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Transportation Planning Update Newsletter

Spring 2001 Edition

In This Issue:


FHWA Study Develops NEPA Baseline for Environmental Streamlining

By Kreig Larson, FHWA

The FHWA's Office of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Facilitation, in collaboration with the Louis Berger Group, has produced a study examining the impacts of NEPA time and costs of various transportation projects. The study is titled Evaluating the Performance of Environmental Streamlining: Development of a NEPA Baseline for Measuring Continuous Performance.

The purpose of the research study is to provide a better understanding of the effects the NEPA process has with regard to the total time and cost involved in delivering a federal-aid highway or bridge project to the completion of its construction. Despite the overall benefit of NEPA in addressing the wide array of public interests that can be impacted by transportation facilities, the process itself has been target of criticism on the basis that it results in delays and cost increases for the actual delivery of projects. This perception is particularly strongly held with regard to projects for which Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) have been prepared.

In order to begin to develop goals, performance measures and benchmarks for evaluating environmental decision making as part of the effort identified in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) as "environmental streamlining," it was necessary to establish a baseline to assess such efforts. Therefore, the purpose of the research that produced this study consists of the following three objectives:

This first-of-its-kind study presents a number of conclusions concerning relationships between the NEPA project development process and the delivery of projects for transportation facilities that will be of interest to environmental practitioners and stakeholders alike. For example, the study found that for the projects examined, the average (mean) time for completing the NEPA process (defined as lasting from the publication of the project's Notice of Intent in the Federal Register to the approval of the Final environmental impact statement) was 3.6 years, with a standard deviation of 2.4 years.

Enquiries may be directed to Kreig Larson of FHWA's Office of NEPA Facilitation, telephone number 202-366-2056, e-mail kreig.larson@dot.gov.

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Environmental Streamlining in Indiana

By Larry Heil, FHWA

FHWA and FTA have been struggling for some time now on how best to move the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) transportation decision-making earlier into the planning process. We believe the FHWA Indiana Division and Region 5 FTA have identified a good solution. The Indiana agencies (Environmental Streamlining Task Group) have developed their own Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) procedures titled "Indiana's Streamlined Environmental Process." The procedures were finalized in May 2001 (see FHWA-IN website to view a copy at www.fhwa.dot.gov/indiv/ under "our performance").

The procedures call for initiating major planning corridor studies as Environmental Assessments (EAs). This federal decision-making mechanism provides the process for engaging agencies in the development of purpose and need and screening of preliminary alternatives. The product of the EA/Corridor Study for INDOT and the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) is a decision to commit funds to program a major highway investment or transit start into the fiscally constrained, conforming, 20-year transportation plan. If the transportation solution involves significant impacts, a Notice of Intent will be issued to develop an EIS. The EIS project development will take off where the EA project development left off. This "one" seamless transportation decision-making process has been enthusiastically embraced by INDOT and the MPOs. We believe this process will eliminate duplication of effort between planning studies and NEPA studies and result in more timely, inclusive, quality, transportation decisions.

If you have any questions regarding the EIS procedures and the associated streamlining effort, please contact Larry Heil of FHWA at 317-226-7491 or Andy Minyo of R-5 FTA at 312-886-1624.

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The Challenge in the Environmental Justice Challenge Grants

By Effie Stallsmith, FTA

The FTA Office of Planning in conjunction with the FHWA Planning and Environmental Office has chosen four MPOs to receive Environmental Justice (EJ) Challenge Grants for fully integrating the consideration of Title VI requirements and EJ principles in metropolitan planning processes. These case studies of innovative and proactive practices when fully developed will demonstrate how collaboration with low-income and minority communities can lead to better transportation decisions that meet the needs of all people.

FTA and FHWA selected the MPOs in September 2000. The MPOs and their projects are described below.

Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), Hartford CT - evaluate planning programs, establish an Advisory Committee (consisting of representatives of target communities) to oversee and direct the entire project; develop geographic profile of target communities; review and evaluate community involvement techniques; and develop analytical techniques to assess impacts

Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) Portage, IL and Gary IN - enhance outreach and public involvement efforts by securing services of transportation equity advocates with expertise in public involvement initiatives and create new partnerships with Indiana University and its EJ Resource project. In addition, provide services to assist those without transportation or childcare to participate in this process.

