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Air Quality

Transportation projects must meet applicable air quality requirements, including transportation conformity and mobile source air toxics analysis, as part of the review process under the National Environmental Policy Act, prior to project delivery.

Air Quality
Climate Change Mitigation/Adaptation

Climate Change Mitigation/Adaptation covers two complex, and distinct sub-topics: Energy/Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Infrastructure Resilience.

Climate Change Mitigation/Adaptation
Energy/Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Strategies to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are key considerations in the environmental review process for transportation projects. The Council on Environmental Quality has provided guidance regarding consideration of GHG emissions and impacts from climate change in the NEPA process.

Energy/Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Infrastructure Resilience

Transportation agencies consider potential impacts to changing climate conditions and extreme weather impacts as a consideration in the project development and review process. The Council on Environmental Quality has provided guidance regarding consideration of GHG emissions and impacts from climate change in the NEPA process.

Infrastructure Resilience
Context Sensitive Solutions

Context Sensitive Solutions is a collaborative, interdisciplinary, holistic approach to the development of transportation projects. It involves careful consideration of community values, environmental features, land use, transportation function and available budget. CSS can be incorporated into all phases of project delivery.

Context Sensitive Solutions
Environmental Justice

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and environmental justice principles apply to all U.S. DOT programs, policies, and activities. Evaluation of human impacts should be given continuous attention throughout planning, project development, implementation, operation, construction, and maintenance to identify and avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate disproportionately high or adverse effects on low income and/or minority communities.

Environmental Justice
Environmental Management Systems

An environmental management system is the organizational structure and associated processes for integrating environmental considerations into the decision-making processes and operations of an organization. An EMS can help ensure environmental considerations are taken into account in all aspects of project delivery.

Environmental Management Systems

This topic covers project delivery and environmental provisions of the both the FAST Act and the MAP-21 surface transportation funding and policy legislation. The legislation may affect all aspects of transportation projects including planning, design, construction, and maintenance and operations.

Geographic Information Systems

GIS is used to enhance the transportation project development and planning processes as well as project design. GIS is being applied to support transportation and land use decisions at regional and local levels, improving analytical capabilities as well as helping to understand the impacts of various alternatives.

Geographic Information Systems
Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources

Transportation agencies must address historic preservation and cultural resource issues during the transportation project planning and development processes under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act.

Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources
Indirect Effects/Cumulative Impacts

Transportation agencies analyze indirect effects and cumulative impacts as part of the NEPA environmental review process. These analyses include consultation with stakeholders and the public, identification of important trends and issues, and analysis of the potential for land use change and related environmental impacts on valued and vulnerable resources.

Indirect Effects/Cumulative Impacts
NEPA Process

The NEPA review process must be completed prior to project delivery. For transportation projects, NEPA requires the FHWA and other transportation agencies to consider potential impacts to the social and natural environment. In addition, FHWA must take into account the transportation needs of the public in reaching a decision that is in the best overall public interest.

NEPA Process

FHWA requires consideration of mitigation for highway traffic noise in the planning and design of Federally aided highways. These regulations establish standards for abating highway traffic noise. Compliance with the noise regulations is a prerequisite for the granting of Federal-aid highway funds for construction or reconstruction of a highway.

Planning & Environment Linkages

Streamlined project delivery can be achieved through efforts to link transportation planning and the NEPA process. Agencies can achieve streamlined project delivery by incorporating environmental and community values into transportation decisions early in planning and carrying these considerations through project development and delivery.

Planning & Environment Linkages
Project Delivery/Streamlining

Project delivery may be expedited through a range of efforts, including involving a broad range of stakeholders early in the planning and design process and by using decisions made during the planning process in project design. Understanding project impacts early on can be helpful.

Project Delivery/Streamlining
Section 4(f)/Section 6(f)

Transportation projects must meet requirements under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act established the requirement for consideration of park and recreational lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites in transportation project development. DOTs must conduct all possible planning to minimize a project’s harm to a Section 4(f) resource. Agencies also must meet requirements under Section 6(f) of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act regarding conversion of land to non-recreational use.

Section 4(f)/Section 6(f)

Sustainability refers to taking into account social, environmental and economic considerations in transportation. These principles are important in all aspects of transportation, including long-range planning and can then be carried through to short-range planning and program/project development, and operations.

Water Quality/Wetlands

Protecting water quality is an ongoing environmental concern for transportation agencies, including requirements for stormwater runoff and mitigation of impacts to wetlands and water resources. Potential impacts to water quality, including advance mitigation and stormwater management, must be addressed prior to project delivery.

Water Quality/Wetlands
Wildlife & Ecosystems

Potential impacts on wildlife and ecosystems must be taken into account during the environmental review process prior to transportation project delivery.

Wildlife & Ecosystems


Air Quality

Recent Developments: FHWA Updates CMAQ Website with 'Project Spotlight'

The Federal Highway Administration has updated its Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program website, including a “project spotlight” section that profiles CMAQ projects. As of 2015, the CMAQ program had provided more than $30 billion to fund over 30,000 transportation-related environmental projects. The FAST Act provided up to $2.5 billion in CMAQ funding for each year of the authorization-2016 through 2020. It emphasizes diesel engine retrofits including construction equipment, port-related landside non-road or on- road equipment, and alternative fuel infrastructure in designated corridors. For more information, link to the CMAQ web page. (3-25-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Newsletter Provides Air Quality, Climate Updates

Recent developments concerning air quality and climate impacts are presented in the recent issue of the Air Quality and Climate Change Highlights newsletter from the Federal Highway Administration. Topics covered include CMAQ computation guidance, alternative fuel corridor nominations, and renewable energy in rights-of-way. The newsletter also spotlights various meetings, conferences, symposia, workshops, and training opportunities. For more information, read the January/February 2019 issue. (4-4-19)

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Energy/Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Recent Developments: UN Report Finds Much Work Still Needed to Limit Climate Change

The United Nations Environment Programme has issued the 2019 Emissions Gap Report, which compares where greenhouse gas emissions are heading against where they need to be and highlights the best ways to close the gap. The report finds that GHG emissions continue to rise despite scientific warnings on the hazards of climate change and political commitments to address it. The report also finds that some countries are not on track to meet their commitments and many have yet to identify a workable strategy for reducing emissions. In addition, the report finds that, even if fully implemented, current nationally determined reductions will not limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, strengthening such commitments is needed, and decarbonizing the global economy will require fundamental structural changes. For more information, link to the report. (11-26-19)

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Recent Developments: Minnesota DOT Reports on Ways to Decarbonize Transportation

Strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Minnesota’s transportation sector are outlined in a report published by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). The report, Pathways to Decarbonizing Transportation, identifies actions and recommendations for reducing transportation-related emissions. These include creating a new Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council, advancing efforts on electric vehicle corridors, identifying clean transportation funding, and analyzing GHG emissions from transportation projects. Other recommendations include adopting clean car standards, expanding biofuel use and infrastructure, and facilitating use of renewable diesel. For more information, link to the report. (9-18-19)

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Recent Developments: CEQ Issues Draft Guidance on Considering GHGs under NEPA

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has issued draft guidance for how federal agencies should consider greenhouse gas emissions in conducting environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. Unlike prior guidance, which said environmental impact statements should include an estimate of projects’ greenhouse gas emissions, the draft guidance calls for such projections only when they are “substantial enough to warrant quantification, and when it is practicable” to do so. Comments on the draft will be accepted until July 26. For more information, link to the draft guidance. (6-26-19)

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Recent Developments: Report Describes Federal, State Efforts on Electric Vehicle Deployment

A report describing federal and state policies on vehicle electrification has been issued by the Congressional Research Service. The report provides an overview of federal incentives, such as tax credits for vehicles and fueling infrastructure as well as investments in research and development. Other federal efforts include the Energy Department’s Clean Cities Program, and the Transportation Department’s Alternative Fuel Corridors program. On the state level, 45 states and the District of Columbia offer incentives such as income tax credits for electric vehicle and charger purchases, reduced registration fees, and permitting solo drivers of electric vehicles to use carpool lanes. California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program also is spurring vehicle sales. For more information, link to the report. (6-3-19)

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Case Studies: Washington State

Case Studies: Washington State - Washington State DOT Considers Potential Climate Change Impacts In Project and Plans


Washington State DOT (WSDOT) is taking into account changing climate conditions and more extreme weather as part of the state’s strategy to achieve a more sustainable transportation system. WSDOT is addressing the potential impact of climate change and ways to incorporate resilience throughout its system, including planning, design, and project delivery.

Considering Future Climate Conditions

As part of this strategy, WSDOT has issued three separate guidance documents: one considering how future climate conditions might affect projects that are in development, a second evaluating potential greenhouse gas emissions generated by projects, and a third considering changing climate conditions and extreme weather as part of transportation planning.

A key emphasis area for the state DOT is ensuring that proposed projects are resilient to future climate impacts and severe storm events. In this regard, the Guidance for Project-Level Climate Change Evaluation helps WSDOT’s project teams consider environmental trends and incorporate available information into project documentation.

“Past trends for a specific resource (water, habitat, air) may not be accurate predictions for the future; instead, we need to look at scientifically-based projections of the changing climate as part of our analysis,” according to the guidance.

As part of the project development process, WSDOT staff are directed to consult the agency’s statewide Climate Impacts Vulnerability Assessment and consider the range of potential impacts using a GIS layer that shows the locations of climate change threats on the state transportation network. WSDOT staff also consider a summary of anticipated climate impacts compiled by the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group (see table below).

Some Potential Impacts of Concern for Washington State’s Infrastructure

Projected Climate Change

Potential Impacts on State Highways, Rail, and Ferries

· Increase in average winter precipitation and more extreme precipitation

· Change in timing of precipitation (more rain, less snow)

· Change in storm track with some extreme storms with higher than normal snow accumulation

· More rock fall, mudslides, sink holes, road bed failure

· Increased large-scale river flooding

· More localized flooding due to poor drainage or higher groundwater table

· Severe wind-related road closures

· Blown-down trees, signs

· Less snow removal, on average (some extreme snows)

· Sea-level rise, higher storm surge

· More frequent and extensive inundation of low-lying areas (both temporary and permanent)

· Coastal erosion and landslides weaken roadbed and bridge footings

· Damage to stormwater drainage and tide gates

· Saltwater corrosion of facilities

· Detours around frequently flooded coastlines

The Project-Level Climate Change Evaluation Guidance provides “template” language that can be tailored to specific projects and included with the related environmental documents. The language describes the projected climate impacts over the next 50 years and provides direction on specifying what features of the project will help build resilience. These features may include stormwater flow control, design, or changes to bridge height.

The document also provides examples of projects that considered the vulnerability assessment and the elements to improve resilience.

Analyzing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Projects

Because WSDOT considers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be an issue of global concern, the agency’s Guidance for Project-Level Greenhouse Gas Evaluations under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Washington State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) provides direction on disclosing such emissions as part of each project’s “cumulative effects” analysis. The guidance provides a standard analytical process, as well as additional template language to be included in environmental documents.

Three types of GHG emissions are analyzed:

  • Operational—including tailpipe emissions from vehicles using project roadways and upstream emissions from the fuel cycle (i.e., emissions released through extraction, refining, and transportation of fuels used by vehicles traveling in the project area).
  • Construction—primarily from fuel used to build the project, but also emissions from traffic delays due to project construction and materials used.
  • Maintenance—emissions from routine maintenance activities and equipment.

Project analysis can range from a brief qualitative analysis to a full quantitative analysis. The type of analysis is determined by the environmental document and the potential impacts.

Projects processed as NEPA Categorical Exclusions (CEs) generally require no analysis because they would have little or no effect on GHG emissions.

Projects that have a small potential to change GHG emissions, especially operational emissions are classified as “documented CEs” under NEPA or “checklist” projects under SEPA require only a brief one or two-sentence qualitative analysis. The guidance provides template language for such brief analyses, including operational, construction, and maintenance issues.

For example, for a project that is expected to improve traffic flow, the qualitative analysis would say: “The project is expected to improve traffic flow, which should reduce operational greenhouse gas emissions. Construction greenhouse gas emissions will result primarily from fuel used in construction equipment.”

Projects processed as environmental assessments (EAs) or environmental impact statements (EISs) require a comprehensive quantitative analysis. These analyses could be conducted at the planning level, or project level. The analyses must use specified federal models and tools to calculate operational, fuel cycle, and construction/maintenance emissions. For EA’s, the analysis is included in the air quality discipline report, and for EISs, the analysis is placed in the energy discipline report. The guidance also provides template language to include in EAs and EISs, including:

  • A description of sources of GHG in the state,
  • Efforts underway to reduce such emissions,
  • WSDOT’s approach to climate change at the project-level,
  • How specific project features will impact GHG emissions, and
  • How project construction will affect GHG emissions including how such emissions will be minimized.

A summary of the GHG analysis, as well as the standard text, are then to be included in the cumulative effects section of either the EA or the EIS.

Carol Lee Roalkvam, the Policy Branch Manager at WSDOT’s Environmental Services Office states: “WSDOT’s guidance documents support state policy on climate change and sustainability and now are in use on all projects that require EA’s and EIS’s. The process is going great and teams are continuously learning as analysis tools evolve. While there are no federal requirements to conduct GHG analyses, we have found that the public and other agencies appreciate the information included on climate change issues."

Considering Climate Change in Planning

Under WSDOT’s approach, climate change issues are addressed during transportation planning, before specific projects are proposed.

WSDOT’s Guidance for Considering Impacts of Climate Change in WSDOT Plans calls for planners to consider the Climate Impacts Vulnerability Assessment and consult with WSDOT environmental office to determine potential impacts for specific planning areas or modes.

The planning process considers whether:

  • Climate change will adversely impact current or future multimodal transportation infrastructure;
  • Planning partners have considered transportation assets in the local or regional long-term natural hazard reduction plans; and
  • Climate change will impact transportation services to vulnerable or underserved populations.

Plans also should document potential risks from extreme weather and how the plan will promote resilience. The guidance also offers implementation advice and links to examples for specific types of planning studies.

WSDOT is finding that many local jurisdictions are including climate-related threats in local hazard risk reduction plans. Individual planning efforts are able to integrate new information from their local partners to help improve coordination across multiple sectors and jurisdictions. “While the planning guidance is still in the early phase of implementation, it will continue to evolve as more studies are completed,” Roalkvam said.

For more information on WSDOT’s approach to considering climate change in its projects and programs, contact Carol Lee Roalkvam, at


Examples of Washington State Projects and Plans that Address Climate Change and GHG Emissions:

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Infrastructure Resilience

Recent Developments: Caltrans Issues Four Regional Vulnerability Assessments

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has issued four new regional vulnerability assessments as part of its efforts to evaluate how climate change may impact the state’s highway system. The assessments cover Districts 3, 9, 10, and 12 in Orange County and the central part of the state. The assessments look at risks such as extreme temperatures, increased precipitation, storm surge, wildfires, and sea level rise. Caltrans has provided summary reports with overviews and locations of possible impacts, in-depth technical reports describing potential exposure of the highway systems, and interactive maps. Caltrans is conducting assessments for each of its 12 regions. For more information, link to the announcement and to the assessments. (12-3-19)

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Recent Developments: GAO Urges FHWA to Enhance Accountability in Use of ER Funds

The Government Accountability Office has issued a report urging the Federal Highway Administration to do a better job of documenting the bases for decisions to classify projects as emergency repairs. The GAO found that the agency did not document such decisions in 22 of 25 project files reviewed. The report urged FHWA to more clearly define what constitutes restoration of essential traffic and clarify the policy on when expedited contracting and environmental procedures are allowed. For more information, link to the report. (10-17-19)

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Recent Developments: Briefing Focuses on Green Infrastructure as Blueprint for Resilience

A briefing held by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute focused on the economic, environmental, and public benefits of green infrastructure. Experts from ASLA’s interdisciplinary Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience discussed their report, Smart Policies for a Changing Climate, which calls for infrastructure investment to create healthy and resilient communities that work in tandem with natural systems. For more information and a recording, link here. (3-4-19)

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Context Sensitive Solutions

Recent Developments: Report Offers Guidance on ‘Right-Sizing’ Transportation Investments

A guidebook on right-sizing transportation investments, focused on planning and programming, has been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Report 917). “Rightsizing” offers a process by which a transportation agency can adjust the size, extent, function, and composition of its existing or planned infrastructure and service portfolio in response to changing needs over time. The guide provides a practical structure, policy recommendations, and a toolkit of technical methods. For more information, link to the guidebook. (1-10-20)

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Case Studies: AASHTO Best Practice Award Winners

Case Studies: AASHTO Best Practice Award Winners - AASHTO Best Practices in Context Sensitive Solutions Competitions

Environmental Justice

Recent Developments: Environmental Justice CoP Survey: Webinar and Materials Available

The results of a survey of state transportation agencies’ environmental justice training needs were outlined in an AASHTO webinar held July 8, 2019. The survey focused on the frequency of trainings, information, resource gaps, emerging and innovative issues, and members' familiarity with existing resources. For more information, link to the webinar and presentation. (7-17-19)

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Recent Developments: EPA Launches Environmental Justice Training for States

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a national environmental justice training program. The program consists of five training webinars, which will be accessible through a publicly available website, aimed at building capacity in the states to integrate environmental justice into decision making and develop environmental justice knowledge and expertise. Planned topics include identifying and prioritizing environmentally impacted and vulnerable communities, enhancing community involvement in the regulatory process, using an area-wide planning approach to promote equitable development, and applying EJ to state environmental impact assessments. In addition, the EPA Regions will conduct training for their respective states. For more information, link to the announcement. (3-15-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Two EJ State of the Practice Reports

The Federal Highway Administration has issued two new reviews of the state of the practice concerning environmental justice in highway programs. Environmental Justice Analysis in Transportation Planning and Programming: State of the Practice describes how state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations are considering and addressing environmental justice concerns, based on a review of all 52 DOTs and a sample of 100 MPOs. The report addresses commonly applied techniques and new EJ approaches, including identifying and engaging with EJ populations; understanding the needs of EJ populations; assessing the benefits and costs of proposed plans; determining disproportionately high and adverse effects on EJ populations; and strategies to address such effects. Addressing Changing Demographics in Environmental Justice Analysis: State of the Practice documents how MPOs and DOTs are adapting EJ analysis to understand communities undergoing rapid demographic change. The report discusses trends in the size and location of low-income and minority households. The report also highlights strategies for addressing changing demographics in EJ analysis and provides five case studies. (3-21-19)

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Recent Developments: Webinar Outlines Process for Title VI Complaints

An overview of the process for filing complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act was provided in a webinar hosted by the Federal Highway Administration. The webinar covered laws, regulations, and guidance; information on filing and processing of complaints; and investigation processes and outcomes. For more information, link to the webinar and related resources. (2-5-19)

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Case Studies: Ohio DOT - Public Engagement Helps Ohio DOT Reduce Impacts from Cleveland Corridor Project


The Ohio Department of Transportation is using public engagement methods to identify ways to reduce potential impacts on low-income and minority residents from a new 3.5-mile urban boulevard project in Cleveland.

The environmental justice efforts related to the “Cleveland Opportunity Corridor” project have been well received by residents and have resulted in several strategies approved by the impacted neighborhoods.

The project, which is expected to support the revival and redevelopment of an underserved area of Cleveland, required mitigation to address potential adverse impacts on the high percentage of low income and minority populations living and working within the project area. The project is jointly managed by the Ohio Department of Transportation, the City of Cleveland, Greater Cleveland Partnership, and the Opportunity Corridor Partnership Office.

Public Engagement

ODOT begin public engagement in 2009 to obtain input from the affected neighborhoods. ODOT and the city provided information and solicited feedback using fliers posted at churches, community centers, and recreational facilities; verbal and written surveys and questionnaires; map and design exercises; one-on-one meetings; announcements through email, media advisories, direct mail, newspaper advertisements, and press releases; and interviews with residents and local businesses.

Over time, the project team adapted to the needs of the community. For example, reader-friendly newsletters and large-size font size on printed material were created, U.S. Postal Service data were used to reach more people including both property owners and tenants, and postage stamps were made available at meetings to facilitate the mailing of comments.

In-person meetings were designed to encourage participation. Meetings were held both in the evening and during the day to address concerns about safety and to be available to older adults and small business owners. Meetings were held in neutral locations within each neighborhood, and meeting sites were located as close as possible to residents and businesses.

ODOT also allowed attendees to rank and indicate their level of support for various functional elements and amenities, such as wayfinding signage, ornamental lighting, and dedicated bike lanes and streetscape elements.

The flexibility and diversity of public involvement methods allowed the project team to identify what the community felt was important and what types of mitigation measures would be the most beneficial. These methods also allowed ODOT to reach more people in the communities and, therefore, more people were able to participate and provide their input.

Mitigation Measures

Based on these outreach efforts and the project team’s environmental justice impact analysis, ODOT and the City of Cleveland committed to various measures to mitigate potential impacts of the highway project.

One measure is the construction of two pedestrian and bike bridges. The neighborhoods in the project area abut segments of track used by freight railroad and rail transit. As part of the project, ODOT will create a bridge near the southern end of the project near the I-490/E 55th street interchange to provide access over the new boulevard for residents in the nearby neighborhood. The bridge will grant access to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority transit station just north of the boulevard.

A second bridge for pedestrians and cyclists will replace the existing vehicle bridge on East 89th Street that is scheduled for removal. This will maintain connection between neighborhoods north and south of the railroad tracks.

Additionally, ODOT is contributing $500,000 toward the planned expansion of the Kenneth L. Johnson Recreation Center, a city-owned park and fitness center that is an important community facility community. As another commitment, ODOT is providing at least $500,000 toward diversity hiring, using small and disadvantaged businesses as contractors, and providing job training and employment for people living in the vicinity of the project.

Other mitigation measures include relocation assistance for required and voluntary residential relocations, the installation of noise walls, and enhancements throughout the neighborhoods, such as improved streetscapes, enhanced bus shelters, and more street lighting.

Context-specific public engagement activities assisted the project team in identifying mitigation measures that would best meet the needs of the community. Some of these measures included providing job training and voluntary housing relocation, which are not common mitigation measures for ODOT. Others included improving pedestrian access and safety, which occur much more frequently. Since the public had the opportunity to provide their input and explain what was most important to them at multiple points during project development, ODOT was able to design the project to have lasting benefits.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

The project team knew early in project development that the Opportunity Corridor’s complexity and location would require special consideration. While the goal of the project was to improve quality of life by providing better links and mobility and supporting economic development, there also would be negative impacts.

Working closely with community leaders and engaging a national environmental justice expert helped ensure that ODOT was incorporating the concerns of the community into project planning. The agency learned the importance of working very closely with the communities and being flexible with plans to engage the public. It is important to have the ability to change and adapt both public involvement activities and the project itself to meet the public’s needs.

The project was scheduled to be completed in three phases. Sections one and two have been opened to traffic as of November 2018. Section three, which includes both of the new pedestrian and bicycle bridges, is scheduled for completion by the fall of 2021.

For more information about the Opportunity Corridor, see the project website or contact Erica Schneider, ODOT Assistant Environmental Administrator, at

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Case Studies: Ohio DOT - Ohio DOT Provides Step-by-Step Guidance for Environmental Justice Analysis

As environmental justice in infrastructure planning and construction continues to be promoted at the federal level, state transportation agencies are finding ways to make the process more defined for staff and consultants.

At the Ohio Department of Transportation, recent revisions to the agency’s environmental justice guidelines update the agency’s procedures with a focus on clarifying the extent of analysis needed for projects and environmental reviews in the state.

Public outreach is an important aspect of environmental justice compliance. This public meeting was held during the planning phase for the Opportunity Corridor project in Cleveland. Photo: Ohio DOT

The ODOT Environmental Justice Guidance uses a step-by-step format to explain what practitioners must do to comply with state and federal environmental justice requirements.

The steps include identifying environmental justice populations within the study area using a mapping tool, answering a series of questions to determine whether a full-scale environmental justice analysis report is required, and if required, conducting the analysis and report as outlined in the guidance.

EJ Process in Ohio

Environmental justice has been a part of the conversation with regard to transportation projects for at least two decades.

Environmental justice populations—specifically minority and low-income groups—can be disproportionately impacted by transportation projects, and these impacts can vary depending on a project’s scale, scope and location, according to Erica Schneider, Assistant Administrator with ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services.

Like all state transportation agencies, ODOT developed its environmental justice program in response to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Presidential Executive Order 12898, Department of Transportation Order 5610.2, and FHWA Order 6640.23A.

ODOT’s environmental justice procedures resulted from many months of work with the Federal Highway Administration’s Ohio Division, Schneider said. “It was a collaborative process that took several months of discussions and a fair amount of compromise,” Schneider said. Once the division office was comfortable with it, ODOT worked with FHWA headquarters and Resource Center, she added.

Identifying EJ Populations

ODOT’s guidance uses a tiered method to evaluate environmental justice considerations. The first step relies on the Environmental Protection Agency’s EJScreen web-based tool, which places U.S. Census population data on a map at the block and block group levels. Block groups are clusters of blocks within the same census tract, generally defined to contain between 600 and 3,000 people, used to present statistical data and control block numbering.

