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Planning & Environment Linkages Implementation Resources

What Are Planning and Environment Linkages?

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

Planning and Environment Linkages represent an approach that helps bring about a collaborative and integrated transportation decision-making process. PEL occurs at points early in the transportation process when decision-makers consider environmental, community, and economic goals and carry these goals through to the project development and environmental review process, and on to design, construction, and maintenance.

The goal of PEL is to create a seamless decision-making process that minimizes duplication of effort, promotes environmental stewardship, and reduces delay from planning through to project implementation. PEL lays the foundation for a broad consensus on goals and priorities relating to transportation and related processes. It is supported by federal transportation regulations and FHWA programs that focus on improvements to the planning and environmental review processes.

PEL encourages:

What Is Planning?

Planning in PEL refers to transportation planning. Planning is a cooperative process that fosters the involvement of all users of a transportation system, including businesses, community groups, environmental organizations, freight operators, and the public. Planning is done by both the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the state Department of Transportation (state DOT). Planning must be cooperative because neither agency has responsibility for the entire transportation system. Both agencies cooperate with other stakeholders, including transit operators, airport and maritime authorities, Amtrak, and other local transportation providers (both public and private) within the MPO region.1

Planning includes traditional steps, such as identifying problems, generating alternative solutions, evaluating those alternatives, developing and adopting a plan, and identifying potential mitigation needs and opportunities.

Role of the MPO

In metropolitan areas, the MPO is responsible for leading the planning process. An MPO is a policy-making body representing an urbanized area2 typically responsible for transportation. Some MPOs have additional responsibilities such as economic development and land use planning under limited authority embodied in state and federal law. MPOs are usually made up of representatives from local government and transportation agencies that have authority and responsibility in those metropolitan areas. In metropolitan areas, the MPO is responsible for leading the planning process. An MPO is a policy-making body representing an urbanized area2 typically responsible for transportation. Some MPOs have additional responsibilities such as economic development and land use planning under limited authority embodied in state and federal law. MPOs are usually made up of representatives from local government and transportation agencies that have authority and responsibility in those metropolitan areas.

An MPO has five core planning functions:

  1. Establish a setting: Establish and manage a fair and impartial setting for effective regional decision-making in the metropolitan area.
  2. Identify and evaluate alternative transportation improvement options: Use data and planning methods to generate and evaluate alternatives.
  3. Prepare and maintain a Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP): Develop and update a long-range transportation plan for the metropolitan area covering a planning horizon of at least 20 years that fosters (1) mobility and access for people and goods, (2) efficient system performance and preservation, and (3) good quality of life.
  4. Develop a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP): Develop a short-range program of transportation improvements based on the long-range transportation plan; the TIP should be designed to achieve the area's goals, using spending, regulating, operating, management, and financial tools.
  5. Involve the public: Involve the general public and other affected constituencies in the core functions listed above.

Most MPOs will not take the lead in implementing transportation projects, but will provide an overall coordination role in planning and programming funds for projects and operations. MPOs produce three key documents during the planning process:

Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP). Sometimes called the Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) or Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). The MTP is the statement of ways the region plans to invest in its transportation system. It looks out over a minimum 20-year period and includes both long-range and short-range program strategies/actions that will lead to the development of an integrated intermodal transportation system. The MTP must be updated every five years in air quality attainment areas or every four years in nonattainment or maintenance areas.3

Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The TIP identifies the transportation projects and strategies from the MTP that the MPO plans to undertake over the next four years. All projects receiving federal funding or needing federal approval must be in the TIP. The TIP is the region's way of allocating its limited transportation resources among the various capital and operating needs of the area, based on a clear set of short-term transportation priorities.

Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP). The UPWP lists the transportation studies and tasks (e.g., data collection and analysis, public outreach, etc.) to be performed by the MPO over the next one to two years. Because the UPWP reflects local issues and strategic priorities, the contents of the UPWP differ from one metropolitan area to another.

Role of the state DOT

For activities outside the metropolitan area, the state DOT is responsible for the planning process. Each of the U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have an agency or department with official transportation planning, programming, and project implementation responsibility for that state or territory, referred to as the state DOT.

A state DOT has three core planning functions:

  1. Prepare and Maintain a Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan: Develop and update a long-range transportation plan for the state. Plans vary from state to state and may be broad and policy-oriented, or may contain a specific list of projects.
  2. Develop a Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP): Develop a program of transportation projects based on the state's long-range transportation plan and designed to serve the state's goals, using spending, regulating, operating, management, and financial tools. For metropolitan areas, the STIP incorporates the TIP developed by the MPO.
  3. Involve the public: Involve the general public and other affected constituencies in the core functions listed above.

State DOTs produce two key documents during the planning process:

Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan (LRSTP). The LRSTP may be policy-oriented or may include a list of specific projects and includes a systems-level approach to meeting projected demand for transportation services within the state over the next 20 or more years.

Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The STIP is similar to the TIP in that it identifies statewide priorities for transportation projects and it must be fiscally constrained. Through an established process, the state DOT solicits or identifies projects from rural, small urban and urbanized areas of the state. Projects are selected for inclusion in the STIP based on adopted procedures and criteria. The STIP must incorporate TIPs that have been developed by MPOs directly without change.

Table 1 summarizes the key products of the planning process.

Who Develops? Who Approves? Time Horizon Content Update Requirements
MTP/LRTP MPO MPO 20 Years Future Goals, Strategies, and Projects Every 5 Years
4 years for nonattainment and maintenance areas
TIP MPO MPO/Governor 4 Years Transportation Investments Every 4 Years
UPWP MPO MPO 1 or 2 Years Planning Studies and Tasks Annually
LRSTP State DOT State DOT 20 Years Future Goals, Strategies, and Projects Not Specified
STIP State DOT U.S. DOT 4 Years Transportation Investments Every 4 Years

What Is Environment?

Environment in PEL generally refers to two processes:

  1. Integrating resource agency plans/ data with transportation and community plans/ data.
  2. Linking planning to the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).

Integrating Resource Agency Input

The initial steps for integrating resource agency input into the environmental process are based on collaborative partnerships between resource agencies, MPO staff, state DOTs, local planners, and others so that a full sharing of information can occur.

An example of this integrated planning approach is Eco-Logical, a mitigation strategies toolkit developed by FHWA. Eco-Logical establishes an eight-step integrated planning framework, condensed here into three high-level steps:

Linking Long-Range Planning to NEPA:

Linking transportation planning to the environmental review process required under NEPA could include the following:


1 This section is taken from The Transportation Planning Process Key Issues: A Briefing Book for Transportation Decisionmakers, Officials, and Staff, a publication of the Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program, Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration.

2 An urbanized area is an area that contains a city of 50,000 or more in population plus the incorporated surrounding areas meeting size or density criteria as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

3 An air quality nonattainment area is a geographic region of the U.S. that the Environmental Protection Agency has designated as not meeting air quality standards.

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Updated: 12/03/2012
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