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Asset Management


FHWA Asset Management Position Paper

Environment and Asset Management

The purpose of this paper is to define the relationship between transportation asset management and transportation system planning and to describe the current, and potential future, activities of the FHWA's two Environment Offices that support the implementation of asset management. The paper is one of a set of seven papers exploring the relationship of asset management to each of FHWA's major program areas including planning, right-of-way, environment, infrastructure, safety, operations, and Federal lands.

Section 1.0 provides a general overview of asset management relevant to all program areas. Section 2.0 defines the relationship between planning and asset management. Section 3.0 describes current, and potential future, activities of the Office of Project Development and Environmental Review that support asset management.

1.0 Overview of Transportation Asset Management

1.1 Definition of Asset Management

Transportation asset management is a set of guiding principles and best practice methods for making informed transportation resource allocation decisions, and improving accountability for these decisions. The term "resource allocation" covers not only allocation of money to program areas, projects, and activities but also covers deployment of other resources that add value (staff, equipment, materials, information, real estate, etc.). While several of these principles and practices were initially developed and applied within the domain of infrastructure preservation, most established definitions of asset management are considerably broader. The Asset Management Guide,[1] recently adopted by AASHTO defines asset management as:

"... a strategic approach to managing transportation infrastructure. It focuses on...business processes for resource allocation and utilization with the objective of better decision-making based upon quality information and well-defined objectives."

As Mary Peters, FHWA Administrator has frequently put it:

"If I have one additional dollar to spend on the transportation system, what is the most effective way to spend it?"

The essence of asset management is answering that question.

Asset management is concerned with the entire life cycle of transportation decisions, including planning, programming, construction, maintenance, and operations. It emphasizes integration across these functions, reinforcing the fact that actions taken across this life cycle are interrelated. It also recognizes that investments in transportation assets must be made considering a broad set of objectives, including physical preservation, congestion relief, safety, security, economic productivity, and environmental stewardship.

1.2 Asset Management Principles

  • Policy-Driven - Resource allocation decisions are based on a well-defined and explicitly stated set of policy goals and objectives.These objectives reflect desired system condition, level of service,and safety provided to customers, and typically are tied to economic, community and environmental goals as well;
  • Performance-Based - Policy objectives are translated into system performance measures that are used for both day-to-day and strategic management;
  • Analysis of Options and Tradeoffs - Decisions on how to allocate resources within and across different types of investments (e.g., preventive maintenance, rehabilitation, pavements, bridges, capacity expansion, operations, different modal mixes, safety, etc.) are based on an analysis of how different allocations will impact achievement of relevant policy objectives. Alternative methods for achieving a desired set of objectives are examined and evaluated. These options are not constrained by established organizational unit boundaries - for example solving a congestion problem could involve a capacity expansion or an operational improvement (e.g., signal coordination). The best method is selected considering the cost (both initial and long-term) and likely impacts on established performance measures. The limitations posed by realistic funding constraints must be reflected in the range of options and tradeoffs considered;
  • Decisions Based on Quality Information - The merits of different options with respect to an agency's policy goals are evaluated using credible and current data. These data may apply to specific functions (e.g., pavement and bridge management, traffic monitoring) or reflect a more integrated, corporate view.[2] Where appropriate, decision support tools are used to provide easy access to needed information, to assist with performance tracking and predictions, and to perform specialized analysis (e.g., optimization, real-time simulation, scenario analysis, life-cycle cost analysis, benefit/cost analysis); and
  • Monitoring to Provide Clear Accountability and Feedback - Performance results are monitored and reported for both impacts and effectiveness. Feedback on actual performance may influence agency goals and objectives, as well as resource allocation and utilization decisions.

These principles are not unfamiliar, nor are they radical. Most transportation practitioners would agree that investment decisions should be based on weighing costs against likely outcomes, that a variety of options should be considered and evaluated, and that quality information is needed for decision-making. Many agencies are now pursuing performance-based approaches to planning and programming, monitoring system performance, and developing more integrated data and analysis tools to evaluate tradeoffs among capital expansion, operations, and preservation activities. Most agencies recognize that application of asset management principles is critical in times of constrained resources, when all investment and budget decisions are subject to increased public scrutiny.