According to the guidance, the individual performing the analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) uses EJView to locate the project or study area and, using the data filters, identifies the percent of minority or low income residents.

“Project [area] limits are identified by earlier studies (traffic, safety, etc.) that define the purpose of the project,” Schneider said. “Those limits in turn help identify the block groups that could be impacted by a project and by the activities associated with the project.”

The key threshold for environmental justice populations is 40 percent, according to the guidance. “If all of the block groups within your proposed project area indicate Environmental Justice populations below 40%, then no additional Environmental Justice analysis or coordination is required,” the guidance said.

However, if either the minority or the low-income populations are at 40 percent or above, the practitioner is required to answer a set of questions to determine potential impacts.

Determining Potential Impacts

The questions in the guidance make a decision tree that leads the practitioner to draw conclusions about whether the project will have a disproportionately high and adverse effect on the target populations.

“Our guidance is, in many ways, a screening tool to screen out projects with little to no potential to impact EJ communities,” Schneider said.

“The questions in the guidance are specifically geared toward identifying potential impacts,” Schneider said.

For example, the questions address the following issues:

  • Are there any relocations?
  • Will there be any changes to access?
  • Were any environmental justice issues that could result in a disproportionately high and adverse effect raised during public involvement?
  • Are there any other unique factors of the proposed project that could pose a disproportionately high and adverse impact on an environmental justice population?

Depending on the resulting answers, a full Environmental Justice Analysis Report may be required.

Conducting Full Analysis, Report

When a full analysis is required, a report is prepared “to determine whether or not your project will have a disproportionately high and adverse impact to an Environmental Justice population and to document any avoidance and mitigation measures,” the guidance said.

The guidance provides a general outline of what information should be included in the report. The seven basic elements include:

  1. Project description;
  2. Summary of purpose and need statement;
  3. Discussion of environmental justice populations;
  4. Discussion of impacts to environmental justice populations;
  5. Public involvement summary;
  6. Discussion of avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures; and
  7. A summary, including justification for the determination.

For projects that require in-depth analyses, the guidance urges users to work with ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services, Policy and Cultural Resources Section for more direction and project-specific assistance on determining how to address potential impacts.

Guidance Applies to NEPA Process

The ODOT guidance must be followed for all environmental assessments, environmental impact statements, and most categorical exclusion levels under ODOT’s 2015 Programmatic Categorical Exclusion Agreement.

Although the guidance is built into ODOT’s Online Categorical Exclusion System, the environmental justice process is essentially the same for more complex environmental documents, according to Schneider, except that “the documentation part is a little different.”

Projects requiring an environmental assessment or environmental impacts statement “often have a higher potential for impacts, but not necessarily,” Schneider added.

Schneider said that less than 1 percent of projects per year require a full Environmental Justice Analysis Report. But for those projects that may impact environmental justice populations, the guidance encourages staff to coordinate with ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services “as early as possible.”

Lessons Learned

Schneider noted several lessons learned in developing the process.

“We strongly emphasize a common sense approach to looking at projects,” Schneider said. “If it makes sense to look farther out [from the project boundaries], we would do so.” Regarding the decision to rely on the EJView tool, it was the result of a lot of work with FHWA division staff and EPA staff, according to Schneider. “We didn’t find a better tool to use,” Schneider said. She recommends use of EJView to other departments of transportation, unless and until something better is developed.

Additionally, Schneider emphasized the importance of making sure the analysis is meaningful.

“We constantly remind our staff and consultants that you can’t just go through the motions,” Schneider said. “Simply having less than 40 percent EJ populations or answering ‘no’ to all of the questions doesn’t mean consideration of EJ populations ends there. We still expect practitioners to use common sense. If there are EJ populations that may require specific public outreach efforts, then that needs to be done. If EJ issues are raised during public involvement activities or there are other project-related circumstances that could cause an impact to EJ populations, those need to be taken into account and addressed.”

Schneider said the guidance has been well received both by consultants and ODOT staff. “It has streamlined our processes by helping screen out projects that don't require further work,” and to “target what we need to focus on,” she said.

For more information, link to ODOT's environmental justice program or contact ODOT’s Erica Schneider at

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Case Studies: Pennsylvania DOT - Pennsylvania DOT Develops Separate EJ Guidance for Planning, Project Levels

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is successfully integrating input from minority and low-income populations (environmental justice [EJ] populations) and consistently documenting its EJ analyses and findings through use of planning- and project-level guidance developed by the agency.

Executive Order 12898 (1994), Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, directs federal actions to avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including socioeconomic, on EJ populations. However, Executive Order 12898 did not provide guidance on how to identify EJ populations, or how to determine if impacts are disproportionately high and adverse.

EJ Guidance at PennDOT

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) approach to implementing Executive Order 12898 (1994)—as well as subsequent Memorandum of Understanding on EJ signed by heads of federal agencies (2011) and DOT’s Final EJ Order 5610.2(a) (2012)—uses guidance documents that are distributed to districts for implementation. In addition to guidance it developed for regional planning-level EJ analyses, PennDOT, also has developed project-level guidance to promote consistency in EJ analyses conducted for relatively minor-impact projects across the state.

Two notable factors influencing PennDOT’s EJ approach include: 1) the agency is decentralized, with projects held at the district-level, and 2) around 99 percent of current PennDOT projects are Categorical Exclusions (CEs) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Pennsylvania develops planning level guidance, Every Voice Counts. Photo: PennDOT

Planning-Level Guidance

Initially, PennDOT developed an EJ guidance for statewide planning and programming processes, Every Voice Counts (2004, updated 2012). PennDOT drew from best practices and existing resources proven to work in practice to develop its EJ guidance. Every Voice Counts describes PennDOT’s regional planning-level EJ responsibilities as: 1) identifying EJ population presence within planning areas; 2) engaging EJ populations in public involvement and subsequent documentation of that engagement; 3) assessing the effects of transportation policies, investments, and programs on EJ populations; and 4) avoiding, minimizing, or mitigating, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse effects.

According to PennDOT’s Transportation Planning Manager Brian Wall, despite the initial Every Voice Counts guidance there were dramatic differences in how EJ efforts were being conducted and documented throughout the state due to the agency’s decentralized operational structure and the number of metropolitan and rural planning organizations and the various staffing levels at those organizations. Therefore, in 2012, as a result of a strengths/weaknesses assessment, PennDOT expanded its EJ guidance and provided clear examples of how to conduct an EJ analysis at the planning level.

Project-Level Guidance

After implementing its planning-level EJ guidance for nearly a decade, PennDOT developed its Project Level Environmental Justice Guidance in 2013. The guidance provides a step-by-step EJ analysis framework to ensure requirements of Executive Order 12898 are appropriately identified, considered, and documented at the project level. Because PennDOT is decentralized, the project-level guidance provides consistency across DOT districts in their approach to EJ analyses.

Additionally, with nearly all PennDOT projects falling under CEs with minimal impacts, PennDOT Environmental Planning Manager Drew Ames said that it can be tough to document EJ efforts. The project-level guidance addresses the issue of determining the presence of EJ populations, appropriate level of documentation, and determining disproportionate adverse impacts. The guidance explains what needs to be done after a project is on the Transportation Improvement Program and preliminary engineering begins, and includes criteria that would qualify a project as exempt from a detailed EJ analysis.

PennDOT provides and documents consideration of potential impacts to EJ populations for categorically excluded projects in the on-line Categorical Exclusion Expert System. For CEs falling under 23 CFR 771.117(d), that are not otherwise covered by a programmatic agreement, the system prompts preparers to answer a series of questions regarding EJ that are based on the analysis described in the guidance document.

In addition, the project-level guidance includes several real-world case studies that describe how project teams reached out to and engaged EJ populations, what data were gathered and analyzed to determine if EJ populations are located in the study area, and what project impacts and benefits were evaluated to determine if the project caused disproportionate and adverse impacts to EJ populations. Moreover, the case studies include helpful “lessons learned” so that other EJ analyses are informed by past experiences. Examples of lessons cited in the guidance include the following:

  • While review of demographic data helps to identify the presence of EJ populations, field views and discussions with local stakeholders can provide valuable insights that cannot be drawn from review of demographic data alone.
  • Enlisting EJ community representatives on community advisory committees can help gain the EJ community’s trust and support for a project.
  • The study area size and shape may require information to be collected from a variety of census data geographies, and may impact the level of effort and resources needed for data collection.
  • Project teams should always check their assumptions about adverse impacts by discussing impacts with EJ populations. What might be considered an adverse impact by project engineers and planners may or may not be interpreted as adverse by the community.

Key Takeaways

PennDOT has realized the following key points and lessons learned in implementing the agency’s planning- and project-level EJ guidance:

  • Documentation: Regardless of a project’s size, it is important to state clearly what types of information or data were considered to identify the presence of EJ populations (e.g. Census data), how EJ populations were engaged in project scoping and the development of project alternatives and any mitigation measures, and how project design may have changed as a result of input from EJ populations.
  • Balance: An EJ analysis is never a “one size fits all” analysis. It is location, community and context-driven, based on the project’s direct, indirect and cumulative impacts and how those impacts are experienced by EJ populations, both positively and negatively.
  • Process efficiencies: Providing a unified guidance for application across jurisdictions helps streamline the state’s EJ analyses and documentation. For example, the process outlined in Every Voice Counts has led to better “benefits and burdens” analysis in long range transportation planning, particularly through the use of GIS.
  • Consolidation: The guidance is intended to consolidate the wealth of information into a document that is easy to access and use for replication across the state—and for other state DOTs.
  • Context: Familiarity with a project area and its residents is irreplaceable. Taking the extra step—such as proactively speaking directly with a community—creates opportunity for more meaningful engagement, a better informed EJ analysis and proactive issue resolution promoting a more collaborative decision-making process.

Overall, PennDOT’s implementation of both its planning-level and project-level EJ guidance documents has enhanced the agency’s ability to integrate meaningful input from EJ populations into its plans, programs, and projects, and has allowed the agency to consistently document its EJ analyses and findings.

For more information on PennDOT’s planning-level EJ guidance, contact Planning-Level EJ Guidance Brian Wall, PennDOT Transportation Planning Manager at For information on the project-level guidance, contact Drew Ames, PennDOT Environmental Planning Manager, at

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Case Studies: Public Outreach Using Social Media - Using Social Media to Reach Environmental Justice Communities


Executive Order 12898 requires Federal Agencies to identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse effects of the agency’s programs, policies and activities on minority and low-income populations, often referred to as Environmental Justice (EJ) communities. Social media can be used as one of many methods to reach out to and engage EJ communities. In an effort to ensure that efforts to engage EJ communities through social media are effective, state DOTs and MPOs work to identify and develop the most appropriate social media strategy to reach and target EJ populations.


According to Pew Research Center, approximately 7 in 10 American adults use social media. The use of at least one social media site continues to grow steadily across all demographics regardless of race, ethnicity, income, age, or gender. For example, Pew research by race shows that 69 percent of people who are African American and 72 percent of those who are of Hispanic origin use at least one social media site. Seventy-four percent of the population who make under $50,000 also use at least one social media site. Most young adults age 18-29 (88 percent) use social media. From a gender perspective, a higher percentage of women (73 percent) social media than men (65 percent).

Social Media can be used as an outreach tool to:

  • Advertise upcoming community meetings or events.
  • Provide timely information and resources about transportation plans and projects.
  • Solicit input, monitor feedback, and collect reactions about upcoming or existing transportation plans and projects.

Social media data analytics tools and resources offer agencies additional insight on EJ populations to assist with future public outreach strategies that evaluate and address EJ as part of transportation planning and development. They help to provide meaningful insights and additional details about the comfortable engagement practices for particular populations that can be used to reach people who may not participate in traditional outreach and engagement efforts such as in-person meetings, helping to form a successful social media strategy. Social media guides and plans can include details and research on best practices such as tone, content, and tips on best practices for EJ communities or low-income communities. Just as with in-person interactions, social media accounts will need to fully understand how to communicate in a culturally appropriate and effective manner.

Community leaders are a key asset in understanding the cultural nuances and serving as conduits in EJ communities. For example, the Buford Highway Pedestrian Improvement project at the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) focused efforts on high school involvement by creating a public service announcement competition. GDOT used Facebook and Twitter to spread the PSA competition information and to reach a specific audience. Along with the use of social media, GDOT also utilized more traditional outreach efforts to reach high school students. These efforts included in-person community outreach efforts in supermarkets that catered to both language and cultural preferences.

While social media can be used as a tool for community outreach and engagement, it can also be a successful tool to build peer networks within an agency and to help facilitate and foster inter-agency collaboration. Social media development allows for agencies to participate in trends to learn more about user interest, coordinate with partners, interact with audiences, and highlight meetings and community events. These are all areas highlighted in the Practitioners Peer Exchange Environmental Justice Roadmap.

North Central Texas Council of Governments

In 2017, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) transportation department developed a social media design guide that provided in-depth details on graphic dimensions, typography, watermarks, layouts, design trends, and photos. NCTCOG also developed a strategic plan and style guide to modernize the tone of social media. The additional resources NCTCOG placed on social media were used to target outreach and advertising for the transportation department.

Using a variety of communication platforms, NCTCOG identified six types of posts for engagement:

  1. Transportation Related News
  2. Project and program specific information
  3. Holiday and event graphics
  4. Video
  5. Just for Fun
  6. Safety

NCTCOG’s social media strategy studied the impact of hashtags and found that posts with hashtags received two times more engagement than posts without hashtags. They also found that the time of day and the visual content made a difference in impressions and engagement. NCTCOG’s manager of public involvement, Amanda Wilson, noted, “It is extremely difficult to get the attention of social media users between busy news feeds and algorithms that don’t show an organization’s posts to all followers. We analyzed what works and doesn’t work to reach our audience and focused on changes we can make, like when we post and using visually appealing graphics, to achieve greater engagement and impressions.”

Impressions are the number of times a social media post has been seen. Social media platforms use algorithms to determine which users to show certain content and not all of an organization’s followers will see each post. Impressions can be higher if you post at correct times, use graphics that attract attention, get “likes” or other reactions, or if people share an organization’s post. The reactions, comments or shares are especially important because it amplifies the impressions – getting the message out even to people who don’t directly follow the organization.

NCTCOG Graphic

NCTCOG experienced a 25 percent higher engagement rate when social media used:

  • Human tone - communicating in a way that is more personable and conversational.
  • Fun, light-hearted content
  • Content and voice mirror pages followed by staff at NCTCOG
  • Strategic plan, style guide and design guide

NCTCOG used these strategies for AirCheckTexas, a program that assists low- and moderate-income individuals repair or replace vehicles that don’t pass a state emissions inspection. Program interest and shares have increased significantly in the program since it started advertising on Facebook. The Facebook advertising uses visually appealing graphics and a call to action with the message “ACT NOW!” Geotargeting, which is tailoring an ad based on demographics and key words, has helped to “zero in” on individuals who are more likely to qualify for the program versus advertising that is not targeted. An additional way the reach of these ads has been expanded is when people “tag” their friends who may not have seen the advertisement. This type of word-of-mouth marketing can increase the effectiveness of paid advertising.

NCTCOG also invested in paid advertising on Facebook that linked to a transportation planning survey (Mobility 2045). The paid ads targeted EJ communities, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, including ads produced in Spanish that targeted persons of Hispanic origin. In addition to expanding the reach of the survey in hopes of getting a higher number of completions, the paid advertising allowed NCTCOG to gather analytic data that showed which type of advertising was most effective. NCTCOG tested two types of ads, one using general professional language, and the other using more colloquial informal language.

The highest survey response rate came from those developed using general professional language and targeted to a general population. However, ads in Spanish targeted to the Hispanic community also had a higher response rate. For those that responded to the survey in Spanish, 90 percent were directed from Facebook advertising, showing that the advertising did help push a higher response. This was the first time social media advertising was used to specifically promote an MTP survey, but it will likely be used again in the future.

Peer Exchange Discussions

In a peer exchange discussion between Minnesota, Ohio, and Massachusetts a Transportation Planning Capacity Building (TPCB) Peer Program report highlighted the use of social media and public outreach. During the discussion representatives from state DOTs provided specific examples of public involvement strategies for their respective states. Strategies to maximize public participation included public meetings as well a full use of social media tools and efforts. Ohio Department of Transportation, Office of Environmental Services Administrator, Timothy Hill adds, “In Ohio’s project example, social media was (and continues to be) a vital tool in reaching Ohio’s public. Long gone are the days where a state DOT would post an advertisement in the paper for a meeting and people would come. Today’s world requires a full use of the social media palate and state DOTs should be flexible and know when (and how) to apply to best tools for their specific project’s needs.”

Additional Resources:

Additional Sources:

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Environmental Management Systems

Recent Developments: Workshops to Address MAP-21 Performance Management Framework

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is hosting a series of workshops concerning transportation performance management. The workshops will assist in application of technical requirements under the asset management, PM2 and PM3 final rules that implement the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act’s (MAP-21) new performance management framework. FHWA staff, state departments of transportation and municipal planning organizations will be able to adopt management systems for target setting, communication, life cycle planning and financial planning. The workshops will also demonstrate the incorporation of risk management into asset management plans and address progress and penalty requirements and how they will be determined. The first workshop is scheduled for June 20-23, in Kansas City, Mo. For more information, link to the announcement. (6-15-17)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Report Examines Use of GIS in Performance Management

The Federal Highway Administration has released a report that includes four case studies regarding transportation agencies’ use of geographic information systems in transportation performance management (TPM). The report discusses how departments of transportation in Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina and Vermont approach TPM programs and determine how best to use GIS to visualize the effects of performance-based operations and planning. The report found that most states remain in the developmental stage of implementing a TPM program, which is required under MAP-21 and the FAST Act. The report also found that states are investing in the use of GIS tools to better integrate data and to centralize data storage. For more information, link to the report. (2-17-17)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO Updates FAST Act/MAP-21 Implementation Plan, Rule Tracker

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has updated its implementation plan for the FAST Act and MAP-21 and its surface transportation rulemaking tracker. The plan updates the status of provisions regarding revenue and planning, freight, program and project delivery, planning, performance management and asset management. The tracker keeps tabs on rules related to surface transportation as they work their way through the regulatory process. The updated tracker adds a request for comments concerning commercial activities in rest areas. For more information, link here. (12-1-16)

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Case Studies: Texas - TxDOT Accrues Multiple Benefits from NEPA Assignment Responsibilities

The Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) assumption of authority for the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) responsibilities for environmental review and approval is providing multiple streamlining benefits, saving time and money in the review process while still protecting the state’s natural resources.

TxDOT is the second state transportation agency in the nation to assume full environmental review authority from FHWA. California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) was the first to take on the role under a pilot program launched under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). Then, under MAP-21, the program was expanded and made permanent. Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) became the third state in December 2015. Four other state transportation agencies are in the process of applying for NEPA assignment: Alaska, Florida, Idaho, and Utah. In addition, Utah and Alaska have Categorical Exclusion-level assignment under the pilot program.

In late 2015, TxDOT marked its one year anniversary in the program and has been “pleased with the results so far,” said Carlos Swonke, Director of the agency’s Environmental Affairs Division.

Texas DOT employees receive NEPA assignment training. Photo: TxDOT

For Texas, the new authority brings the following benefits:

  • provides time and cost savings;
  • eliminates a layer of review;
  • involves no reduction in environmental considerations;
  • allows direct consultation between TxDOT and federal regulatory agencies;
  • enables quick turnaround time for project decisions; and
  • allows for more control of project planning and scheduling.

Contents of the MOU

Details on the new authority are spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the two agencies developed and signed in 2014. The MOU sets forth how TxDOT will implement the Surface Transportation Project Delivery Program (sometimes referred to as the NEPA Assignment Program) under MAP-21. The MAP-21 provisions enable all state transportation agencies to apply to be assigned federal environmental review authority from the FHWA under the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws. TxDOT requested, and was granted, the full authority under the program with the exception of three projects that remained with FHWA as the lead agency.

TxDOT’s NEPA review responsibilities include determining, for individual projects, whether potential impacts merit an environmental impact statement, an environmental assessment, or a categorical exclusion. For Texas, determinations for categorical exclusion-level projects are done at the district (regional) level. Projects involving environmental impact statements or environmental assessments are coordinated, reviewed, and approved at the division (central) office level.

Besides these NEPA review responsibilities, TxDOT also has taken on some of FHWA's responsibilities for highway projects under other environmental laws. The laws include the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and Historic Preservation Act. Notably, MAP-21 precludes states from taking on federal responsibility for government-to-government consultation with Indian tribes or for conformity determinations under the Clean Air Act. In addition, under the MOU, FHWA retains responsibility for projects that cross state lines and international boundaries.

Four performance measures are identified in the MOU: (1) compliance with NEPA and other Federal environmental statutes and regulations; (2) quality control and quality assurance for NEPA decisions; (3) relationships with agencies and the general public; and (4) increased efficiency and timeliness and completion of the NEPA process.

Swonke said that his agency’s MOU generally followed the Caltrans format. And now that it is in place, it appears that FHWA will be using it as something of a template for other states coming into the program.

Preparing for NEPA Assignment

To prepare TxDOT staff for the new role, he continued, the agency has established a more rigorous process for project review and documentation. It also has created time for training on topics such as documentation and records management, and has updated its NEPA-related manuals. In addition, the agency has instituted a robust quality assurance/quality control process. TxDOT also maintains close communication with its district offices on changes in laws or executive orders that may affect the new responsibilities. Finally, it intends to communicate regularly about its assignment activities to stakeholder organizations.

FHWA, for its part, has assumed the role of program oversight and review and issues progress reports to Congress. It also has taken on training and technical assistance. Under MAP-21, FHWA must carry out two audits annually during the first two years that a state DOT assumes NEPA assignment and once in the third and fourth year. The audits include identification of successful practices as well as opportunities for improvement. Thus far, TxDOT has conducted environmental approvals on more than 1,600 projects, with the majority of these being categorical exclusion determinations.

Application Process, Pluses and Minuses

TxDOT began to consider applying for the program in 2012 when there was talk about extending the pilot program but before MAP-21 was passed. When MAP-21 passed, TxDOT leadership gave the green light to take the first steps.

The formal process began with securing a limited waiver of sovereign immunity that the state legislature passed in the spring of 2013, said Swonke. Under the waiver, TxDOT NEPA actions and decisions could be subject to federal court jurisdiction.

Next, the agency wrote a letter to FHWA expressing its interest in taking on NEPA assignment. It circulated its draft application for assignment for public comment as well as its draft MOU. After considering feedback on both documents, the MOU was finalized and signed by TxDOT and FHWA on December 16, 2014, and TxDOT began to take on its new responsibilities.

Benefits and Advice

As a result of taking on NEPA Assignment, Swonke said, TxDOT has made its review and approval process much more systematic, which provides greater consistency. In addition, the requirement for the state agency to have a self-assessment program has yielded a wide range of insightful information that is used to measure and improve the program.

He had one major suggestion for other state DOTS contemplating seeking NEPA assignment: early on, take an inventory of your technical expertise and the tools in hand that will guide your process. Both need to be up to the challenge of making decisions independently.

Just after the one-year point, Swonke said TxDOT’s program was still adapting to the change. “I am hoping the majority of our evolution will be complete a year from now,” he said.

For more information, contact Carlos Swonke, Director, TxDOT Environmental Affairs Division, at or go to

In addition, see materials from AASHTO’s 2015 Peer Exchange on NEPA assumption.

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Case Studies: Washington State - WSDOT Reports Significant Time Savings by Issuing Combined EIS, Record of Decision

Provisions of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) that allow environmental impact statements and record of decision documents to be combined for transportation projects have achieved significant time savings for Washington State DOT, according to the agency.

The authority to issue one combined document have saved approximately 60 days to 90 days for the first two projects for which the agency used it, state officials report.

The authority was enacted as a streamlining provision under Section 1319 of MAP-21. In addition, the law authorized use of errata pages rather than a separate standalone final EIS if only minor comments are received on a draft EIS.

The provisions of MAP-21 were aimed at cutting the time required to process environmental documents for transportation projects.

WSDOT has published two combined FEIS/RODs under the new law: a Final Supplemental EIS and Record of Decision for the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project, and a Final Supplemental EIS and Record of Decision for the SR 167 Puyallup River Bridge project, according to WSDOT Policy Branch Manager Carol Lee Roalkvam.

For both projects, the combined EIS/ROD eliminated one round of document circulation and streamlined the cooperating agency and legal review. Each project saved approximately two to three months’ time, she said.

Additionally, the I-90 project team used the related streamlining measure which allows for a Draft EIS and errata page to suffice for a final EIS.

The I-90 team noted that the new processes used together took less time that it would have taken to prepare an Environmental Assessment/Finding of No Significant, according to Roalkvam. In one year, the team went from notice of intent, to Draft Supplemental EIS, to Final EIS/ROD.

“Many state DOTs are searching for examples of quality environmental documents,” Roalkvam said. “While every project is unique, I encourage state DOTs to look at the way the I-90 team applied the MAP-21 streamlining provision and the abbreviated FEIS format to prepare a concise, complete and readable document.”

