Better environmental and highway outcomes through integrated planning.
Implementing Eco-Logical (C06)
A more holistic view of the Endangered Species Act has emerged in recent years to address expanding ecosystem and watershed restoration and species recovering needs. Transportation agencies recognize the value in this and the ecological and economic benefits of integrating environmental considerations into highway planning. At the same time, stakeholders expect more from government agencies in terms of avoiding impacts to ecosystems and using transportation projects as a way to support ecosystem recovery. The benefits of integrating ecosystem-level environmental considerations into highway planning are widely recognized, and there is an immediate need for practical guidance on how to implement these approaches cost-efficiently.
A team of eight Federal agencies developed the report Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects, which demonstrates how integrating environmental priorities at the planning level can accelerate development of projects and permitting while avoiding or minimizing environmental impacts that require future mitigation. However, ecology-based approaches must be easier to implement, more practical, and a priority for managers if the benefits outlined in Eco-Logical are to be more widely realized by the transportation community. There is a need for practical guidance on how to implement these approaches cost-efficiently.
SHRP2 has developed an Integrated Ecological Framework (IEF), a nine-step, science-based process that helps practitioners identify ecological priorities within a region and make timely decisions about highway enhancements, enabling mutually-beneficial solutions for transportation and the environment. The framework provides clear, practical steps to enhance integration and to support an ecological approach to environmental stewardship.
The solution includes tools and resources to help make ecological approaches a priority such as conducting ecological assessments, developing ecosystem services crediting, building collaborative interagency relationships and usable data collections, and developing organizational strategies. It also provides guidelines and model agreements to support integrating conservation, planning, and environmental permitting into an agency's ecosystem approach.
In addition to improved environmental outcomes, organizations that apply the IEF will minimize the time and costs associated with planning and regulatory decision making. Utilizing the IEF well in advance of large maintenance projects or new construction can expedite planning and permitting processes so construction can begin more quickly. In the short term, the IEF provides practical guidance on selecting and using the most appropriate effective data, methods, tools, and processes to achieve an integrated, landscape-scale approach to transportation decision making. Over time, the IEF can foster better collaboration and information-sharing among highway and resources agencies, resulting in roadways that are wildlife-friendly and can better withstand potential weather damage.