1.3 Asset Management Practice

Figure 1 illustrates the strategic resource allocation process that embodies the asset management principles presented above.

The Strategic Resource Allocation Process as discussed below

The diagram includes the following elements:

  • Policy Goals and Objectives, supported by performance measures are established through the policy and system planning process and used to guide the overall resource allocation process.
  • Analysis of Options and Tradeoffs includes examination of options within each investment area, as well as tradeoffs across different investment areas. The definition of investment areas is flexible and can be tailored to how an individual agency does business. For example, an agency may have a separate safety investment area and also incorporate consideration of safety within system preservation, operations, and capacity expansion expenditures. Each option and tradeoff is evaluated with respect to established agency goals and performance objectives.
  • Resource Allocation Decisions are based on the results of tradeoff analyses These decisions involve allocations of financial, staff, equipment, and other resources to the different investment areas and/or to different strategies, programs, projects, or asset classes within an individual investment area.
  • Program and Service Delivery is accomplished in the most cost-effective manner which again involves consideration of different delivery options (e.g., use of contractors, interagency agreements), as well as a delivery tracking process involving recording of actions taken, costs, effectiveness, and lessons learned to guide future activity.
  • System Conditions and Service Levels are tracked to see the extent to which established performance objectives are being addressed. This information is used to refine policy goals and priorities (e.g., put more emphasis on safety in response to an increase in crash rates).

1.4 Transportation Investment Categories

In Figure 1, the box labeled "Analysis of Options and Tradeoffs" shows three types of investment categories - preservation, operations, and capacity expansion. These are defined as follows:

  1. Preservation encompasses work to extend the life of existing facilities (and associated hardware and equipment), or to repair damage that impedes mobility or safety. The purpose of system preservation is to retain the existing value of an asset and its ability to perform as designed. System preservation counters the wear and tear of physical infrastructure that occurs over time due to traffic loading, climate, crashes, and aging. It is accomplished through both capital projects and maintenance actions.
  2. Operations focuses on the real-time service and operational efficiency provided by the transportation system for both people and freight movement on a day-to-day basis. Examples of operations actions include real-time traffic surveillance, monitoring, control, and response; intelligent transportation systems (ITS); signal phasing and real-time signal controllers at intersections; HOV lane monitoring and control; ramp metering; weigh-in-motion; road weather management; and traveler information systems. Although operations focuses on system management, the infrastructure needed to provide this capability may be substantial (e.g., traffic control centers; ITS hardware; environmental sensors and fire control systems in tunnels). Thus, an operations strategy requires capital and operating budget as well as substantial staff resources.
  3. Capacity expansion focuses on the actions needed to expand the service provided by the existing system for both people and freight. Capacity expansion can be achieved either by adding physical capacity to an existing asset, or acquiring/constructing a new facility.

These three categories are defined in order to show that:

  • Asset management is not just about preservation of highway network assets; it is about making investment decisions that address a wide range of policy goals.
  • The three categories provide a simple, useful way for decision-makers to align program investment categories and priorities with key policy objectives. For example, many agencies establish a "preservation first" policy or favor maximizing efficiency of operations prior to investing in new capacity.
  • The categories may present alternative ways of meeting a policy goal. For example, it may be appropriate to consider operational improvements to address a congestion problem as an alternative to adding a new lane.
  • Decisions about the resources allocated to each category cannot be made independently. Meeting many policy goals (e.g., safety) may require a mix of investments across these categories. Similarly, an increase in capacity expansion investments may require increased operations and preservation expenditures at some point in time.

