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Summary Report: Peer Workshop on Integrating Climate Change into the Transportation Planning Process

Seattle, Washington - October 2008

Table of Contents

 Cover image of summary report.

List of Attendees

1.0 Background and introduction

During 2008, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), through its Transportation Planning Capacity Building program, conducted a series of peer exchange workshops across the country. FHWA designed three of these workshops for transportation agencies and organizations on the topic of integrating climate change considerations into the transportation planning process. This report summarizes the results of the second of these of these workshops, held in Seattle, WA on October 27, 2008. Representatives from metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and departments of transportation (DOTs) from around the country participated in the day-long event.

FHWA developed this report to summarize the workshop for the use and benefit of MPOs and DOTs and their planning partners across the country. The report presents key themes from the workshop and summarizes participant presentations, discussions and issues of common concern. The report also includes a summary of workshop participants' recommendations to FHWA and other national transportation entities that will help support DOT and MPO climate change planning processes.

2.0 Key workshop themes

Several key themes emerged from the workshop discussions and presentations, including the following:

3.0 Opening presentations

3.1 Peter Plumeau, Lead Facilitator, RSG, Inc.

Peter Plumeau welcomed participants and stated the main objectives of the workshop. The first objective is to share information and to learn about climate change planning activities. While agencies and organizations do not have a one-size-fits-all approach, there is much to be learned from peers on this topic. Another objective of the workshop is to help build professional networks to encourage future discussion about climate change issues. A final objective is to provide FHWA with guidance on how to best support DOTs and MPOs in planning efforts for climate change.

3.2 Diane Turchetta, FHWA

Ms. Turchetta provided a brief overview of FHWA's perspective on climate change. There are three things to prepare for in the near future: transportation reauthorization, a new administration, and new national cap and trade or other climate change legislation. These three events occurring together may be the "perfect storm" for national change to occur. FHWA has recently been focusing on climate change and gathering information on how best to deal with these issues. These efforts include case studies, workshops, and technical assistance for states and MPOs. Ms. Turchetta mentioned modeling techniques used to estimate GHG emissions, such as the new EPA MOVES model. FHWA is responding to the need for USDOT to provide information and be national leaders on climate change issues. Ms. Turchetta also mentioned various other resources for DOTs and MPOs, such as the Pew Center and the Center for Clean Air Policy. She also said that adaptation to the effects of climate change is becoming a bigger issue, and FHWA is working with AASHTO and state DOTs on how to address adaptation issues in the transportation decision-making process. Throughout these workshops on integrating climate change considerations into the planning process, FHWA will listen to the concerns and needs of state DOTs and MPOs.

3.3 Cindy Burbank, PB Americas

Cindy Burbank presented elements of climate change and transportation research that she is conducting for NCHRP. She began her presentation by using an analogy that we need to "skate to where the puck will be" to best deal with the challenges of climate change. Ms. Burbank has found that there is a wide range of strategies used by DOTs and MPOs across the United States in the planning process. There are also variations within state and regional targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Ms. Burbank presented a multidimensional approach that the transportation sector can utilize to integrate climate change considerations into the planning process. A "four-legged stool" model of strategies represented four essential components: Vehicles, Fuels, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), and Vehicle/Systems Operations. She said that DOTs and MPOs will have to consider all legs of the stool in strategy selection.

The first two legs of the stool, vehicle technology and alternative fuels, will create the largest reductions in GHG emissions. While some critics believe that vehicle technology will not come soon enough, there is great potential for technical improvements to decrease GHG emissions. VMTs, the third leg, will also need to be reduced to meet GHG targets, especially with traditional low emission-per-capita areas such as China and India emitting more carbon. The high cost of fuel will help reduce VMT and therefore GHG emissions. In addition, changes in land use patterns and the increase in smart growth will help reduce VMT.

