some general discussions of climate change are applicable to plans in any state or region, most of the language in existing plans is specific to the particular policy and planning context. Nonetheless, agencies that are looking for ideas about how to incorporate climate change in their transportation plans will find helpful models here.

Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) can also consider climate change, in a different context than transportation plans. TIPs are not policy documents, but rather lists of projects selected for funding. Any discussion of climate change occurs in the LRTP. But TIPs can incorporate climate change to the extent that climate change is a consideration in selecting projects. No MPOs or DOTs have yet explicitly incorporated climate change in their TIPs, but we offer some suggestions for how they might.

2. Model Language in State and Regional Transportation Plans

In this section, quotes from various transportation plans illustrate how agencies have incorporated climate change impacts into their plans. These can be helpful as more agencies consider how climate change will affect the transportation sector and how to include those considerations in their transportation plans. These model statements are just some examples of the variety of ways that agencies try to address the issue of climate change and transportation.

Transportation plans are unique to each planning agency. Mention of climate change and greenhouse gases can appear throughout long range transportation plans to various degrees. Generally, MPOs and DOTs address a few broad questions in discussing climate change in their plans. Text excerpts are organized according to these questions:

2.1. What is climate change?

2.2. How does transportation contribute to climate change?

Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), California. MTP2035, adopted March 2008, page 114-115: Environmental Sustainability.

2.3. How does climate change affect transportation?

2.4. Why should transportation plans address climate change?

2.5. How does the plan address climate change?

2.6. What existing policies and programs on climate change are relevant to the plan?

2.7. What steps should transportation agencies take to address climate change?

3. Climate Change in Transportation Improvement Programs

Projects in Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) can be selected for their potential to help reduce transportation GHG emissions or make transportation systems more resilient to the impacts of climate change. To this extent, TIPs can also consider climate change. To our knowledge, no MPOs or DOTs have formally used GHG emissions or resilience to climate change as selection criteria for projects in TIPs.

Some MPOs are experimenting with the use of GHG emissions as a measure for evaluating projects or packages of projects in the decision-making process. San Francisco's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) used GHG emissions as a performance measure to rank and evaluate some projects in the development of its most recent LRTP. Packages of projects were also evaluated using the GHG emissions criterion. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) included GHG emissions in its evaluation of packages of projects selected in its LRTP. The use of these criteria will have a second-order effect on those projects selected for TIPs. Other agencies have considered using GHG emissions impacts as an evaluation factor for grant programs such as the Congestion Management and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program.

As the use of explicit performance measures for transportation project selection expands, MPOs and DOTs will have more opportunities to incorporate climate change in the selection process for projects in TIPs. At the federal level, the new HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities is promoting the use of performance measures in transportation decisionmaking. In California, MPOs are asked to explain the performance of their proposed TIPs relative to a specific list of performance measures.[1] Although GHG emissions are not included in the list, the inclusion of some performance measure related to climate change is a logical future policy step.

For the most part, TIPs are lists of projects with little accompanying text. What text does appear in the TIP document is typically an explanation of federal and state regulations that drive the development of TIPs. Currently climate change does not factor into those regulations. Since TIPs do not develop and set policies for transportation decisionmaking, there is little room for discussion of climate change in the documents. If and when criteria related to climate change are used to specifically to select projects for TIPs, a limited discussion of climate change in the context of the criteria can be expected.

Substantive discussions of climate change are logically confined to the LRTP. The LRTP provides a venue for description of scientific and planning issues related to climate change, and development of policies related to reduction of GHG emissions and protection of the transportation system from the impacts of climate change.


[1] California Transportation Commission, "Amendment of STIP Guidelines," October 24, 2007.

Updated: 03/27/2014
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