As noted above, tradeoff analysis may be done across investment categories as well as within them. An agency might wish to define investment areas coincident with the three categories discussed above (preservation, operations, capacity), or they may define a different set of categories. For example, a safety program could be defined as an investment category, with subareas for operational activities (e.g., signs, markings, signalization, channelization, etc.), preservation (replacement of guardrails), and capacity (project design features supporting safety, e.g., wide shoulders). This would provide the framework for understanding the best mix of complementary actions within the safety area as well as tradeoffs between safety and other objectives.

1.5 Asset Management and the Transportation Planning Process

A common reaction to the broad description of asset management is "how is this different from the overall planning and programming process in an agency?" The response is that asset management is not a new kind of business process that replaces planning and programming. Rather, it should be viewed as a set of best practices to be employed within the established planning and programming framework. Existing regulations pertaining to the planning process, together with statutes related to specific funding programs and their allocation criteria, and the body of environmental regulations affecting transportation planning - provide the context within which asset management practice occurs. In terms of Figure 1, transportation regulations and statutes impact establishment of policy objectives, the manner in which options are generated and evaluated, and they also provide certain constraints on resource allocation (based on Federal and state funding eligibility restrictions). Many of the core principles of asset management are embodied in the existing planning regulations (e.g., consideration of alternatives). Examining the planning process using the lens of asset management provides an opportunity to explore ways to continue to strengthen the mission of transportation planning - for example:

  • How to improve connections between long-range planning and resource allocation;
  • How to strengthen agency and public consideration of preservation and operations investments within the long-range planning process;
  • How to better integrate environmental considerations throughout the transportation planning and decision-making process - across capacity, operational and preservation investments; and
  • How to provide a common information resource base to serve multiple activities across the transportation asset life cycle - long-range planning, corridor studies, safety studies, environmental assessments, multi-year capital programming, project development, preventive maintenance and system operations.

While asset management is closely associated with planning and programming activities, asset management best practices are also integral to design, construction, routine and preventive maintenance and operations activities. For example:

  • Application of life-cycle cost analysis in the facility design process;
  • Analysis of alternative construction materials and methods;
  • Tradeoffs across different maintenance activities based on level of service and extended facility life provided to customers;
  • Developing an appropriate mix of operations expenditures on technology upgrades, hardware/infrastructure maintenance and replacement, and skilled personnel;
  • Evaluation of delivery options (e.g., design-build, use of private contractors for maintenance and operations, inter-agency agreements, etc.).

1.6 Key Opportunities

Despite the support for taking an asset management approach, many agencies face very real organizational, institutional, and technical challenges to making further progress in asset management. Each one of these challenges represents a potential opportunity for FHWA to work with its partners to encourage broader implementation of asset management principles. For example:

  • Top management needs to set an organization-wide direction and framework for decision-making and to ensure that all parts of the organization are working together in a coordinated fashion. Maintaining continuity in leadership direction and understanding of key asset management principles can be particularly challenging with frequent turnover in agency executives;
  • Clear roles for each organizational unit must be established to solve common problems or meet common objectives. Differences in perspectives and approaches, lack of established procedures, or turf battles must be reconciled;
  • Established resource allocation methods, often constrained by externally imposed restrictions, historical allocations or formulas, or delicate and difficult political negotiations may restrict the range of options and tradeoffs that can be considered;
  • Staff resource constraints together with a constant "fire-fighting" mode of operation also may restrict the amount of time and effort that can be spent on analyzing options;
  • Developing a comprehensive set of reliable methods, data and tools to evaluate performance tradeoffs among the full set of investment options will take a sustained, multi-year effort;
  • Establishing a causal link between an investment or action and a performance indicator of interest, due to the presence of external factors influencing performance (e.g., gas prices, vehicle fleet changes, growth patterns, etc.) may require additional research in some cases;
  • Coordination among multiple agencies to achieve established objectives in areas such as operations and safety adds complexity to the decision-making process and program implementation efforts; and
  • External and internal agency culture based on "bottom-up" decision-making, with a focus on specific projects rather than on broader system performance and outcomes.

While it is relatively straightforward to implement asset management within a well-defined area of the agency (a pavement management unit, for example), the issues identified above illustrate why it is much more challenging to implement it more fully within an agency, or across multiple agencies.