The fourth leg is vehicle and system operations. Actions such as congestion management, ITS initiatives, signal timing, and speed management have been noted in recent studies to have a 10-20% GHG reduction potential. Keeping tires inflated and other 'eco-driving' techniques can have measurable effects on carbon reductions as well.

Ms. Burbank stressed the need for multiple strategies—the "silver buckshot" approach. Furthermore, strategies must be chosen for their effectiveness in reducing GHG emissions and the ease and cost of their implementation. Transit, for example, is often a high priority strategy for agencies, yet it has been estimated in some studies to have a minimal effect on overall carbon emissions.

3.4 Elizabeth Robbins, Washington State DOT

Ms. Robbins stated that DOTs and MPOs have a lot to learn from each other about climate change issues. WSDOT has several initiatives and activities to reduce the transportation sectors contribution to climate change. There is a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) for the transportation planning process. Strategies include VMT reductions, transit, and compact land development. WSDOT has taken a balanced approach that looks to use measureable strategies and strategic planning. The agency has also worked to manage congestion and travel demand through various programs.

In 2007, the Governor of Washington created the "Governor's Climate Change Challenge" through an Executive Order. This required the state to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change, all while supporting the state's economy and specifically promoting "green" jobs. As part of the "Climate Change Challenge," the Governor appointed a Climate Advisory Team, drawn from several state agencies, to work toward reducing emissions in the state. While the Team did not originally include transportation agencies, they are now active Team members.

Washington State is also a member of the Western Climate Initiative, a collaborative effort of seven western U.S. governors and four Canadian Premiers. This initiative is starting the nation's first cap and trade system for carbon, beginning with the electricity-generating sector. Washington State has enacted several laws to facilitate reductions in GHG emissions. There are also a number of parallel efforts at the state level to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. GHG targets passed by the state legislature include cutting emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by the year 2050. Other legislative policies include VMT reductions, transportation planning guidelines, GHG emitter reporting, and a Green Economy Growth Initiative.

Ms. Robbins said that the state is now beginning to think about planning for climate change adaptation as it relates to both physical infrastructure resiliency and general operational continuity. Washington State policy-makers and planners are currently discussing the impacts of climate change, such as the melting of the snowpack that supplies public water systems, sustains wildlife, and provides hydroelectric power. Coastlines could be affected by sea level rise, severe weather could damage infrastructure, and landslides could become more frequent. Ms. Robbins said that adaptation to climate change needs to be addressed at both the system planning level and the project level. Likewise, it needs to be addressed for both passenger modes and freight modes (trucks, transit, boats and air cargo).

3.5 Ronald Kirby, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)

Mr. Kirby began his presentation by explaining the institutional structure of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. MWCOG formed in the late 1950s before the onset of MPOs. MWCOG houses the MPO, which has a separate board from the regional COG board. In April 2007, MWCOG initiated a climate change steering committee. This committee adopted a goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.

MWCOG has developed a best practice guide to track energy and climate legislation as well as Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards. A climate change report was developed that provided recommended actions. MWCOG also monitors Chesapeake Bay water temperature and sea levels and has begun to discuss adaptation to the effects of climate change.

The Transportation Planning Board (TPB), which functions as the metro Washington, DC region's MPO and is a department within MWCOG, provides transportation forecasts for the region. It has adequate models for measuring and forecasting emissions and has developed regional goals for reductions in energy use and more efficiency in land use. Various strategies to meet these goals include supporting increases in fuel efficiency, reducing transportation demand and VMT, and using alternative fuels. At this time, none of these strategies have been prioritized or analyzed for cost-effectiveness.

MWCOG has undertaken various education and outreach efforts in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area, such as climate action weeks and regional outreach partnerships. The MWCOG board received public comments on the implementation steps for climate change action and is considering these in decision-making processes.

MWCOG is currently assessing the relative cost-effectiveness of various GHG reduction strategies. The agency believes that new cap and trade programs or a carbon tax will set a price threshold for CO2 abatement that will help to determine cost-effectiveness strategies. A recent report by McKinsey & Company placed the price threshold for carbon at about $50 per ton.