Washington State DOT combines final EIS, Record of Decision for I-90 Project. Photo: WSDOT

Combined FEIS and ROD

Prior to MAP-21, FHWA and FTA were required by their own regulations and Council on Environmental Quality regulations to provide a waiting period of at least 30 days between publication of the FEIS and issuance of the ROD.

Section 1319(b) of MAP-21 overrode that requirement. It directs the lead agency to issue the FEIS and ROD as a single document “to the maximum extent practicable,” unless one of the following conditions is met:

  • the FEIS makes “substantial changes to the proposed action that are relevant to environmental or safety concerns” or
  • “there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and that bear on the proposed action or the impacts of the proposed action.”

FHWA and FTA issued interim guidance implementing Section 1319 on Jan. 14, 2013. The interim guidance calls for a case-by-case determination as to whether it is “practicable” to issue a combined FEIS and ROD. The guidance also directs FHWA Division Offices and FTA Regional Offices to consult with headquarters before issuing a combined FEIS/ROD.

‘Errata Pages’ Format for FEIS

MAP 21 also clarified that the lead agency can issue an FEIS that consists of “errata pages” -- rather than a complete, stand-alone document -- if the agency received only “minor comments” on the Draft EIS.

This flexibility existed under the CEQ regulations even before the enactment of MAP-21. Section 1319(a) confirms that this format is acceptable.

It also requires that errata pages “(1) cite the sources, authorities, or reasons that support the position of the agency” and “(2) if appropriate, indicate the circumstances that would trigger agency reappraisal or further response.”

In the Jan. 14 guidance, FHWA and FTA described the information that should be included in errata pages, and confirmed that this documentation must undergo the legal sufficiency review required for an FEIS under 23 CFR 771.125.

For more information, link to the I-90 project documents on the WSDOT website here. The Puyallup River Bridge documents are available here.

Additional information is available from Carol Lee Roalkvam, Policy Branch Manager, WSDOT, at

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Geographic Information Systems

Recent Developments: NCHRP Report Says Statewide GISs Could Improve Section 106 Work

State departments of transportation could provide more efficient project delivery with regard to Section 106 compliance if each state could develop and implement a single, statewide cultural resources geographic information system in a centralized location, according to a report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP 25-25/Task 90). The study examined the costs and benefits of having, using and maintaining a cultural resources GIS and its effects on transportation planning, project delivery, and compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act as well as Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. The study found that DOTs support the creation of a single, statewide cultural resources GIS. For more information, link to Application of Geographic Information Systems for Historic Properties. (11-12-15)

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Case Studies: Massachusetts - Project Initiation with Mapping Tool Speeds MassDOT Project Delivery


An online project planning application developed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is expected to speed up project delivery while improving stakeholder engagement and environmental outcomes.

The MassDOT Project Intake Tool (MaPIT) streamlines project initiation and approval while also screening against multiple databases to flag any potential permitting logjams.

Image: MassDOT

MaPIT uses a map-based interface and accesses the agency’s various transportation asset, environmental, and safety datasets to make the path from project initiation to environmental permitting, project priority scoring, and project delivery more seamless and efficient.

The process of meeting with proponents, initiating the project, and having these projects approved “has absolutely been faster,” said Michael Bolduc, Transportation Planner and GIS Specialist at MassDOT. “We’ve had a lot of really positive feedback,” he said.

Screening Against Multiple Databases

MaPIT streamlines project delivery by integrating several processes. At MassDOT, a transportation project intended for the Transportation Improvement Plan begins with two forms. The Project Need Form describes existing conditions and why a project is needed, and the Project Initiation Form describes what is being proposed and the scope of the project. Projects can be initiated either internally by MassDOT or externally by a city, town, or other local authority, according to Bolduc.

The MaPIT tool merges these two separate processes into a single online application. At the same time, as the project need is being developed, the tool screens against multiple geographic information system (GIS) layers, including:

  • road inventory,
  • highway facility information,
  • roadway condition,
  • bridge database,
  • transit routes,
  • rail inventory,
  • crash data,
  • environmental concerns, and
  • social equity concerns.

Also, mapping is handled earlier in the project cycle, which creates a better workflow for the agency’s digital mapping staff, according to Kevin Lopes, Manager of GIS Services at MassDOT.

MassDOT District Project Development teams are notified by MaPIT when a project is ready to be reviewed for approval. Upon approval, the tool pushes all the information acquired during initiation process directly into MassDOT’s project management database and system of record—known as ProjectInfo—and the project is assigned a number. Efficiencies are realized because MaPIT populates the project database with relevant data “in one fell swoop,” Bolduc said.

MaPIT is part of MassDOT’s suite of tools called geoPASS—the Geospatial Planning, Analysis, and Screening Suite—that includes interactive descriptions of planned capital investments and maps of current approved MassDOT Projects.

Tool to Do More

The tool originally was conceived as an environmental screening tool but the development team soon recognized its potential to be much more. MassDOT applied for funding under Round 2 of the SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program’s expediting project delivery focus area. SHRP2 funding was critical for getting the tool launched, said Tim Dexter, with MassDOT’s Environmental Services Section and a key member of the team developing the concept. “We had this grand idea with really no way to actually move it forward” if it weren’t for SHRP2, he said.

As the project scope expanded, the team looked at making the project initiation, mapping, and scoping process more efficient. Under the state’s system, the GIS staff would begin mapping only after projects were planned, approved, and entered into the ProjectInfo database. This required them to retrieve projects from the database and “individually draw each project, which is fairly labor intensive,” Dexter said. The MaPIT tool streamlines that process, automatically providing the project limits in a GIS format. It also can be used to create maps of project locations for public notice and engagement.

When initiating a project with MaPIT, the user draws the project boundaries on a map and then the tool automatically checks against all of MassDOT’s relevant GIS layers. “The hope is to not only help you through the application processes but also to screen against any potential problems” early in the process, Bolduc said. When considering land use, habitat, and wetland concerns, for instance, MaPIT will help planners identify any potential permitting issue and avoid problems later on, he said.

Improved Outcomes

The tool also is expected to improved environmental outcomes. For projects initiated before MaPIT was launched, the Environmental Services Section typically got involved after a project was about 25 percent designed, Dexter said. Staff would begin design reviews and the permitting process, but the scope of work would already have been set. If at that point MassDOT staff or one of the state or federal regulatory agencies had significant concerns about the design, then “we’re going backwards in the whole design process,” he said.

With MaPIT, staff are now able to ask informed questions when the project is planned, scoping the project accordingly to address those concerns. “The ultimate goal from the environmental perspective is to ask the right questions when you plan a project, before you scope it and design it,” Dexter said.

Version 1.0

MaPIT was introduced around the beginning of December 2017 to cities, towns, and other local authorities. According to Bolduc, there are many more pieces that MassDOT wants to add to MaPIT to make it even more useful. For instance, the tool currently identifies environmental justice and Title VI populations, but more could be done. According to Bolduc, there are plans to incorporate information from one of the interactive maps called the Engage Tool, which uses census data to help identify historically underserved populations.

Also, as MassDOT develops risk and vulnerability information for its transportation assets, all of the vulnerability data will be incorporated into MaPIT. Just as a project can be screened for critical habitat or crash clusters, “we’ll be able to screen for what assets may be vulnerable to severe storms, whether it’s a coastal storm or an inland storm,” Dexter said. “This is how we’re going to integrate climate change adaptation and planning into our project development process,” he said.

So far, MassDOT, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and several municipal proponents and design consultants have entered several batches of projects into MaPIT. MassDOT will have a better understanding of the benefits with regard to multi-year projects as more projects are initiated, said Bolduc.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

The project was undertaken in partnership with ESRI, the GIS company. ESRI dedicated staff to the project, helping keep the project on schedule as the team worked through requirements changes and data mappings. However, ESR went through some staffing changes mid-way through, which required MassDOT to spend time getting the replacement up to speed on the project, Lopes said.

Also, the tool requires the use of the Massachusetts government’s XML Gateway, which is managed by the state’s IT office, according to Lopes. The IT office provided MassDOT with resources to develop the project, but the development environment was not very stable and it had negative impacts on tool testing and staff training, Lopes said. However, it was a good learning experience for MassDOT.

Transferability and Advice

MaPIT could be a model for other state DOTs without too much concern about their GIS platform, Lopes said. If another state “had minimal GIS licensing, they could still get the same functionality out of it,” Lopes said. “It’s all about the data.” According to Lopes, Rhode Island is looking into doing something similar.

Also, other states that consider developing a tool should make sure the project is fully scoped before budgeting. Changes in the scope of the MaPIT development project meant that MassDOT’s budget for the effort was insufficient.

More realistic budget estimates could be developed by spending more time upfront analyzing the effort and complexities involved with working with third parties, such as ESRI and the state’s IT office.

Additionally, MassDOT suggests working closely with partners to ensure the availability of needed resources.

A video about the tool may be viewed on YouTube at

For more information contact Michael Bolduc, Transportation Planner and GIS Specialist at; Kevin Lopes, Manager of GIS Services at; or Tim Dexter, Environmental Services Section at

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Case Studies: Virginia - Virginia DOT's Environmental Data and Reporting System Improves Communication, Accountability

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) evolution to an environmental data management system started with more than 73 decentralized spreadsheets and personal databases. In 2001, VDOT developed its GIS Integrator, an internal geographic information systems (GIS)-based tool to support the agency’s efforts to improve early project development and environmental review by capturing a spatial inventory of project shapes used to identify existing environmental resources with the potential for project impact through spatial analysis.

In 2003, VDOT expanded their data management solution by consolidating all non-spatial data sources into an environmental data repository called the Comprehensive Environmental Data and Reporting system (CEDAR). This internal web based application provides a single user interface for capturing all VDOT’s environmental business data, including National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), permitting, and environmental contracts. The CEDAR application synchronizes nightly with the agency’s project pool and active directory databases for improved management of project data and user accounts. It also links to the agency’s GIS Integrator, which allows for streamlined project reviews.

“The CEDAR system provides VDOT staff with an invaluable comprehensive environmental data management tool that has successfully improved communication and accountability, said Geraldine Jones, VDOT CEDAR Administrator. “Since its deployment in 2003 CEDAR has been the backbone of VDOT’s environmental operations. CEDAR’s success, usability, and permanence can be attributed to its user championed platform and staff dedicated to maintain and enhance an application subject to dynamic regulations and processes,” she said.

The GIS Integrator allows users to buffer project shapes to determine potential resource issues. In this case, the project shape was buffered 2 miles for conservations lands. Source: VDOT

The integrated CEDAR system centralizes where staff enter and retrieve data for all VDOT’s environmental activities on a project-by-project basis, allowing for restricted viewing and editing based on roles and permissions. It captures project history, handles all project types – including construction and maintenance – tracks project status through the life of the project and generates system alerts.

The system also:

  • stores, manages and distributes documents;
  • contains a task assignment function;
  • tracks commitments;
  • documents project details such as meetings and phone calls using the journal feature;
  • contains links for environmental permit tracking and houses regulatory agency correspondence;
  • links to VDOT’s Integrated Project Manager (IPM) system, which contains project pool information;
  • links to the GIS Integrator, which allows for digitizing project shapes and spatial analysis functionality to identify environmental impacts in a project area;
  • includes both standard and ad-hoc project reporting such as new projects, tasks schedule, and advertisement schedule; and
  • provides access to project contract and other administrative information.

Benefits of the system include increased project accountability, satisfaction of mandates, and interagency coordination. It also provides documentation for decisions, and offers a tool for communication of commitments, project status, accuracy of project estimates, and efficiency of projects.

Current Efforts and Key Take-aways

Today, VDOT’s CEDAR and GIS Integrator applications are positioned for upgrades. A user advisory committee has been formed to identify functional requirements. The upgrade is expected to come with an updated user interface and be launched within the foreseeable future.

Key motivators for an integrated environmental data management system as exhibited by VDOT’s CEDAR and Integrator include the following:

  • Economic savings: Compared to “pre-CEDAR” 2003, VDOT environmental projects in 2011 experienced notable time savings. For example, the labor hours required to complete tasks associated with a project categorical exclusion (such as a biological assessment, state environmental review, or field survey for endangered species) decreased between 33 and 50 percent.
  • Process efficiencies: CEDAR consolidates applications (project management, GIS, data storage) and makes it easier to document environmental decisions and communicate environmental commitments and project status.
  • Quality control improvements: CEDAR provides standardized spatial data and pre-approved data schemes. It provides a basis for program management and trend analysis.
  • Interagency coordination and relationship building: CEDAR helps streamline interagency coordination by supporting compliance with mandates, reducing the time required for advancing projects through regulatory approvals, compiling all external agency communication, providing transparency of environmental data from all participating entities, and increasing the visibility of project.


VDOT is not alone in its development of an environmental data management system. Though many state DOTs still use spreadsheets, databases, paper maps, and shapefiles as data management tools, many others have developed standalone systems or contemplated environmental data management systems of their own. In August 2015, numerous state DOTs gathered in Oregon and online to discuss data management approaches in their agencies in an effort to share information and experiences across agencies.

VDOT’s advice to other DOTs interested in their own data management systems includes supporting an IT staff dedicated to application maintenance, and involving users from the beginning to confirm requirements and increase staff adoption of the system.

For more information on VDOT’s CEDAR, please contact Geraldine Jones, CEDAR Administrator, VDOT Environmental Division, at

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Case Studies: Compilations of Case Studies - FHWA

GIS in Transportation – This website is maintained by FHWA’s Office of Planning, Environment and Realty to highlight noteworthy practices and innovative uses of GIS applications in transportation planning by state and local transportation agencies. This site includes examples of GIS applications listed by State.

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Case Studies: Compilations of Case Studies - AASHTO

GIS for Transportation Symposium – This website includes proceedings for AASHTO’s GIS-T Symposium, including a variety of effective practices. Copies of the actual presentations made at each topic session are available on-line.

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Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources

Recent Developments: Advisory Council Issues Handbook on Coordination with Tribes

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has issued a handbook that offers guidance on involving Indian tribes early in the Section 106 process under the National Historic Preservation Act. The Early Coordination with Indian Tribes during Pre-application Process: A Handbook is intended to improve the protection of historic properties, including those of religious and cultural significance to federally recognized tribes. The handbook provides recommendations, suggests proactive steps, and includes real-world examples of effective coordination. The handbook has a companion eLearning course. For more information, link to the handbook. (11-8-19)

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Recent Developments: List of Section 106 Programmatic Agreements Updated

The Federal Highway Administration has issued an updated list of statewide Section 106 programmatic agreements for historic properties. The listing, in table format, includes the state, the agreement type such as delegation or streamlining, what transportation facilities are covered under the agreement, the agreement signed date and expiration date, and links to the agreement text. Most states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have at least one Section 106 programmatic agreement in effect. For more information, link to the list. (8-14-19)

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Recent Developments: ACHP Offers Online Course on Consultation with Indian Tribes

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has announced a new on-demand training course addressing early coordination with Indian tribes for infrastructure projects. The course covers Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act as it relates to federally recognized Indian tribes. The course provides information for understanding and skills for working with tribes when planning and developing pre-application information for projects. For more information, link to the announcement. (7-16-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Newsletter Highlights Sec. 106 Agreements with Tribes

A review of Section 106 agreements between the Federal Highway Administration and federally recognized tribes is provided in the June 2019 issue of FHWA’s Successes in Stewardship Newsletter. The issue gives an overview of tribal agreements and consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, including memoranda of understanding, programmatic agreements, and consultation protocol agreements. The newsletter also provides some statistics on the number and types of agreements currently in place and a case study from North Dakota. For more information, link to the newsletter. (6-21-19)

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Recent Developments: GAO Advises on Better Tribal Consultation for Infrastructure Projects

A Government Accountability Office report says that effective consultation between federal agencies and tribal governments regarding infrastructure projects affecting tribal natural and cultural resources could be improved. The GAO report identifies a variety of areas in which effective consultation is hindered. These include difficulties initiating consultation; disagreement on what level of tribal participation is satisfactory and whether tribes have sufficient resources to participate; the knowledge and capacity of agency officials and staff concerning tribal consultation; agencies’ respect for and knowledge of Indian law; and agencies’ practices for engaging with tribes and consulting with other federal agencies. The report offers recommendations including developing a government-wide system to identify and notify tribes of consultations. For more information, link to the report. (4-19-19)

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Issues Report on Highway Noise and Historic Properties

Practices that state transportation agencies have used to mitigate the long-term effects of noise on historic properties are the focus of a new report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. NCHRP Project 25-25, Task 106, Highway Noise & Historic Properties: A National Review of Effects & Mitigation Practices, provides six case studies as examples of the current state of practice where project officials have resolved instances of adverse effects from increased traffic noise. The practices, ranging from conventional noise walls to sound-reducing landscaping, have involved extensive collaboration and consideration of the project context. For more information, link to the report. (3-7-19)

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Recent Developments: Study Reviews Section 106 Delegation Programmatic Agreements

A review and reference guide on use of programmatic agreements for delegation of authority to state transportation agencies under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act has been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The project, Section 106 Delegation Programmatic Agreements: Review and Best Practices, includes a final report; quick reference guide for preparing, updating and implementing a delegation PA; and a power point presentation. For more information, link to the project web page. (3-7-19)

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Case Studies: Case Study Compilations - FHWA Issues Case Studies on Historic Preservation in Planning, Early Project Development

A report and set of case studies showcasing transportation agency programs that consider historic preservation in planning and early project development have been issued by the Federal Highway Administration. The report documents 17 case studies organized by program type, including Section 106 programmatic agreements, historic property databases for State DOT rights-of-way, statewide management of historic bridges, and staff liaison programs with State Historic Preservation Offices. The report, which also provides analysis on the effectiveness and benefits of the programs, was prepared in support of FHWA’s Every Day Counts Initiative.

The report contains the following case studies:

For more information, link to the report, Planning And Environmental Linkages For Historic Preservation, and to FHWA’s Planning and Environment Linkages Historic Preservation webpage.

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Case Studies: Case Study Compilations - AASHTO Report Offers Case Studies on Historic Bridge Rehabilitation

Case studies of best practices for historic bridge rehabilitation from across the country are detailed in a report produced by the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO’s Historic Bridges Community of Practice. The report provides 16 case studies developed in partnership with state DOTs and local transportation agencies and their contractors. For each case study, the report information on each bridge and its context including significant issues associated with project; project description, including purpose and need; traffic levels, loading needs, and other related issues; Section 106 effects finding (no adverse, adverse); and lessons learned.

The report includes the following case studies:

  • Stone Arch Bridges:
    • Johns Burnt Mill Bridge (Adams County Bridge No. 56), Mount Pleasant and Oxford Townships, Pennsylvania
    • Prairie River Bridge (aka Merrill Bridge or First Street Bridge), Merrill, Wisconsin
  • Concrete Arch Bridges
    • Carrollton Bridge (Carroll County Bridge No. 132), Carroll County, Indiana
    • Robert A. Booth (Winchester) Bridge, Douglas County, Oregon
  • Movable Span Bridges
    • Bridge of Lions, St. Augustine, Florida
  • Metal Truss Bridges
    • Tobias Bridge, Jefferson County, Indiana
    • New Casselman River Bridge, Grantsville, Maryland
    • Walnut Street Bridge, Mazeppa, Minnesota
    • Pine Creek Bridge, or Tiadaghton Bridge, Clinton and Lycoming Counties, Pennsylvania
    • Washington Avenue Bridge, Waco, Texas
    • Lone Wolf Bridge, San Angelo, Texas
    • Goshen Historic Truss Bridge, Goshen, Virginia
    • Hawthorne Street Bridge, Covington, Virginia
    • Ross Booth Memorial Bridge (aka Winfield Toll Bridge), Putman County, West Virginia
  • Metal Arch Bridges
    • Lion Bridges (North and South), Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Metal Girder Bridges
    • Hare’s Hill Road Bridge, Chester County, Pennsylvania

For more information, link to the report, Case Studies on Rehabilitation of Historic Bridges and related resources on the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO website.

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Case Studies: Arizona - Arizona DOT Uses Adobe Bricks to Help Restore Historic Building in Tombstone

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has made what it calls an “architecturally challenging” decision to carry out both historic preservation work and transportation safety work in one of the nation’s most significant and infamous towns -- Tombstone.

Tombstone was one of the last frontier boomtowns in the American Old West. In its heyday, it produced millions of dollars of silver bullion and is best known as the site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. There, ADOT is shoring up water-damaged sections of a local historic landmark called Schieffelin Hall, named for 19th century resident and silver prospector Ed Schieffelin.

Arizona DOT is using adobe bricks to shore up water-damaged sections of a local historic landmark, Schieffelin Hall. Photo: Arizona DOT

“Carrying out preservation work with very unique materials alongside one of our highway projects is not what we do every day,” says ADOT Southeast District Engineer Bill Harmon.

Preservation Work

“But in this case, it was a natural fit. We were part of the scope of work for both projects. They both are being carried out in Tombstone’s Historic District. And ADOT is proud to be helping restore and preserve a treasured National Landmark.”

The unique materials Harmon is referring to are adobe bricks. ADOT is shoring up the Hall using replacement bricks that are being painstakingly produced using 19th century techniques. The fabrication process is taking place at a mine not far away in Cochise County by a crew headed up by a third-generation adobe maker. Precise historic replication will enable the new bricks to tightly weld to the remaining original bricks, thus increasing stability and also helping to fend off more water damage.

To create the bricks, wooden molds are set down and a slurry mixture of sand, silt, clay and grass is poured into the forms. After the mixture sits for a day or two and the bricks have taken shape, the forms are removed and the bricks are stacked in the sun to completely dry, a process that can take several weeks. Once the bricks arrive on site at the Hall, they are put into place and secured with a mud and straw mixture that functions like mortar. Finally, a layer of stucco is added on top to conform to the rest of the building’s façade.

Crews create adobe bricks for restoration of the Schieffelin Hall using historic techniques. Photo: Arizona DOT

Besides replacing some of the bricks, ADOT also will add a porch to the Hall to replace the original one removed in the early 1900s. Its corrugated metal roof will be supported by wooden posts, and a downspout will be incorporated to carry away rainwater.

Funding for the preservation work comes from a FHWA Transportation Enhancement (TE) grant awarded to the City of Tombstone. The TE grant was the culmination of several years of hard work involving numerous groups including ADOT, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the Tombstone Restoration Commission, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Park Service, as well as local government, businesses, and citizens. All work is being carried out according to guidelines from the Department of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, a technique required by the National Historic Preservation Act.

Safety Work

In the same neighborhood as its preservation work, ADOT also is carrying out an associated project to improve motorist and pedestrian safety along the Fremont Street portion of State Route 80 where Schieffelin Hall stands. Funding for the highway safety project comes from FHWA’s Highway Safety Improvement Program under MAP-21 and from state gas-tax dollars.

Key safety features being installed under the ADOT grant, begun in August of this year, include the following:

  • narrowing a portion of Fremont Street from 68 feet to 44 feet to make room for sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements;
  • installing landscaping and constructing sturdy concrete sidewalks that look like weathered wood to deter pedestrians from jaywalking; and
  • providing continuous street lighting throughout the area.

He continues, “Sadly, part of the impetus for installing extra rigorous safety features came from a tragic crash that took place here in Tombstone in 2009 involving two tourists. After that happened, ADOT and the city of Tombstone began to work together even more closely to implement a range of advanced pedestrian safety improvements.”

In 2010, he says, ADOT and the city of Tombstone completed a comprehensive traffic study soon after the accident. Short-term actions that ensued included road striping, parking restrictions, and reduced speed limits. The study also recommended several longer-term improvements.

Besides the key pedestrian safety features, the project also entails repaving the roadway and constructing new curbs with handicap ramps,, removing an obsolete pedestrian bridge, and installing an irrigation system for landscaping. Driveways not needed by property owners will be closed, others will be improved to meet current standards.

“Construction for both projects is moving forward steadily,” Harmon says. “Our schedule calls for completing both in the spring of 2016. The value of the two projects, combined, is right at $1 million.”


According to Harmon, while it’s not uncommon for ADOT to be involved in the preservation of historic properties through the Transportation Enhancement grants program, it is unusual for the agency to play a role in the preservation of a National Historic Landmark, including such an architecturally challenging project. As he puts it: “This project truly is one of a kind.”

Extensive collaboration took place so that both historic preservation and improved safety goals were met, he continues. The two projects were evaluated together under one NEPA categorical exclusion document. ADOT retained historic preservation specialists to help during the design and construction phases. The restoration concepts were reviewed and approved by the State Historic Preservation Officer. Detailed plans were prepared based on old photographs plus an onsite investigation of the soundness of the walls.

To meet the requirements of both Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and Section 4(f) of the Transportation Act, AZDOT incorporated several historic preservation features. For example, to mitigate the porch’s potential impact on the historic adobe material, the design was tweaked so to have the porch be a free-standing structure rather than be attached. And the street lighting that was installed was carefully chosen in conjunction with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) so as to carry forward aspects of period lighting design.

“Other state DOTs could, and may well be, carrying out similar community improvement projects under what has become the Transportation Alternatives program,” says Harmon.

