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Challenges and Benefits of PEL

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PEL streamlines the decision-making process. It encourages transportation and resource agencies to share data and tools, perform coordinated analyses, and improve their communication–overcoming many of the traditional challenges encountered (see Figure 2).

Figure 2
On the left, a large box represents Traditional Environmental Analysis in Project Planning/Project Development. Arrows from this box point to several drawbacks in the traditional process: 1: Transportation planning often does not recognize environmental factors, 2: Environmental agencies have little influence on transportation plans and programs, 3: Planning decisions are often revisited under NEPA, 4: Environmental reviews fair to take advantage of planning, and 5: Public and elected officials become impatient, confused, frustrated over apparent duplication.

PEL entails additional work early in the planning process. This may mean that staff at planning agencies may be pressed for time, creating an additional hurdle. PEL requires both transportation and resource agencies to step back from their traditional approach and consider something new–the mutual benefit of a broad partnership. It may be difficult for everyone to switch gears and try an unfamiliar approach where there may be a learning curve or increased time constraints. Thus, PEL may require significant changes both internally and externally. It demands a broad perspective, cultivating new relationships, and forging new partnerships and agreements. In order to make such a transition, it may be beneficial to understand the challenges and benefits to these linkages.

Real Challenges

PEL requires more environmental work in planning and increased awareness and knowledge from all parties involved. Planning practitioners will need to become more familiar with the environmental process and environmental experts will need to become conversant in the transportation planning process.

PEL will shift some costs from the NEPA stage to long-range planning, particularly those associated with development of the Purpose & Need statement, evaluation criteria, and alternative development and analysis. While these processes will still be required when NEPA begins, the level of effort required should be reduced because a baseline would be established during planning. Integrated planning may create an entirely new cost, but one that should create efficiencies in NEPA, environmental permitting, and overall effectiveness at achieving transportation and other agencies' missions.

PEL may require a significant change to existing working relationships. Planning, environment, designers and resource agencies will need to collaborate and communicate more. This enhanced relationship will inevitably require more time of everyone. PEL also requires more resources for metropolitan planning organizations and other planning agencies. Despite these many challenges, creating linkages between planning and the environment can have some significant benefits.

Process-Efficiency Benefits

PEL leads to a more efficient process. Improvements to inter-agency relationships may help to resolve differences on key issues as transportation programs and projects move from planning to design and implementation. Conducting some analysis at the planning stage can reduce duplication of work, leading to reductions in cost, time, risk, and later environmental requirements. For example, by developing the Purpose & Need Statement and foundation for alternative analysis during long-range planning, practitioners can:

Relationship-Building Benefits

By enhancing inter-agency participation and coordination efforts, transportation agencies establish a more positive working relationship with resource agencies and the public. For instance, by engaging policy-makers and the public early on, agencies can reduce the potential for conflict later. Agencies can identify transportation system needs, develop solutions, and propose potential mitigation strategies.

Transportation agencies can get better information on environmental issues and can reduce the potential for conflict by engaging resource agencies early in discussions. This includes thorough and early identification of protected or important resources, resource agency priorities, and associated environmental data. By engaging interested parties early in the process, agencies enhance public understanding of the overall process and maintain timely interest and involvement.

On-the-Ground Outcome Benefits

When transportation agencies conduct planning activities equipped with information about resource considerations, they are better able to form programs and projects that serve the community's transportation needs effectively. This provides the opportunity to avoid and minimize impact on natural resources, and enables effective environmental stewardship.

Resulting benefits include:

PEL results in benefits over the traditional analysis of environmental issues in the project development phase by providing an integrated approach to transportation decision-making.

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Updated: 12/3/2012
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