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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 77 · No. 2 > Internet Watch

September/October 2013
Vol. 77 · No. 2

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-13-006

Internet Watch

by Kate Sullivan

Bringing Sustainability to Highway Evaluation

Transportation agencies must balance a number of objectives, including safety, asset management, environmental protection, and mobility. A sustainable approach attempts to meet all of these needs while maintaining cost-effectiveness throughout a highway’s life cycle. For the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), a sustainable approach means helping stakeholders improve social, economic, and environmental outcomes--the “triple bottom line” of sustainability--that will benefit communities now and in the future.

In 2008, FHWA began developing the Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool (INVEST), a free, Web-based collection of best practices designed to help transportation agencies bridge the gap between sustainability concepts and sustainability in practice as it applies to transportation and highways. INVEST can help State departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations, councils of government, public works departments, and consultants to integrate best practices into their programs and projects.

At the launch of INVEST 1.0 in October 2012, FHWA Deputy Administrator Greg Nadeau said, “the INVEST tool is designed so that everyone can use it.” The software, he added, is “customized and flexible to allow [users] to…meet [their] own sustainability goals and needs.”

Version 1.0 followed beta and pilot test versions released in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Nineteen transportation agencies tested and evaluated the tool’s pilot versions, and version 1.0 features substantial enhancements based on that testing as well as comments from subject matter experts and associations.

Learn, Browse, Score

When users log onto INVEST’s home page located at www.sustainablehighways.org, they find announcements and a description of the tool, as well as three buttons:

  • Learn, which links to a guided tour of the INVEST Web site, offers information about sustainable highways and integrating sustainability best practices into projects and programs.
  • Browse, a gateway to the complete set of INVEST criteria, enables users to scroll through lists of best practices they can use to evaluate the sustainability of projects and programs.
  • Score, a link to the INVEST self-evaluation tool, enables users to access the software to begin assessing the sustainability of projects and programs.

The self-evaluation tool has three modules--System Planning, Project Development, and Operations and Maintenance--that agencies can use to evaluate sustainability.

INVEST includes 60 criteria across the three modules. Each describes a best practice and assigns a point value based on the relative impact on transportation sustainability. These criteria include highway and traffic safety, pedestrian access, freight mobility, energy efficiency, and mitigation of construction noise.

Screen capture from the home page of FHWA’s INVEST Web site.

Scoring requires answering questions that relate to specific practices. Agencies can use the overall score to determine their progress toward achieving more sustainable infrastructure, tracking integration of best practices into projects, and conducting stakeholder and community outreach. Further, they can use INVEST to consider sustainability options during the planning stages--enabling better quantifying of sustainability during decisionmaking--or to evaluate a completed project.

Framework for Discussion

“INVEST provides a framework for staff and management to sit down and look at projects through a sustainability lens and discuss areas that might be improved,” says Tina Hodges, an environmental protection specialist on FHWA’s Sustainable Transport and Climate Change Team.

One of INVEST’s most popular tools--developed in response to feedback during the pilot testing--is a collaboration feature. Users can set up a workspace for a specific project where they can view its scoring. They can upload documentation that supports that score, and they can record action items. Several members of a group can access the workspace.

Hodges explains, “Users appreciate the ability to collaborate using a structured framework--for example, planners, engineers, and subject matter experts on stormwater and pedestrian access can work together to identify sustainability improvements across the agency’s areas of work.”

Overall, says Hodges, “Sustainability is a high priority for FHWA, and we’re excited to have a tool that guides stakeholders through evaluating and improving the sustainability of their transportation projects and programs.”


Kate Sullivan is a contributing editor for Public Roads.

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