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Integrating Climate Change into the Transportation Planning Process

Chapter 4: Inclusion of Climate Change in Existing Transportation Plans

DOTs and MPOs can include climate change in the text of LRTPs to a variety of degrees. Climate change can appear in the vision, goals, policies, strategies, trends and challenges, and performance measures promulgated by LRTPs. Some plans merely recognize that climate change is an issue that relates to transportation and begin to point out the relevance of existing plans and strategies to climate change. Other plans make climate change more central to their goals and policies. Some plans reference other documents that deal with climate change, while others propose to act as drivers of climate change policy.

Ultimately, long range planning involves much more than just producing planning documents. This chapter focuses on inclusion of climate change in the text of LRTPs. Subsequent chapters will expand on how MPOs and DOTs are incorporating climate change in specific plan elements and related processes.

Tables 2 and 3 classify the integration of climate change in 12 state DOT and 18 MPO LRTPs reviewed for this study. Integration of climate change is classified by the plan components in which climate change is included. As closely related topics, energy conservation and alternative fuels are also classified as included in plans. Most plans include only mitigation of climate change, but a few also refer to adaptation to climate change, as indicated by an asterisk.

Table 2: State DOT Integration of Climate Change in Long-Range Planning Documents
DOT Status of LRTP Reviewed Climate Change Mitigation in: Energy Conservation or Alternative Fuels in:
Trends and Challenges Visions and Goals Policies and Strategies Performance Measures Trends and Challenges Vision and Goals Policies and Strategies Performance Measures
Maine adopted Dec 2007 x x x   x x x x
New Mexico adopted 2005           x x  
Arizona adopted Sep 2004           x    
Colorado draft Sep 2007 x              
Connecticut adopted July 2004 x* x* x*   x x x  
Massachusetts adopted 2006     x       x x
Maryland draft goals 2008                
Oregon adopted Sep 2006 x* x x   x x x  
Washington adopted Nov 2006 x         x    
California adopted April 2006 x x x   x x x x
Florida adopted 2005   x       x    
New York adopted 2006     x          

* Includes adaptation
Notes: Table 2 designates only those components that LRTPs explicitly link to the topic areas. Energy conservation does not include reference to energy conservation solely under the eight Federal Transportation Planning Factors. The table is not comprehensive; it reflects only those states reviewed as part of this study.

Table 3: MPO Integration of Climate Change in Long-Range Planning Documents
    Climate Change Mitigation in: Energy Conservation or Alternative Fuels in:
MPO Status of LRTP Reviewed Trends and Challenges Vision and Goals Policies and Strategies Performance Measures Trends and Challenges Vision and Goals Policies and Strategies Performance Measures
Eugene, OR final draft Sep 2007     x     x x x
Missoula, MT adopted May 2004   x       x    
Santa Fe, NM draft due 2009                
Albany, NY draft August 2007     x          
Grand Rapids, MI adopted April 2007 x       x x    
Portland, OR final draft Jan 2008 x* x x x   x x  
Salt Lake City adopted May 2007         x      
Baltimore adopted Nov 2007 x   x     x x  
Chicago updated June 2007   x       x    
Denver adopted Dec 2007         x x x x
Houston-Galveston updated Oct 2007 x*         x    
Philadelphia adopted 2005                
Sacramento draft Nov 2007 x   x   x   x  
San Diego adopted Nov 2007 x x x   x   x x
San Francisco draft goals 2008   x*   x        
Seattle adopted Spring 2008** x x* x x     x  
Southern California adopted May 2008 x     x x x    
Washington, DC adopted Oct 2006                

* Includes adaptation

** Refers to Vision 2040. Vision 2040 is a regional growth, transportation, and economic strategy. It is not the official LRTP for the region. The official LRTP will implement the policies of Vision 2040 and is scheduled for adoption in 2010.

Notes: Table 3 designates only those components that LRTPs explicitly link to the topic areas. Energy conservation does not include reference to energy conservation solely under the eight Federal Transportation Planning Factors. The table is not comprehensive; it reflects only those MPOs reviewed as part of this study.

The DOTs and MPOs examined were selected for diversity of size and geography. We prioritized agencies that we knew to be active on climate change issues. Of the 12 DOTs whose LRTPs were examined, 9 mentioned climate change in some capacity. None of these included climate change in performance measures, but performance measures related to energy conservation were included in 3 of the LRTPs. Maine, Connecticut, Oregon, and California covered climate change most broadly across LRTP components.

Of the 18 MPO LRTPs examined, 13 mention climate change. Climate change appears variously in the trends and challenges, vision and goals, policies and strategies, and performance measures of MPOs' LRTPs. Among the plans reviewed, Portland, San Diego, and Seattle have incorporated climate change most broadly into their LRTPs.

4.1. Statewide Plans

While the previous tables provide a general picture of where climate change appears in LRTPs, actual plans differ substantially in how they treat climate change. In some plans climate change has become a priority issue. In others climate change is mentioned as a peripheral concern. A few examples illustrate the differences between state LRTPs.