However, the need to allocate scarce resources as effectively as possible and demonstrate results and performance to the customers of the transportation system provides strong motivation and support for overcoming these challenges. A comprehensive, performance-based approach to transportation investment decisions will be essential to meeting the increasingly complex set of transportation needs of the 21st century.

2.0 Environment and Transportation Asset Management

The purpose of this section is to define the relationship between environmental activities and asset management. It is written from the perspective of an operating agency (e.g. State DOT).

2.1 Overview of Environment Activities

Environmental concerns thread through the full cycle of the transportation planning and delivery process. Most agencies find that environmental considerations are taking on increasing importance to their ability to fulfill their transportation mission. This is reflected in the range of regulatory requirements related to environmental protection at both the planning and project level, as well as in the increasing attention of the public to the potential environmental implications of transportation activities. The variety of concerns is broad, ranging from the effects of transportation projects on the preservation of individual species and the viability of ecosystems, to concerns about the most appropriate and "community-friendly" design of transportation facilities, to concerns about the relationship between transportation infrastructure, air quality, and public health.

To address this growing list of environmental issues, State DOTs and other transportation agencies are involved in a range of environmental activities. These may typically include:

  • Air quality conformity;
  • Meeting NEPA requirements, including preparation of environmental impact statements;
  • Ensuring compliance with state and federal environmental regulations related to water quality, wetlands protection, endangered species, species habitat, historic preservation, noise, community impacts, and other environmental factors;
  • Preparation and implementation of environmental mitigation plans;
  • Public participation, outreach, and communication;
  • Development of environmental policies, procedures, and commitments;
  • Establishment and monitoring of environmental performance measures;
  • Participation in coastal zone management, watershed, and landscape-scale protection planning and mitigation;
  • Coordination with MPOs and regional air quality agencies to integrate air quality plans and transportation plans;
  • Coordination with partners and resource agencies to develop and implement programmatic agreements to meet environmental requirements;
  • Development and implementation of environmental management systems; and
  • Data collection, management and analysis.

The principles of asset management discussed in Section 1.0 readily apply to most of these activities, as evidenced by the efforts of many state DOTs to more systematically integrate environmental concerns throughout the transportation decision-making process.

2.2 Relationship to Transportation Investment Areas

Environmental protection and stewardship are major considerations in evaluating each area of transportation investment. Understanding and incorporating the projected costs and benefits of environmental activities is essential not only to assess the relative value of different environmental strategies, but, more broadly, for an agency to accurately weigh tradeoffs across investment approaches. Included in this analysis should be consideration of costs avoided through effective environmental strategies that reduce fines or delays, and reduce the risk of costlier future mitigation requirements.

  • An accurate assessment of the investment levels required to repair and maintain existing infrastructure needs to include costs to meet environmental requirements, including permits, testing, and mitigation / restoration expenses.
  • The tradeoffs between maintenance activities and environmental impacts need to be assessed. For example, the frequency of bridge painting or the selection of maintenance materials will each affect the cost, durability, and frequency of maintenance activity; total long-term maintenance costs, including level of agency resources invested in labor; and type and degree of environmental impacts requiring mitigation.
  • Prospective preservation projects may provide agencies with opportunities for cost-effectively meeting long-range program or project-level environmental commitments or enhancing environmental stewardship through the implementation of environmental best practices. For example, bridge retrofits to improve fish passage or construction of wildlife crossing passages may be incorporated into routine highway improvement projects at low cost.
  • Operations and management activities can support or hamper environmental goals. For example, use of surface treatment chemicals to manage snow and ice affects the quality of water runoff; choices for roadside vegetation can promote invasive species or - in contrast - promote the restoration of critical habitat; appropriate use of lighting and signalization techniques can reduce road kill and improve safety conditions.
  • Operations strategies may represent cost-effective options to support air quality improvements. For example, signalization improvements to optimize traffic flow reduce emissions from idling vehicles.
Capacity Expansion
  • The cost and feasibility of capacity expansion projects are affected by environmental stewardship goals, environmental impacts and design requirements. Understanding upfront the environmental conditions of possible sites for capacity expansion - which may include challenges for environmental protection and compliance, good opportunities to meet regional environmental stewardship goals, or both - is essential to accurately assess the true potential of expansion alternatives.
  • Once specific projects are selected, decisions about how to implement expansion plans - including decisions about construction procedures, materials, and timing - also have varying environmental effects that need to be assessed.

