The purpose of this paper is to define the relationship between transportation asset management and transportation system planning and to describe the current, and potential future, activities of the FHWA's two Environment Offices that support the implementation of asset management. The paper is one of a set of seven papers exploring the relationship of asset management to each of FHWA's major program areas including planning, right-of-way, environment, infrastructure, safety, operations, and Federal lands.
Section 1.0 provides a general overview of asset management relevant to all program areas. Section 2.0 defines the relationship between planning and asset management. Section 3.0 describes current, and potential future, activities of the Office of Project Development and Environmental Review that support asset management.
Transportation asset management is a set of guiding principles and best practice methods for making informed transportation resource allocation decisions, and improving accountability for these decisions. The term "resource allocation" covers not only allocation of money to program areas, projects, and activities but also covers deployment of other resources that add value (staff, equipment, materials, information, real estate, etc.). While several of these principles and practices were initially developed and applied within the domain of infrastructure preservation, most established definitions of asset management are considerably broader. The Asset Management Guide, recently adopted by AASHTO defines asset management as:"... a strategic approach to managing transportation infrastructure. It focuses on...business processes for resource allocation and utilization with the objective of better decision-making based upon quality information and well-defined objectives."
As Mary Peters, FHWA Administrator has frequently put it:"If I have one additional dollar to spend on the transportation system, what is the most effective way to spend it?"
The essence of asset management is answering that question.
Asset management is concerned with the entire life cycle of transportation decisions, including planning, programming, construction, maintenance, and operations. It emphasizes integration across these functions, reinforcing the fact that actions taken across this life cycle are interrelated. It also recognizes that investments in transportation assets must be made considering a broad set of objectives, including physical preservation, congestion relief, safety, security, economic productivity, and environmental stewardship.
These principles are not unfamiliar, nor are they radical. Most transportation practitioners would agree that investment decisions should be based on weighing costs against likely outcomes, that a variety of options should be considered and evaluated, and that quality information is needed for decision-making. Many agencies are now pursuing performance-based approaches to planning and programming, monitoring system performance, and developing more integrated data and analysis tools to evaluate tradeoffs among capital expansion, operations, and preservation activities. Most agencies recognize that application of asset management principles is critical in times of constrained resources, when all investment and budget decisions are subject to increased public scrutiny.
Figure 1 illustrates the strategic resource allocation process that embodies the asset management principles presented above.
The diagram includes the following elements:
In Figure 1, the box labeled "Analysis of Options and Tradeoffs" shows three types of investment categories - preservation, operations, and capacity expansion. These are defined as follows:
These three categories are defined in order to show that:
As noted above, tradeoff analysis may be done across investment categories as well as within them. An agency might wish to define investment areas coincident with the three categories discussed above (preservation, operations, capacity), or they may define a different set of categories. For example, a safety program could be defined as an investment category, with subareas for operational activities (e.g., signs, markings, signalization, channelization, etc.), preservation (replacement of guardrails), and capacity (project design features supporting safety, e.g., wide shoulders). This would provide the framework for understanding the best mix of complementary actions within the safety area as well as tradeoffs between safety and other objectives.
A common reaction to the broad description of asset management is "how is this different from the overall planning and programming process in an agency?" The response is that asset management is not a new kind of business process that replaces planning and programming. Rather, it should be viewed as a set of best practices to be employed within the established planning and programming framework. Existing regulations pertaining to the planning process, together with statutes related to specific funding programs and their allocation criteria, and the body of environmental regulations affecting transportation planning - provide the context within which asset management practice occurs. In terms of Figure 1, transportation regulations and statutes impact establishment of policy objectives, the manner in which options are generated and evaluated, and they also provide certain constraints on resource allocation (based on Federal and state funding eligibility restrictions). Many of the core principles of asset management are embodied in the existing planning regulations (e.g., consideration of alternatives). Examining the planning process using the lens of asset management provides an opportunity to explore ways to continue to strengthen the mission of transportation planning - for example:
While asset management is closely associated with planning and programming activities, asset management best practices are also integral to design, construction, routine and preventive maintenance and operations activities. For example:
Despite the support for taking an asset management approach, many agencies face very real organizational, institutional, and technical challenges to making further progress in asset management. Each one of these challenges represents a potential opportunity for FHWA to work with its partners to encourage broader implementation of asset management principles. For example:
While it is relatively straightforward to implement asset management within a well-defined area of the agency (a pavement management unit, for example), the issues identified above illustrate why it is much more challenging to implement it more fully within an agency, or across multiple agencies.