Maine DOT: Connecting Maine (Adopted December 2007)

An addendum and summary to Connecting Maine, the state's LRTP, includes a section titled "Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming.” The section provides an overview of the Maine emissions inventory. The draft plan cites the need for long-term strategies including utilizing low-GHG fuel, implementing tailpipe emissions standards, slowing VMT growth, and increasing the availability of low-GHG travel choices (such as transit passenger rail, vanpools, walking, and biking). One of the main strategies emphasized in the plan is to shift freight movement from the highway to rail and marine modes.

The LRTP recognizes that "transportation investments must enable businesses and individuals to shorten their trip times and use more fuel-efficient modes of transportation.” The plan also includes an estimate of the emissions impact of projects included in the plan. According to these estimates, CO2 emissions will be reduced by 26 to 32 thousand metric tons by 2020, and by 40 to 48 thousand metric tons by 2030.

Connecticut DOT: Long-range Transportation Plan for the State of Connecticut, 2004-2030 (Adopted July 2004)

In its LRTP, Connecticut DOT (ConnDOT) provides a robust discussion of climate change, GHG emissions, and fuel consumption. Within the plan, ConnDOT has a specific section to address Environment, Energy Conservation, and Quality of Life, in which they discuss the growing trends of people and goods movement over longer, more dispersed distances and the resulting increase in energy consumption. They recognize that "Connecticut's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from non-renewable fuel consumption are contributing to global climate change.” To address this issue and support the state's climate action plan, ConnDOT establishes the following actions related to climate change in its LRTP:

These detailed actions comprehensively address climate change considerations within the LRTP. They integrate a range of both mitigation and adaptation strategies.

ConnDOT is currently in the process of updating its LRTP. They agency anticipates releasing a draft for public comment in Spring 2008 and publishing the final version in Summer 2008. In updating the State's Long-Range Plan, ConnDOT will consider strategies and recommendations from state environmental reports such as the Connecticut Climate Change Action Plan 2005, the Connecticut Clean Diesel Plan (January 2006), and the Governor's Energy Plan (September 2006). Given the State's early leadership in addressing climate change through transportation planning, it is likely this new LRTP will further integrate climate change.

Oregon DOT: Oregon Transportation Plan (Adopted September 2006)

The Oregon Transportation Plan (OTP) recognizes the impact of transportation on climate change in its trends and challenges: "Transportation is causing global warming and other environmental degradation.” It establishes global warming as a major challenge area for the transportation system. Rising sea levels and increased wave heights due to global warming could impact Highway 101, coastal ports, and other coastal transportation facilities in Oregon. Referencing the Oregon Strategy for Greenhouse Gas Reductions (2004), the plan also summarizes strategies that can reduce GHG emissions:

In its goals and strategies, the OTP incorporates all of the strategies mentioned above. Goal 4, Sustainability, explicitly references climate change. One of its stated objectives is to "Reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to reduce climate change.” Among the strategies supporting Goal 4 is: "Encourage the development and use of technologies that reduce greenhouse gases.”

Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation: Commonwealth of Massachusetts Long-Range Transportation Plan (Adopted 2006)

Massachusetts' LRTP reiterates tasks from the state's Climate Protection Plan. The Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) dedicates a section of one chapter to the "Implementation of the New Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan.” The plan outlines commitments from the Climate Protection Plan and also details the EOT's alternative fuels program and the use of recycled materials in pavement as part of this commitment. The use of recycled materials in roadway construction can reduce energy use and thereby reduce GHG emissions.

The plan provides the following action items to meet the goal of Sustainability and Transportation - Minimizing Transportation's Impacts:

The plan also commits EOT to pursue further actions for climate change mitigation in the future.

4.2. Regional Plans

Like state DOTs, MPOs can integrate climate change in different ways into the text of their LRTPs. As federally designated agencies, MPOs are a more diverse group than are state DOTs. The jurisdictions of MPOs range in size from populations of 50,000 to populations of several million. Smaller MPOs are often housed within local government agencies, while larger MPOs may be independent agencies with broader regional planning powers. MPOs may also maintain other planning and environmental documents that are linked to their LRTPs. Some of these can also address climate change.

Southern California Association of Governments: 2008 Regional Transportation Plan (Adopted May 2008)

The Southern California Association of Government's (SCAG's) RTP includes a background section on the science of climate change and California's policies on climate change. The document also includes GHG emissions as a secondary performance measure for the achievement of environmental goals. (Emissions of criteria pollutants are the primary measure.)

SCAG does not state its transportation policies and strategies specifically in terms of climate change and reducing GHG emissions. Still, many of its strategies, including congestion relief, public transit promotion, and coordination of transportation and land use planning, do serve to reduce GHG emissions. The RTP mentions this connection in a subsequent section on mitigation of environmental impacts. For the next version of the RTP, SCAG will focus on refining techniques to estimate the impact of mitigation measures on GHG emissions.

In response to recent legal action under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), SCAG's RTP Program Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) inventories the region's current GHG emission levels, outlines mitigation techniques, and considers the impact of various planning scenarios on GHG emissions reduction goals.

