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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 58· No. 4 > A Framework for Action

Spring 1995
Vol. 58· No. 4

A Framework for Action

by Rodney E. Slater

Rodney E. Slater."Environment." We usually think of it as open vistas or dense wilderness, as cool lakes or crashing waterfalls. We imagine clean air and clear water. We picture blue heron, golden trout, black-eyed Susans, and California redwoods.

The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) 1994 Environmental Policy Statement (EPS) -- a revision and update of the 1990 EPS -- expands the definition of environment beyond the "natural" and the "scenic."

The term "environment" as used in EPS includes the natural environment, the built environment, the cultural and social fabric of our country, our neighborhoods, and the quality of life for the people who live here.

And the new EPS reaffirms the agency's commitment to these environments.

FHWA with its transportation, environmental, and community partners will work vigorously to protect and, where practical, to enhance the natural environment and to preserve neighborhood and community values.

The commitment of FHWA and its state partners to preserve and protect the environment dates back more than a century. Environmental policies have led to countless creative actions by highway agencies and state and local governments. As early as 1785, for example, New York City passed an ordinance banning noisy iron-clad horse-and-buggy teams. At the turn of the century in Minnesota, the state highway agency planted trees along roadsides not only for beauty but to help travelers find their way home in a snowstorm. And around 1970, the Washington State Department of Transportation modified plans to modernize the interstate for the sake of a single tree -- a 144-year-old apple tree.

"New and improved?"

EPS shows us how we can remain true to this legacy from the past and at the same time be environmental "stewards" for future generations. Key themes in EPS include full involvement of our partners, "mainstreaming" of environmental concerns, early public participation, and effective development and promotion of environmental expertise.

Building on the past and preparing for the future demand a new way of thinking, a willingness to consider "alternatives."

Thomas Jefferson once said, "I have nothing but contempt for a person who can only find one way to spell a word." Few people have shared Jefferson's passion for innovative spelling, but many have applauded the nation's zeal for innovative decision making. Early FHWA projects to protect and enhance the environment were inspired by policy-makers who supported innovation. The new EPS continues the tradition by encouraging imaginative planning and design. And recent transportation projects -- from building the environmentally-sensitive "Blue Route" in Pennsylvania and the Isle of Palms Connector in South Carolina to transporting New York freight on barges instead of trucks -- testify to innovation's success.

It's an impressive track record. Since the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, we have significantly increased funding for environmental research. We have strengthened technical support for intermodal projects. We have held or co-sponsored multiregional conformity workshops, a roundtable on congestion management and air-quality improvement issues, and regional "Livable Communities" conferences. We've done more.

Back to the Future

In the near future, Americans will witness the completion of innovative projects like these:

  • The adaptation of an 1833 stone-arch railroad bridge in Minneapolis for bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • "Gateway" planting in the bypassed town of Valley Falls, Kan. -- a project conceived by the small town's elementary school children.
  • "Fish ladders" at Maryland highway-waterway crossings.
  • A day care center at a Santa Clara, Calif., transit station.

Having Our Cake and Eating It Too

EPS reminds us that we can "have it all." We don't have to choose between a healthy economy and a sound environment, between mobility and environmental protection. These are false choices.

Nor do we have to do our environmental work alone. We are aided by the commitment, creativity, and energy of both the public and the private sectors. Indeed, our success depends on it.

We must increase our partnerships with private enterprise on infrastructure investments, including transit and Intelligent Transportation System initiatives.

Shared decision making is the core of the process. FHWA must reach an unprecedented level of collaboration and consensus building with our partners -- a process that begins at the earliest planning stages and continues through project development.

The 1994 EPS promises these decision makers the education and technology they need to get the job done. For example, it supports expanded environmental research, increased technical assistance, and promotion of training interchanges.

Beyond EPS

EPS is more than a statement of good intentions. It sets the tone for our environmental activity and nudges us into action. It offers us a vision of the future and an understanding of how to get there.

Ultimately, however, it's what we do to protect and enhance the environment -- not what we say we'll do -- that counts. EPS is the "framework."

Rodney E. Slater is the federal highway administrator. He was sworn-in as chief of FHWA June 16, 1993. Formerly he was the chairman of the Arkansas State Highway Commission and a member of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' Executive Committee of Commissions and Boards. Earlier in his career, he served as an assistant attorney general for Arkansas and was a key member of the governor's staff, serving as executive assistant for economic and community programs. He graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1980.

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