However, the need to allocate scarce resources as effectively as possible and demonstrate results and performance to the customers of the transportation system provides strong motivation and support for overcoming these challenges. A comprehensive, performance-based approach to transportation investment decisions will be essential to meeting the increasingly complex set of transportation needs of the 21st century.
The purpose of this section is to define the relationship between environmental activities and asset management. It is written from the perspective of an operating agency (e.g. State DOT).
Environmental concerns thread through the full cycle of the transportation planning and delivery process. Most agencies find that environmental considerations are taking on increasing importance to their ability to fulfill their transportation mission. This is reflected in the range of regulatory requirements related to environmental protection at both the planning and project level, as well as in the increasing attention of the public to the potential environmental implications of transportation activities. The variety of concerns is broad, ranging from the effects of transportation projects on the preservation of individual species and the viability of ecosystems, to concerns about the most appropriate and "community-friendly" design of transportation facilities, to concerns about the relationship between transportation infrastructure, air quality, and public health.
To address this growing list of environmental issues, State DOTs and other transportation agencies are involved in a range of environmental activities. These may typically include:
The principles of asset management discussed in Section 1.0 readily apply to most of these activities, as evidenced by the efforts of many state DOTs to more systematically integrate environmental concerns throughout the transportation decision-making process.
Environmental protection and stewardship are major considerations in evaluating each area of transportation investment. Understanding and incorporating the projected costs and benefits of environmental activities is essential not only to assess the relative value of different environmental strategies, but, more broadly, for an agency to accurately weigh tradeoffs across investment approaches. Included in this analysis should be consideration of costs avoided through effective environmental strategies that reduce fines or delays, and reduce the risk of costlier future mitigation requirements.
The principles of asset management are consistent with the best practices developed by transportation agencies to integrate environmental considerations into each phase of transportation planning and project development.
Transportation agencies are working to move beyond a project-level regulatory focus to establish clear environmental policies and set environmental goals and objectives for their transportation program as a whole. These policies are developed within the context of their primary mission to provide safe and reliable transportation infrastructure and services that ensure personal mobility and economic growth for their state or region. The environmental policies set by transportation agencies are influenced by a range of factors, including the regulations and guidance of resource agencies, public expectations for environmental protection, and specific environmental stresses that are of particular concern in individual regions. The move to establish a larger policy-driven framework is enabling agencies to improve their environmental stewardship, gain credibility with resource agency partners and the general public, and realize efficiencies in meeting their environmental responsibilities.
Specific performance measures need to be identified for each policy goal and objective in order to define how progress in meeting these objectives is going to be determined and monitored over time. Setting appropriate performance measures for environment is a complicated matter for transportation agencies, because the ultimate environmental outcomes in a location or region are generally the result of a myriad of factors, only some of which are under the agency's control. Air pollution levels, for example, are the combined result of emissions from transportation vehicles, off-road agricultural and construction vehicles, and stationary sources, as well as how these combined emissions are affected by atmospheric conditions, terrain, and climate.
Nonetheless, agencies have developed a wide range of performance measures to track their progress in meeting their environmental goals and objectives at each phase of the transportation process. These include efficiency measures for managing environmental processes, output measures to target and track levels of program activity, and outcome measures that gauge progress in environmental improvements.
As an integral part of the long-range transportation planning process, performance measures are used to assess the environmental efficacy of investment alternatives for transportation projects. Secondly, performance measures are used to evaluate the relative effectiveness and efficiency of different environmental strategies as options to meet environmental objectives, such as reducing air pollutant emissions, improving storm run-off, or improving habitat. Performance measures are also used to track and assess process efficiencies, such as the time taken to complete environmental impact statements or conduct reviews.
The definition of clear measures enables agencies to analyze options and tradeoffs in terms of total costs, environmental benefits, transportation benefits, and process efficiencies.
A number of State agencies are working in different ways to improve the quality and accessibility of data and other information needed to support sound decisions involving environmental factors. Decisions with environmental aspects are required at each stage of the transportation process - from long-range planning to operations and maintenance. During each phase, transportation managers need to incorporate a broad range of information and considerations, including observed data, model outputs, regulatory requirements from multiple Federal and state resource agencies, input from partners and stakeholders, public commitments, engineering and design requirements, and budget constraints.