National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TBP) Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Washington DC - enhance on-going public outreach efforts through the establishment of advisory committee whose membership will include leaders of low-income, minority and disabled community groups. Enhanced outreach process will be used in development of the Constrained Long Range Plan update and annual transportation Improvement Plan cycle.

San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization, San Antonio, TX - conduct before and after study of the effectiveness of the EJ public involvement efforts, develop additional analytical tools for assessment use, and create an EJ guidance manual.

For Further Information: Contact FTA Regional Offices or Headquarters Office of Planning Effie.Stallsmith@fta.dot.gov

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Environmental Justice Workshops In Michigan  

By Cindy Durrenburger, FHWA

Environmental Justice has been a topic at the annual Michigan MPO Directors Conference in 1999 and 2000 where MPO and MDOT staff learned the principles of EJ and application in the planning process. The Michigan FY 2001 Unified Planning Work Programs and the FY 2001 State Planning and Research Program were submitted with work activities that included reviewing public involvement plans and incorporating elements to meet EJ requirements. Although MPO and MDOT staff had a basic understanding of Environmental Justice, questions still arose on the requirements and most MPO staff found they needed assistance educating their committee members.

Responding to customer needs, the FHWA Michigan division office requested assistance from the Midwest Resource Center in preparing and conducting a one-day workshop on Environmental Justice. Utilizing material provided from headquarters, as well as examples of analysis from various MPOs across the country, the MRC developed a Powerpoint presentation and handouts. The Powerpoint presentation is now available to others who need to make EJ presentations. The first EJ Workshop was held in Kalamazoo, Michigan in early December for MDOT staff and MPOs in western Michigan. Staff from the Michigan Division office, MRC and FTA Region V conducted the workshop, which was structured to encourage discussion among participants. Thirty-five people attended the workshop, which was hosted by the Kalamazoo MPO staff. Favorable comments on the workshop from participants led to a request for an additional workshop for MPOs in eastern Michigan. The Flint, Michigan MPO hosted the second workshop in early April 2001 with thirty participants, including representatives from Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.

The workshops delivered a unified message from FHWA and FTA that transportation decisions cannot be made in a "technical vacuum" based solely on quantitative analysis of the physical system. Consideration of the human factor is essential in balancing regional and statewide transportation priorities.

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The Road Beckons: Best Practices for Byways

By Rob Draper, FHWA

The Federal Highway Administration, Scenic Byways Program has stayed current in the solicitation of projects for recognition as best practices for byways from the

American Association of State Transportation and Highway Officials (AASHTO). To be eligible, the project must be on, along or directly related to a road designated as a scenic byway (e.g., a state scenic byway, National Scenic Byway, All-American Road, National Forest Scenic Byway, etc.). Applications were due to AASHTO on April 30, 2001.

Up to eight projects across four categories were recognized: Connecting the Road with its Setting (roadway improvements)

  1. Connecting Visitors with the Story (interpretive facilities, exhibits & signs, brochure, audio tapes or CDs, or other interpretive materials)
  2. Connecting Visitors with the Resources (overlooks, trails, park-and-recreation facilities, or view shed management or other preservation projects)
  3. Connecting Visitors with the Byway (Websites and marketing initiatives)

The emphasis will be on projects that have made outstanding contributions to scenic byways and clearly demonstrate best practices for byways. More than one project may be recognized in each category, and no projects may be recognized in any particular category. Emphasis will be on the best.

AASHTO will form a panel comprised of representatives from state DOTs and other byway experts that will select projects for recognition. John Horsley, AASHTO Executive Director, is planning to present the awards to project representatives at the National Scenic Byways Conference (America's Byways: Celebrating the Journey), to be held August 26-29, 2001 in Portland, Oregon. The projects also will be acknowledged at the AASHTO Annual Meeting to be held November 30 - December 4, 2001 in Fort Worth, Texas, culminating with the release of an AASHTO publication, The Road Beckons: Best Practices for Byways.