“But in addition to the challenges of coordination across many different groups, there is also the issue of funding, including matching funds. We were very fortunate in this project to have both the funding and a great group of people who were willing to do what it took to make this happen.”

The project’s most memorable moment to date? Easy one, is Harmon’s reply. It was the day some cattle wandered into the brick-making area and trampled over some of the fresh adobe.

“Not a typical delay at a modern construction site,” he says, “but it probably happened more than once a century or so ago. I guess it’s to be expected when, for historic preservation’s sake, we decide to work on the cutting edge of low technology.”

For more information, link to the ADOT blog post and video or contact Dustin Krugel, ADOT Public Information Officer, at

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Case Studies: Delaware - Archeology Program for US 301 Project Uncovers History

Archeologists are piecing together a new understanding of residents and merchants who traveled through Delaware as far back as the late 1600s as part of the Delaware Department of Transportation’s US 301 construction project.

The 17-mile, $800 million project will provide a new connection from US Route 301 in Maryland to the existing Delaware State Route 1 corridor.

Spurred on by a tight deadline for construction, archeology work on the project is being conducted at lightning speed and is uncovering numerous archeological sites that are changing the understanding of early inhabitants, merchants, and trade practices in the region, according to David Clarke, an archeologist with DelDOT.

Clarke described the unique $12 million archeology program for the US 301 project, both in terms of the history uncovered at the archaeological sites as well as lessons learned by the state DOT. The large-scale archeological effort was conducted in a short timeframe, while maintaining compliance with requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

DelDOT has been able to “front-load” the archeology program with detailed background research and GIS mapping while keeping the project on time and on budget by following a process set forth in a memorandum of agreement among the transportation and resource agencies.

Holistic Approach

Clarke said the MOA for the project – developed and signed by the Federal Highway Administration, DelDOT, and the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office – is a key element in the “holistic approach” to the Route 301 archaeology program. The program includes a GIS-based predictive model, detailed background research that informed the sampling strategy, and intensive archaeological testing to identify archaeology sites.

“Once we got the record of decision we spent a lot of effort and a lot of money doing very detailed background research and historic research and GIS mapping, so when we had to put shovels in the ground we had so much knowledge already that we weren’t looking for needles in a hay stack,” Clarke said.

In addition, while 99 percent of the archeology work on the project is performed by outside contractors, the program is managed by DelDOT archeologists, giving an added level of confidence to resource agencies and the federal government. “It saves us so much time and money by having archeologists manage the archeologists,” Clarke said.

One of the major accomplishments has been the ability of the program to shift the alignment of the planned highway to avoid archeological resources and preserve sites in-place – a savings of about $5 million and a win-win accomplishment for all involved, he said.

These elements combined have allowed the archeology program to be conducted quicker, cheaper, and more effectively, and to get better results, he added.

“The hope is that at the end of this project this will be a kind of new gold standard both for FHWA and the Delaware Department of Transportation on how to manage the Section 106 compliance on a mega-project,” he said.

Rewriting History

Meanwhile, Clarke said archeologists are finding evidence of previously undocumented inhabitants and possible trade routes that may help rewrite the history of the area.

“We have found an amazing number of early historic archeological sites from the late 1600s and throughout the 1700s that we really didn’t expect to be on the landscape and a number of associated cart roads,” Clarke said.

Researchers are finding evidence that merchants likely were using secret trade routes along undocumented cart roads to avoid the more prominent routes that were subject to a tax by the King of England. Trade items from the merchants’ ships – remains of which archeologists are uncovering near the cart roads – were likely used as barter to local farmers and residents who provided access to their land and use of their ox-drawn carts, Clarke explained.

Clarke predicted that these early archeological sites will “completely rewrite and change what we thought we knew about the Delmarva region before the Revolutionary war and at the end of the 1600s and early 1700s – when our previous models told us there weren’t a lot of people living here.”

“We’re finding a lot more evidence of people here and goods trading between the Delaware and Chesapeake Bay – just a lot of it may not have been recorded.”

“Even though we found all of these amazing early archeology sites we are still going to be on-time and on budget, and get through the 106 process, because we set up our program to handle any kind of archeology; no matter what we found we had a way in our memorandum of agreement to work through it.”

Clarke said the new information and data from the U.S. 301 archaeology program will be synthesized and distributed to the public.

In addition to traditional mitigation for project impacts, alternative mitigation will likely include providing a new historic context for the state, journal articles, and possibly an entire book documenting the findings.

Clarke credited the success of the project to the joint effort of the agencies involved.

“We collectively worked very hard to write a memorandum of agreement that allows us the tools to do things differently, but it was also very strict on the roles each agency played, who was in charge, and the decision-making process. Without that legally binding agreement we really couldn’t do the things we’re doing now.”

For more information, link to the DelDOT archeology program website, the U.S. 301 Final EIS, and the Memorandum of Agreement.

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Case Studies: Florida - Historic Bridge of Lions Rehabilitation

The Florida Department of Transportation was able to preserve the historically significant architectural features of the Bridge of Lions, the gateway to historic St. Augustine. Accomplished by constructing a “bridge within a bridge,” the improvement project was able to retain key elements of the original bridge while addressing the bridge’s structural problems.

The Bridge of Lions crosses Matanzas Bay (part of the Intracoastal Waterway) and connects the city of St. Augustine with the resort communities of Anastasia Island, St. Johns County, Florida. It is located in an urban setting, with its western approach in the historic district of St. Augustine. Designed by John E. Greiner and constructed in 1927, the bridge has a total length of 1,545 feet. The main span is a 95 foot double-leaf rolling lift bascule. Approach spans are steel arched girder-floor beam spans with cantilevered overhanging sections.

This architectonic bridge is a significant feature of the historic streetscape of St. Augustine and is a gateway to the old city. The bridge was rehabilitated in order to retain its historically significant architectural features, while solving the bridge’s structural problems. This was accomplished by constructing a “bridge within a bridge.” Enough of the old bridge was retained to classify the project as a rehabilitation and not new construction. New construction would have required use of all modern design criteria.

Prior to rehabilitation, the bridge was in fair to poor condition, particularly in terms of the fracture critical girder-floor beam approach spans and the substructure units. At many locations, crutch bents had been previously installed in order to provide additional support.

Rehabilitation Process

As part of the rehabilitation, the bridge’s two fascia girders were retained for visual appearance, while new steel stringers were installed inside the girders. The fascia girders, which were removed, repaired, and then reset in place, were relieved of most of the loads and the new stringers now carry the majority of the dead load and the traffic loads. The stringers are hidden from view and will not distract from the architecturally significant arched girders. In addition, the approach spans were widened in order to improve the roadway geometry.

The bascule piers and associated towers were left in place and repaired. This included replacing the existing concrete piers within the splash zone with new concrete, as the existing concrete contained high levels of chlorides. The bascule piers were strengthened by the addition of drilled shafts, and a new footing was placed below the existing waterline footing in order to provide sufficient strength for a modern design scour event.

Several features original to the bridge, but previously removed or replaced, were replicated. These included the pedestrian railing (with the height increased to meet modern standards), light standards, and rotating traffic gates. The bridge steel was painted to match the original bridge color.

The original bridge was recognized as important for its high artistic merit, rather than its technological significance. This made it possible to focus the rehabilitation on its historic character and appearance. This resulted in Florida DOT making a finding of No Adverse Effect. The Florida State Historic Preservation Officer concurred with this finding.

Lessons Learned

By retaining a sufficient amount of the existing bridge, this project was considered a rehabilitation. New construction would have required use of all modern design criteria, such as widening the navigable channel from the existing 84 foot to the 125 foot width now required for the Intracoastal Waterway.

To maintain the bridge’s historic character, it was extremely important to retain the design of the piers and the arch-shaped fascia beams, in addition to the cantilevered end sections of the girder-floor beam approach spans. The fascia girders were reused on the slightly wider stringer approach spans, supported on substructure units that were rebuilt in-kind to the new geometry. The reused fascia girders support themselves and part of the bridge’s sidewalks.

For more information on the project, contact Roy A. Jackson, State Cultural Resources Coordinator, Florida Department of Transportation, e-mail:

Additional case studies of best practices for historic bridge rehabilitation from across the country are detailed in a report produced by the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO’s Historic Bridges Community of Practice. Link to Case Studies on Rehabilitation of Historic Bridges.

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Case Studies: Pennsylvania - Pennsylvania DOT Uses ‘Story Map’ to Document History, Mitigate Impacts

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is using an innovative “Story Map” to share important historical information about an area impacted by a road improvement project on Route 322 in Centre County.

The online interactive map provides locations and details about historically significant sites, people, and events within the area of the Potters Mills Gap Transportation Project. Users can learn about the history of the project area and its inhabitants, including the town’s namesake James Potter, Native American settlements, log structures and historic homes inhabited by early settlers, early roads, farms, industry, cemeteries and other features. This effort to document the area’s history is part of an innovative effort to mitigate project impacts on historic resources in the project area.

The road improvement project along a section of Route 322 required mitigation for adverse impacts on several wooded tracts, historic buildings, and historic farmland areas within the Penns/Brush Valley rural historic district. The district was determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places based on its agricultural patterns, associated landscape features and Vernacular-style architecture established during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Story Map, titled A Journey to Potters Mills, is the first of its kind to be used by PennDOT to help mitigate adverse impacts to historical resources.

Screenshot of Journey to Potters Mills Story Map. Courtesy: PennDOT

“The intent of the Story Map is to provide the public with insight into how the development of transportation within the Potters Mills Gap has, over time, impacted the Historic District,” said Karen Michael, PennDOT District 2 Executive.

According to a PennDOT summary, the Story Map provides visitors with a visual and geographic history of an important crossroads in the Seven Mountains region of the Commonwealth. The map “allows visitors to change scale and navigate between important historic places along the highway corridor and understand the roles that transportation, natural resources, agriculture and early industries played in the development of modern Centre County.”

The Story Map website provides an interactive map of the area with 33 separate image icons that link users to important locations – along with photos, historic maps and documents and a brief description of each. Together, the map allows users to explore the history of the region, from the time of the Native Americans and earliest settlers through various important historic events and locations.

The team sought images which spanned the development of the area, and included diverse subjects and formats including photos, historic maps, portraits, documents, and other records. Information was uncovered through research at a number of repositories, including local historical societies, universities, libraries, state agencies, and from private individuals.

Origins of Story Map Concept

The Story Map concept was proposed to PennDOT by its project consultant as a possible mitigation measure for adverse impacts identified for the project under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

“The idea actually came from one of the consultant team members who saw a social media post that combined a map, text and images, but lacked the GIS-based interactivity of what became the Story Map,” according to PennDOT’s Steve Fantechi, who managed the project through preliminary design.

The Story Map was one of a number of mitigation measures that included roadside interpretive signage, context-sensitive design measures, the preparation of a “Best Practices” document, and avoidance and protection of some resources. The NEPA document for the project was an Environmental Assessment that concluded with a Finding of No Significant Impact.

According to Fantechi, the Section 106 consultation process involved a great deal of consultation and interaction with local historical societies and local governments. “That collaboration contributed substantially to Story Map’s popularity with local residents, the regional press, teachers, and citizens and engendered a substantial amount of local and regional pride in local heritage,” he said. “In our view that’s what a successful Section 106 outcome looks like.”

In addition, he said, the GIS-based Story Map approach also creates an obvious link between landscape, transportation networks, and economic history, which in turn promotes a better understanding of and context for historic events, trends and places.

To the best of PennDOT’s knowledge, this is the first mitigation product of its type used for an American transportation project.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

According to PennDOT District 2 staff, the biggest challenge in developing the Story Map was probably too much of a good thing.

Background research and interaction with the consulting parties produced an enormous number of images and a substantial amount of local history and documents. Paring that down to a relevant and manageable record of local and regional history was a challenge.

Once that work was done, the actual GIS programming required to produce an interactive and useable online product had its own set of challenges, as the product went through a number of iterations leading to the final version.

Another challenge came from requests by some of the consulting partners to add additional information to the Story Map for future projects. Since PennDOT used a consultant to develop the Story Map, its ability to revise the map was limited to the duration and funding of the consultant’s contract. PennDOT doesn’t have the resources to revise the Story Map in-house, so future revisions, which could involve different consultants, could be more difficult, according to PennDOT Project Manager Craig Sattesahn.

Regarding lessons learned, Sattesahn said it would have been useful to establish procedures and parameters up front to facilitate revisions and additional requests.

Advice for Other DOTs

According to PennDOT staff, close and meaningful consultation with local consulting parties and residents is key to local support for the product and can help obtain a great deal of important local input – such as family images, diaries, etc. – that would be impossible to get anywhere else.

It’s also important to balance high-tech and low-tech mitigation measures. Older residents are less technologically savvy than younger ones, and there are still many remote locations where high speed internet conductivity is spotty.

Since the Story Map is a technology-based product, the rapid change and evolution of technology requires attention. Although no funding is available to carry the Potters Mills Gap Story Map further, it’s likely that the next iteration of a Story Map on a different project would probably be a mobile application.

As a final consideration, PennDOT staff said a central online state repository for Story Maps from multiple projects is probably worthwhile and would not be a very expensive effort. Such a site would allow visitors to start a search at the state map level and zoom in to a number of specific project areas that have Story Maps.

The first of three construction sections of the Potters Mills Gap Transportation Project was completed in 2015. A second section began construction in August 2016, and the last section is scheduled to start construction in early 2018. More information about the PMG Transportation Project is available on the project web page.

A Journey to Potters Mills Story Map can be found on PennDOT’s PA Project Path website.

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Indirect Effects/Cumulative Impacts

Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Instructions on Travel and Land Use Forecasting

The Federal Highway Administration has issued instructions for reviewing travel and land use forecasting elements in documents prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The instructions provide an overview of why forecasting is important and the relationship between forecasting and the various stages of the NEPA process. The instructions also include concerns, risks, and key points regarding forecasting and the project scoping, purpose and need, the range of alternatives, and effects analyses. In addition, the instructions discuss procedures for handling changes during the NEPA process and how to reevaluate a NEPA decision prior to the next FHWA major approval. The instructions include examples and considerations for FHWA reviewers. The instructions supplement the 2010 Interim Guidance on the Application of Travel and Land Use Forecasting in NEPA and were released along with a frequently asked questions document. For more information, link to the instructions. (2-21-18)

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Case Studies: Texas - Texas DOT Offers Simplified Guidance to Assess Projects' Indirect and Cumulative Effects

Challenges associated with assessing the indirect and cumulative effects of transportation projects across Texas have been eased by a revised and simplified set of handbooks and guidance documents developed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

TxDOT faces a distinctive challenge when assessing the indirect and cumulative effects of its projects across the state: the state lacks a statewide land use management policy and manages its lands at the local level. The lack of a statewide approach to land use creates varying conditions across the state that make a strictly defined indirect and cumulative effects process unfeasible—the same project could have drastically different indirect and/or cumulative effects under contrasting land use conditions created by the various land use policies of different cities.

For example, where one city may employ strict zoning laws, other cities may frequently and broadly grant variances; an interchange project that may reasonably be assumed to have a ½-mile radius Area of Influence (AOI) in the first city may require an AOI with a radius of several miles in the second city because the second city’s less strict zoning creates the possibility of a geographically much larger AOI.

The varying land use climates across the state and extensive use of frontage roads parallel to limited access facilities create an interesting challenge for Texas: how to create guidance that balances streamlining the indirect and cumulative effect analyses with the unique conditions presented by different local approaches to land use regulations.

TxDOT's indirect and cumulative impacts guidance helps streamline implementation of projects such as the FM 2493 Road Widening EA Project in Smith County, Texas. Photo: Texas Department of Transportation

Developing the Guidance

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)’s guidelines for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementation (40 CFR §§1500-1508) established the requirement for federal agencies to consider direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts in the NEPA process. Subsequent guidance and resources provide further direction on considering indirect and cumulative effects under NEPA (e.g., AASHTO Handbook 12, NCHRP Report 466, FHWA Interim Guidance and Q & A, and NCHRP Project 25-25, Task 43).

TxDOT developed its own cumulative impacts guidance in the early 2000s, which was met with positive feedback from around the state and other DOTs. Soon after, the agency began developing a guidance that incorporated both indirect and cumulative impacts. Following the suggestion of FHWA Texas Division, the more comprehensive guidance document pulled from a variety of sources like the NCHRP Report 466—the Transportation Research Board’s Desk Reference for Estimating the Indirect Effects of Proposed Transportation Projects—to provide TxDOT project teams with a step-by-step process. Initially implemented in 2009, minor updates to the guidance document in 2010 added keys for success and how to approach small projects through added-capacity Categorical Exclusions.

Implementing the 132-page guidance document proved both successful and challenging. The guide acts as a detailed “how-to” resource of indirect and cumulative impact analysis methods. TxDOT learned, however, that document users found its size cumbersome and struggled with the unfamiliar technical terms (e.g., notable feature, impact-causing). In response, TxDOT split the guidance into two separate guidance documents—one for indirect effects and one for cumulative effects—and simplified them by consolidating the number of steps, removing technical jargon, and splitting out easily convoluted concepts, such as growth-related effects and encroachment effects. TxDOT also added an Indirect and Cumulative Impacts Handbook to provide a high level overview of the steps to conduct a thorough and defensible analyses of indirect and/or cumulative impacts that may occur as a result of a transportation project.

Nicolle Kord, TxDOT’s indirect and cumulative impacts expert, said the agency has “attempted to structure our guidance to be more accessible to a wider audience; in particular for those new to indirect and cumulative impact analysis.” For example, she said, TxDOT “attempted to make these complex ideas easier to understand by breaking them up into their individual parts (indirect encroachment impacts, indirect induced growth impacts, and cumulative impacts) as well as by removing jargon and putting guidance in plain language.”

Key Features of the Guidance Documents

The following table illustrates several key features of TxDOT’s indirect and cumulative effects guidance documents that contribute to their efficacy.

Lessons Learned

From its original cumulative effects guidance through its most recent guidance updates, TxDOT emphasized the following lessons that may be transferable to other state DOTs:

  • Know your state: A blanket approach to indirect and cumulative impacts analysis does not work in Texas. Though other state DOTs may have a more uniform statewide land use climate, it is critical to know your area and understand that indirect and cumulative impacts are complex and often call for a case-by-case approach. Texas uses decision trees (Induced Growth Indirect Impacts Decision Tree and Cumulative Impacts Decision Tree) to help determine which projects need indirect and cumulative impact analyses.
  • Simplify: TxDOT’s simplified approach to indirect and cumulative impact analyses made it more approachable for district environmental staff, who are project and technical experts but not necessarily versed in all aspects of NEPA.
  • Consider process improvements: By emphasizing technical reports and coordination early in the NEPA process, TxDOT was able to shorten their review cycles, save time and money, and produce stronger analysis in its documents.
  • Provide one-on-one coaching: In addition to regular conference calls (“NEPA Chats”) with districts to identify and provide guidance on various NEPA issues, TxDOT found great value in one-on-one coaching with district subject matter experts on individual projects rather than implementing agency-wide theoretical classroom training in how to apply the guidance.

For more information on TxDOT’s approach to Indirect and Cumulative Effects, contact Nicolle Kord, Environmental Specialist, Texas DOT at

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NEPA Process

Recent Developments: CEQ Proposes Revisions to NEPA Implementing Rules

The Council on Environmental Quality has proposed revisions to regulations for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The rule would establish two-year “presumptive” time limits for completing environmental impact statements (EISs) and one year for completing environmental assessments, specify presumptive page limits, and revise public notice and comment procedures. The rule also would reduce the scope of the definition of environmental "effects," clarify that effects must be reasonably foreseeable and have a reasonably close causal relationship to the proposed action, and establish that analysis of cumulative effects is not required. In addition, the rule would clarify that major federal actions do not include nondiscretionary decisions and nonfederal projects with minimal federal funding or involvement and clarify that reasonable alternatives requiring consideration must be both technically and economically feasible. In addition, the rule would require joint schedules, a single EIS, and a single record of decision where appropriate for EISs involving multiple agencies to comply with the One Federal Decision policy under Executive Order 13807. Comments on the proposal are due March 10, 2020. For more information, link to the proposal. (1-9-20)

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Recent Developments: President Marks NEPA Anniversary with Promise to ‘Modernize’ the Law

President Donald Trump marked the anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act on Jan. 1 with a statement noting the law’s goals of protecting the nation’s natural resources, while also pointing out that the law is “increasingly complex and difficult to navigate.” The president noted his “One Federal Decision” policy that aims to complete environmental reviews within 2 years and said that pending updates to NEPA regulations soon will be released by the Council on Environmental Quality. For more information, link to the statement. (1-1-20)

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Recent Developments: NEPA Case Law for Highway, Transit and Rail Projects: 2018 Year in Review

A year-in-review summary of federal court decisions issued in 2018 in cases involving environmental reviews for highway, transit, passenger rail, and airport projects is available on the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO website. The paper accompanies the case law summaries posted on the Case Law Updates on the Environment (CLUE) Database, which summarizes each case separately. The paper provides a brief summary of each case, followed by summaries of key holdings on a topic-by-topic basis. For more information, link to the paper and CLUE database. (12-9-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA, FTA, FRA Issue Joint Guidance on NEPA Re-Evaluations

Guidance addressing procedures for re-evaluating a proposed agency action to determine if changes in action, information, or circumstances warrant further analysis pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act has been issued by federal highway, transit, and rail agencies. A re-evaluation is a review to find out whether an environmental document or decision remains valid for agency decision making. The joint agency guidance discusses when a written re-evaluation is triggered, when further consultation is required, and the responsibility for determining whether a re-evaluation is required. The guidance also discusses the information needs, formats for re-evaluation, and whether it requires public involvement. For more information, link to the guidance. (8-14-19)

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Recent Developments: CEQ Reports on Page-Count of Federal Agency EISs

Data on the page-count of environmental impact statements prepared by federal agencies have been compiled and released by the White House Council on Environmental Quality. CEQ looked at 568 actions for which the Environmental Protection Agency published a notice of availability of a final EIS between Jan. 1, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2017, and for which a record of decision was issued by June 7, 2018. CEQ found the average length was 586 pages for draft EISs and 669 pages for final EISs. CEQ regulations recommend page limits of less than 150 pages for final EISs, or less than 300 pages for proposals of “unusual scope or complexity.” For more information, link to the report and related materials. (7-22-19)

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Recent Developments: CEQ Issues Draft Guidance on Considering GHGs under NEPA

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has issued draft guidance for how federal agencies should consider greenhouse gas emissions in conducting environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. Unlike prior guidance, which said environmental impact statements should include an estimate of projects’ greenhouse gas emissions, the draft guidance calls for such projections only when they are “substantial enough to warrant quantification, and when it is practicable” to do so. Comments on the draft will be accepted until July 26. For more information, link to the draft guidance. (6-26-19)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO Webinar Recording: Navigating P3s and Environmental Reviews

This webinar, sponsored by the BATIC Institute and the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO, provided an introduction to navigating the environmental review process for public private partnership (P3) projects. Discussions included the state of the practice nationally and considerations specific to P3s before and during the NEPA process, as well as unexpected challenges and future trends. Speakers included Eric Beightel of WSP and Bill Malley of Perkins Coie. For more information, link to the webinar recording. (5-1-19)

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Report Touts Best Practices for Environmental Commitments, P3s

Successful practices for addressing commitments agreed upon by a state departments of transportation as part of the NEPA process when a project is a public-private partnership or uses a design-build delivery method are presented in a report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP 25-25, Task 109). Environmental commitments – such as those made for historic properties, Section 4(f), water quality protection, threatened and endangered species, hazardous materials, air quality, and noise – either may be overlooked, not adequately addressed, or require revisions due to design modifications. The report reviews methods that DOTs use to keep projects on schedule and maintain good relationships with resource agencies. For more information, link to the report. (4-1-19)

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Recent Developments: Study Examines Use of Categorical Exclusion PAs to Streamline Project Delivery

Programmatic agreements with the Federal Highway Administration concerning categorical exclusions are a good first step toward more streamlined environmental reviews, according to a report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program Project 25-25. The study found that many state departments of transportation have entered into agreements that create a framework for decision making about actions that qualify for categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act. Examples of programmatic agreements for categorical exclusions used by the DOTs in Arizona, Connecticut, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, were reviewed. The report includes lessons learned, the text of the nine PAs, and a model agreement created by the FHWA. For more information, link to the report. (3-16-19)

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Recent Developments: 'One Federal Decision' Order Applies to NEPA Assignment States, Guidance Says

State transportation agencies that have assumed federal authority for environmental reviews are subject to the “One Federal Decision” executive order, according to guidance jointly issued by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Management and Budget. The Feb. 26 guidance memo specifies that states that have assumed federal environmental review authority “are subject to the same procedural and substantive requirements that would apply if those responsibilities were carried out” by the secretary of Transportation. For more information, link to the memo. (2-26-19)

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Recent Developments: TRB Announces Webinar Regarding 'One Federal Decision'

The Transportation Research Board will conduct a webinar on March 27, 2019, that will discuss how to adhere to Presidential Executive Order 13807, which requires federal agencies to process environmental reviews and authorization decisions for “major infrastructure projects” as one federal decision and that National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) decisions should be made within two years. The webinar will describe practices that have already been applied as well as others for consideration that may help agencies achieve these goals for transportation projects. To register for the webinar, link here. (3-1-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Lists Activities to Conduct Pre-NOI under One Federal Decision EO

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a memo outlining activities that should be undertaken prior to the notice of intent (NOI) for an environmental impact statement for major infrastructure projects subject to the One Federal Decision executive order. The memo to Division Administrators and environmental staff lists the following ten actions: identifying cooperating and participating agencies for the project; developing a draft purpose and need; developing a draft coordination plan that includes a permitting timetable; identifying affected community and stakeholders and developing a public involvement plan; identifying a preliminary range of alternatives; determining the extent of analysis needed for each resource; initiating applicable resource surveys/studies; identifying potentially significant environmental issues and potential mitigation strategies; and initiating permit activities as soon as possible. Written concurrence from cooperating agencies should be obtained during the pre-NOI stage on purpose and need and range of alternatives, the memo said. For more information, link to the memo and to FHWA’s One Federal Decision web page. (2-1-19)

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Case Studies: Ohio - Ohio DOT Launches Expanded Online Environmental Documentation System

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has launched an expanded and renamed version of its online environmental documentation system and is steadily adding time-saving bells and whistles. The system, formerly known as CE Online, has been rebranded ENVIRONET to reflect the comprehensive capabilities of the system and to allow for future planned enhancements.

