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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-17-008     Date:  December 2017
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-17-008
Date: December 2017


Evaluation of Promoting Roadside Revegetation: An Integrated Approach to Establishing Native Plants

1. Introduction

1.1 Evaluation Purpose

Leaders of governmental research and technology (R&T) programs, like that of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), have the obligation to communicate the impacts of their programs and to justify the expenditure of public funds. The R&T Evaluation Program was created to help FHWA assess how effectively it is meeting its goals and objectives and to provide useful data to inform future project selections. For each evaluation, FHWA’s R&T Evaluation Program Evaluation Team (evaluation team) is made up of non-FHWA third-party evaluators not involved in the research programs and projects being evaluated.

This report documents an evaluation of outcomes associated with Roadside Revegetation: A Practical Guide to Working with Native Plants, a guide that FHWA’s Office of Federal Lands Highway (FLH) developed in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) within the R&T program.(1) The evaluation will help FHWA assess how effectively it is meeting its goals and objectives and provide useful data to inform future project selections.

The goal of Roadside Revegetation was to inform and encourage agencies to adopt roadside revegetation practices that improve safety, help avoid erosion, are sustainably designed, reduce maintenance costs, improve visitor experience, and enhance environmental stewardship.(1) Authors wanted to ensure that roadsides were being revegetated and that the resulting revegetation was not failing. FLH selected Roadside Revegetation for evaluation to determine how effective the guide was in achieving these goals, which support all of the following FLH R&T agenda objectives:(5)

  1. Enhance Federal land management agency (FLMA), tribal, and public road systems to improve transportation access, movement, and traveler experience.
  2. Improve FLMA, tribal, and public road systems to enhance safety.
  3. Streamline FLMA and tribal processes to improve timeliness and effectiveness of program and project delivery.
  4. Deploy new, emerging, underused, and innovative technologies to accelerate project delivery and improve sustainability of low-volume, low-speed roadways.

Because highways located on Federal lands also often serve as test beds for innovations that State and local transportation departments use on their rural roads, it was believed that a secondary benefit of Roadside Revegetation would be to influence roadside revegetation practices of agencies beyond FLMAs.(1)

1.2 Report Structure

This report was drafted for the FHWA R&T Program and was structured to coincide with parallel evaluations for other aspects of the program. Chapter 2 covers the evaluation design, which explains the logic model used to develop this evaluation. Chapter 3 describes the three hypotheses developed for this evaluation along with the outcomes and findings. Following the findings and outcomes sections, chapter 4 includes recommendations based on the results of the survey and findings from the interviews. Following the discussion of recommendations, the report concludes with chapter 5, which provides a summary of the overall evaluation.

1.3 Project/Program Background

A total of 28 percent of land in the United States is under Federal stewardship, including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and tribal and other Federal lands. Developing and maintaining the transportation networks within these areas poses unique challenges for transportation professionals. The primary purpose of FLH is to provide financial resources and technical assistance for a coordinated program of public roads that meets the transportation needs of Federal and tribal lands. FLH works in partnership with a diverse array of Federal agencies to identify new construction and maintenance techniques that are appropriate for environmentally sensitive and sparsely populated rural areas.

Native roadside revegetation involves establishing or reestablishing appropriate plant material on areas disturbed by road construction projects. Its benefits include soil and slope stabilization, improved water quality, aesthetics, carbon sequestration, weed suppression, and enhanced wildlife habitat. Recognizing that sharing information about roadside revegetation processes and techniques is one way to advance the practice and achieve these benefits, FHWA and USFS began working together in the 1990s to study successes and failures from projects that voluntarily tried roadside revegetation techniques. Together, the agencies identified a set of best practices and then created a process for revegetating roadsides using native plants, which they documented in Roadside Revegetation.(1) After publishing the manual, FHWA focused its efforts on sharing the information and training practitioners via an interactive website with an online training component and case studies.(4) FHWA also offered an onsite, two-day training course for agencies participating in FHWA’s Coordinated Technology Implementation Program.(6)

In 2011, FHWA conducted a national scan to better understand how end users were using recommended revegetation techniques. FHWA identified eight sites that were using Roadside Revegetation, and a panel of revegetation experts from FHWA, USFS, the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) visited sites in New York, Oregon, Idaho, and Vermont. The field visits provided the panel with firsthand knowledge of native vegetation projects across the country that were then documented in a set of case studies in a domestic scan book and on video—both of which are available on the website.(4,7,8) The results of the domestic scan found several key factors for revegetation project success that were consistently observed at all of the project sites, including early planning, clear project objectives, collaboration among stakeholders, contractor commitment to revegetation, maintenance, and monitoring. The domestic scan also found that the planning phase of a native revegetation project is as vital to the success of a project as the installation phase. As discussed in subsequent sections of this report, several interviewees noted that performance standards along with the establishment of monitoring and maintenance protocols are key to long-term success—reiterating findings from the domestic scan.



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