To reduce emissions that cause global warming, the PEIR proposes various mitigation strategies, from limiting the use of GHG emitting construction materials to increasing investment in non-motorized transportation. The PEIR also provides examples of how transportation planners may anticipate adaptation strategies for dealing with global warming, such as delineating floodplains and alluvial fan boundaries to prepare for hydrologic changes. The PEIR concludes "Improvements in air pollutant emission standards and increased use of alternative fuels would reduce GHG emissions. However, it is unlikely that mitigation measures would reduce GHG emission below existing levels (let alone to 1990 levels as required by AB 32) due to anticipated population growth.”

SCAG also has a Regional Comprehensive Plan that addresses land use and housing, open space and habitat, water, energy, air quality, solid waste, transportation, security and emergency preparedness, and the economy. The Regional Comprehensive Plan assesses the potential impact of transportation policies and strategies on climate change.

Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning: 2030 Regional Transportation Plan (Updated June 2007)

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) states in its updated RTP, "We are concerned about transportation's role in the long-term sustainability of the natural environment as it relates to ecological concerns ranging from global climate change to natural beauty.” Accordingly, one of the LRTP's goals is Employ Transportation to Sustain the Region's Vision and Values. Objectives under this goal include:

"Promote transportation proposals that:

CMAP is also developing a new Regional Comprehensive Plan (RCP) that will integrate planning for transportation, land use, the natural environment, economic development, housing, and social systems. As part of the development of the RCP, CMAP hosted a Regional Climate Change Summit in December 2007. The agency also simultaneously issued a Regional Snapshot on Sustainability that addresses climate change as one of its key issues.

In developing the RCP, CMAP will analyze up to five different regional scenarios for their impacts on climate change. GHG emissions will be one performance indicator used to gauge the region's progress toward sustainability. CMAP has also actively sought input from stakeholders to determine the appropriate GHG reduction targets for the region and to discuss the extent to which land-use and transportation planning can help towards the eventual emissions goal. The outcome of these processes will undoubtedly feed into the next version of the LRTP.

Baltimore Regional Transportation Board: Transportation Outlook 2035 (Adopted November 2007)

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB) specifically mentions climate change within the Environmental Stewardship section of the transportation plan. BRTB recognizes that the plan does not directly address climate change and there are no established Federal standards for GHGs. Nevertheless the plan states that its goals of reducing vehicle emissions should help to reduce emissions of GHGs.

The specific strategies that will reduce GHG emissions include:

The plan also contains a policy to "Promote a sustainable environment by establishing policies that abate emissions from mobile sources, reduce energy consumption, reduce single occupant vehicles and the use of gasoline, and conserve and protect natural and cultural resources.” The BRTB will support this policy with travel demand management programs and emission reduction projects. BRTB intends to fund strategies in three categories: technological, behavioral, and capital programs.

Central Lane Metropolitan Planning Organization 2007-2031 Regional Transportation Plan (Final Draft September 2007)

Eugene, Oregon's Central Lane Metropolitan Planning Organization (CLMPO) peripherally recognizes the threat of climate change in its LRTP.

While the LRTP does not mention climate change in the body of the document, many strategies in the document would help to reduce transportation GHG emissions. An appendix to the document mentions the connection:

"Given that budgets for transportation planning, construction, and maintenance are pinched already and concerns for global warming are on the rise, it would benefit the jurisdictions of the region to continue to support and enhance existing policies or strategies and develop new ones that reduce use of automobiles and encourage use of mass transit, carpooling, walking, bicycling, and telecommuting. Many of these strategies are discussed in the RTP...”

4.3. Barriers and Needs

DOTs and MPOs that wish to integrate climate change in their LRTP documents do not face any foreseeable statutory barriers. But some DOTs and MPOs are waiting on decisions or recommendations from state agencies or committees on how they should address climate change. Others see a need for greater involvement from federal or state government in climate change issues. Many agencies are wary of taking steps to change their planning documents before more direction from higher government levels is provided.

For example, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) includes climate change in the goals of its LRTP, but the agency is not yet developing any strategies that explicitly address GHG emissions. FDOT is waiting for the recommendations of other state-level agencies and committees. Currently, the Florida Governor's Action Team on Energy and Climate Change is drafting recommendations that will include measures to reduce GHG emissions from transportation. There is also pending legislation in Florida that would require MPOs and local governments to consider climate change in their transportation plans. FDOT expects that these developments will help inform the next update of its statewide plan, which will likely begin in 2009. FDOT is also waiting for guidance from the governor on whether and how the agency's acclaimed Efficient Transportation Decision-Making process, which screens projects for environmental impacts, should incorporate GHG emissions.

Small MPOs in particular may benefit from higher level guidance on how and where to incorporate climate change in LRTPs. Small MPOs have fewer resources and less power to set policy precedents than do larger MPOs. The potential burden imposed by future climate change legislation at the state or federal levels is likely greater for small MPOs.

Updated: 12/23/2016
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