ENVIRONET facilitates the electronic processing of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents. Categorical exclusions (CEs) can be fully completed online because the forms are built into the system. The associated electronic project file houses supporting documentation. While Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statement (EISs) still need to be completed outside the system, both the environmental document and its associated documentation are uploaded to the electronic project file set up for the project.

The electronic project file is a very important part of the system since it allows real-time access to draft and final supporting documents. Subject matter reviewers can check out draft technical reports, make comments, and check them back in. Once the technical report is approved, it can be finalized in the system. This capability allows for version control and the system also tracks when documents were uploaded, when they were modified, and by whom.

EnviroNet System Screenshot, Courtesy Ohio DOT

The system also provides a standardized process for uploading reports, technical studies, agency coordination, and decision-making documents. It allows the user to select appropriate drop-down options to consistently name documentation. The process is capped off with an electronic review and approval function, meaning no printing, signing, scanning and uploading is required. Users have access to particular sections of the system based on their respective roles.

“Rebranding is a reminder that our system offers more than just streamlining CE preparations,” said ODOT Assistant Environmental Administrator Erica Schneider. “One of EnviroNet’s greatest benefits is that it provides all sorts of real-time information to our project team. There’s no longer a need for mailing or e-mailing information back and forth.”

ODOT has continued to save approximately $100,000 per year since its CE Online went live in 2012, Schneider said. Even better, savings could double as additional enhancements are added.

NEPA Assignment a Motivator

In December 2015, ODOT assumed federal authority for NEPA reviews from the Federal Highway Administration, giving the state agency added responsibilities for ensuring environmental compliance. These new responsibilities provided additional motivation to add new capabilities to the system, explained Kevin Davis, Environmental Supervisor with ODOT. For example, the system now includes a Project Details Tab that allows ODOT users to enter dates for specific environmental milestones related to the project, whether it’s a CE (the vast majority), EA, or an EIS.

“We now are required to closely track time savings,” he explained. “Using the project file, we can access completion dates for each stage of a project from start to finish. With these details in hand, we can identify exactly where we are saving time or, in some cases, exactly where we need to find ways to work more efficiently.”

Another recent addition is the FHWA Auditing Tool. During annual audits under the NEPA assignment program, auditors can log in at the home page, select the date range they are seeking, and view all of the documents approved during that time period.

Lessons Learned, Advice to Other DOTs

In planning and developing enhancements to ENVIRONET, ODOT has gathered suggestions from inside the agency and also used information from similar online systems in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Texas. Virginia DOT, for example, has integrated a GIS component into its system, an enhancement ODOT now is considering.

Schneider said developing an effective system that can be built to grow and adapt requires funding, patience, and time. The original system cost about $600,000 to develop and it took just over a year.

She offered the following advice to other DOTs contemplating building similar systems:

  • Gain and maintain strong support from upper management.
  • Develop a front-end detailed communications plan. Processes, roles, and protocols should be clearly spelled out to avoid duplication and misunderstandings.
  • Plan on dedicating a lot of time to working with programmers and subject matter experts as the system is developed.
  • Involve everyday users of the system at the beginning of development. Learn about their needs and solicit their ideas. Before deployment, carry out user acceptance testing and make changes where needed.
  • Provide comprehensive training to all users. Go beyond “train-the-trainer.” Conduct classroom training. Develop a website that provides guidance on tasks such as how to check out a document for review.

Looking Ahead

As of October 2016, more than 6,600 projects were housed in ENVIRONET including approved documents, those in process, and those submitted for review and/or approval. More than 600 people had been granted access to the system, including ODOT staff, regulatory agencies, and consultants. The eventual goal, Schneider said, is for all involved resource agencies to carry out their reviews using ENVIRONET and to make all approved environmental documents available to the public online.

Another planned enhancement will facilitate the completion and coordination of Ecological Survey Reports. Under the current system, regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receive as many as 60-70 such reports a month. They are uploaded to an internal local drive and sent out in batches via an extranet site at the end of the month. The new feature, which would incorporate the report into the CE form, is scheduled for incorporation in 2017.

For more information, contact Kevin E. Davis at or Erica Schneider at of the Office of Environmental Services at ODOT or visit the Office of Environmental Services Environmental Documentation web page.

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Case Studies: Texas - TxDOT Accrues Multiple Benefits from NEPA Assignment Responsibilities

The Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) assumption of authority for the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) responsibilities for environmental review and approval is providing multiple streamlining benefits, saving time and money in the review process while still protecting the state’s natural resources.

TxDOT is the second state transportation agency in the nation to assume full environmental review authority from FHWA. California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) was the first to take on the role under a pilot program launched under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). Then, under MAP-21, the program was expanded and made permanent. Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) became the third state in December 2015. Four other state transportation agencies are in the process of applying for NEPA assignment: Alaska, Florida, Idaho, and Utah. In addition, Utah and Alaska have Categorical Exclusion-level assignment under the pilot program.

In late 2015, TxDOT marked its one year anniversary in the program and has been “pleased with the results so far,” said Carlos Swonke, Director of the agency’s Environmental Affairs Division.

For Texas, the new authority brings the following benefits:

  • provides time and cost savings;
  • eliminates a layer of review;
  • involves no reduction in environmental considerations;
  • allows direct consultation between TxDOT and federal regulatory agencies;
  • enables quick turnaround time for project decisions; and
  • allows for more control of project planning and scheduling.

Contents of the MOU

Details on the new authority are spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the two agencies developed and signed in 2014. The MOU sets forth how TxDOT will implement the Surface Transportation Project Delivery Program (sometimes referred to as the NEPA Assignment Program) under MAP-21. The MAP-21 provisions enable all state transportation agencies to apply to be assigned federal environmental review authority from the FHWA under the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws. TxDOT requested, and was granted, the full authority under the program with the exception of three projects that remained with FHWA as the lead agency.

TxDOT’s NEPA review responsibilities include determining, for individual projects, whether potential impacts merit an environmental impact statement, an environmental assessment, or a categorical exclusion. For Texas, determinations for categorical exclusion-level projects are done at the district (regional) level. Projects involving environmental impact statements or environmental assessments are coordinated, reviewed, and approved at the division (central) office level.

Besides these NEPA review responsibilities, TxDOT also has taken on some of FHWA's responsibilities for highway projects under other environmental laws. The laws include the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and Historic Preservation Act. Notably, MAP-21 precludes states from taking on federal responsibility for government-to-government consultation with Indian tribes or for conformity determinations under the Clean Air Act. In addition, under the MOU, FHWA retains responsibility for projects that cross state lines and international boundaries.

Four performance measures are identified in the MOU: (1) compliance with NEPA and other Federal environmental statutes and regulations; (2) quality control and quality assurance for NEPA decisions; (3) relationships with agencies and the general public; and (4) increased efficiency and timeliness and completion of the NEPA process.

Swonke said that his agency’s MOU generally followed the Caltrans format. And now that it is in place, it appears that FHWA will be using it as something of a template for other states coming into the program.

TxDOT employees receive training to prepare for NEPA assignment. Photo: TxDOT

Preparing for NEPA Assignment

To prepare TxDOT staff for the new role, he continued, the agency has established a more rigorous process for project review and documentation. It also has created time for training on topics such as documentation and records management, and has updated its NEPA-related manuals. In addition, the agency has instituted a robust quality assurance/quality control process. TxDOT also maintains close communication with its district offices on changes in laws or executive orders that may affect the new responsibilities. Finally, it intends to communicate regularly about its assignment activities to stakeholder organizations.

FHWA, for its part, has assumed the role of program oversight and review and issues progress reports to Congress. It also has taken on training and technical assistance. Under MAP-21, FHWA must carry out two audits annually during the first two years that a state DOT assumes NEPA assignment and once in the third and fourth year. The audits include identification of successful practices as well as opportunities for improvement. Thus far, TxDOT has conducted environmental approvals on more than 1,600 projects, with the majority of these being categorical exclusion determinations.

Application Process, Pluses and Minuses

TxDOT began to consider applying for the program in 2012 when there was talk about extending the pilot program but before MAP-21 was passed. When MAP-21 passed, TxDOT leadership gave the green light to take the first steps.

The formal process began with securing a limited waiver of sovereign immunity that the state legislature passed in the spring of 2013, said Swonke. Under the waiver, TxDOT NEPA actions and decisions could be subject to federal court jurisdiction.

Next, the agency wrote a letter to FHWA expressing its interest in taking on NEPA assignment. It circulated its draft application for assignment for public comment as well as its draft MOU. After considering feedback on both documents, the MOU was finalized and signed by TxDOT and FHWA on December 16, 2014, and TxDOT began to take on its new responsibilities.

Benefits and Advice

As a result of taking on NEPA Assignment, Swonke said, TxDOT has made its review and approval process much more systematic, which provides greater consistency. In addition, the requirement for the state agency to have a self-assessment program has yielded a wide range of insightful information that is used to measure and improve the program.

He had one major suggestion for other state DOTS contemplating seeking NEPA assignment: early on, take an inventory of your technical expertise and the tools in hand that will guide your process. Both need to be up to the challenge of making decisions independently.

Just after the one-year point, Swonke said TxDOT’s program was still adapting to the change. “I am hoping the majority of our evolution will be complete a year from now,” he said.

For more information, contact Carlos Swonke, Director, TxDOT Environmental Affairs Division, at or go to

In addition, see materials from AASHTO’s 2015 Peer Exchange on NEPA assumption.

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Case Studies: FHWA Compilations

Case Studies: FHWA Compilations - State Practices

Case studies and best practices related to the NEPA Process can be found on FHWA's Environmental Review Toolkit.

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Recent Developments: NCHRP Issues Report on Highway Noise and Historic Properties

Practices that state transportation agencies have used to mitigate the long-term effects of noise on historic properties are the focus of a new report issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. NCHRP Project 25-25, Task 106, Highway Noise & Historic Properties: A National Review of Effects & Mitigation Practices, provides six case studies as examples of the current state of practice where project officials have resolved instances of adverse effects from increased traffic noise. The practices, ranging from conventional noise walls to sound-reducing landscaping, have involved extensive collaboration and consideration of the project context. For more information, link to the report. (3-7-19)

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Case Studies: California - Caltrans Uses Air Bubble Curtain Technology to Protect Wildlife During Bridge Implosions

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is using cutting-edge technology to remove the marine foundations of the former East Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge while protecting area wildlife and reducing project cost and schedule.

The technology controls the blast sequence down to microseconds by using a computer system to precisely detonate hundreds of small individual charges to implode the foundations, thus greatly reducing impacts. At the same time, Caltrans is implementing a blast attenuation system that creates a shield of air bubbles to abate resulting sound waves and pressure.

Cutting edge technology helps protect the environment during implosion of this former bridge pier. (Photo: Caltrans)

“By employing leading edge technology, we have reduced the temporal environmental impact of our demolition work from years to seconds,” said Stefan Galvez-Abadia, Chief, Office of Environmental Analysis and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Environmental Manager. “Simultaneously, we are working more safely and efficiently and saving money.”

The agency’s other option would have been to build a cofferdam, he said, which is an enclosure around each foundation pumped dry to enable loud, heavy machinery to carry out the demolition work. With a limited construction window each year, it could have taken up to four construction years to remove each foundation, a very expensive undertaking. In addition, this approach can result in continuous environmental impacts and safety risks.

“Real-time results have exceeded those anticipated by the model,” Galvez-Abadia said. “Both in-water noise and pressure as well as water quality impacts were significantly less than anticipated. We view this cutting-edge technology as another valuable tool in our toolbox.”

Caltrans’ implosion technology supplements additional steps it routinely takes to protect wildlife. The marine foundations are located in a portion of the San Francisco Bay that contains several fish species protected by the Endangered Species Act as well as marine mammals protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Caltrans avoids impacts to most of these species through seasonal work windows. However some species are present in the Bay year round and the agency has developed specific work windows to avoid impacts to these species to the greatest extent practicable.

History of Project

The reason for removal dates back to 1989, when a segment of the bridge partially collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake. Although it reopened later that year after extensive retrofitting, experts decided that the East Span needed to be more earthquake-resistant than would be possible by retrofitting the existing bridge. Construction of a replacement span began in 2002 and was opened to traffic in 2013. After beginning to dismantle the original span’s superstructure in 2013, Caltrans began to remove its foundations as stipulated in the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the replacement span.

The first of the former East Span’s 21 foundations, called Pier E3, was imploded in November 2015. Two more foundations followed suit in 2016, and an additional six to thirteen are slated for demolition in 2017 and 2018, when the project is slated for completion.

Permits, Protections

Caltrans’ engineers and environmental team spent years working closely with a variety of resource agencies to determine how best to minimize potential environmental impacts to area wildlife and habitat.

Before beginning the project, the agency received federal permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). State agencies granting permits included the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. These permits covered the building of the new bridge as well as the removal of the original bridge by mechanical means.

As the implosion work advances, Caltrans will continue to implement its impact avoidance and minimization measures. In addition, marine mammal species in the area will be protected via monitoring of pre-established exclusion zones around each foundation. If marine mammal species such as harbor seal, sea lion, or harbor porpoise, are spotted, the implosion will be delayed until the individual has moved outside the zone. Water quality and air quality monitoring also will continue to be conducted.

Perhaps the most powerful piece of the protection arsenal is Caltran’s air bubble curtain. To activate the system, a compressor pumps air through a manifold of perforated pipes set in a steel frame. Multiple frames contiguously surround the foundation and are activated just before the implosion process begins. The escaping air bubbles create a continuous shield, or wall, that provides a robust acoustic barrier.

Lessons Learned and Advice

Caltrans has tweaked several of its procedures along the way, said Galvez-Abadia. For example, after analyzing the results of the Pier E3 Demonstration Project, then determining that potential impact areas were less than modeled and subsequently consulting with associated resource agencies, the expanse of the wildlife exclusion zone was reduced to reflect the minimized impacts.

He recommends that other state departments of transportation consider adopting a similar approach for their own underwater implosion work provided they adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Allow sufficient time to develop and tailor the technology and time of year to the particular locale and scenario – in Caltrans’ case, it took about two years;

  • Ensure that those carrying out the work possess a high level of expertise and will not cut corners;

  • Identify appropriate work windows when the least number of species may be affected;

  • Reach out early to local environmental stakeholder groups as well as resource agencies, and continue the dialogue throughout the process.

The technology behind the air curtain will be added to Caltrans’ Technical Guidance for Assessment and Mitigation of the Hydroacoustic Effects of Pile Driving on Fish. The current version provides guidance on the environmental permitting of in- and near-water pile driving projects. It includes an extensive collection of data on pile driving under a variety of conditions that can be used as an empirical reference for the permitting process.

For more information on Caltrans’ bridge marine foundation implosion work, contact Stefan Galvez-Abadia, Chief, Office of Environmental Analysis and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Environmental Manager, at Information also is available from Dr. Brian Maroney, SFOBB Project Manager and Chief Engineer, at

A video describing the environmental monitoring efforts is available here.

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Planning & Environment Linkages

Recent Developments: FHWA Posts PEL Peer Exchange Summary

A summary of an August 2019 peer exchange on planning and environment linkages, held in Austin, Texas, has been posted by the Federal Highway Administration. Under a PEL approach, information and analysis completed during planning can be used during project development and in the environmental review process, improving efficiency and accelerating project delivery. Using a PEL approach may involve early public involvement and early coordination with resource agencies. The summary describes areas of discussion at the exchange, including an overview of PEL, a demonstration of the PlanWorks PEL application, and state implementation overviews from Texas, Nebraska, Idaho, Montana, and Florida. For more information, link to the report. (1-15-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Examples of State Practices on Planning and Environment Linkages

Examples of Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) approaches in state DOTs has been posted by the Federal Highway Administration. The report is a compendium of interviews regarding their PEL implementation. The DOTs provided valuable insights and lessons learned that informed the development of the FHWA’s PEL Guidebook. These summaries provide highlights and key takeaways from FHWA’s discussions with nine states, including: AR, AZ, CO, MT, MI, NC, PA, UT, and WA. For more information, link to the report. (1-8-20)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Provides Update on Maine DOT’s Atlantic Salmon Programmatic

The Federal Highway Administration has posted an updated case study on the Maine Department of Transportation’s Atlantic Salmon Programmatic Consultation. Maine DOT reported that its monitoring of completed projects has improved regulatory compliance and ensured beneficial environmental outcomes, while adaptive management has allowed the agency and its partners to incorporate new information to adjust the program to meet efficiency and conservation goals. The in-lieu fee program, which was finalized at the end of 2018, has added flexibility to the programmatic consultation process. For more information, link to the case study. (10-29-19)

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Recent Developments: Researchers Develop Tool to Measure Effectiveness of Public Involvement

A toolkit to measure the effectiveness of public involvement in transportation have been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Research Report 905, Project 08-105). The toolkit, which includes survey instruments, a scoring tool, and guidelines for use, is designed to collect feedback from the public on several indicators of effectiveness and compare that feedback with the transportation agency’s perceptions. The combined responses then can be used to compare the effectiveness of different public involvement strategies over time. For more information, link to the report. (5-6-19)

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Recent Developments: Newsletter Highlights Use of Eco-Logical for Project Delivery

The state of the practice in use of the Eco-Logical landscape approach to infrastructure planning is outlined in the Jan. 2019 issue of Federal Highway Administration’s Successes in Stewardship newsletter. The issue provides examples of the Eco-Logical approach and its benefits, agencies that are using the approach, and ways it can be used to accelerate project delivery. For more information, link to the newsletter. (1-8-19)

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Case Studies: Federal Highway Administration - FHWA's Planning and Environment Linkages Effective Practices

FHWA Planning and Environment Linkages Website tracks Effective Practices including a collection of case studies that summarize the experience of a state or metropolitan area that implemented the PEL approach to transportation decision-making. The case studies document why and how change was achieved, some of the challenges encountered, and a few lessons learned.

For more information, link to the Effective Practices web page.

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Case Studies: Federal Highway Administration - FHWA Eco-Logical Case Study Series

Case Studies: Utah - Utah DOT’s Web Mapping Tool Helps Link Planning, Environmental Decisions

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has developed a powerful interactive planning tool, UPlan , that provides a comprehensive data repository where users from state, local, and federal agencies and the public can share data. With this wealth of information in hand, transportation planners, as one of many user groups, can make more informed, strategic decisions that reflect a broad understanding of the potential impacts each project may have, including its environmental impacts.

“UPlan gets everyone on the same page,” said Becky Hjelm, GIS Manager at UDOT. “It’s a visual tool that connects our users to current, relevant business systems and data sets within UPlan as well as data sets outside it.”

UPlan data takes the form of hundreds of dynamic GIS web maps and apps that incorporate information from multiple datasets. For instance, transportation planners interested in environmental links to a project can simultaneously view the locations of critical environmental attributes such as streams, wetlands, rare plant habitats, and historic sites, along with maps of planned transportation projects scheduled to be carried out in the same geographic area. Users can search for data in a variety of ways.

Diverse Users

Currently, according to Hjelm, there are approximately 100 UPlan users who actively are creating content, And there are hundreds more who come to Uplan for the information they need. Users include representatives from transportation agencies, resource agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, local governments, citizen groups, and the public. A very small percentage of the data in UPlan is sensitive. Access is to sensitive data is handled in two ways, 1) by providing secure access via a login; and 2) an MOU with the responsible agency defining acceptable use. One way around the sensitive data concern is to provide what is called a buffer data set, which provides general but not precise locations.

Hjelm said one positive outcome of UDOT’s investment in web GIS development is the Utah Mapping and Information Partnership (UMIP), a coalition of Utah state agencies that includes the Department of Environmental Quality, UDOT, the Department of Public Safety, and other agencies, as well as a handful of Utah counties.

UPlan originated in 2008 when UDOT planners and engineers realized that they were spending inordinate amounts of time looking for data that was in silos and scattered across agencies. They decided that it would be well worth investing time and money to create a single location where relevant data from a wide variety of sources could be gathered and housed for convenient access.

In 2011, UDOT applied to AASHTO’s Technology Implementation Group and UPlan was accepted as a Focus Technology within its Innovation Initiative. Since then, the UPlan model has been piloted in 39 states, and a number of them have developed, or are in the process of developing, their own state-specific version of the repository.

One of the strongest benefits of UPlan, says Hjelm, is that it opens up opportunities for collaboration that did not easily exist in the past. By sharing information with partner agencies and stakeholders early in the planning process, transparency is created that can foster greater trust across agencies. It also creates conditions in which more efficient, effective, and sustainable approaches to projects can be identified.

uPEL Report

One of UPlan’s most useful applications has been its ability to identify potential environmental impacts of projects and generate what is called Utah’s Planning and Environment Linkages Report (PEL) (uPEL report). Each report summarizes all of the environmental and community resources that are intersected by a potential project’s footprint. Resource information on nearly 20 topics can be drawn upon for the analysis, such as floodplains, rare plants, Section 4(f) lands, environmental justice concerns, and historic sites. An accompanying factsheet with each report provides information related to the project needs, forecasts, conditions, and other current and planned work in the area. More information about uPEL can be found in the uPEL User Guide

Utah DOT's uPEL User's Guide helps link planning and environmental decisions. Source: UDOT

Underlying each uPEL report are the collaboration and integration principles that form the basis for FHWA’s Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) approach to transportation decision-making. Using the approach means 1) considering environmental, community, and economic goals early in the transportation planning process; and 2) using the information, analysis, and products developed during planning to inform the environmental review process.

Hjelm cited several examples in which uPlan and uPEL have been used to great benefit. The first was the Uinta Basin Rail project in which it was used to screen 26 possible alternatives for laying approximately 4500 miles of track. What normally would have taken a few years of investigation was achieved in a few months.

In another case, uPEL was used to support analysis for a Programmatic Biological Assessment (BA) for the Utah prairie dog. UDOT conducted a GIS analysis to identify locations where Utah prairie dog habitat intersected highways using UPLAN and uPEL. Then, UDOT and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted one single Section 7 consultation that cleared an entire sub-set of projects for a 20-year period. The Programmatic BA enabled UDOT to streamline compliance with the Endangered Species Act while helping to ensure conservation of the Utah prairie dog.

Continuous Improvement

Hjelm said that although uPEL in its current form definitely has proven its worth, UDOT is planning to overhaul the application in several significant ways. First, the format of uPEL reports is being revised so that the information can be dropped more easily into required documentation for National Environmental Policy Act compliance. In addition, changes are being made that reflect changes in the system’s data sets.

In addition, the current online User Guide is being revised to make the information more easily understood and include lessons learned. The guide explains how uPEL works, how reports are generated, and the benefits of using it as a planning tool. It also contains sections on each environmental system included in the repository (e.g., floodplains) and describes how transportation projects can affect that system, repercussions if that is the case, datasets about the system that are included in the repository, and contacts for more information.

Code Available to Other States

Hjelm said the code behind UDOT’s uPEL is being offered free to other state DOTs who are interested in creating their own PEL-type application. Although they will have to invest considerable time modifying the framework and populating it with data to fit their needs, obtaining the code “should provide a starting point.” Several other states have, or are developing, tools that are similar to uPEL, she said. Each state will have its own challenges with data sharing.

Her primary advice to other state DOTs who may be contemplating a PEL-based tool: Be bold in your thinking and be patient with the process. Sharing data and building constructive relationships with other agencies and citizen organizations sometimes can take time. But the time invested, especially at the beginning of the process, is well worth the effort over the longer term.

UPlan and uPEL will continue to evolve to reflect constantly changing circumstances, she adds. One option UDOT is exploring is the possibility of incorporating 3-D maps. The ultimate goal is to have information flow seamlessly across multiple disciplines including engineering, design, construction, operations, maintenance, and environment.

For more information, contact Becky Hjelm, GIS Manager, UDOT, at, or visit the UPlan website.

