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Integration and Streamlining Transportation Development and Decision Making: State of the Practice Synthesis Report

6. Summary and Conclusion

6.1. Findings from Literature Review
6.2. Findings from FHWA Integration Solutions Survey
6.3. Next Steps

This concluding chapter summarizes current practices in the development of transportation solutions in State Departments of Transportation (STDs) and other transportation agencies. This "State of the Practice" synthesis report is the first of three products developed for the United States Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) project, "Integrating and Streamlining Transportation Development and Decision-making." Findings in this report were developed based on a review of available literature, an analysis of results from the FHWA Integration Solutions Survey, and the input and suggestions from Sounding Board members.

6.1 Findings from Literature Review

A review of existing literature revealed that there are disparities between the states in their approaches to the development of transportation solutions. More specifically, the states vary in their recognition of the need for a more integrated approach to transportation decision-making. Some states, for example, have developed voluminous internal guidance documents as well as glossy brochures geared towards the general public (their customers) detailing the practices and describing the virtues of an integrated approach to the development of transportation solutions. Other states have apparently addressed the issue very little or not at all.

The literature search also revealed that there is a core group of federal, state and regional level transportation professionals, especially those in the real estate and environmental disciplines, dedicated to the concept of integration in the transportation decision-making process and very involved in promoting the idea. Several conferences, professional meetings, and publicly funded research projects have explored the topic of integration and streamlining in the context of transportation planning and development. None of these forums, however, specifically addressed the integration of the four disciplines that are the focus of this study. As mentioned above, there were many materials exploring the better integration of environmental concerns in the transportation planning process. There were also some that focused on an earlier and increasing role for the real estate discipline in the development of transportation solutions, but none other than this study, that addressed the process of integrating the four disciplines.

Finally, the literature search revealed that there are certain states - Oregon, Wisconsin, Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington and California, for example - that are in the forefront of the movement to promote integration in the transportation decision-making process. That is not to say that these are the only states engaging in such activities, but professionals from these states more frequently make themselves or examples from their states available for discussions or papers regarding the topic. The U.S. Department of Transportation has also played a visible role in exploring and promoting this concept, hosting forums and funding research projects on the subject.

6.2 Findings from FHWA Integration Solutions Survey

Results from the FHWA Integration Solutions Survey reveal that while there is a fair degree of disparity among states in the processes they use to develop transportation solutions, there are also notable similarities. The majority of respondents believe that the most influential factors affecting the development of transportation solutions include identified impacts on the environment, economy and community; cost of the project; funding; and the complexity or magnitude of the project. Additional similarities exist among those states with an integrated versus non-integrated approach, as described below.

Overall, respondents from integrated agencies believe an integrated approach positively impacts their discipline's contributions to the development of transportation solutions. In an integrated approach, all disciplines are more involved in the initial planning and scoping phases when alternatives are developed and the preferred solution is identified. Increased participation earlier and throughout the process helps to ensure consensus and minimize potential conflicts.

Of respondents from non-integrated agencies, the majority believe that a multi-disciplinary approach is useful and would have a positive impact on their discipline's contribution to the development of transportation solutions. The most prevalent reasons why a multi-disciplinary approach was not adopted are the perceived increase in workload and the need for information and training.

Survey results also provide a basis for identifying the most frequent types of processes and development styles currently in use in integrated agencies. Results show that integrated agencies are more likely to be decentralized, but with uniform processes implemented across field units. It is possible that decentralization provides more opportunities for disciplines to collaborate throughout different stages of the process while uniformity provides sufficient structure and guidance in the development of solutions when more parties are involved. Results show that the non-integrated agencies tend to have either a very few or a relatively large number of field units/divisions. It is possible that the benefits of an integrated approach are minimal when an agency has too few or too many field units. However, results also show that a greater number of integrated agencies versus non-integrated agencies coordinate with a relatively large number of entities in the formulation of the Statewide Transportation Plan (STP) and Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).

In terms of project development styles, integrated agencies are less likely to have a functional discipline project manager in which different portions of a project have a different individual serving as project manager (PM) based on that individual's expertise and the functions performed by the various aspects of the project. More frequent project development styles in integrated agencies include single point project managers, phased project managers, or a team of managers.

Qualitative comments from survey respondents provide more detailed information about the uniform processes utilized in both integrated and non-integrated agencies, as well as the general responsibilities of each discipline throughout different stages of the process. While collaboration between the disciplines of planning, engineering, environment and right of way generally occurs when identifying and selecting the preferred transportation solution, a more integrated approach focuses on coordination throughout all phases of the process, from planning to design to operation and maintenance. Some of the successful factors identified by agencies with an integrated approach include increased involvement of all disciplines earlier in the process, concurrent development, "cradle to grave" management approach, and increased public involvement. Some of the key challenges to implementing a more integrated approach include the merging of the NEPA and planning process, the seemingly conflicting pressure to complete projects quickly, and the difficulty of conducting efficient public participation throughout project development. Training, education and research were all identified by survey respondents as integral components to the implementation of a successful integrated approach.

6.3 Next Steps

Following this review of the literature and survey results, 5 transportation entities will be selected for direct site visits. These visits, along with this "State of the Practice" synthesis report, will form the basis for a report of best practices of integration and streamlining amongst the engineering, planning, real estate and environment disciplines in the transportation development and decision-making process. A final report will provide recommendations for how the practice of transportation decision-making can be improved by better integrating the various disciplines within transportation agencies and how FHWA can help to facilitate these practices.

Updated: 9/5/2014
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