At both the project and planning levels, efforts to optimize environmental results of transportation decisions are constrained by the quality and sufficiency of ecological data available, and by the extent to which transportation staff are able to integrate this data with other relevant information to weigh transportation options.
Agencies are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their collection and use of environmental data to inform transportation decisions. The availability of GIS and other tools to analyze and present complex data has enabled agencies to better assess the implications of transportation choices at the systems level - both in terms of environmental impacts and mobility impacts. This trend has required increased coordination with those organizations with primary responsibility for collecting environmental data, including Federal and State resource agencies. This enhanced level of cooperation requires that agencies develop effective mechanisms for sharing data, integrating and analyzing multiple sources of data, developing clear criteria for evaluating alternatives, providing input, drafting agreements, and tracking results.
Quality data for decision-making includes reliable information about the relative costs of implementing alternative environmental strategies. Cost is a critical matrix for transportation agencies in electing to implement specific environmental activities. An accurate analysis of costs needs to consider the direct costs or savings related to specific alternatives, as well as the indirect financial impact to a project or an overall program that can result from project delays and revisions.
More difficult to measure quantitatively is the financial effect of the development of solid and trusting working relationships with regulatory agencies, environmental advocates, and partners. Across all three investment areas, effective working relationships can enable transportation agencies to more efficiently carry out their mission, saving time and resources.
The application of the good management principles cited above presumes a system of ongoing monitoring and feedback to provide timely and relevant information that can inform management decisions. Setting performance measures, for example, is only useful if they are then used as part of an ongoing process of program and project evaluation that feeds future improvements or program redirection. Effective monitoring and feedback requires clear and standardized processes for program and project review, collection of information, and analysis of results.
Many transportation agencies are developing new, computer-supported systems to help manage environmental information including monitoring and feedback of relevant data. These environmental information management and decision support tools address a variety of planning and management needs, depending on the priorities of each agency. For example, some states have developed systems to track environmental policies and commitments; others to mange public review and comment processes; others to monitor maintenance and operations environmental activities; and still others to facilitate watershed-level planning and coordination with resource agencies. The range of activity in environmental management systems is indicative of the attention many agencies are giving to the integration of environmental objectives and activities into their core business processes.
FHWA has identified environment as an agency-wide strategic goal, and "Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining" is one of its three Vital Few priorities. Through its strategic plan and its 2003 Performance Plan, the agency has defined National Strategic and Performance Objectives to support this priority goal, and has developed specific, quantitative performance measures to be used to gauge its progress in meeting these objectives. These goals and performance measures address both improvements in environmental quality (e.g. expanded ecosystem preservation, reductions in mobile source pollution emissions) and improvements in the efficiency with which transportation agencies fulfill their environmental commitments.
Two offices within FHWA's Office of Planning, Environment and Realty hold primary responsibility for coordinating the Agency's environmental work. They are the Office of Natural and Human Environment and the Office of Project Development and Environmental Review. This section provides a summary of the roles and responsibilities of these offices as they relate to asset management, and identifies potential additional opportunities for the future.
The Office of Natural and Human Environment primarily focuses on environmental programs associated with air quality, noise, and water quality, and on programs associated with the built environment, including transportation enhancements, bicycle and pedestrian facilities and scenic byways. This office is organized into five teams that address different environmental concerns related to transportation:
The Office of Project Development and Environmental Review provides policy development, support and technical assistance related to the NEPA project development process. This office has three teams:
Working closely with FHWA Division offices, the teams from both Offices provide guidance and technical support to state DOTs, MPOs, and other state and local agencies; support policy development and coordination with other Federal agencies; and conduct research to build knowledge and tools related to environmental issues.
FHWA's environment offices support transportation agencies in achieving compliance with the broad range of Federal environmental regulatory statutes that apply to Federal Aid highway projects, including those under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and NEPA. Beyond meeting regulatory requirements, however, these Offices lead FHWA's work to ensure that highway improvements are delivered in ways that preserve and enhance communities, protect the natural environment, and encourage effective decision-making. This larger commitment requires a proactive program to build knowledge, identify and disseminate effective tools and procedures, and promote innovation and best practices.