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Transportation and Smart Growth

By Stephanie Roth, FHWA

Smart Growth is an issue that is gaining resonance throughout the country. In opinion polls from Tampa to Minneapolis to Denver to the San Francisco Bay Area, residents are citing sprawl as the biggest concern facing their area, and view efficient transportation as integral to a high quality of life. Survey after survey conducted in various areas across the nation consistently rate traffic, congestion and sprawl among the issues residents are most concerned with, with large percentages of residents agreeing that local governments should limit growth in less-developed areas, and encourage growth only in areas that are already built up. This has driven public policy development in many areas, with 533 state and local measures related to growth appearing on ballots in 38 states in November 2000.

This indicates that there is a general consensus that we need to be growing differently as a nation, but there is still no clear, "right" way to do smart growth. It is rooted in many issues in addition to transportation, including community development, housing, land development, open space preservation, environmental quality, and historic preservation, among others. Smart growth encompasses a holistic view of community development. What works in one area may not work in another, but consideration of smart growth addresses several broad principles, including: mixing land uses, taking advantage of compact building design, creating housing opportunities and choices, preserving open space, providing a variety of transportation choices, and directing development toward existing communities rather than moving into undeveloped land. From a transportation perspective, it includes building walkable communities and providing a variety of transportation choices so that residents have alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle to get from one place to the other. All of this requires that transportation professionals work collaboratively with environmentalists, conservationists, developers, other stakeholders, and the public to build sound communities.

DOT is answering the call to address smart growth concerns in the transportation planning process. Many of our programs contribute to meeting smart growth and community livability goals. Such programs include:

These programs have constituted a strong beginning into the area of linking transportation with smart growth and livability. FHWA will move further into this area during FY01-02. Smart growth will be a priority over the next fiscal year, during which we will work with the field to develop an FHWA position and agenda on Smart Growth, which will generate several new products and initiatives.

For additional information, contact Stephanie Roth, FHWA Metropolitan Planning and Programs, at 202-366-923.

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2001 New Starts Roundtable

By Tonya Holland, FTA

The FTA Office of Planning is pleased to announce the second series of the New Starts Roundtable. This year the Roundtable will be held in New Orleans and Los Angeles. For the first time the events are hosted by regional agencies. The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) will host the New Orleans Roundtable. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the LA Department of Transportation (LA DOT) will host the Los Angeles Roundtable. Each Roundtable includes a two-day meeting plus an additional third day for a host agency tour.

The 2001 Roundtable is yet another outreach effort intended to facilitate information sharing between FTA headquarters, FTA regional offices, and sponsors of projects authorized in TEA-21 for New Starts funding.

This year's Roundtables will bring together FTA and local agency staff to discuss Lessons Learned in New Planning and Project Development. The Roundtable will also continue to sponsor a website, list serve, and newsletter. The implementation of such media will provide a useful clearinghouse of information to sustain an ongoing dialogue on New Starts issues. Roundtable efforts are guided by a Steering Committee made up of FTA headquarters, regional office, and local agency staff.

Specific issues to be addressed include:

The first Roundtable meeting is scheduled for May 23-25 in New Orleans. A second New Starts Roundtable will be held in Los Angeles on June 6-8.

For more information on the New Starts Roundtable contact Tonya Holland (202) 366-1592 of the Office of Planning.

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INDOT Use of HERS-IN Model

By Larry Heil, FHWA

INDOT modified FHWA's Highway Economic Requirements System (HERS) model for use on 100% of the Sections on their 11,000 mile State Highway System. The HERS model was developed at the national level, using a sample of highway segments across the nation to develop the biennial Highway Needs Report for Congress. The HERS model projects the future preservation and expansion needs and utilizes a benefits/cost (b/c) mechanism to identify preservation/expansion solutions that result in the greatest return on transportation investment considering user costs.

INDOT utilized their Statewide Travel Demand Model to project 2025 traffic volumes. The HERS model was then used to identify future expansion projects (in 5-year increments) to meet that traffic demand and maintain a level of service (LOS) "C" in rural areas, a LOS "D" in urban areas, and a b/c ratio greater than one (1.0). The HERS GIS-plotted outputs were the basis for follow-up discussions with the INDOT Districts and the twelve Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs).