2.3 Application of Asset Management Principles to Environmental Activities

The principles of asset management are consistent with the best practices developed by transportation agencies to integrate environmental considerations into each phase of transportation planning and project development.

Policy Driven

Transportation agencies are working to move beyond a project-level regulatory focus to establish clear environmental policies and set environmental goals and objectives for their transportation program as a whole. These policies are developed within the context of their primary mission to provide safe and reliable transportation infrastructure and services that ensure personal mobility and economic growth for their state or region. The environmental policies set by transportation agencies are influenced by a range of factors, including the regulations and guidance of resource agencies, public expectations for environmental protection, and specific environmental stresses that are of particular concern in individual regions. The move to establish a larger policy-driven framework is enabling agencies to improve their environmental stewardship, gain credibility with resource agency partners and the general public, and realize efficiencies in meeting their environmental responsibilities.


Specific performance measures need to be identified for each policy goal and objective in order to define how progress in meeting these objectives is going to be determined and monitored over time. Setting appropriate performance measures for environment is a complicated matter for transportation agencies, because the ultimate environmental outcomes in a location or region are generally the result of a myriad of factors, only some of which are under the agency's control. Air pollution levels, for example, are the combined result of emissions from transportation vehicles, off-road agricultural and construction vehicles, and stationary sources, as well as how these combined emissions are affected by atmospheric conditions, terrain, and climate.

Nonetheless, agencies have developed a wide range of performance measures to track their progress in meeting their environmental goals and objectives at each phase of the transportation process. These include efficiency measures for managing environmental processes, output measures to target and track levels of program activity, and outcome measures that gauge progress in environmental improvements.

As an integral part of the long-range transportation planning process, performance measures are used to assess the environmental efficacy of investment alternatives for transportation projects. Secondly, performance measures are used to evaluate the relative effectiveness and efficiency of different environmental strategies as options to meet environmental objectives, such as reducing air pollutant emissions, improving storm run-off, or improving habitat. Performance measures are also used to track and assess process efficiencies, such as the time taken to complete environmental impact statements or conduct reviews.

The definition of clear measures enables agencies to analyze options and tradeoffs in terms of total costs, environmental benefits, transportation benefits, and process efficiencies.

Decisions based on merit and quality information

A number of State agencies are working in different ways to improve the quality and accessibility of data and other information needed to support sound decisions involving environmental factors. Decisions with environmental aspects are required at each stage of the transportation process - from long-range planning to operations and maintenance. During each phase, transportation managers need to incorporate a broad range of information and considerations, including observed data, model outputs, regulatory requirements from multiple Federal and state resource agencies, input from partners and stakeholders, public commitments, engineering and design requirements, and budget constraints.

At both the project and planning levels, efforts to optimize environmental results of transportation decisions are constrained by the quality and sufficiency of ecological data available, and by the extent to which transportation staff are able to integrate this data with other relevant information to weigh transportation options.

Agencies are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their collection and use of environmental data to inform transportation decisions. The availability of GIS and other tools to analyze and present complex data has enabled agencies to better assess the implications of transportation choices at the systems level - both in terms of environmental impacts and mobility impacts. This trend has required increased coordination with those organizations with primary responsibility for collecting environmental data, including Federal and State resource agencies. This enhanced level of cooperation requires that agencies develop effective mechanisms for sharing data, integrating and analyzing multiple sources of data, developing clear criteria for evaluating alternatives, providing input, drafting agreements, and tracking results.