FHWA environment offices support transportation agencies in meeting regulatory requirements under multiple Federal environmental statutes by providing resources, guidance, and technical assistance. Through the various technical teams, FHWA provides guidance related to the eligibility and likely environmental impacts of transportation projects under the Federal Aid program, meeting transportation air quality conformity requirements, complying with NEPA requirements, and meeting the full range of environmental regulations. Due to amended clean air conformity regulations, a current priority is to provide support to State and local partners in newly designated nonattainment areas. The Office of Natural and Human Environment also administers the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), which provides funding to State DOTs for projects that reduce emissions.
This broad range of policy and regulatory work requires routine coordination with other Federal agencies. FHWA environment offices work closely with several Federal partners, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Interior, Energy, Commerce, and Agriculture, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Both Offices provide a range of technical assistance, research products, and tools to assist transportation agencies in meeting their environmental responsibilities and effectively advancing environmental stewardship goals. The focus of these initiatives is in building agencies' awareness of and ability to implement strategies that will enable them 1) to achieve the best environmental result for their investment, and 2) manage the time and resources required to efficiently meet their environmental obligations. This approach is consistent with the principles of asset management. A few examples of these initiatives follow.
FHWA has begun an exemplary ecosystem initiatives program to identify and publicize best practices in ecosystem and habitat conservation by transportation agencies. Exemplary initiatives may be unique in geographic scope, apply innovative scientific or technological practices, or achieve high environmental results. By supporting and highlighting these successful initiatives, FHWA seeks to encourage the use of more effective environmental strategies by transportation agencies.
To promote improved transportation decision-making that incorporates environmental concerns, FHWA is promoting integrated, systems level approaches to multi-modal planning, environmental processes, and project development. This effort, coordinated with FHWA's Offices of Planning and Infrastructure, provides guidance, information and training to States on integrating the planning and environmental processes and on context sensitive solutions / context sensitive design.
FHWA is a leader of the DOT Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting. The Center conducts research, policy analysis, and outreach to build knowledge about the relationships between transportation and climate change, increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources, and develop tools for use by transportation decision-makers and researchers.
FHWA is working with AASHTO's Center for Environmental Excellence to support and provide technical assistance to states to enhance their environmental stewardship through the development and implementation of environmental management systems, environmental performance measures, and environmental cost accounting.
To promote effective practices in meeting NEPA requirements and environmental stewardship, FHWA identifies and disseminates best environmental practices. These best practices include examples of management of environmental data, techniques to streamline environmental reviews, programmatic agreements, and mitigation strategies. Information about these best practices is promoted in several ways, including through a biannual Environmental Excellence Awards program.
To encourage more informed public participation in efforts to improve air quality through sound transportation strategies, FHWA is engaged in public education initiatives regarding transportation and air quality, including support of the Alliance for Clean Air and Transportation.
FHWA's environment offices have undertaken a number of research efforts designed to build knowledge in emerging areas of environmental concern, develop better models and tools to project and assess environmental effects, identify strategies to achieve improved environmental results, and develop decision-support tools to assist transportation planners and policy makers in integrating environmental issues into transportation decisions. Priorities for FHWA's research are informed by periodic environmental research needs conferences held in conjunction with the Transportation Research Board and involving a range of transportation researchers, practitioners, and environmental advocates.
Current research initiatives include:
Because environmental concerns cut across all transportation activities, coordination of FHWA's environment offices with other offices within FHWA, with other DOT operating administrations, and with Federal partners is particularly important. Examples of this coordination include:
As demonstrated by the range of activities underway, the initiatives of FHWA's Environment Offices are aligned with asset management principles across all transportation functions. Coordination with several other FHWA offices helps to promote this integrated approach. Future activities can build on these efforts by working to more explicitly integrate environmental information, data, and activities into asset management initiatives where they are underway, and by reinforcing the principles of asset management in environmental activities. This two-pronged approach will support FHWA in advancing its Vital Few priority of Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining - enhancing the ability of transportation agencies to meet their transportation goals with enhanced efficiency and improved environmental outcomes.
Potential future focuses could include:
 Transportation Asset Management Guide, prepared for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 20-24(11) by Cambridge Systematics, Inc. with Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc., Roy Jorgensen Associates, Inc. and Paul D. Thompson, November 2002, AASHTO Publication RP-TAMG-1.
 The FHWA plays a key role in standardizing the content and format of data that are mandated by federal law: e.g., the National Bridge Inventory (NBI) data that are reported by state DOTs.