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The PEL Puzzle

Note: This information was archived in April 2009. For the current information, see http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/integ/related.asp.

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Exhibit A
Shows the "PEL puzzle" – a concept that illustrates specific steps for where the transfer of data, analyses, or decisions is made and linkages created in the decision-making process. The puzzle does not show all the steps in the process, rather it shows specific steps where there is a PEL linkage. The puzzle includes three main components represented in a series of rings: resource conservation and management, transportation planning, and NEPA environmental analysis and review. Each of these components is further broken down into specific steps where there is a PEL linkage, represented by a puzzle piece. Additional rings of community vision and strategies, collaborative partnerships, and stakeholder involvement bind the main components together.

While the transfer of data, analyses, or decisions may create a Planning and Environment Linkage, questions such as the following may remain:

The purpose of the PEL puzzle graphic in Exhibit A is to help organize this guide to answer these questions.5 The puzzle includes specific steps for where the transfer of data, analyses, or decisions is made and linkages created (working from the outer ring to the center of the puzzle):

This guide includes a series of sections that describe these linkages. The puzzle does not show all the steps in these processes, rather it shows specific steps where there is a PEL linkage. The PEL puzzle will be used to illustrate each linkage subsequently described.

How Does PEL Begin?

In theory, PEL is simple-just transfer information from one planning process to another. In practice, however, it is not that easy. Simply providing information from one process to another does not necessarily assure that information will be used and a linkage will be made.

A transfer of information does not mean that agencies understand the information or are able to incorporate it into their decision-making process. Agencies need to have a relationship for the transfer to work. To illustrate the importance of these relationships, the PEL puzzle graphic in Exhibit B shows three concentric relationships that run throughout PEL: community vision and strategies, collaborative partnerships, and stakeholder involvement. These three fundamental themes permeate other linkages.

Exhibit B
Shows the same "PEL puzzle" as in Exhibit A, but this version is faded out except for three concentric relationships that run throughout PEL: community vision and strategies, collaborative partnerships, and stakeholder involvement. These three fundamental themes permeate other linkages.

At its core, the goal of PEL is to assure that, as the landscape is changed to support transportation improvements, we are respectful of the natural systems and processes that make up the environment. PEL is based on a tri-party partnership between the community, transportation agencies, and resource agencies. These parties must understand each other's mission and goals and respect the role and responsibilities that each brings to the table. A collaborative partnership is based on these fundamentals.

On the surface, the mission and values of the various participants in PEL are very different. Without a collaborative partnership in place, they can create very different and conflicting outcomes. In the end, however, all parties are seeking one goal-a high quality of life for the communities impacted by decisions.

A community's vision and strategies are established and continually validated through stakeholder involvement. When there is a collaborative partnership in place, the community vision and strategies will respect and incorporate goals for both natural resources and transportation. It is a "both/and" approach, instead of "either/or," and it reflects stakeholders' integrated thinking on these matters, not separating everything out into jurisdictions and regulatory or functional area "silos."

Thus, PEL begins by:

These steps assure that information provided really makes a difference in the work that is done and the decisions that are made.

Community Vision And Strategies

The community vision and strategies should be the basis for all transportation decision-making starting with long-range planning through environmental analysis, design, and eventually implementation of transportation projects and services. In addition, these should be the foundation for all community planning processes such as land use, transportation, and economic development. They can inform all related planning processes such as conservation, watershed, and private land development decisions. The community vision and strategies can tie together all public and private decisions to create the quality of life that the citizens desire.

The community vision and strategies imply seeking agreement about the desired outcome of a program or project and articulating the kind of community its residents want-5, 10, or 20 years into the future. This agreement is not always easy to articulate. A community's vision and strategies are the ideal and may change over time. A community should revisit the visioning process periodically to reaffirm where it is heading, ideally through a collaborative stakeholder involvement process that draws all segments of the community into a dialogue about their collective future.

Collaborative Partnerships

While state DOTs play a significant role in the transportation decision-making process, MPOs are also responsible for a substantial portion of the planning and resource agencies are responsible for a major part of the environment. Collaboration is therefore needed to implement PEL and achieve a community's vision of the future.

Collaborative partnerships establish mutual understanding of roles and responsibilities among formal partners-the state DOT, FHWA, FTA, resource agencies, and MPOs and/or local governments. This is not an easy goal to accomplish. Often the mission and goals of transportation and environmental agencies are perceived as mutually exclusive. The public wants good transportation and a clean environment. They expect cooperation from public servants in charge of these areas. This cooperation is built on respect and trust. It requires relationship building and takes time and commitment from all partners. The benefits of collaborative partnerships though are numerous. They include:

Stakeholder Involvement

PEL requires changes in stakeholder involvement as traditionally conducted by state DOTs. With a plethora of publicly available information via electronic media, today's public is very informed. Public officials now spend part of their day talking with the community and relaying what they hear back into their agency's work. This new form of stakeholder involvement is integral to all planning and project. It ensures that strategies and goals developed during individual processes are consistent with a community's vision for its quality of life.

With PEL, we also look at how to link stakeholder involvement as it moves from one planning process to the next. Stakeholder involvement is one of the most important linkages created. Failure to link stakeholder involvement may cause frustration and disengagement from the public over time, which could carry over from project to project.

Soliciting stakeholder input is more than an agency requirement and more than a means of fulfilling a statutory obligation. Meaningful public input is central to good decision making. With meaningful public input, it is possible to make a lasting contribution to an area's quality of life, deliver projects that the public really wants, and resolve transportation needs. Linking public involvement between phases of project development validates the legitimacy of prior public involvement and acknowledges that public input is being carried forward in future activities. Credibility with the public is essential to increase participation; building on previous efforts reinforces that credibility.

In the past, each team of transportation professionals approached the public with a clean slate, as though no one had asked their views before. In actuality, the public is asked for their opinions on transportation projects many times by various parts of the same entity (such as a DOT) and by other government agencies. The public may become frustrated and disengaged, especially if it is asked the same questions repeatedly, seeing no beneficial outcome. Even when the questions are different, it can help build credibility with the public if prior involvement and outcomes are acknowledged as part of the new process.

Without meaningful public input throughout the entire process there is a risk of making poor decisions, or decisions that have unintended negative consequences. However, there are many challenges to conducting robust public involvement. Some of these include:

The basis for stakeholder involvement is assuring that the public involvement process is always state-of-the-practice. A robust public involvement process is the standard for PEL. This assures the best outcome. Reaching out to the public, however, is only half of a public involvement process. Incorporating what the public says into the decision-making process and providing feedback to the public on how their views influenced the final decision is essential. This approach assures that there are continuing opportunities throughout the entire planning and project development process for the public to be involved in the decisions over a broad range of social, economic, and environmental issues that affect their quality of life.


5 The PEL puzzle graphic is a variation of that used originally by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

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Updated: 12/03/2012
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