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Project Delivery/Streamlining

Recent Developments: FHWA 'Successes in Stewardship' Newsletter

View the most recent issues of FHWA's Successes in Stewardship Newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining practices from around the country:

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Recent Developments: FHWA Updates FAQs Concerning Right-of-Way and Real Estate

The Federal Highway Administration has updated a question-and-answer document regarding right-of-way and real estate issues, including state and federally funded early acquisition projects. The updates address changes introduced by Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and other changes made by a final rule published in 2016. The questions and answers concern early acquisition flexibilities that can be used by state departments of transportation and other grantees under the federal-aid highway program. For more information, link to the Frequently Asked Questions. (2-19-20)

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Recent Developments: GAO Urges Agencies to Develop Performance Schedules for FAST-41 Projects

Federal agencies should take steps to fully develop performance schedules for environmental reviews for infrastructure projects, including pipelines, renewable energy production, and electricity transmission, covered under Title 41 of the FAST Act, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO found that the process the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council used to develop draft performance schedules for the three sectors did not fully implement two of three selected best practices identified by GAO: (1) maintaining the baseline schedule and (2) conducting an analysis of potential risks. The report recommended that the Permitting Council incorporate such practices into its performance process. For more information, link to the report. (10-29-19)

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Recent Developments: Study Shows How Transportation Liaisons Help Expedite Project Delivery

A Federal Highway Administration study illustrates how state transportation agencies are successfully using funded transportation liaison positions at resource and regulatory agencies to accelerate project delivery. The study revisits six of the eight states included in a 2009 study (California, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington) to understand how their transportation liaison programs have evolved over the past decade. In addition, FHWA engaged three new states (Colorado, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania) to learn how liaison program practices have grown and operate today. The study, which described benefits, challenges, and recommendations, found liaison programs to be an effective option for expediting project delivery. For more information, link to the study. (July 2019)

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Recent Developments: FTA, California Transit Agency to Begin Expedited Project Delivery

The Federal Transit Administration has announced that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in California will be the first to participate in the agency’s Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program. The agencies will begin discussions about new and innovative approaches to expedite delivery and financing of transit projects. The Santa Clara VTA put forward a project, known as the Silicon Valley Phase II Project, to extend the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) heavy rail network into San Jose and Santa Clara. The agency is one of seven to express interest in being part of the program. For more information, link to the announcement. (7-8-19)

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Recent Developments: White House Issues Accountability Scorecard for Major Infrastructure Projects

The White House Office of Management and Budget has announced the launch of the inaugural Infrastructure Permitting Accountability Scorecards to track how agencies are progressing toward modernizing the permitting process for major infrastructure projects. The scorecards track how agencies are making progress with regard to the President’s One Federal Decision requirement, permitting timetables and milestones, and procedures for elevating schedule delays to senior agency officials when delays occur. Scorecards are provided that include the first two quarters of 2019 for 15 major infrastructure projects under various agencies including the Transportation Department. Information concerning the meeting of milestones, and the time and funds spent on environmental reviews will be provided in future scorecards when more data is collected. For more information, link to the Accountability Scorecard for Major Infrastructure Projects. (6-27-19)

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Recent Developments: Tool to Measure Public Involvement Effectiveness Provided in Research

A tool transportation agencies can use to measure the effectiveness of their public involvement efforts has been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. NCHRP Research Report 905 provides a practitioner-ready toolkit, which includes a survey, a scoring tool, and guidelines for scoring. It can be used to collect feedback from the public on several indicators and compare that feedback with the agency’s own perceptions. For the report and related resources, link here. (6-19-19)

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Recent Developments: AASHTO Seeks Poster Ideas for COES Meeting in Minneapolis

AASHTO is seeking poster presentations for the Committee on Environment and Sustainability Conference Reception and Poster session on Aug. 6th, from 6 to 8 pm at the Radisson Blu in Minneapolis. The poster session is a valuable opportunity for DOTs, universities, and consultants to present recent projects, case studies, or innovative solutions to emerging environmental topics. Send a one page description to Oscar Bermudez ( by June 21st. If selected, you will be notified by July 12th. For more information, link here.

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Recent Developments: FHWA Issues Summary Report on Every Day Counts Round 5 Initiatives

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a summary report on the fifth round its Every Day Counts program for innovative approaches to highway project delivery. The report outlines the deployment status of the 10 EDC-5 innovations. Approaches include project bundling, safe transportation for pedestrians, virtual public involvement, and weather responsive management strategies. For more information, link to the report. (5-16-19)

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Recent Developments: ARTBA Gives Out Transportation Project Environmental Excellence Awards

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association presented the 2019 “Globe Awards” to transportation agencies and construction contractors for contributions to environmental protection and mitigation. The first place award in the large projects category was for the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge replacement in North Carolina, which took steps to minimize impacts on turtle nesting grounds and piping plover habitat. The second place for large projects was awarded to Washington State DOT for the Alaskan Way Viaduct/SR 99 Tunnel project in Seattle, which includes, among other things, advanced stormwater and pollution handling systems. For more information, link to the announcement. (5-15-19)

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Recent Developments: Researchers Develop Tool to Measure Effectiveness of Public Involvement

A toolkit to measure the effectiveness of public involvement in transportation have been developed under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Research Report 905, Project 08-105). The toolkit, which includes survey instruments, a scoring tool, and guidelines for use, is designed to collect feedback from the public on several indicators of effectiveness and compare that feedback with the transportation agency’s perceptions. The combined responses then can be used to compare the effectiveness of different public involvement strategies over time. For more information, link to the report. (5-6-19)

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Recent Developments: Newsletter Highlights Process Efficiencies in Project Development

A tool for accessing a variety of environmental information is outlined in the February 2019 issue of the Federal Highway Administration’s Successes in Stewardship newsletter. The issue describes the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Comprehensive Environmental Data and Reporting (CEDAR) system, which provides a single user interface to access all of an agency’s environmental data such as National Environmental Policy Act documentation, permitting information, and environmental contracts. CEDAR has been adopted by several other states including, most recently, Alaska. For more information, link to the newsletter. (3-18-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Posts Virtual Public Involvement Resources

The Federal Highway Administration has posted resources on ways to conduct public involvement activities virtually. The agency said use of virtual public involvement tools enhances and broadens the reach of public engagement efforts by making participation more convenient and affordable for greater numbers of people. Virtual public involvement techniques – such as telephone town halls, tablet-based surveys and mobile applications, and video posts for project information – are being showcased via the fifth round of FHWA’s Every Day Counts initiative. For more information, link here. (2-25-19)

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Recent Developments: USDOT Report Addresses Steps Taken to Accelerate Project Delivery

The Department of Transportation has released a report to Congress concerning Section 1317 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which addresses the acceleration of project delivery while improving environmental outcomes under the National Environmental Policy Act. The report addresses the use of technology in environmental reviews, prioritization of programmatic environmental impact statements, methods to encourage agencies to present analysis in a clear manner, and improvements to modernize process implementation. For more information, link to the report. (1-19-17)

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Case Studies: California - Caltrans Realizes ‘Huge Benefits’ From Assuming Federal Environmental Reviews

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As the first state transportation agency to assume federal authority for environmental reviews of highway projects, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has shaved more than a year off the median timeframe for its review process. Through its participation in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) assignment program, Caltrans is saving money, protecting the environment, and getting vital projects to construction sooner.

Caltrans took on the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) environmental review authority for transportation projects in 2007 as part of a pilot project. Today, it is one of eight states that are authorized to act in place of the federal government in reviewing environmental impacts of highway projects under the NEPA assignment program. As such, Caltrans is responsible for ensuring compliance with all applicable federal environmental laws, as well as FHWA’s NEPA regulations, policies, and guidance. Caltrans is also legally responsible and liable for the environmental decisions made on projects for which it has assumed NEPA review authority.

As of April 30th 2019, Caltrans’ 700 environmental practitioners have approved 12,744 categorical exclusions (CEs), 249 draft environmental assessments, 212 findings of no significant impact, 22 draft environmental impact statements (EISs), 19 final EISs, and 15 records of decision. These practitioners work on both state highway systems and local-assistance federal-aid highway projects.

The Tri-Agency Partnership, shown here, includes representatives from California’s environmental and transportation agencies who work to
ensure the timely development of transportation improvements while protecting the state’s resources. Photo: Caltrans

Caltrans is authorized to assume federal authority for the full NEPA program (under 23 USC 327), as well as for CE determinations (under 23 USC 326). For NEPA assignment, the agency currently is operating under a five-year agreement that expires on Dec. 21, 2021. The CE assignment agreement was renewed in April 2019 for a three-year term. The vast majority of projects --around 95 percent -- are processed as CEs. Projects with greater potential for environmental impacts require a full environmental impact assessment under NEPA and are covered under the full NEPA assignment program.

Process Improvements

In addition to the estimated 13.8-month time savings for projects with an environmental document, improvements in Caltrans’ environmental review process have been a major benefit of the NEPA assignment program, according to Tammy Massengale, who heads the NEPA assignment program for the state.

To implement the stringent program requirements as outlined in the official memorandum of understanding (MOU) with FHWA, Caltrans revised its environmental policies and procedures as well as updated the Caltrans Standard Environmental Reference. The reference includes a chapter on addressing NEPA Assignment that must be followed by all Caltrans districts, regions, and by all agencies and consultants preparing environmental documents for approval by the department.

Massengale explained that even before NEPA assignment, the Standard Environmental Reference was very comprehensive, but it has been made more robust. The updated reference provides step-by-step instructions and analysis tools for practitioners, and it has been used as a model for other states. As a result, Caltrans staff have become expert NEPA practitioners, and the program has achieved more consistency and additional quality control for its environmental documents, she said. Implementation is facilitated by district-level NEPA coordinators that act as liaisons with Caltrans headquarters and help educate staff.

Although Caltrans no longer is subject to FHWA audits, the state agency continues to self-monitor annually, documenting ongoing compliance with the MOU and all relevant environmental requirements.

Cost Savings, Other Benefits

Although Caltrans has not been required to calculate cost savings for the NEPA assignment program overall, the department has saved time by conducting its own reviews and has saved money by reducing project delays. An analysis done for the 2017-2018 fiscal year showed a savings of $13.4 million attributed to Caltrans leading its own streamlined environmental reviews.

According to Massengale, the agency also has improved its working relationships, holding quarterly meetings with resource agencies responsible for signing off on its projects, as well as local agency partners. For example, the agency has reduced its timeframes for obtaining a biological opinion related to endangered species impacts by five months.

Caltrans’ use of interagency liaisons, which are dedicated positions that it funds at resource agencies, has also helped expedite project decisions, she said.

Lessons Learned

When asked about lessons learned and advice for other state DOTs considering NEPA assignment, Massengale urged states to work closely with their FHWA division offices. Once a state decides to take on full NEPA assignment, she said, FHWA provides staff and technical support to help states develop their programs.

She also advised that States DOTs reach out to other NEPA assignment states (Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Utah; Nebraska DOT has CE assignment and is in the process of applying for full NEPA assignment). These states have a wealth of knowledge to pass on, Massengale said, and they continue to support each other and other states interested in the program.

Massengale urged states to practice patience. It took two years for Caltrans to get its program up and running, she said, and several more years to refine it in alignment with FHWA’s audits and Caltrans’ self-assessments.

Looking back on the agency’s years of NEPA assignment, Massengale said, she does not see any downsides. “It really has been so beneficial for Caltrans, for our local partners, and for the environment, too,” she said.

As for next steps, Caltrans also is considering taking on additional authority that would allow it to substitute state environmental requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for federal NEPA requirements. This authority was established as a pilot program under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and is available for up to five NEPA assignment states. Implementation of the authority, known as the Program for Eliminating Duplication of Environmental Reviews, is awaiting final authorization by FHWA. The FHWA regulations will provide application requirements and criteria necessary to determine whether state laws and regulations are at least as stringent as the federal law. For California, this so-called CEQA-NEPA reciprocity would give the state even more autonomy in environmental compliance for transportation projects.

Meanwhile, Caltrans continues to reap the benefits of NEPA assignment. “I think it’s wonderful,” Massengale said. “I’m happy not only to work with the program but I’m happy to be a citizen of the state and see the great things that Caltrans is doing for the environment.”

For more information, link to the Caltrans NEPA Assignment web page or contact Tammy Massengale at

NEPA Assignement Resources:

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Case Studies: Maine - MaineDOT Accelerates Project Delivery, Programmatically Protects Endangered Salmon

The Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) has adopted a programmatic approach to ensure vital protections for the endangered Atlantic salmon, while cutting project-approval times for 60 percent of projects that are likely to affect the species.

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Maine Atlantic Salmon Programmatic Consultation is a combined effort of MaineDOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA). With the help of a $250,000 FHWA grant, the agencies collaborated to expedite the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultation process for projects that impact the Atlantic salmon through development of a programmatic biological opinion (PBO) and a related in-lieu fee mitigation program.

The PBO was issued by the USFWS in January 2017 in response to a programmatic biological assessment (PBA) prepared by MaineDOT.

The PBO applies to a range of transportation projects likely to result in unavoidable adverse effects to Atlantic salmon or its critical habitat. A project qualifies for processing under the PBO depending on its location, the quality of habitat, design parameters, and construction methods.

Under the programmatic, MaineDOT agrees to design and carry out a mutually-agreed-upon standard set of procedures, including avoidance and minimization measures and mitigation practices. Given that the actions are standardized, USFWS review time is greatly reduced, also reducing project delivery time and cost by significantly improving predictability for both MaineDOT and USFWS.

Once the project qualifies for programmatic coverage, informal consultations are completed within 14 days and formal consultations are completed within 30 days.

Specific benefits include the following:

  • Approximately 60 percent of MaineDOT projects requiring Section 7 consultation for Atlantic salmon will qualify for expedited processing under the PBO;
  • For those projects that qualify, individual BAs (typically 50 to 100 pages) are replaced by a standard two-page checklist form that reflects the protocols and performance standards of the PBO;
  • The timeframe for informal USFWS consultation and concurrence is reduced from about 8 months to 1 month; and
  • Parties can focus on projects outside the PBO that may have greater impacts on the species.

Addressing a Backlog of BAs

“Back in 2010, we had an annual backlog of about 40 informal and formal Biological Assessments (BAs) for salmon-related projects requiring USFWS review and fewer than 7 were being processed due to extremely heavy workloads and highly detailed information requests,” said Judy Gates, director of MaineDOT’s Environmental Office.

Gates said less than 20 percent of annual consultations for the Atlantic salmon were reaching completion in time to deliver projects during a very constrained construction window.

“USFWS was issuing their decisions months past its target dates and, as a result, we were going way beyond our project delivery deadlines. We all realized we had to do something,” Gates said.

Specifics of the Programmatic Biological Opinion

To help address this backlog, the agencies developed a programmatic consultation, committing to specific design standards that seek to reconnect waters for endangered salmon. The PBO applies to three priority geographic areas within the state designated as Salmon Habitat Recovery Units.

In implementing the PBO, MaineDOT, MTA, FHWA, and the USACE maintain regular communication with USFWS and NMFS on each project’s potential for programmatic coverage. The PBO covers activities such as:

  • culvert and bridge replacement;
  • bridge maintenance;
  • geotechnical drilling; and
  • scour countermeasures and culvert end resets.

The PBO also lists actions that do not fall under programmatic coverage and still require individual consultation, such as solid-fill causeways replaced in potential spawning habitat.

In-Lieu Fee Program Provides Flexibility

To further these efforts, MaineDOT also is collaborating with the USACE to develop an in-lieu fee (ILF) mitigation program for Atlantic salmon. The PBO serves as the primary avenue by which mitigation fees can be directed to Atlantic salmon recovery efforts under the purview of USFWS and NMFS.

The Atlantic salmon ILF will enable public and private applicants for federal environmental permits to direct mitigation dollars to the Atlantic salmon ILF fund instead of performing project-specific mitigation. Funds from the Atlantic salmon ILF will be distributed as determined by an interagency review team comprised of state and federal agencies with jurisdiction over Atlantic salmon management and recovery.

The program is intended to operate as an ecosystem crediting system. Environmental benefits such as preserving a habitat recovery unit will be valued in relation to other environmental benefits and assigned a relative number of credits that, in turn, have an associated dollar equivalent. Permit applicants will pay a specific number of mitigation dollars into the system based upon direct and indirect effects attributed to their project.

An environmental group has been contracted to develop the ILF program’s framework and propose a defensible benefit-cost methodology. The program is based on Maine’s existing wetland in-lieu fee program, the “Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program,” which has successfully funded both state and federally-required mitigation for the last decade. The new ILF is expected to be finalized in the summer of 2017.

Implementation and Cost Considerations

Simply not having to draft a BA for 45 projects each year results in a cost savings of over $150,000. More significantly, this frees technical staff to spend those hours in the field gathering data needed to improve habitat connectivity.

In addition to MaineDOT direct costs, USFWS will benefit as its transportation liaisons focus on more complex projects. MaineDOT has opted to fund two liaisons to USFWS to increase capacity, create an institutional knowledge base, and improve opportunity for interaction between agencies. The cost of the second liaison is easily balanced by the cost savings realized from not having to draft BAs.

On an individual project basis, mitigation fees are anticipated to range from $10,000 to 10 or 20 times that amount.

“MaineDOT has used an estimate that up to $750,000 annually could be directed to mitigation fees under the PBO, similar to level at the inception of Maine’s wetland mitigation program,” Gates said.

If costs of participating in the PBO are likely to exceed benefits for a given project, managers may opt to use individual consultations, as in the past. MaineDOT will be tracking direct and indirect costs and benefits particularly over the first several years of using the Atlantic salmon PBO.

Eco-Logical Grant

The effort to develop a programmatic approach got a large boost when MaineDOT received a $250,000 Eco-Logical Implementation Assistance grant in 2013. FHWA’s Eco-Logical approach encourages state DOTs and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to engage project partners such as USFWS early in the process and to collaborate on integrating both transportation and ecological goals.

The grant allowed MaineDOT and its partner agencies to analyze their environmental screening processes and eliminate duplicative steps. The grant also coincided with MaineDOT’s performance measure to deliver of at least 80 percent of projects within 30 days of the scheduled advertise date.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

“We found that two of the key ingredients for success are to have internal expertise and to have an internal champion,” Gates said. She also recommended the following strategies:

  • Understand and be able to articulate benefits and costs to each agency involved.
  • Maintain flexibility in schedule of tasks to allow for inevitable workload demands.
  • Develop internal executive-level support and an internal project coordination team as soon as possible.
  • Reach out to partner agencies at the outset and maintain close communication throughout the project duration.
  • Should roadblocks crop up, consider involving partner organizations’ regional offices or federal agency officials;
  • Allow for flexibility and changes in approach based on new ideas, unexpected barriers, or shifts in staffing.

Staff from the transportation and environmental agencies expect that the approach will benefit both transportation project delivery and species recovery efforts.

For more information, link to the Maine Atlantic Salmon Programmatic Consultation web page or contact Judy Gates, Director, MaineDOT Environmental Office, at

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Case Studies: Oregon - Oregon DOT Makes Headway in Streamlining ESA Section 7 Consultations

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have significantly reduced review time and cost for conducting endangered species consultations for their projects through implementation of a unique statewide programmatic consultation that streamlines procedures while ensuring conservation of potentially affected species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

ODOT’s John Raasch explains that “prior to the Federal-Aid Highway Program (FAHP) ESA programmatic consultation process, ODOT was spending six to nine months preparing a Biological Assessment and awaiting the Biological Opinion. It was expensive and time consuming. With the FAHP [programmatic ESA consultation], that consultation time is now one to two weeks. Due to the process being so efficient, ODOT can submit documents later in the project planning phase when more specific details regarding project design are available, resulting in fewer revisions and shorter review timelines.”

Oregon DOT's ESA Programmatic Consultation helps streamline projects such as this innovative culvert design. Photo: ODOT


In the late 1990s and early 2000s, numerous west coast salmonid species (Chinook, Chum, Coho, steelhead, Sockeye and Bull Trout) were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). ODOT, whose road and bridge projects border and cross a high number of salmon-supporting streams, began hiring more biologists and consultants to prepare the numerous and lengthy Biological Assessments (BAs) that were now required and to manage the ESA Section 7 consultation process.

After many years of preparing separate BAs evaluating predictable impacts and implementing similar mitigation measures, and completing separate Section 7 consultations which took on average six to nine months, ODOT and FHWA approached the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) about a programmatic approach to ESA Section 7 consultations for these species. Taking advantage of the collaborative and problem-solving spirit built between ODOT, FHWA, USFWS and NMFS staff biologists over the preceding years, the agencies agreed on a set of procedures and tools for implementing the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) statewide programmatic Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultation and Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA) consultation with NMFS and USFWS.

The FAHP programmatic consultation for Highway Projects resulted in two biological opinions (BO), one from USFWS and one from NMFS, which provide ESA coverage for the majority of highway construction projects funded by the FAHP and administered by ODOT. To qualify for the FAHP programmatic consultation, the project must:

  • Result in an ESA determination of “may affect” (likely or not likely to adversely affect) for one or more of the specified federally-listed species or designated critical habitat (CH). The FAHP programmatic authorizes “take” for species most likely to be directly impacted by highway projects including all ESA-listed fish species and associated CH in Oregon.
  • Result in a determination of “may affect” fisheries resources governed by the MSA.
  • Result in a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) classification of categorical exclusion or environmental assessment.
  • Not involve specific excluded activities.

Outcome-focused design standards that were agreed upon by ODOT, FHWA, NMFS and USFWS, and that provide benefits to species and their habitats, are a key to the success of the FAHP programmatic. Some examples of these outcome-focused design standards are shown in Table 1.

There are four main phases of project implementation under the FAHP programmatic: early coordination, notification, construction, and post-construction. The details of project implementation are described in the FAHP Programmatic User’s Guide. As the lead agency, FHWA administers the FAHP programmatic, which includes local and state projects within the scope of the program. Projects that require U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) permits can use the FAHP programmatic to meet USACE ESA requirements. The FAHP action area includes all geographic areas in Oregon where transportation projects directly or indirectly affect ESA-listed species covered by the FAHP programmatic.

ODOT has found that conservation, consistency and efficiency are the benefits of the FAHP programmatic:

  • Conservation: the FAHP focuses on the outcome for covered species and their habitat.
  • Consistency: the FAHP provides predictable costs, design standards, outcomes for covered ESA-listed species, and agency review timelines.
  • Efficiency: in addition to predicable FAHP permitting components, an online form consisting of check boxes, drop downs and a few short text fields replaces the 200+ page BAs previously common at ODOT.

The FAHP programmatic consultation would not be possible without the trust built between participating agencies over time. As a result of its success, NMFS and USFWS were able to defer approval responsibility to FHWA for a large portion of projects.

According to ODOT, as of late 2015, 134 projects had been completed under the programmatic since its inception, with 77 completed or in construction. About half of those projects were local agency projects, and just over half of the projects required only FHWA approval with NMFS notification.

Implementation Tools for ESA Consultations

Several tools were developed to meet the reporting requirements of the FAHP programmatic and assist with information sharing and management. These include:

  • Initiation, Notification, Construction Inspection and Completion forms.
  • Webmap – The location and status of all projects implemented using the FAHP are available for stakeholders to track via ODOT’s FAHP Projects Map. Each project is symbolized by its current status and includes a link to the project files. These contain more detailed information ranging from plan sheets to notification forms to construction monitoring reports.
  • Project Tracking – All projects that use the FAHP are documented and tracked in a centralized data management system and coordinated by ODOT. Project impacts, enhancements, and take are all tracked, and quarterly status reports are available to stakeholders.
  • User’s Guide – The FAHP user’s guide is a comprehensive review of the processes used to implement the FAHP. The user’s guide provides design standards, and detailed instructions for how to coordinate, notify, and monitor projects.

For agencies struggling with long and unpredictable ESA consultation processes, ODOT has the following advice if considering a programmatic ESA consultation:

  1. Consult with other states on successful programmatic ESA consultations that have been implemented. Look into the tools they created and data tracking they provide. See if anything can be built upon to meet your needs.
  2. Continue to build relationships with FHWA, NMFS and USFW. Without strong relationships between ODOT, FHWA, NMFS and USFW, this consultation would have been very difficult, if not impossible to obtain.
  3. Be realistic on your time frame for obtaining the programmatic ESA consultation. Ensure that you take the time to collaborate internally and externally to ensure success.

For more information on ODOT’s FAHP programmatic, contact Cash Chesselet, ODOT FAHP Coordinator, at, or Cindy L. Callahan, Environmental Specialist/Biologist, FHWA Oregon and Washington Divisions/Resource Center, at

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Case Studies: Federal Highway Administration Compilations - FHWA's Successes in Stewardship Newsletter

FHWA's Monthly Successes in Stewardship Newsletter provides profiles of successful practices in environmental stewardship and streamlining.

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Case Studies: Federal Highway Administration Compilations - Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining State Practices

Environmental streamlining success stories are catalogued on the FHWA website under State Practices Database.