The TPB developed two scenarios for long range planning purposes: a "constrained long range plan" and a "what would it take" (WWIT) scenario. It analyzed three categories for the WWIT scenario: Fuel efficiency, fuel carbon intensity, and travel efficiency. After extensive analysis, the TPB has begun to prioritize strategies based on GHG reduction effectiveness, scale, and cost-effectiveness. Some of the most cost-effective strategies include telecommute programs and signal optimization.

4.0 Roundtable discussion

Each workshop participant gave a brief overview of the work his or her organization has undertaken to plan for climate change.

4.1 Kelly McGourty, Puget Sound Regional Council

The Puget Sound Regional Council's (PSRC) newest regional growth and development plan is "Vision 2040." PSRC has established concrete goals regarding various climate change issues but specific related strategies are still undetermined. Issues for the region related to climate change mitigation and impacts include growth management and changing development patterns. In the transportation area, PSRC has its own GHG emission goals and VMT benchmarks.

PSRC uses various modeling tools to measure emissions and determine the effects of various investments and strategies within the region. These models include the EPA MOVES model and various other kinds of urban land use modeling. Overall, although PSRC possesses sophisticated technical abilities, it still finds itself grappling with how to best use these models. For example, at what level (e.g. project level) and scale (e.g. local vs. state) should analyses be conducted? What assumptions should be used?

Within both the Seattle region and the state, there is a high level of collaboration between regional planning organizations and the state DOT. In metropolitan Seattle area, there is also a lot of leadership and political support for climate change action and policy.

4.2 Marlie Sanderson, Gainesville MPO

Gainesville, Florida is a small metropolitan area with a population of 185,000. The MPO has been updating its long-range transportation plan. The focus of this plan is a 2050 scenario where peak oil is a serious crisis. Through these peak oil considerations, the MPO has also examined climate change issues.

The MPO has worked toward integrating land use and transportation by supporting high-density growth in urban areas. Multi-modal transportation has been encouraged. The MPO has partnered with the University of Florida (located in Gainesville) to shift students to transit use, increasing ridership numbers by over 1 million per year.

The area is working toward the goals of "livable communities" and the MPO chooses projects to support these goals. With limited dollars, investments must be made to keep people centralized in a livable, central core.

4.3 Patti Raino, Idaho DOT

The issue of climate change is not a widely discussed topic in Idaho, although the Governor is looking at making internal state government operations, such as agency fleets, more efficient. The DOT is beginning its next long range planning process. While Idaho is not a major contributor to GHG emissions on a national level, the state is taking into consideration the impacts of its growing population on such emissions. Idaho DOT has historically been more concerned about localized air pollutant levels and is just beginning to consider transportations' effects on climate change and the effects of climate change on its transportation system. In the long range planning process, the DOT is looking at congestion management. There is the realization that the problem cannot be solved through capacity expansion (for which there is little money) but rather through strategies such as transportation demand management that will also help address for climate change.

4.4 Paul Hamilton, Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, Michigan

The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission serves the Lansing, Michigan metropolitan area. The RPC has worked for many years to integrate land use and transportation planning and has implemented a regional program to preserve agricultural land and open space. While not specified as a climate change strategy, this and other initiatives of the Tri-County RPC are helping the region address climate change considerations.

The Tri-County RPC has been working as well on mode shift strategies such as increasing transit availability and partnering with the Michigan State University to increase non-SOV options for students. The University has an office of sustainability and has adopted GHG reduction goals. The RPC is working with the University on methodologies for estimating GHG emissions and to customize policy alternatives such as higher priced parking and satellite parking with shuttles.

The RPC's Long Range Transportation Plan will specifically address climate change issues and re-frame many of the current activities of the agency as climate change strategies. Outreach, education, and partnerships are needed to elevate the issue of climate change for the public and policy-makers. Other important issues for the RPC will be developing cost benefit analysis of climate change policies, GHG emissions modeling, carbon sequestration, and climate change-sensitive project selection criteria.

