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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

2009 Annual Report

Section II: Overview of STEP Program

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Planning, Environment and Realty's (HEP) Surface Transportation Environment and Planning Cooperative Research Program (STEP) ended on September 30, 2012. For current HEP research information, please see HEP's research web site.

Overview of STEP Program


Section 5207, Surface Transportation Environment and Planning Cooperative Research Program (STEP), of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) established a new cooperative research program for environment and planning research in Section 507 of Title 23, United States Code, Highways (23 U.S.C. 507). The general objective of the STEP is to improve understanding of the complex relationship between surface transportation planning and the environment.


The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) STEP program accomplishments, stakeholder outreach and feedback, and STEP research activities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009. The report includes an overview of the STEP program and lessons learned in STEP implementation.


SAFETEA-LU authorized $16.875 million per year for FY2006-FY2009 to implement this new program. However, due to obligation limitations, rescissions and the over-designation of Title V Research in SAFETEA-LU, $14.5 million of the $16.875 million authorized was available in FY2009. STEP is the primary source of funds to conduct all FHWA research on planning and environmental issues. In addition, Congress mandated several special studies and STEP will be the funding source for those projects. STEP will also address priorities identified in the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Research and Development Strategic Plan (Section 508 of Title 23 U.S.C.). STEP funding, even in combination with other SAFETEA-LU research funding sources, is less than what was available to the FHWA in prior years for planning and environmental research. This means FHWA will have to make difficult choices among the many competing needs for planning and environmental research, and will not be able to fund all worthy research.

Congress mandated that the Federal share be 50 percent for research funded under Title V of SAFETEA-LU, including STEP. While this will not apply to contract funding, it will apply to STEP research funded through cooperative agreements and grants.

Section 507 of Title 23 U.S.C. identifies certain characteristics of STEP regarding program content and administration. Regarding the program content, STEP may include research to:

In administering the program, USDOT and FHWA must ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that:

In FY2009, the STEP program was implemented along the following timeline:

December Post current fiscal year plan on STEP Website.
Winter Begin to implement current FY plan, through appropriate procurement methods, agreements and partnerships. (This milestone may shift depending on appropriations).
Spring/Summer Refine STEP Implementation Strategy/Goals/Emphasis Areas; publish Federal Register Notice and update website information to solicit feedback on next FY STEP activities. Conduct outreach for next FY by emphasis area, review research needs, and identify gaps.
Spring/Summer Develop priorities for and fund critical, short-term research. Develop draft next FY STEP Plan for comment.
Fall/Winter Post current FY plan on STEP website. (This milestone may shift depending on appropriations).


Seventeen emphasis areas were identified under the four broad program categories of environment, planning, tools to support environment and planning, and program management and outreach. Emphasis area contacts carried out individual outreach activities, while the STEP Program Manager and support team compiled and managed incoming stakeholder feedback, provided guidance on communication with stakeholders, and over saw the development of the research plan.

The table below displays the 17 emphasis areas organized within program themes as well as a list of FHWA emphasis area contacts.

1. Environment  
Air Quality and Global Climate Change
Water/Wetlands/Vegetation/Wildlife/Habitat/ Brownfields
Historic Preservation
Bicycle/Pedestrian and Health
Outdoor Advertising Control/Realty Program Management
Environmental Streamlining/Stewardship
Context Sensitive Solutions
2. Planning  
Safety Planning
Freight Planning
Public Involvement, Environmental Justice, Visualization in Planning
Other Activities that Support State/Local/Tribal Planning Capacity Building
U.S./Canada and U.S./Mexico Border Planning
National Security, Defense, and Interstate Planning
3. Tools To Support Planning and Environment  
Travel Modeling
GIS/Spatial Information for Improved Decision Making
4. Program Management and Outreach


As described in the STEP Implementation Strategy, the number of stakeholders with an interest in environment and planning research is enormous and diverse. Stakeholders have been categorized according to the following three tiers:

Tier I - Federal Agencies and Tribes: Tier I stakeholders may include agencies like the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture (USDA), Energy, Interior (DOI), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Within each of these agencies, there are many discrete organizations and programs with an interest in STEP, e.g., the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within the DOI. Within the USDOT, FHWA partners with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on virtually all planning and environmental work, including research. FHWA also coordinates with the Federal Railroad, Aviation, Research and Innovative Technology, and Maritime Administrations, and with the Office of the Secretary of Transportation on Global Climate Change as well as other issues. There are over 500 Federally recognized Native American Tribes, which have a major interest in research affecting their planning and environmental needs.

Tier II - State and Local Government: State Departments of Transportation (State DOTs) and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) have a major interest in environment and planning research, as the research affects national policy and can also provide important tools, information, and training to meet day-to-day needs of these agencies. In addition, local government units (including transit operators as well as county public works departments and city transportation departments) depend on national environmental and planning research. State/local environmental and natural resource agencies and State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) have a strong interest in planning and environmental research. There is also a growing interest by State/local health agencies in transportation planning and environmental research as it relates to health impacts of the surface transportation system.

Tier III - Nongovernmental Transportation and Environmental Stakeholders: Within the transportation and environment sectors, there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of nongovernmental stakeholders, such as the American Automobile Association, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, American Highway Users Alliance, Surface Transportation Policy Project, Defenders of Wildlife, American Association of Retired Persons, Sierra Club, Conservation Law Foundation, American Council of Engineering Companies, American Planning Association, League of American Bicyclists, National Trust for Historic Preservation, International Right of Way Association, National Alliance of Highway Beautification Agencies (NAHBA) and others too numerous to specify here.

Updated: 9/30/2012
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