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Context Sensitive Solutions in the Transportation Planning Process

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers (Q&As)

Q1. What is "context sensitive solutions" (CSS) and how is this different from "context sensitive design" (CSD)?

A. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) defines CSS as a collaborative, interdisciplinary, approach that involves all stakeholders in developing a transportation facility that complements its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, and historic and environmental resources while maintaining safety and mobility. CSD, on the other hand, applies to a transportation project's engineering design features, and may include features that help the project fit harmoniously into the community (e.g., form liners for bridge piers, colored crosswalks, or curbing detail).

Q2. What is meant by considering CSS in the transportation planning process?

A. The application of CSS principles within the transportation planning process assists regions and communities reach their transportation goals by encouraging the consideration of land-use, transportation, and infrastructure needs in an integrated manner. When transportation planning reflects community input and takes into consideration the impacts on both natural and human environments, it also promotes partnerships that lead to "balanced" decisionmaking. This is a core principle of CSS.

Typically, transportation planning includes specific goals and objectives for the region, sub-region, and/or major corridors. Among the examples of such goals and objectives include safety for the traveling public; accommodation of bicycles and pedestrians; enhancement of economic development; preservation of the historic character of certain streets or districts; accessibility to transit; minimization of the environmental impacts of roads; and accessibility to jobs and recreation. Through the consideration of CSS principles, these planning-level goals and objectives can be reflected in the initial or early development of individual projects and may convey information for use in defining purpose and need. In addition, CSS considerations in transportation planning can identify issues or decisions facing the region, allowing for consensus and a shared understanding of the major sources of change that impact the future.

Early application of CSS principles in the transportation planning process may save money and reduce project delays, resulting in significant benefits to transportation agencies. Beyond its value as a public-involvement strategy to foster improved community participation, CSS considerations in transportation planning can help identify community needs and potential problems (and solutions) ahead of the project-development/National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) stage. In February 2005, FHWA and FTA issued program guidance entitled Linking the Transportation Planning and NEPA Processes.

Q3. How can CSS be reflected in a long-range transportation plan?

A. Effectively reflecting CSS principles in long-range transportation plans necessitates partnerships to produce a community's consensus on future transportation improvements that is integrated with the community's vision, goals, and objectives. Traditionally, public-involvement meetings during the transportation planning process have included representatives from State DOTs, public transportation operators, special interest groups, and local transportation planning partners. To better reflect CSS principles, these meetings (at a minimum) may include local land-use partners; Federal, State, local, and tribal environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies; community representatives; and modal transportation providers. For example, establishing a multi-disciplinary scoping team to identify a broad range of issues to "screen" potential projects during the transportation planning process is a viable approach.

Additionally, SAFETEA-LU includes provisions that now require consultation with State, local, and Tribal agencies responsible for land-use management, natural resources, environmental protection, conservation, and historic preservation in the development of statewide and metropolitan long-range transportation plans.

By applying CSS principles in transportation planning, needs may be stated in terms of a balanced context of economic, or other community aspects, as well as mobility and safety needs. In addition, an MPO's participation plan should identify required stakeholder involvement as well as next steps for additional involvement needed to support the transportation planning process.

Q4. What are some techniques for applying CSS principles in transportation planning?

A. The following five examples illustrate, but do not exclusively define, the range of possible approaches that support CSS considerations in transportation planning.

Incorporating CSS considerations within transportation planning, as described above, achieves the primary objective of producing better environmental results by advancing the ability to identify sensitive environmental resources while facilitating cooperative interagency relationships.

Q5. What are the challenges of incorporating CSS in transportation planning?

A. There are several challenges when applying CSS in transportation planning that include, but are not limited to:

Q6. What are the benefits of incorporating CSS in the long-range transportation plan?

A. While there are challenges, reflecting CSS in transportation planning can set the stage for linking long-range transportation planning and project-development/NEPA in a way that creates more seamless decisionmaking and assists in delivering transportation projects with better environmental quality. While the concept of CSS may not be the primary driver for linking the transportation planning and project-development/NEPA process, such an approach can play a key role in advancing environmental stewardship initiatives. Among the benefits of reflecting CSS principles in the transportation planning process include (but are not limited to):

Updated: 10/19/2015
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