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FHWA/FTA Questions and Answers on Public Involvement in Transportation Decisionmaking

[1] Why are changes in public involvement needed under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and related policies and regulations?

Public involvement in transportation investment decisionmaking is central to accomplishing the vision of the ISTEA. The legislation recognizes that transportation investment decisions have far-reaching effects and thus it requires that metropolitan and statewide transportation decisions consider a wide array of factors including land use impacts and "the overall social, economic, energy, and environmental effects of transportation decisions" (23U.S.C. 134(f) and 135(c)). Many of these factors reflect community values and are not easily quantifiable. Public input is essential in adequately considering them.

The legislation also recognizes the diversity of views on transportation problems and investment options. The ISTEA states that, prior to adopting plans or programs, the MPO or State DOT "shall provide citizens, affected public agencies, representatives of transportation agency employees, private providers of transportation, other affected employee representatives, and other interested parties with a reasonable opportunity to comment" (23U.S.C. 134 and 135). Federal DOT policy and FHWA and FTA regulations build on these principles by requiring MPOs and State DOTs to establish their own continuing public involvement processes which actively seek involvement throughout transportation decisionmaking, from the earliest planning stages, including the identification of the purpose and need, through the development of the range of potential solutions, up to and including the decision to implement specific solutions. These regulations provide a basic set of performance standards indicating what the FHWA and FTA expect public involvement for plans, programs, major transportation investments, and transportation projects to achieve. In sum, the ISTEA and its implementing regulations envision an open decisionmaking process eliciting the input and active involvement of all affected individuals, groups, and communities, and addressing the full range of effects that the transportation investments may have on our communities and our lives.

Updated: 5/16/2013
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