Quality data for decision-making includes reliable information about the relative costs of implementing alternative environmental strategies. Cost is a critical matrix for transportation agencies in electing to implement specific environmental activities. An accurate analysis of costs needs to consider the direct costs or savings related to specific alternatives, as well as the indirect financial impact to a project or an overall program that can result from project delays and revisions.

More difficult to measure quantitatively is the financial effect of the development of solid and trusting working relationships with regulatory agencies, environmental advocates, and partners. Across all three investment areas, effective working relationships can enable transportation agencies to more efficiently carry out their mission, saving time and resources.

Monitoring and Feedback

The application of the good management principles cited above presumes a system of ongoing monitoring and feedback to provide timely and relevant information that can inform management decisions. Setting performance measures, for example, is only useful if they are then used as part of an ongoing process of program and project evaluation that feeds future improvements or program redirection. Effective monitoring and feedback requires clear and standardized processes for program and project review, collection of information, and analysis of results.

Many transportation agencies are developing new, computer-supported systems to help manage environmental information including monitoring and feedback of relevant data. These environmental information management and decision support tools address a variety of planning and management needs, depending on the priorities of each agency. For example, some states have developed systems to track environmental policies and commitments; others to mange public review and comment processes; others to monitor maintenance and operations environmental activities; and still others to facilitate watershed-level planning and coordination with resource agencies. The range of activity in environmental management systems is indicative of the attention many agencies are giving to the integration of environmental objectives and activities into their core business processes.

3.0 FHWA Environment Offices - Current and Future Activities Related to Asset Management

FHWA has identified environment as an agency-wide strategic goal, and "Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining" is one of its three Vital Few priorities. Through its strategic plan and its 2003 Performance Plan, the agency has defined National Strategic and Performance Objectives to support this priority goal, and has developed specific, quantitative performance measures to be used to gauge its progress in meeting these objectives. These goals and performance measures address both improvements in environmental quality (e.g. expanded ecosystem preservation, reductions in mobile source pollution emissions) and improvements in the efficiency with which transportation agencies fulfill their environmental commitments.

Two offices within FHWA's Office of Planning, Environment and Realty hold primary responsibility for coordinating the Agency's environmental work. They are the Office of Natural and Human Environment and the Office of Project Development and Environmental Review. This section provides a summary of the roles and responsibilities of these offices as they relate to asset management, and identifies potential additional opportunities for the future.

The Office of Natural and Human Environment primarily focuses on environmental programs associated with air quality, noise, and water quality, and on programs associated with the built environment, including transportation enhancements, bicycle and pedestrian facilities and scenic byways. This office is organized into five teams that address different environmental concerns related to transportation:

  • Air Quality;
  • Transportation Conformity;
  • Noise;
  • Water and Ecosystems; and
  • Scenic Byways, Bike-Pedestrian, Trails and Enhancements.

The Office of Project Development and Environmental Review provides policy development, support and technical assistance related to the NEPA project development process. This office has three teams:

  • Project Development Team;
  • Program/Policy Development Team; and
  • Training, Technology & Technical Assistance Team.

Working closely with FHWA Division offices, the teams from both Offices provide guidance and technical support to state DOTs, MPOs, and other state and local agencies; support policy development and coordination with other Federal agencies; and conduct research to build knowledge and tools related to environmental issues.

3.1 Current and Planned Activities

FHWA's environment offices support transportation agencies in achieving compliance with the broad range of Federal environmental regulatory statutes that apply to Federal Aid highway projects, including those under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and NEPA. Beyond meeting regulatory requirements, however, these Offices lead FHWA's work to ensure that highway improvements are delivered in ways that preserve and enhance communities, protect the natural environment, and encourage effective decision-making. This larger commitment requires a proactive program to build knowledge, identify and disseminate effective tools and procedures, and promote innovation and best practices.

