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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-17-036    Date:  March 2018
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-17-036
Date: March 2018


Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology Evaluation Final Report: Eco-Logical

1. Introduction

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has initiated an effort to evaluate its Research and Technology (R&T) Program to help FHWA assess how effectively it is meeting its goals and objectives and to provide useful data to inform future project selections. Leaders of governmental transportation R&T programs need to be able to effectively communicate the impacts of their programs.

1.1 Evaluation Purpose

The evaluation team conducted a retrospective evaluation of FHWA’s Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty (HEP) Eco-Logical Program to understand the effect of FHWA R&T activities on the implementation of the Eco-Logical approach (i.e., ecosystem-based[1] infrastructure planning and mitigation) to transportation project delivery by State transportation department and metropolitan planning organization (MPO) recipients of FHWA Eco-Logical funding.

The Eco-Logical Program supports transportation professionals by assessing and providing tools, technical assistance, and data to help State and local agencies perform effective transportation, environmental, and realty decisionmaking. The objectives of the Eco-Logical Program’s research efforts described in FHWA’s R&T agenda are as follows:(2)

FHWA’s Eco-Logical Program has developed a general toolkit of techniques to address each of these HEP objectives by conducting research and providing technical assistance for integrated ecosystem-based planning that avoids, minimizes, and mitigates impacts on habitats and ecosystems.

1.2 Report Structure

This report is organized as follows:

1.3 Eco-Logical Program Background

The 2006 Eco-Logical guidebook (i.e., Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects) articulates a vision for an infrastructure development process that endorses ecosystem-based mitigation through integrating plans and data across agency and disciplinary boundaries.(3) Ecosystem-based mitigation includes evaluating alternatives for offsite mitigation and/or out-of-kind (i.e., different resource or ecological function as the impact) mitigation in the most ecologically important areas as defined by interagency partners and the public. Eco-Logical and related Second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) products offer multi-step procedures to conduct integrated planning as well as to avoid, minimize, and mitigate environmental impacts with the goal of improving conservation and connectivity of ecosystems as well as predictability and transparency in project development.

The Eco-Logical Program includes several tools and techniques to support State transportation departments, MPOs, and other planning agencies in implementing Eco-Logical practices. FHWA has funded two major rounds of pilot projects through the Eco-Logical Grant Program in 2007 and the SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program (IAP) in 2013, which are the focus of this evaluation.(4,5)

FHWA’s mission for the Eco-Logical Program is for State transportation departments and MPOs to adopt the principles and methods of the Eco-Logical approach as standard business practice with the participation of resource and regulatory agencies. Table 1 provides a timeline of the Eco-Logical Program’s activities and publications.

Table 1. Timeline of Eco-Logical Program activities and publications.
Year Inputs and Activities Associated Materials
  • The Integrated Transportation and Ecological Enhancements for Montana (ITEEM) was initiated in response to Federal Executive Order 13274: Environment Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews.(6)
  • National Eco-Logical effort began; an interagency team of eight Federal agencies (signatory agencies) started the development of Eco-Logical products.
2005 Federal legislation (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) passed; Section 6001 requires State transportation departments and MPOs to discuss potential environmental mitigation activities in their long range plans.(7) None.
2006 The report, Eco-Logical: An Ecosystems Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects, was published with support from the signatory agencies and four State transportation departments.(3) Eco-Logical: An Ecosystems Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects(3)
2007 FHWA launched the Eco-Logical Grant Program. FHWA successfully advocated for the Eco-Logical approach’s inclusion in SHRP2. It became the basis for implementing Eco-Logical, also known as SHRP2 product C06.(8) None.
  • SHRP2 CO6A and CO6B research projects began and were managed by the Transportation Research Board (TRB).(7)
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) released Section 404 of the Clean Water Act: Compensatory Mitigation, which encourages watershed-based decisions.(9)
2009 FHWA organized a peer exchange on geographic information system (GIS) applications in Eco-Logical Grant Programs. Reference 10
  • FHWA’s Eco-Logical webinar series began.(11)
  • FHWA published Evaluating Montana’s ITEEM: Successes and Lessons for Eco-Logical, which documents ITEEM’s application of the Eco-Logical approach.(12)
References 12 and 13
  • FHWA participated in an SHRP2 capacity product needs identification workshop.(14)
  • SHRP2 C06A research project was completed.(14)
  • SHRP2 C21 pilot study began.(14) Four agencies were part of this pilot as a precursor to the SHRP2 IAP recipients.
References 15 and 16
  • Federal legislation (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) was passed, which established streamlined and performance-based surface transportation programs and promoted accelerated project delivery.(17)
  • FHWA organized a peer exchange for five Eco-Logical Grant Program recipients.(14)
  • FHWA, AASHTO, and TRB held an SHRP2 implementation planning workshop for implementing Eco-Logical and established an implementation plan.(18)
References 19–24
  • TRB released research products SHRP2 C40A and C40B.(14)
  • FHWA and AASHTO formally launched the implementation of the Eco-Logical initiative.(14)
  • FHWA announced inaugural Eco-Logical IAP recipients.(14)
References 18 and 25–28 as well as an internal report entitled A Framework for Assessing the Benefits of Applying the Eco-Logical Approach
  • FHWA and AASHTO developed technical assistance and implementation activities for implementing the Eco-Logical approach.(14)
  • FHWA and AASHTO conducted a business readiness evaluation in spring 2014.(25)
  • FHWA and AASHTO led sessions on implementing the Eco-Logical approach at AASHTO committee meetings in spring and summer 2014.(25)
  • FHWA and AASHTO founded the Implementing Eco-Logical On-Call Technical Assistance team (ongoing).(25)
  • FHWA and AASHTO established a “champions” team to promote the Eco-Logical Program (ongoing).(25)
  • FHWA and AASHTO convened the FHWA/AASHTO Implementing Eco-Logical team (ongoing).(25)
References 29–33
  • FHWA and AASHTO held a peer exchange on mitigation approaches for State transportation departments in March 2015.(34)
  • FHWA and AASHTO facilitated an Eco-Logical technical assistance workshop with the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) in April 2015.(34)
  • FHWA funded a workshop on increasing the use of wildlife data in transportation plans and projects across the west in May 2015.(35)
  • FHWA and AASHTO held a peer exchange on mitigation approaches for MPOs in June 2015.(34)
  • FHWA and AASHTO held a peer exchange on establishing a regional ecosystem framework (REF) in July 2015.(34)
  • FHWA and AASHTO held an SHRP2 IAP peer exchange in October 2015.(35)
Peer exchange and workshop activity reports in references 36–43

[1] The terms “ecosystem-based” and “landscape-scale approach” are used interchangeably throughout this report to mean a method for sustaining or restoring ecological systems that is based on a collaboratively developed vision that integrates ecological, economic, and social factors.(3)

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