It was amazing to see that the HERS outputs largely replicated the project needs identified by the MPOs and INDOT Districts, based on their models and field experience. The tool has been helpful to INDOT by establishing a common basis for b/c analysis for all their expansion projects statewide. The General Accounting Office has endorsed the use of the HERS Model for strategic asset management purposes in their February 2001 report titled "Highway Infrastructure - FHWA's Model for estimating highway needs has been modified for State level planning.

INDOT is currently utilizing these outputs, and the associated discussions with the MPOs, as the basis for developing their 2025 project-specific Statewide Transportation Plan. FHWA will then be able to utilize this INDOT/MPO coordinated product to more definitively establish fiscal constraint for INDOT jurisdiction projects in the respective MPO 2025 Transportation Plans. For additional information, please contact Steve Smith of INDOT at ssmith@indot.state.in.us or at 317-232-5646. Congratulations INDOT!

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New Study to Examine Historic Preservation of Intermodal Transit Centers

By Effie Stallsmith, FTA

Farsighted and innovative federal transportation legislation in the form of ISTEA and now TEA-21 provides states and communities nationwide with new tools and funding to enhance not only transportation efficiency, but promote livable communities as well. Concurrently, the "new urbanism" and "smart growth" movements have taken root. Mutually reinforcing, emerging transportation and land use approaches promise to revolutionize public policy on growth and infrastructure investment - and hold the promise of revitalizing existing communities and creating ones that: build on traditional values and character, increase market and economic viability, and promote true intermodalism with its resulting improvements in mobility, environmental quality, fuel conservation, brownfield redevelopment and overall livability.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) will investigate the impacts of ISTEA and TEA-21 in promoting historic preservation as well as providing lessons and strategies for coordinated transportation and land use investment that hold the greatest potential for building and revitalizing "smart" communities. These findings will help elected government officials at all levels, transportation professionals including planners and engineers, downtown revitalization advocates, transportation advocacy organizations and others to make enlightened decisions on future transportation investments while improving the quality of life in communities. As well, the project can provide some insights into improving intermodality thus improving mobility choices, reducing travel times and congestion, as well as creating public/private partnerships to meet transit demands and economic growth.

This study will explore the relationship between intermodal transit centers, transportation systems integration, surrounding land uses and the buildings those uses occupy. Results of this study will provide the transportation and planning world with a good overview of how these centers are fitted into settings (residential, commercial, institutional) of high and moderate densities and how these settings strengthen the role the centers play in community revitalization, transportation efficiency, environmental quality, overall livability and a community's growth agenda. In addition, these case studies will focus on location, leveraging of funds, financial arrangements, impediments, commonalities needed for success, and the potential these projects have in increasing transit ridership, extending the reach of transit and promoting land use supportive of transit, specially for new start projects.

A Review Team that will include FTA, FHWA, Federal Railroad and OST Policy will be assembled to ensure that this work gets input from all modes so that the project will do the most good for the greatest number of communities and transportation modes.

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Virtual Statewide Planning Team Established

By Joseph Werning, FHWA

FHWA and FTA have jointly established a Virtual Statewide Planning Team (VSWPT) to advance statewide, intermodal and multimodal transportation planning programs. The VSWPT is composed of key representatives from FHWA and FTA Headquarters, FHWA's four Resource Centers and FTA Regional Offices.

The VSWPT's efforts are aimed at enhancing FHWA/FTA statewide transportation planning activities as well as improving technical resources for utilization by state, regional and local partners and customers. As such, the VSWPT will accomplish this through enhanced technical assistance and guidance, improved training opportunities, greater interagency coordination and communication and timely information dissemination through a series of topical brochures and VSWPT website, both of which are currently under development.

Some of VSWPT's other planned efforts include:

As appropriate, all VSWPT efforts and activities will be closely coordinated with other FHWA and FTA Headquarters and field offices, as well as the Office of the Secretary.

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Updated: 04/18/2013
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