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Case Studies: Federal Highway Administration Compilations - Meeting Environmental Requirements After a Bridge Collapse: Five Cases

A report published by the Federal Highway Administration analyzes the environmental review process in five cases of bridge reconstruction following collapse in Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. The report, which was prepared by the U.S. DOT’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, describes how key elements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process were completed comparatively quickly due to a sense of urgency on the part of stakeholders following an emergency. The report also describes several practices that allowed agencies to expedite the environmental review process. For more information, link to Meeting Environmental Requirements After a Bridge Collapse.

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Section 4(f)/Section 6(f)

Recent Developments: U.S. DOT Agencies Issue Guidance on Fast Act Environmental Provisions

The Federal Transit Administration, in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Railroad Administration, have issued guidance on the applicability of certain environmental provisions under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. One guidance document concerns the applicability of the statutory environmental review framework under 23 U.S.C. 139 to rail and other projects. The other guidance document provides information on the applicability of new statutory provisions on environmental requirements for parks, recreation areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. For more information, link to the environmental review guidance and to the Section 4(f) guidance. (4-12-16)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Newsletter Features Resources to Assist with Section 4(f) Compliance

The June 2013 Successes in Stewardship newsletter, published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), provides information on Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. Included in the newsletter are recent Section 4(f) updates and a description of the FHWA’s Interactive Section 4(f) Tutorial, which expands on a previously released training tool. The newsletter also offers examples of Section 4(f) projects. A FHWA-National Highway Institute collaboration on a planned Section 4(f) training course is also highlighted. For more information, link to Interactive Online Tutorial Educates Users about Section 4(f). (6-3-13)

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Case Studies: Ohio - Ohio DOT Programmatic Agreement Streamlines LWCF Section 6(f) Requirements

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is cutting down its paperwork and ramping up its collaboration thanks to a unique Programmatic Agreement (PA) signed last year for compliance with Section 6(f) of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCF). So, too, are its partners, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the National Park Service (NPS).

The PA lays out a carefully coordinated interagency process for fulfilling requirements when ODOT projects involve land protected under the LWCF. Under Section 6(f) of the law, any property that has received LWCF funding cannot be converted to non-recreational use without replacement of that land, which must be approved by NPS. Converted land must be replaced with land of equal or greater value, location, and usefulness.

Ohio DOT's Section 6(f) programmatic helps streamline requirements for LWCF properties such as Leetonia Trailhead. Photo: Ohio DOT

“We were having a lot of trouble getting projects through the 6(f) process,” explains Erica Schneider, Assistant Environmental Administrator at ODOT. “It hadn’t been much of an issue in the past because we didn’t have many projects with 6(f) impacts. But in recent years, the number definitely started to go up. The process was taking months, even years, to finish. We knew we had to do something.”

The jointly-developed document contains a number of provisions that reduce required paperwork and eliminate unnecessary agency involvement for any project that triggers Section 6(f) compliance while still ensuring that the resource is protected. Projects involving Section 6(f) properties continue to be broken out into three levels: maintenance, temporary non-conforming use, and conversions. But under the PA, the compliance process for each level has been streamlined. For maintenance-type projects, ODOT doesn’t have to coordinate with ODNR or NPS, which saves the agency at least 30 days of review time. Moreover, impacts that constitute a temporary non-conforming use of a Section 6(f) property can be approved by ODNR, and NPS only has to be copied on the decision, again saving at least 30 days of review time.

“As for conversions, they still take considerable time in that they still have to go through ODNR and NPS,” says Schneider. “But, overall, we’re in a much better position.”

For instance, each agency now has a 30-day deadline for review, and it now is acceptable to use ODOT’s (FHWA’s) real estate appraisal process for replacement land rather than that of NPS. In addition, reviews can be conducted concurrently by ODNR and NPS if the project schedule is expedited. And purchase of the replacement property can occur after National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approval (it must be completed prior to final acceptance of the construction project by the engineer).

Furthermore, NPS now accepts FHWA’s documentation for Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act in order to satisfy their NEPA obligations for Section 6(f), which opens the door to one of the biggest time-savers: a standardized single form the partners developed for Section 6(f) as well as Section 4(f). Having a single form means that information doesn’t have to be duplicated, and the new format makes it easier for district staff and consultants to follow and for agency staff to fill out. Also, since Section 4(f) analysis must be approved prior to Section 6(f) approval, ODOT can have all of the information readily available, conduct the Section 4(f) determination and simultaneously be working on the Section 6(f) evaluation.

“Saving time is saving money,” says Schneider. “Streamlining saves us time in the environmental process and also translates through into cost savings during construction due to factors such as inflation and project delays.”

Genesis of the PA

Schneider says that when she and her co-workers at ODOT realized something had to be done about the Section 6(f) process, they first went to their FHWA Division Office. Together, they decided that the next step was to approach NPS and ODNR, the state agency that administers Land and Water Conservation Funds in Ohio. The goal was to suggest jointly developing a process that everyone would benefit from, a process during which participants would collectively identify and integrate streamlining measures.

FHWA, as the counterpart federal agency, initially took the lead in broaching the subject with NPS. Shortly thereafter, ODOT came together with FHWA, NPS, and ODNR for initial discussions. The concept received a universal green light, after which it took about a year to get through the entire process. Initially the discussion focused on what was required by law. Then the focus shifted to how the process could be streamlined. A draft agreement was created, increasingly refined, then finalized and signed in April of 2014. Schneider describes the process as “an excellent team-building exercise,” one that improved participating agencies’ relationships with each other.

Since signing the 6(f) agreement, ODOT has used -- or is in the process of using -- the PA for five maintenance-type projects and six projects that constitute a non-conforming use. Currently, six conversion type projects are in progress. Five of them are small conversions and the sixth is a full conversion. For the latter, replacement property still is being sought.

Schneider says that ODOT has applied to take on FHWA’s environmental review authority under NEPA, but that ODOT’s new role will not affect the PA. ODOT likely will include a cover letter explaining that under NEPA assignment, ODOT will be responsible for all of FHWA’s actions and responsibilities under the Section 6(f) agreement.

Possibility for Other State DOTs

“To my knowledge, we are the first and only state with a Section 6(f) PA in place,” says Schneider. From her perspective, the concept is one that could be adopted by other state DOTs provided they have a good working relationship with their state agency responsible for administering the LWCF, and that both agencies work well with their federal counterparts, FHWA and NPS.

“NPS was great to work with throughout the process,” she continues. “They were willing to look for streamlining measures wherever the law allowed it. Unfortunately, the law is quite strict in a number of areas so our opportunities were somewhat limited.”

On September 31, 2015, the LWCF expired and Congress has yet to reauthorize it. If the law is not reauthorized, no new Section 6(f) properties can be added. But lack of reauthorization would not eliminate Section 6(f) requirements.

“Lack of reauthorization only means that for the time being, there will not be any new Section 6(f) properties,” Schneider explains. “Despite no new additions, the LWCF protections will remain in effect on all existing properties into perpetuity. So while we may not have new properties in that category to worry about, we will always have the existing group. ODNR estimates that approximately 1,430 properties across the state fall into this category. ”

Additional flexibility like the de minimis impact option developed for Section 4(f) compliance, would be helpful, according to Schneider. Such changes could offer improvements to the process as well as opportunities for enhancement of the resources involved.

“The good news,” she concludes, “is that for all those existing properties, we have our PA in place.”

For more information, go to ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services or contact Erica Schneider, ODOT’s Assistant Environmental Administrator at

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Recent Developments: AASHTO Launches Campaign Promoting the Value of Transportation

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is emphasizing the benefits of transportation investment in a new information campaign. The campaign includes a new website featuring the economic and quality-of-life benefits of transportation, along with a state-by-state collection of examples of transportation projects providing value to their communities. The campaign also includes a report covering selected projects that state transportation departments have done, demonstrating the connection between transportation investment and community benefits. For more information, link to the website. (3/2/20)

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Recent Developments: Guide Highlights Sustainability in Pavement Procurement

The National Asphalt Pavement Association has issued a new document in its Sustainable Asphalt Pavements series. Procuring and Evaluating Sustainability addresses how sustainability is included in public project procurement and how such efforts are evaluated within the industry. The guide discusses ways of specifying sustainable practices and materials in contracts; using change orders or alternative bids; the use of alternative technical concepts; requiring sustainability qualifications from contractors; and requiring tracking, reporting, and certification. The guide also discusses the use of sustainability rating systems such as LEED, Greenroads, Envision, Green Globes, or INVEST. For more information, link to the guide. (8-9-19)

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Recent Developments: FHWA Announces Environmental Excellence Award Recipients

The Federal Highway Administration has announced the 2019 recipients of its biennial Environmental Excellence Awards. The awards recognize partners, projects, and processes that use Federal Highway Administration funding sources to go beyond environmental compliance and achieve environmental excellence. For more information, including the 12 recipients, link to the 2019 Environmental Excellence Awards web page. (7-1-19)

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Case Studies: Arizona - Arizona DOT Champions Sustainability Using INVEST Tool

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is using a self-evaluation tool to assess and improve its projects and programs, helping the agency integrate sustainability into virtually every component of the transportation lifecycle, including planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance activities.

Over the last several years, ADOT increasingly has recognized the importance of delivering transportation solutions in a more sustainable manner to achieve economic, social, and environmental goals.

“After three years of progress, our Sustainable Transportation Program has reached every corner of the agency,” said Steven Olmsted with ADOT’s Office of Environmental Planning. “It has become our standard way of carrying out our work and is bringing multiple benefits.”

Arizona DOT’s Sustainable Transportation Program has implemented solutions such this roundabout on US 89. Photo: Arizona DOT

History and Program Structure

The roots of ADOT’s sustainability program extend back to 2012 when the agency published two planning documents that both called for sustainability to be a key objective. At that time, it also was adding sustainable land use and urban planning into its Multimodal Planning Division, and beta testing the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool (INVEST).

In 2013, ADOT began incorporating sustainable practices into its project development and construction activities, “cherry-picking” successes and bringing them to the attention of managers to build internal support. For example, by addressing the storm water run-off component of a pavement project during construction, project managers could point out that heavy rains otherwise would have shortened the lifespan of the pavement an added to maintenance costs.

ADOT’s Sustainable Transportation Program was formalized in 2014 and is housed in the Environmental Planning Office, with management and oversight remaining largely centralized. Olmsted described the method as a “bottom up approach.” Since that time, the program has been working through designated milestones to ensure consistent adoption across a balance of disciplines. These have included an ADOT Resilience Program and ADOT’s 2016 Complete Transportation Handbook, which is a foundational resource to guide sustainable project development efforts. The handbook includes a set of strategies and tools to improve transportation system sustainability.

ADOT’s Administrative Services Division is the most recent agency component to be placed under the sustainability program lens. Draft policies are being developed for practices such as fuel efficiency, office recycling, and commuting, and are expected to become standard policy in 2017. Meanwhile, the agency continues to incorporate and assess best management practices for achieving sustainability in every component of the transportation lifecycle. For instance, INVEST has been used to assess the effectiveness of mobile onsite batch plants for cement production in sensitive eco-regions of the state.

Operational Focus Areas

To frame ADOT’s sustainability program for the year ahead, a roadmap containing several dozen “Operational Focus Areas” is agreed upon annually that span the agency’s work: planning, project development, operations, maintenance, and administrative activities. For 2016, focus areas included activities such as:

  • sustainable outreach to Arizona tribes,
  • upgrading the heavy equipment idling policy,
  • developing a reuse policy for millings, and
  • assisting the Transportation Research Board (TRB) in framing global sustainable transport.

Efforts also include stand-alone projects such as the Black and Green Sustainable Pavement Pilot Program. Sustainable pavement management enhances roadway safety and optimizes pavement life cycles to reduce costs, while also considering the environmental impacts of construction and material usage. Other projects are on the drawing board, including efforts related to clean energy and sustainable freight.

In addition, ADOT plans to publish a progress report on the three framework components of its FHWA Climate Resilience Pilot Project: storm water, extreme weather, and downscaling of climate data as it relates to transportation systems.

Evaluating Performance Using INVEST

ADOT has advanced its sustainability efforts in large part by pioneering the FHWA’s INVEST sustainability tool. FHWA developed INVEST to help transportation agencies incorporate the “triple bottom line” objectives of environmental, economic, and social sustainability into their programs and projects. Web-based INVEST includes four independent modules: Systems Planning for States, Systems Planning for Regions, Project Development, and Operations and Maintenance.

Using INVEST modules, agencies can self-score how well they have achieved specific sustainability goals by measuring their work against carefully chosen best practice “criteria.” Each criterion has been selected because it links to one or more components of the “triple bottom line.” For example, one criterion included in the Project Development module is ecological connectivity, while the Operations and Maintenance module includes an electrical energy efficiency criterion. In total, INVEST incorporates 81 criteria spread across the four modules.

ADOT has played a key role in the evolution of INVEST. In 2011 it participated in the INVEST Version 1.0 beta-test program. Then in 2013 and 2014, it implemented the PD module, and in 2015 and 2016 it scored and adopted the OM module. Also during 2016, it assisted with developing INVEST Version 1.2 and issued its 2nd Annual Sustainable Transportation Program Report which included the Arizona DOT Sustainability Implementation Report. Being a pilot test agency for the modules gave his agency an early lead in leveraging INVEST’s capabilities to make major strides forward in its own internal sustainability work, said Olmsted.

“We use INVEST to measure, plan, discuss, and improve,” he said. “It is a shortcut for arriving at what the current FHWA sustainable universe encompasses and helps us do more with less.”

Putting INVEST to Work

ADOT already has put INVEST to good use. In 2015, it scored 50 projects in the agency’s five-year construction program using the Project Development Module, with an initial specific focus on statewide roundabout projects. ADOT then expanded the scoring from roundabouts to projects ranging from pavement preservation to bridge deck rehabilitation to new lane miles. It was particularly interested in how green infrastructure, low-impact development, multimodal mobility, freight and Context Sensitive Solutions can be measured and defined.

Out of the projects scored, two were rated gold (50 percent of total possible points), 9 were rated silver (40 percent of total possible points), and 20 were rated bronze (30 percent of total possible points).

In 2016, ADOT’s INVEST scoring focus centered on the agency’s operations and maintenance efforts The agency received an independently scored 142 points out of a possible 210, sufficient to achieve INVEST’s highest platinum rating.

ADOT also has harnessed INVEST’s capabilities to help meet NEPA requirements. For example, the agency applied INVEST as a scoring tool for design alternatives and a public outreach tool for two Environmental Impact Statements by requesting comment during the scoping period.

Challenges Encountered

Selling the concept of sustainability inside a traditional road-building agency can be challenging, Olmsted said. And working with a self-scoring tool such as INVEST initially may be met with resistance from some managers. But by maintaining the focus on exchange of information, and with a potential to highlight successes as well as areas for improvement, managers usually transition from initial skepticism to active involvement in sustainability discussions.

Another challenge is that precise financial benefits are difficult to quantify. Comprehensive sustainable transportation is still in its infancy without the benefit of cost-benefit analysis and return on investment statistics.

Advice for DOTs

For other state DOTs interested in developing a comprehensive sustainable transportation program, Olmsted offered the following guidance:

  • Identify an internal senior-level champion early in the process.
  • Work closely with FHWA staff, who are extremely knowledgeable.
  • Be prepared to invest considerable time and effort to make the program viable.
  • Incorporate an awards program such as ADOT’s Excellence in Advancing Sustainable Project Development Award Program.
  • Carry out training on how to use INVEST for continuous improvement, and make its use a standard operating procedure.

Training on using INVEST is crucial, said Olmstead. In 2014 and 2015, his agency carried out classroom training on INVEST and also trained several local public agencies. During 2016, most sustainability training took place by having the training team “embed themselves” with individuals in their offices. In the coming years, the agency plans to continue classroom training classes as well as sponsor larger state-wide training sessions.

For more information about ADOT’s sustainable transportation program and use of INVEST, access the ADOT Sustainable Transportation Program web page or contact Steven Olmsted, ADOT Office of Environmental Planning at

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Case Studies: District of Columbia - District of Columbia DOT Advances Sustainable Practices Department-Wide

Environmental stewardship and sustainability efforts in the nation’s capital are continuing to advance, with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) implementation of a sustainability plan and a range of sustainable practices for the department.

DDOT’s Sustainability Plan incorporates and integrates sustainable practices throughout the department’s work, according to Faisal Hameed, Chief of the Project Development, Environment, and Sustainability Division at DDOT. The agency has established measures and targets that will be revised regularly so that DDOT can track and improve its environmental performance and increase the sustainability of the city’s transportation projects and programs.

Environmental, Social, Economic Goals

DDOT’s Sustainability Plan reflects the “triple bottom line” approach to sustainability, targeting environmental quality, social structure, and the economy.

DDOT defines a sustainable transportation as “a transportation system that provides its users with various mode choices in a balanced manner without compromising their safety, accessibility, and mobility while supporting the economy, promoting livability and protecting the environment.”

The plan identifies eight priority areas for sustainability and establishes goals, actions, measures, and targets for each. The priority areas and goals are:

  • Promoting transportation and land use linkage
  • Improving mode choices, accessibility and mobility
  • Effective cost assessments in decision-making
  • Supporting the economy
  • Improving DDOT operations and project development processes
  • Protecting the environment and conserving resources
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Promoting livability and safety

For each priority area, measures and targets are identified, such as reduction of annual greenhouse gas emissions from DDOT projects by 5 percent annually. DDOT will track each area and report annually on progress made in achieving the targets.

Sustainable Initiatives and Projects Underway

Examples of sustainable efforts include DDOT’s “Great Streets” initiative, with efforts such as the Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue project, which won one of the first grants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under its Green Highways Partnership. DDOT employees successfully worked with EPA, the Federal Highway Administration, District Department of Environment, National Park Service, and other agency partners and the community to develop a sustainable design that improves bicycle and pedestrian safety by adding bike lanes, enhancing sidewalks, and incorporating low impact development (LID) features. Project features include bioretention areas, stormwater planters, and permeable concrete sidewalks, all of which help treat stormwater and reduce runoff into local waterways.

DDOT’s work to develop a Climate Change Adaptation Plan is another key sustainability effort. The plan will focus on developing a framework of recommendations for adapting to impacts brought on by a changing climate, especially as they relate to transportation infrastructure. DDOT has conducted workshops with the Federal Highway Administration, EPA, AASHTO, Metropolitan Washington Area Council of Governments, District Department of Environment, and various other agencies to develop this framework.

DDOT also is emerging as a national leader in bike-sharing and bicycle improvement programs, spearheaded by DDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager. Over 100 bike-share stations have been installed in the city and several more are planned.

Another example is the Klingle Valley Trail project, which will address historic flooding that caused erosion of a stream and road in Rock Creek Park. Working through an interagency partnership focused on a watershed approach to mitigation, DDOT will replace the existing storm-damaged roadway with a 10-foot-wide permeable-surface multi-use trail, use LID techniques and build a consistent bioswale parallel to the trail, and conduct innovative full stream channel restoration and bank stabilization for Klingle Creek.

In addition, historic preservation goals were achieved in a sustainable manner in the reconstruction and restoration of O and P Streets in the Georgetown National Historic District.

Restoration of one and a half miles of the roadway required the excavation of more than 300,000 granite pavers and removal of historic trolley tracks. After inspecting each granite paver, more than 90 percent of the original stones were reused. Each was power washed and placed one-by-one into the new roadway base. The trolley tracks and underground appurtenances were refurbished and returned to their original locations. At the same time, the 19th century water mains were replaced. DDOT employees led the complex design and construction of the roadway features while maintaining traffic and access for residents in a street that consists of all historic houses.

Other successful efforts include DDOT’s Green Alley pilot program to demonstrate use of permeable pavement and other low impact development techniques in alleys throughout D.C., as well as the city’s LED street lights programs.

EMS Advances Sustainability

In support of its sustainability efforts, DDOT also is implementing an environmental management system (EMS), based on the International Standards Organization (ISO 14001) structure. The agency may seek ISO certification in the future, Hameed said. The EMS is being implemented in phases. As the first phase, DDOT focused on the project development and environmental review process as well as office operations.

Following the “plan-do-check-act” EMS model, DDOT’s EMS outlines the agency’s environmental policy and describes objectives, measures, and targets as well as roles and responsibilities for implementation, measuring and reporting progress, and ensuring continuous improvement.

For project development and environmental review, the plan applies to all phases of project development, including planning, preliminary engineering, environmental review, final design, construction and maintenance. It calls for incorporation of environmental features in DDOT projects and increased use of beneficial and recycled materials.

For example, under the plan, projects will set a goal to achieve a 5 percent decrease in overall emissions as well as a 5 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, and at least half of all projects will include environmental components such as low impact development features and tree planting.

In addition, measures and targets are included to help streamline environmental reviews by reducing delays from environmental issues, avoiding delays in obtaining permits, and fulfilling environmental commitments on projects.

As part of the EMS implementation, environmental audits will be conducted at every phase of the project development process, and environmental commitments and mitigation will be tracked to ensure that the commitments are carried through to design and construction. The results of the reviews will be documented in an annual report, including recommendations for corrective actions.

“The idea is to monitor and evaluate environmental considerations throughout the project development process,” Hameed said. Forms must be filled out when a project is initiated, he said, and based on that form, determinations are made regarding potential environmental impacts and mitigation. That form is reviewed and approved by the Project Development, Environment, and Sustainability Division to ensure commitments are carried out.

For more information, link to the DDOT Sustainability Plan.

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Case Studies: Massachusetts - MassDOT Advances GreenDOT Sustainability Initiative

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is continuing to make progress on sustainability initiatives, a process that began with the 2010 GreenDOT policy directive.

In 2014, the agency conducted a comprehensive review of its progress on sustainability initiatives and issued the GreenDOT Report 2014 Status Update Report. Key priorities being pursued include:

  • improving the consideration of GHG impacts in transportation planning;
  • implementation of a complete streets funding program;
  • initiating a statewide climate adaptation and vulnerability assessment;
  • development of renewable energy on MassDOT assets;
  • delivering travel demand management services;
  • improving energy efficiency of MassDOT’s fixed assets; and
  • supporting increased uptake of electric vehicles.
Increasing bicycle and pedestrian mode share is an important element of MassDOT’s sustainability initiative. Photo: MassDOT

Improving Consideration of GHG impacts

MassDOT has been working with Metropolitan Planning Organizations for a number of years to incorporate GHG impacts of projects as a consideration when transportation projects are selected. This work has taken on new urgency with the 2015 passage of state regulation 310 CMR 60.05 which makes the consideration of GHG impacts a legal requirement.

The agency has provided metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) with analytical tools, guidelines and training to enable the quantification of GHG impacts. It also is undertaking analysis to identify the most efficient and effective means of reducing transportation sector GHG emissions through implementing a pilot of the Federal Highway Administration’s Energy and Emissions Policy Analysis Tool and a project with UMass Amherst under the Massachusetts Cooperative Research Program.

Shannon Greenwell, MassDOT’s project lead, noted that the central challenge in this work is to develop a system of GHG impact assessment that is consistent across the Commonwealth’s MPOs and allows the quantification of GHG impacts at a relatively early stage in the project development process.

Implementing a Complete Streets Funding Program

MassDOT has been a national leader in promoting Complete Streets designs. Early efforts were recognized in the award-winning 2006 Project Development and Design Guide. More recently, MassDOT issued the 2012 Healthy Transportation Engineering Directive and supporting engineering directives that set minimum standards for accommodation of active modes of transportation.

Its pioneering efforts to promote complete streets continue with the finalization of a Complete Streets Funding Program. This program will be released in January of 2016 and will help incentivize municipalities to adopt complete streets policies and construct complete street projects.

The agency also finalized a ground breaking Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide in 2015 that significantly advances bicycle facility design in the Commonwealth and aims to set new precedents for design in the United States.

MassDOT Complete Streets Engineer Luciano Rabito noted that the first projects will be ready for funding in 2016 and that MassDOT has sought to provide flexibility for all participating municipalities. “We have designed a program that will offer assistance to all municipalities large or small; urban, suburban, or rural. The program, which will be managed online, will be easy to use and keep municipalities engaged throughout the process. Based on the positive feedback we have received, we are anticipating a hugely successful program.”

Statewide Climate Adaptation and Vulnerability Assessment

MassDOT has initiated a climate vulnerability assessment to help prepare the Commonwealth for the likely impacts of climate change on transportation infrastructure.

The scope of this first phase will include mapping the full inventory of MassDOT assets; compiling and mapping climate change predictions; conducting workshops to gather data on current conditions; assessing the level of risk to individual assets and the system as a whole; developing asset vulnerability criteria; and identifying a prioritized set of high-risk hazards and high-risk assets.

Development of Renewable Energy on MassDOT’s Assets

MassDOT’s work to support increased generation of renewable energy continues. The first phase of the project to establish solar farms on underutilized areas near State Highways was completed in 2015 with the addition of five solar arrays. These projects utilize an innovative form of Power Purchase Agreement financing, under which a solar developer bears the upfront cost of the installations and operation and maintenance responsibilities, and MassDOT secures a long term agreement to purchase low cost electricity. Additional solar projects are planned, as well as a wind turbine project for a commuter rail facility.

These developments add to a range of existing renewable energy initiatives on MassDOT’s assets which include solar projects as well as a wind energy project at an MBTA facility.

