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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 70 · No. 6 > Guest Editorial

May/Jun 2007
Vol. 70 · No. 6

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-07-004

Guest Editorial

Excellence in Transportation Design Through Context Sensitive Solutions

Photo of Gloria M. Shepherd, Associate Administrator, FHWA Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty

The highway planners, designers, and builders of today have learned that success means a marriage between traditional engineering and safety considerations. Also essential to success is improved collaboration with citizens, organizations, and agencies, focused on minimizing the impacts of highways on the environment and communities. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is committed to these goals through the endorsement and support of context sensitive solutions (CSS) and has formally adopted CSS as one of the Agency's vital objectives of environmental stewardship and streamlining.

CSS is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders to develop a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic, and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility. The CSS approach considers the total context for a transportation improvement project and normally includes the early, continuous, and meaningful involvement of the public and all stakeholders throughout the project development process.

In addition, CSS offers many important benefits when integrated throughout the transportation community, such as broadening the definition of the problem that a project is intended to solve; reaching consensus with all stakeholders before the design process begins; conserving environmental, monetary, and community resources; streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act process; shortening the project development process through early consensus, thereby minimizing litigation and redesign; and expediting permit approvals. CSS also builds public and regulatory support. By partnering and planning a project with the transportation agency, these stakeholders bring full cooperation and often additional resources as well.

Today, the focus of many States has shifted from expanding the highway system to managing congestion and improving existing facilities, most of which are located in built-out areas and communities. Stakeholders expect that transportation improvement projects not only fit into this built environment but also offer enhancements. Working with community stakeholders to preserve and enhance the human and natural environment thus becomes a significant challenge and opportunity.

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) places strong emphasis on advancing CSS in everyday transportation decisionmaking. In SAFETEA-LU section 6008, the standards laid out in section 109(c)(2) of title 23 of the United States Code were amended to include eight "characteristics of the process that yield excellence" and seven "qualities that characterize excellence in transportation design."

FHWA is encouraging the integration of CSS throughout Agency decisionmaking, and the performance objectives will include measures of success based on a national assessment and validation of CSS progress in each State.

FHWA is committed to working with partners and stakeholders to make CSS a reality in all transportation decisionmaking across the Nation. States may take full advantage of the technical expertise and experience that FHWA has to offer. As a part of the future, CSS serves the public interest, helps build and strengthen communities, and, ultimately, leaves a better place behind.

Gloria M. Shepherd

Associate Administrator

FHWA Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty

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