4.5 Randolph Sykes, Oahu MPO, Hawaii

The Oahu metropolitan area is actively planning for climate change. Beyond mitigation strategies to reduce GHG emissions, the MPO is seriously looking at the effects of climate change on the island. Storm intensity and sea level rise are being examined. Sea level rise will have profound effects on infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and public transit. Storms could create surges as high as 30 feet, and although there are mountains for retreat, there is limited road infrastructure at these higher elevations.

Another issue in Hawaii is the importance of trade winds to dissipate volcanic fumes and localized air pollutants. If climate change has an effect on these trade winds, it could have severe localized air consequences for the area.

The Oahu MPO is actively seeking guidance on how best to plan for and adapt to the effects of climate change. The MPO is also planning on a future with diminishing federal funds and are looking for ways to plan for climate change under a constrained budget.

4.6 Margi Lifsey, Oregon DOT/WSDOT Columbia River Crossing

Ms. Lifsey works for the Oregon DOT on the Columbia River Crossing project in partnership with the Washington State DOT. This $3.5 billion project has included environmental planning that includes climate change issues. The environmental impact statement for the project was the first in the Northwest to quantify GHG emissions. The GHG analysis was considered in the cumulative impact section. The final Environmental Impact Statement will also address GHG and climate change issues.

Oregon DOT has been discussing climate change issues but not many solid actions have been taken. There is a Governor's Climate Change Integration Group and the Oregon Global Warming Commission. Although there are goals for climate change related issues, there is no official guidance on how to interpret these goals. Overall, rural areas are resisting policy changes that would require reductions in GHG emissions. ODOT is working to collaborate with and educate rural partners.

Oregon DOT is currently working on a list of potential activities; these include more research and analysis. Travel demand models will continue to be used in climate change forecasting and there will be an increased focus on climate change in the next long range plan. The DOT is also beginning to examine the effects of climate change on elements of the transportation infrastructure for susceptibility to extreme weather events. For example, ODOT is conducting an inventory of culverts near the state's extensive coastline to determine the extent of climate change vulnerability.

4.7 Susan Payne, Central Lane MPO, Oregon

The Central Lane Metropolitan Planning Organization covers the Eugene-Springfield region in central Oregon. The MPO has recently faced pressures from the state to encourage more land conservation in the region. The Governor has developed goals of land conservation and has required the MPO to use transportation-land use models to judge development projects. This has been politically challenging for the MPO to accomplish, as it has no authority for land use decisions.

Within the metropolitan area, there are two cities (Eugene and Springfield) that have different views about climate change. The larger of these two cities (Eugene) is promoting the goal of carbon neutrality through the leadership of a mayor who is part of the US Mayors Climate Projection Center. The city is promoting dense growth and transit. There are also partnerships with the University that provide transit passes to increase transit use by students.

The MPO has been focusing its efforts on modeling techniques and finding the right tools for estimations. It is considering population growth in VMT models. The MPO is also examining ITS initiatives to improve systems operations that will reduce GHG emissions.

4.8 Andrew Hume, Los Cruces MPO, New Mexico

The Los Cruces Metropolitan Planning Organization is located in south-central New Mexico. As it is close to the borders with Mexico and Texas, the MPO has collaborated with the El Paso (TX) MPO on various projects. The MPO is working on Vision 2040, its long-range regional plan, looking at issues such as land use, transportation, utilities and energy, and urban development. The MPO has initiated bicycle programs to promote non-motorized transport.

The policy committee of the MPO has not yet focused on climate change issues. Mr. Hume is hoping that Vision 2040 will highlight the importance of climate change planning and increase its priority in decision-making. He is also concerned that the effects of climate change could adversely affect the region's residents, particularly poor agriculture workers who live in undeveloped agriculture areas with limited infrastructure.