Policy and Regulatory

FHWA environment offices support transportation agencies in meeting regulatory requirements under multiple Federal environmental statutes by providing resources, guidance, and technical assistance. Through the various technical teams, FHWA provides guidance related to the eligibility and likely environmental impacts of transportation projects under the Federal Aid program, meeting transportation air quality conformity requirements, complying with NEPA requirements, and meeting the full range of environmental regulations. Due to amended clean air conformity regulations, a current priority is to provide support to State and local partners in newly designated nonattainment areas. The Office of Natural and Human Environment also administers the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), which provides funding to State DOTs for projects that reduce emissions.

This broad range of policy and regulatory work requires routine coordination with other Federal agencies. FHWA environment offices work closely with several Federal partners, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Interior, Energy, Commerce, and Agriculture, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Technical Assistance and Information Dissemination

Both Offices provide a range of technical assistance, research products, and tools to assist transportation agencies in meeting their environmental responsibilities and effectively advancing environmental stewardship goals. The focus of these initiatives is in building agencies' awareness of and ability to implement strategies that will enable them 1) to achieve the best environmental result for their investment, and 2) manage the time and resources required to efficiently meet their environmental obligations. This approach is consistent with the principles of asset management. A few examples of these initiatives follow.

FHWA has begun an exemplary ecosystem initiatives program to identify and publicize best practices in ecosystem and habitat conservation by transportation agencies. Exemplary initiatives may be unique in geographic scope, apply innovative scientific or technological practices, or achieve high environmental results. By supporting and highlighting these successful initiatives, FHWA seeks to encourage the use of more effective environmental strategies by transportation agencies.

To promote improved transportation decision-making that incorporates environmental concerns, FHWA is promoting integrated, systems level approaches to multi-modal planning, environmental processes, and project development. This effort, coordinated with FHWA's Offices of Planning and Infrastructure, provides guidance, information and training to States on integrating the planning and environmental processes and on context sensitive solutions / context sensitive design.

FHWA is a leader of the DOT Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting. The Center conducts research, policy analysis, and outreach to build knowledge about the relationships between transportation and climate change, increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources, and develop tools for use by transportation decision-makers and researchers.

FHWA is working with AASHTO's Center for Environmental Excellence to support and provide technical assistance to states to enhance their environmental stewardship through the development and implementation of environmental management systems, environmental performance measures, and environmental cost accounting.

To promote effective practices in meeting NEPA requirements and environmental stewardship, FHWA identifies and disseminates best environmental practices. These best practices include examples of management of environmental data, techniques to streamline environmental reviews, programmatic agreements, and mitigation strategies. Information about these best practices is promoted in several ways, including through a biannual Environmental Excellence Awards program.

To encourage more informed public participation in efforts to improve air quality through sound transportation strategies, FHWA is engaged in public education initiatives regarding transportation and air quality, including support of the Alliance for Clean Air and Transportation.

Research & Technology

FHWA's environment offices have undertaken a number of research efforts designed to build knowledge in emerging areas of environmental concern, develop better models and tools to project and assess environmental effects, identify strategies to achieve improved environmental results, and develop decision-support tools to assist transportation planners and policy makers in integrating environmental issues into transportation decisions. Priorities for FHWA's research are informed by periodic environmental research needs conferences held in conjunction with the Transportation Research Board and involving a range of transportation researchers, practitioners, and environmental advocates.

Current research initiatives include:

  • Research and scans to identify and document best transportation practices in ecosystem- and watershed-level management and protection strategies;
  • Development of a long-range research plan to assess transportation emissions of particulate matter and air toxics;
  • Research to document and summarize the state of scientific knowledge on the health effects of transportation air toxics from mobile sources;
  • Study of strategies to reduce air pollution emissions from freight vehicles;
  • Research to develop tools for vegetation management/control spread of invasive species;
  • Identification of best practices for maintenance related to storm water runoff and tools for prediction of constituents of water quality;
  • Research and technical support to develop knowledge and tools for maintenance agencies on handling hazardous materials;
  • Research to develop tools for considering habitat connectivity, erosion control, prevention of sediments getting into a stream, analysis of impacts on endangered species, and water quality issues/permitting requirements; and
  • Through the DOT Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting, research to examine the relationship between transportation, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Because environmental concerns cut across all transportation activities, coordination of FHWA's environment offices with other offices within FHWA, with other DOT operating administrations, and with Federal partners is particularly important. Examples of this coordination include:

  • Coordination with the FHWA Office of Planning regarding air quality conformity and the promotion of integrated transportation decision-making best practices;
  • Work with the Office of Operations to develop strategies and tools to ensure that operations techniques are considered in the alternatives analysis process. In addition, work with Operations to encourage use of freight models and information on commodity flows within the NEPA process;
  • Work with the Office of Operations and Freight to develop strategies to reduce emissions from trucks;
  • Coordination with the FHWA Office of Planning, FTA Office of Planning, and EPA to develop federal policies and guidance regarding new air quality standards and conformity regulations, and guidance regarding land use and air quality;
  • Work with the Office of Motor Carriers to develop policies and guidance regarding emissions standards for Mexican trucks coming in to the United States;
  • Coordination with Office of Infrastructure on environmental issues related to bridges, highway construction, and maintenance; and
  • Coordination and support to Federal Lands on environmental policies and regulations affecting Federal Lands infrastructure and facilities.

3.2 Potential Future Activities

As demonstrated by the range of activities underway, the initiatives of FHWA's Environment Offices are aligned with asset management principles across all transportation functions. Coordination with several other FHWA offices helps to promote this integrated approach. Future activities can build on these efforts by working to more explicitly integrate environmental information, data, and activities into asset management initiatives where they are underway, and by reinforcing the principles of asset management in environmental activities. This two-pronged approach will support FHWA in advancing its Vital Few priority of Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining - enhancing the ability of transportation agencies to meet their transportation goals with enhanced efficiency and improved environmental outcomes.

Potential future focuses could include:

  • Support to transportation agencies in integrating environmental data, information, and performance objectives into existing asset management systems (e.g. bridge management programs).
  • Research and development on more environmentally-sound technologies, materials, and practices for transportation construction, preservation, and maintenance, including techniques for materials recycling; and on techniques for measuring the costs and performance of these technologies.
  • Development and promotion of environmental management systems, decision support tools, and environmental performance measures. Use of research and technology to develop better information and tools to support merit-based decisions. Promotion of expanded data sharing, including application of geospatial tools for data integration and analysis as an environmental management tool.
  • Research to develop, test and disseminate information about management techniques to improve environmental performance, streamline environmental activities, and improve cost management, including use of programmatic agreements and advanced mitigation strategies.
  • Application of the principles of asset management to environmental assets (e.g. roadside habitat, wetlands and drainage catchment areas, mitigation banks, view sheds, recreational access) to maximize environmental benefits and minimize environmental damage, in cooperation with other owners and managers.
  • Increased focus on providing leadership on environmental issues of regional or national scale that may not be fully addressed by individual state DOTs. These may include opportunities to improve national freight movement, large-scale habitat connectivity and ecosystem stewardship, cross-regional pollutant transport, relationship of transportation systems and emissions to public health, and relationships between transportation and climate change.
  • Continued development and promotion of interjurisdictional and collaborative project planning and decision-making techniques, including use of "alternative futures" analysis, scenario planning, and consensus building techniques.
  • Continued work to integrate environmental metrics with other key measures during the NEPA process, including economic, community, mobility, and safety effects, and analysis of full life-cycle effects of alternatives.
  • Continued work to integrate transportation environmental planning with other environmental planning processes, such as coastal zone management planning.

[1] Transportation Asset Management Guide, prepared for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 20-24(11) by Cambridge Systematics, Inc. with Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc., Roy Jorgensen Associates, Inc. and Paul D. Thompson, November 2002, AASHTO Publication RP-TAMG-1.

[2] The FHWA plays a key role in standardizing the content and format of data that are mandated by federal law: e.g., the National Bridge Inventory (NBI) data that are reported by state DOTs.

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Updated: 05/13/2015
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