The Los Cruses area needs more education about climate change issues. Vision 2040 will hopefully shine some light on the importance of addressing climate change and encourage the public to look beyond parochial local considerations toward national and global issues. Recently, for mainly economic reasons, residents are seeking alternatives to single occupancy vehicle travel, but the region offers few alternatives at this time.

4.9 Anne McLaughlin, New Mexico DOT

The New Mexico DOT has worked with Governor Richardson to increase transit, including bus and passenger rail, park-and-ride programs, and non-motorized transport. Although there has been strong leadership from the Governor, New Mexico has not traditionally been a planning-oriented state and there is no current state planning legislation. Local property rights frame most land development efforts, and like many places in the U.S., there is reluctance to discuss land use rights at a state level.

NMDOT has been trying to take the "silver buckshot" approach in planning for climate change. The agency is working toward reductions in VMT per capita, and consultants have forecasted that a 22% reduction in GHG emissions could come from achieving certain levels of VMT reductions in the state. Policies in consideration are pay-as-you-drive insurance and efficiency rebates. NMDOT is also conducting a public education campaign to encourage climate-conscious actions such as purchasing fuel-efficient cars.

4.10 Diane Kresich, Arizona DOT

The State of Arizona has been addressing climate change issues for a few years, but the original 2006 Arizona Climate Action Plan did not have a strong transportation focus. Although there was a representative from Arizona DOT on the original Transportation-Land Use Technical Working Group under the Plan, there were no representatives from a DOT, MPO, or RPC on the high-level Advisory Group. This lack of transportation agency representation may indicate a lack of coordination between the general state government and the DOT on climate change issues. She noted that, in 2007, the Governor directed the DOT to provide a detailed list of options for transit as part of fleshing out the overall statewide Climate Change plan.

Although the 2006 Arizona Climate Action Plan proposed only a few transportation related actions, including adoption of a Clean Car Program and implementation of a pilot program for hybrids on HOV lanes, ADOT has been addressing climate change through various means. For example, ADOT is conducting a research study on travel demand management techniques, although it has not yet established quantitative measures to determine the effects of TDM programs on GHG emissions. In addition, ADOT is currently working to incorporate a Smart Growth Scorecard developed by the Governor's Office into its project programming process. The agency is also conducting a statewide 2050 visioning process that reflects Smart Growth principles. Ms. Kresich noted that within the agency, increased partnerships between the planning and the air quality staff would benefit the climate change planning process.

Ms. Kresich noted that Arizona is part of the Southeast Climate Change Initiative, the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, the Climate Registry, and the Arizona-Sonora Regional Climate Initiative with the Mexican state of Sonora.

5.0 Summary and recommendations to FHWA

5.1 Summary

Participants generally concurred that climate change is a national and global issue, yet most efforts to address climate change through mitigation and adaptation in the U.S. have been pursued in a disjointed manner at the state and local levels. Without national policy and coordination, different agencies and jurisdictions may be inadvertently working at cross-purposes and actually undermining any positive progress in reducing GHG emissions. At the same time, most participants agreed their agencies need to assume some level of leadership in their regions and states on addressing the transportation-climate change connection.

It was also generally agreed that DOTs and MPOs need assistance from the federal government on how to prioritize climate change actions. There was also some concern that moving toward more aggressive and "radical" strategies, such as significant gas tax increases, would be met with stiff public and political resistance if such actions are pursued ahead of enhanced public education on climate change. A set of common methodologies and standard assumptions would also be beneficial to DOTs and MPOs as they measure GHG emissions, select strategies, and analyze policies. While these models need to allow for sensitivities related to differences in scale, demographics, political climate, etc., a common template for analysis is needed. A combination of technical and financial assistance would be very useful for transportation agencies.

5.2 Recommendations to FHWA

From this workshop, key elements emerged that can be summarized into specific recommendations for FHWA that will help support DOTs and MPOs in the process of integrating climate change issues into transportation planning processes:


Updated: 12/23/2016
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