The project lead, Lily Oliver, explained that MassDOT is starting to see the benefits of highway solar projects after almost 2 years of design and construction. “A lot of upfront work was required for these projects to go ahead” says Oliver. “This included a competitive procurement process, price negotiations, town and highway access permits, obtaining approvals from FHWA and securing state incentives. It is satisfying to see these projects coming online which means reduced operating costs for MassDOT and lower greenhouse gas emissions for Massachusetts,” Oliver said. (see related AASHTO case study under Energy/GHG Emissions topic)

Delivering Travel Demand Management Services

In the area of travel demand, MassDOT supports the reduction of single-occupant vehicle travel by increasing the availability and use of commuting options such as carpooling, vanpooling, transit, bicycling, and walking through its MassRIDES program.

The use of these options leads to reduced traffic congestion; improved air quality; reduced GHG emissions; and enhanced quality of life in Massachusetts. MassRIDES now serves 495,000 employees within its 335 partner organizations.

Improving Energy Efficiency of MassDOT’s Fixed Assets

MassDOT has a number of initiatives underway and planned to reduce the energy used in its buildings and other fixed assets. These include the following:

  • Energy audits and high-payback upgrades of 130 buildings covering almost 1.9 million square feet; An estimated $4.4 million dollars will be invested in upgrades to the 130 MassDOT facilities, which are expected to produce an annual saving for Massachusetts taxpayers of $500,000.
  • Installation of LED lights in the tunnels of the Metropolitan Highway System in downtown Boston. The tunnels to be covered by the project contain approximately 25,000 existing fixtures that will be replaced.
  • Upgrading the heating units that prevent the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s third rail from freezing during winter. The existing heaters are outdated, have outmoded controls, and require a large amount of electricity to power. They are turned on in late fall and remain on until spring, running 24 hours per day. The MBTA is installing efficient units that can be remotely controlled based on actual weather conditions. It is estimated that this initiative could create savings of over 39.8 million kWh and $3.4 million annually in electricity costs.

Supporting Increased Use of Electric Vehicles

Massachusetts committed to a goal of 300,000 zero emission vehicles registered in the state by 2025 under a Multi-State ZEV Action Plan. MassDOT has a number of responsibilities under its draft Massachusetts’ Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan. They include the installation of up to 12 DC fast charging stations at locations close to State Highways within Massachusetts to provide range confidence for drivers on longer journeys and providing signage to guide drivers to charging stations.

Challenges arise when installing a new layer of refueling technology on a busy State Highway system. They include meeting rules governing the use of federal air quality funds and complying with restrictions on commercial activities near the highway. MassDOT also must work with existing lessees, utility companies and other state government agencies, all while siting the charging stations where they will be most useful to the traveling public.

For more information on MassDOT’s sustainability initiatives, visit MassDOT’s GreenDOT Sustainability Initiative website.

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Case Studies: Minnesota - MnDOT’s Corridor Investment Strategy Yields Social, Economic, Environmental Benefits

The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) Corridor Investment Management Strategy (CIMS) was created with one key objective in mind: advance multimodal solutions that ensure a high return on investment while reflecting the state’s social, economic, and environmental goals.

CIMS is a system of selecting projects to be funded based on an analysis and scoring of social, environmental, and economic benefits of each project.

The MN 23 CIMS project in Duluth widened and reconstructed sidewalks, realigned signals, closed driveway access points, added bus pullouts and improved lighting. Photo: Minnesota DOT

Challenge, Solution
“CIMS gave MnDOT the opportunity to apply a robust understanding of public return on investment to the selection of highway improvements”, said Philip Schaffner, MnDOT’s Policy Planning Director.
The MN 23 CIMS project in Duluth, MN widened and reconstructed sidewalks, realigned signals, closed driveway access points, added bus pullouts and improved lighting.

CIMS came about as a result of challenging conditions. As was the case for other state transportation agencies in 2012, MnDOT officials were dealing with increasingly constrained resources alongside a transportation system that was aging. MnDOT determined that dialog and possible collaboration with other agencies whose work intersected with theirs could help strategically leverage resources and also potentially create more sustainable systems. The result was CIMS.

To familiarize other agencies and the public with the CIMS strategy, MnDOT held a series of 16 regional meetings that spring. In February of 2013, the agency issued a $30 million solicitation that invited municipalities to apply for state highway funding for projects that offered the greatest potential to help move CIMS objectives forward and also were consistent with the Minnesota GO Vision and the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan. The funds were from the state trunk highway account, which is funded by a combination of state gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, and sales tax on the sale of motor vehicles.

”The Minnesota GO vision calls for transportation systems that maximize the health of people, the environment and our economy, so we knew our selection process needed to reflect the triple bottom line,” Schaffner said.

MnDOT formed an advisory group of other state agencies to help develop the project evaluation criteria and evaluate project proposals. The group included Explore Minnesota Tourism and the state’s Department of Commerce, Department of Education, Department of Employment and Economic Development, Department of Health, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Public Safety, and the Pollution Control Agency.

Evaluation Criteria

Notably, the project evaluation criteria decided upon by the advisory group were broader than strictly traditional performance factors such as direct user benefits/costs and system performance. Instead, the following criteria were applied to determine project proposal scores:

  • 60 percent: enhanced benefit-cost ratio calculation using a benefit-cost ratio analysis tool that considered the following factors:
    • social – safety, bicycle/pedestrian health effects, and noise;
    • economic – travel time, travel time reliability, vehicle operation costs, life cycle costs, and loss of agricultural land;
    • environmental – emissions (carbon dioxide plus criteria pollutants), wetland effects, and runoff.
    • 30 percent: other factors evaluated qualitatively (one example cited for each) -
      • local economic impacts – such as improving access for tourist destinations;
      • context sensitivity – such as enhancing natural, historical, archeological, and cultural resources;
      • system considerations – such as closing a gap in a trail/bikeway;
      • community health and access – such as improving access for disadvantaged populations; and
      • multimodal impacts – such as improving access to an intermodal terminal.
      • 10 percent: financial plan match – at least 10 percent of project costs are covered by non-MnDOT funding with additional points available for applications that requested less than 90 percent of project costs.

Ten projects were selected from a total of 45 applications, with project construction scheduled for either 2014 or 2015. Selected projects tended to address three types of scenarios: a solution for a significant safety issue; a low-cost operational improvement; or a multifaceted urban main/complete streets project. The projects all are either complete or were scheduled to be finished by early 2016.

Typical project components include activities such as the following:

  • curb, sewer, utility, and pavement upgrades/replacement;
  • improved sidewalks and ramps;
  • additional turn lanes and upgraded signals;
  • streetscaping (that in one case specifically is designed to reduce flooding);
  • improved pedestrian crossings and bicycling conditions; and
  • improved access to other modal nodes such as bus and rail transit or trails.

For one of the projects, an interchange was constructed that increases safety, reduces environmental impacts, and facilitates agricultural equipment crossings. Another project included a four-to-three lane conversion and construction of a roundabout to support future economic vitality.

“The $30 million in CIMS funding helped the agency leverage an additional $65 million in other federal, state and local funding for a total construction program of almost $100 million,” Schaffner said.

Lessons and Reflections

The use of an enhanced benefit-cost analysis helped MnDOT translate broad goals into comparable and common metrics. The methodology allowed the review committee to compare a range of project types using one set of criteria.

“One of the benefits of the CIMS approach was that environmental impacts, particularly runoff, were elevated in importance and considered when selecting projects,” Schaffner said.

However, not all of the measures made much of a difference in project selection. For example, lack of data and forecasting methodologies meant that the health impacts of biking and walking were often missing from applications and, even when included, they usually were small relative to other factors.

“The 2013 CIMS solicitation was an incredible learning opportunity for MnDOT,” he said. “We have incorporated some of the measures into our standard guidance for benefit-cost analysis, we’re continuing to study and refine the methodology for other measures, and we’re using the solicitation as a template for other competitive grant programs.”

In terms of advice for other transportation agencies that might be interested in a similar approach, Schaffner recommended working with other agencies to develop scoring criteria “to ensure they are understandable and customized to the local context.”

For more information, contact Philip Schaffner, Policy Planning Director, Minnesota Department of Transportation at, or link to the MnDOT CIMS website.

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Case Studies: Ohio - Ohio DOT Innerbelt Bridge Project: A Commitment to Sustainability

In February 2009, the Ohio Department of Transportation (DOT) initiated the first of two projects designed to replace the aging steel truss bridge that carries Interstate 90 over the Cuyahoga River Valley and into Cleveland’s central business district. The first Innerbelt project, developing a new westbound bridge adjacent to the existing bridge, demonstrates how Ohio DOT is working to make its major transportation investments sustainable by reducing cost, maximizing benefits, and conserving resources.

The Innerbelt project team committed to achieving sustainability goals in seven categories, which have been dubbed the “Green 7.” These include:

1. energy and energy efficiency;

2. community environment;

3. green building;

4. waste reduction and recycling;

5. green project administration;

6. materials and resources; and

7. construction practices.

Photo: Courtesy Innerbelt Bridge Photo Stream

ODOT's Commitment to Sustainability

The Innerbelt project’s design and construction team found several ways to cut project costs while conserving resources and getting the bridge built faster. Progress toward achieving these goals is documented in Monthly Sustainability Summaries posted on the agency’s website. For example, as of Oct. 31, 2012, the agency reported the following achievements:

  • Construction Vehicle Fuel Savings: By using construction vehicles with greater load-carrying capacity, the project has documented savings of over 85,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
  • Carbon Emissions Reductions: By reducing the fuel usage during earthmoving, the project team has saved more than 1,074 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
  • Materials Recycling: The demolition debris from the project is processed and sorted and more than half of all materials are recycled. The project team has recycled almost 5 million pounds of steel, preventing more than 123,000 cubic yards of waste from entering landfills.
  • Smaller Bridge Footprint - By using a creative bridge design that featured a modified alignment from the one originally proposed, the project team was able to reduce the amount of earthwork needed during construction by about 35,000 cubic yards and decrease the amount of steel and other materials needed to build the bridge.

Other examples of sustainability on the project include construction of a pair of “pocket habitats” under the new span of the bridge. These areas allow growth of native plants and provide a safe haven for migrating fish. In addition, the project team is relocating Peregrine Falcons that made their home beneath the existing bridge.

Based on these and other attributes, Ohio DOT has used the Federal Highway Administration’s INVEST sustainability self-assessment tool to give the project a “gold” rating.

More information on the project, access Ohio DOT’s Innerbelt Bridge website and project sustainability page.

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Case Studies: Puget Sound Regional Council - Puget Sound's 2010 'Transportation 2040' Plan Sets 30-Year Vision for Sustainable Transportation

With a projected growth of approximately 1.5 million people in the next 30 years, the Puget Sound area in Washington State faces increased demand on the region’s transportation system.

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), which is the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the four-county Seattle-Tacoma-Everett region, has crafted an ambitious long-range strategy to plan for and shape the area’s transportation needs. The Transportation 2040 plan, adopted in 2010, lays out a 30-year vision for funding and building sustainable transportation programs and projects in the coming decades.

The plan – which received an award in 2010 from the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations – translates the PSRC’s broad commitment to transportation sustainability into tangible actions. The Plan is built around three equal and interrelated strategies that together define what “sustainable transportation” means for the region and are designed to influence overall transportation investment decisions. These three strategies address the following:

  • Congestion Relief and Better Mobility - To improve system efficiency, the plan recommends creating “smart corridors” with advanced technology, better information, advanced tolling approaches, and strategic capacity improvements. As an example, one project underway in the Puget Sound region is the deployment by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) of an Active Traffic Management System, including the use of high-tech overhead signs displaying variable speed limits, lane status, and real-time traffic information so drivers know what is happening on the road ahead. The first signs were installed on northbound Interstate 5, a major highway traversing Seattle. Since then, WSDOT has implemented similar systems on SR 520, completed in November 2010, and I-90, completed in June 2011. Active traffic management aims to improve safety, reduce congestion, and benefit the environment. Although more collision data will be needed for a statistical analysis of collision frequency, WSDOT officials expect to see a measurable and statistically significant reduction in collisions. Congestion relief also has economic benefits, with reduced fuel consumption as vehicles spend less time stuck in traffic jams.
  • Environmental Protection - A key focus of the PSRC’s long-range plan is to protect and improve the region’s environmental health. This includes ensuring that the region has healthy air, planning transportation projects that are better equipped to handle stormwater runoff, and addressing transportation’s role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change.
  • New Approach to Funding - The Transportation 2040 financial strategy relies on traditional funding sources in the early years but later transitions to add funding from new user fees. Such fees could come from high occupancy toll lanes, facility and bridge tolling, vehicle miles traveled charges, and other pricing approaches that replace the gas tax and help manage the transportation system usage.

Detailed recommendations for program changes and major new projects in three major focus areas help transform Transportation 2040’s vision for sustainable transportation into reality. These include the following:

  • Maintain, Preserve and Operate - The plan’s highest priority is to maintain, preserve, and operate the region’s existing transportation system, and represents the largest program cost;
  • Increase System Efficiency – Use transportation system management strategies like Active Traffic Management and variable tolling to improve efficiency of the existing transportation system; and
  • Strategically Expand Capacity - Implement strategic capacity investments in all modes of transportation including a 100 percent increase in peak hour local transit service, bicycle and pedestrian improvements in regional growth centers, and completion of a network of roadway projects. These investments would rely on users of the new highway capacity to pay for improvements through highway tolling.

In addition, Transportation 2040 supports the goals of Vision 2040, PSRC’s umbrella strategic plan, by focusing transportation investments in designated urban growth areas, increasing the availability and efficiency of transit and rail services, and focusing development in major travel corridors and regional growth centers.

As required under federal law, PSRC is in the process of updating the plan, anticipating completing the revision in 2014. The update will incorporate a method for the better prioritization of projects, include revised revenue estimates based on existing law, and address the level of investment for maintenance and preservation of the existing system.

PSRC has been developing the new prioritizing process over the past two years. The framework will assess projects using nine evaluation measures:

  • air quality,
  • freight,
  • jobs,
  • multi-modal,
  • Puget Sound land and water,
  • safety and system security,
  • social equity and access to opportunity,
  • support for growth centers, and
  • travel.

The prioritization framework will be used to evaluate over 800 projects, with the results being used to support decisions on transportation investments. When finalized, the framework will be integrated into the Transportation 2040 plan.

The update also addresses refinements to the transit-oriented development plans and the active traffic management plans to further address the level of demand on the transportation system. Under consideration are ways to encourage alternative, environmentally sensitive transportation choices; the development of land use policies that support bicycles, transit, and ridesharing; and the incorporation of complete streets principles.

In addition, the update will include a new rural transportation strategy and address other statutory requirements and issues identified by the PSRC boards.

PSRC is working to interpret new mandates from Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), and will incorporate new requirements into the plan update as appropriate, according to Robin Mayhew, a transportation program manager with PSRC. This may include collaboration at the state and national levels to shape the implementation of MAP-21 in advancing regional goals as identified in the plan.

PSRC will have opportunities in the coming year for public involvement in the plan update process.

A wide range of information is available on the PSRC’s Transportation 2040 website, Additional information is available by contacting Charlie Howard by e-mail at or Robin Mayhew at

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Water Quality/Wetlands

Recent Developments: EPA, Corps of Engineers Issue New Federal Water Protection Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have issued a joint final rule redefining the scope of federal jurisdiction over rivers and wetlands. The final rule, called the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” amends the definitions of what are considered and what are not considered waters under federal jurisdiction, for the purposes of discharge and wetlands permitting. The final rule includes, among other things, the new concept of a “typical year” to be used when determining whether a stream is intermittent and protected, or ephemeral and unprotected. The water levels of an aquatic body during a “typical year” are based on a rolling 30-year average of precipitation. For more information, see the EPA Navigable Waters Protection Rule website. (1-23-20)

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Recent Developments: May 10 AASHTO Stormwater CoP Webinar to Address Impaired Waters

Stormwater management practices associated with addressing impaired waters will be the focus of a May 10, 2019, webinar sponsored by the AASHTO Stormwater Community of Practice. Impaired waters and associated total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) can be a demanding management and engineering challenge for state DOTs, often triggering difficult NPDES permit requirements and the need for enhanced stormwater management practices. The webinar will present several innovative programs and solutions from across the nation for addressing challenges associated with impaired waters. For more information and registration, link here. (4-26-19)

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Recent Developments: EPA Issues Interpretive Statement on Clean Water Act and Groundwater

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to change its interpretation of the Clean Water Act to specify that the law doesn’t allow it to regulate most sources of groundwater. The federal law only applies to lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water on the surface, not groundwater, according to the agency’s proposed new reading of the statute, even if pollution is discharged into groundwater and then migrates into a surface water. The EPA will receive public comments on the proposed interpretation until June 7. For more information, link to the statement. (4-23-19)

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Recent Developments: EPA Posts ‘Waters of the United States’ Webcast Recording

The Environmental Protection Agency has posted a recording of a Feb. 14 webcast discussing the agency’s regulatory revisions to the definition of the “Waters of the United States.” The webcast was held the same day that the agency published a proposed rule to clarify the federal jurisdictional boundary under the Clean Water Act, as directed in 2017 by Executive Order 13778. To view the webcast, link here. (2-22-19)

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Recent Developments: Army Corps Issues Mitigation Bank Credit Release Guidance

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a regulatory guidance letter addressing wetlands mitigation bank credit release schedules and consistency in establishing service areas for banks and in-lieu fee programs. The letter applies to mitigation banks and in-lieu fee programs that have not yet been approved and does not apply to other types of banks. The letter specifies that credits should be released incrementally as the bank site achieves certain performance milestones. The letter also specifies when financial assurances must be posted to ensure that ecological performance standards are met. In addition, the letter specifies that mitigation banks and in-lieu fee programs should have similar service areas and use the same criteria for selection. For more information, link to RGL No. 19-01. (2-22-19)

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Case Studies: FHWA Compilations

Case Studies: Arizona - Arizona DOT Provides Guidance for CWA Section 404/401 Permits, Certification

The Arizona Department of Transportation has developed a manual to ensure compliance, provide consistency, and increase awareness of permitting and certification requirements for its projects under Sections 404 and 401 of the Clean Water Act. The ADOT Clean Water Act Sections 404/401 Guidance Manual, issued in October 2013, provides ADOT-specific guidance for obtaining and complying with required permits and certifications.

ADOT 404/401 Program Coordinator Julia Manfredi said the manual was developed to assist ADOT staff in project development as well as maintenance and construction. In response to a 2010 404 permit violation and a desire to improve its compliance efforts, ADOT added a 404/401 program coordinator to its staff, conducted a wide-ranging training program for hundreds of employees, and developed the Guidance Manual to provide additional guidance.

Manfredi said one of the purposes of developing the manual was to help determine when certification and permits are needed for maintenance activities, in addition to construction activities. Common "waters of the U.S." that would be subject to regulation in Arizona include washes, rivers and streams, natural ponds, wetlands, and canals.

Construction activities that could trigger Section 404/401 compliance by ADOT include culvert or bridge construction, roadway and utility crossings and geotechnical borings. Examples of maintenance activities would include channel bank protection, wash realignment and channelization and removal of sediment buildup from culverts.

Step-by-Step Process Outlined

The guidance manual provides a step-by-step permitting decision process for transportation agency staff. It outlines the following process both for construction and maintenance activities:

  • Step 1: Could "waters of the U.S." be involved?
  • Step 2: Will the activity involve discharges of dredged or fill material into "waters of the U.S."?
  • Step 3: Will a jurisdictional determination be needed? This may require preliminary calculation of impacts. Conduct a jurisdictional delineation if required.
  • Step 4: Quantify impacts and determine the type of Section 404 permit that is needed: either nationwide or individual permit.
  • Step 5: Prepare the Section 404 permit application and determine if a preconstruction notification is required for a nationwide permit. Submit the application to the Corps.
  • Step 6: Determine Section 401 certification required - whether conditionally or individually certified - and acquire certification.

The manual also provides information on staff roles and responsibilities, timing of permit decisions, clarification on how Corps guidance applies to ADOT, information on the internal coordination processes for construction activities and for maintenance activities, documentation for non-notifying permits, and check lists and flow charts. A link to the manual has been distributed widely, including districts and district engineers, and has been the subject of a series of webinars, she said.

Lessons Learned

Manfredi said the manual, which took about six months to develop, is currently in use and has been well-received by ADOT staff and regulatory agencies. She said it has helped to simplify the process and empower those required to make permit decisions. The process of developing the manual went smoothly, in large part because it was developed through a collaborative effort of ADOT staff and district offices, the Corps, and the Federal Highway Administration, she said.

She also noted that the manual - which includes a range of check lists and templates that are also available on the ADOT website - is a work in progress and will likely be updated on an ongoing basis. Future efforts will include ongoing compliance tracking and additional audience-specific training programs.

Manfredi said the manual could be used as a starting point for other state DOTs looking to document their own CWA Section 404/401 permitting processes - particularly western states in arid climates. The step-by-step process for permit decisions could be adapted for most any state, she added. ADOT anticipates the manual will help avoid permit violations and will help ensure better protection of resources by training staff how to better identify resources in the field. It will also serve as a streamlining tool by simplifying the process and allowing better use of time and resources within the agency, Manfredi said.

For more information, link to the Guidance Manual, and the ADOT Section 404/401 Procedures website or contact Julia Manfredi at

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Case Studies: Florida - Florida DOT’s Programmatic Approach to Wetlands Mitigation

More effective mitigation for unavoidable wetland losses from transportation projects in Florida is being achieved through a unique programmatic mitigation approach developed by the Florida Department of Transportation.

The state’s "Revised Mitigation Statute," in combination with Florida’s Uniform Mitigation Assessment Method and a new General Permit for FDOT issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have provided a framework for the programmatic mitigation approach.


Given Florida's geology, FDOT construction projects often required the unavoidable loss of wetlands. In 1996, the Florida Legislature passed a law (the Mitigation Statute) to standardize and expedite situations where mitigation was required to compensate for the unavoidable loss of wetlands from FDOT’s projects. The 1996 statute required FDOT to pay the appropriate Water Management District (WMD) a fee established by the statute per acre affected by the FDOT project. With the WMDs tasked with protecting and managing their water resources, funding from the mitigation budget of an FDOT project would allow the WMDs to achieve their water resource protection and management effort, thereby mitigating the loss of wetlands from the roadway construction.

The law was forward thinking for its time. However, important portions of the law became outdated, and in 2014, the Florida Legislature passed revised language designed to give FDOT more flexibility to obtain full value for their wetlands mitigation expenditures (Title XXVIII, Chapter 373, Section 373.4137), commonly referred to as the "Revised Mitigation Statute."

Florida DOT's programmatic approach for wetlands benefits species such as the wood stork. Photo: FDOT


The "Revised Mitigation Statute,” passed in 2014, has a number of innovative elements.

  • The Revised Mitigation Statute requires FDOT to consider all mitigation options that meet federal and state requirements, thereby complying with the 2008 mitigation rule issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. While working with the WMDs remains an option, FDOT may also consider the use of private mitigation banks providing FDOT with the ability to seek the most cost-effective option. FDOT has substantially reduced its mitigation costs and receives greater value for each wetland mitigation dollar.
  • WMD deliverables and responsibilities when using FDOT funds are now more explicit, improving accountability. Now, when WMD's receive mitigation funds from FDOT, they must prepare detailed plans for project-specific wetland mitigation areas enabling identification of specific wetland mitigation funded through each project's environmental mitigation budget.
  • The Revised Mitigation Statute enables advance mitigation. FDOT forecasts the wetland impacts associated with their three-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) in an "impact inventory." FDOT may then purchase wetland mitigation credits, based on the forecast in the impact inventory, in advance of more detailed project development. If there is no mitigation bank in the area, the WMD may receive FDOT funds to plan and develop a mitigation bank to accommodate the mitigation requirements of future FDOT projects. The amount of mitigation provided by the WMD is then deducted from FDOT's future mitigation requirement. This program encourages WMD's to think of FDOT as a customer and shape their water resource plan to coordinate with the development of the state highway system in the area. Additionally, the FDOT forecasts of wetlands loss help the wetland banking industry plan for future demand.

Wetland Functions Considered

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) continued development of Florida's Uniform Mitigation Assessment Method (UMAM) and its inclusion by FDOT in the Revised Mitigation Statute helped further accountability and accuracy. This process provides a scientific basis for adjusting the gross acreage of wetlands impacted by the specific functions provided by the affected wetlands. UMAM was adopted by all state agencies and the Corps.

With the UMAM analysis substantiating the existing functions of the wetlands affected by roadway construction, FDOT is able to coordinate with the Corps and FDEP on appropriate mitigation quantity, and thereby paying for only what is needed to mitigate the loss of wetland function.

Collaborative Effort Provides Ongoing Dividends

The "Revised Mitigation Statute" resulted from a fortunate confluence of knowledgeable stakeholders and a state legislature focused on efficiency, expedited project delivery, and an approach to mitigation that best serves the people of Florida. The effort was led by Marjorie Kirby and Xavier Pagan in FDOT State Environmental Management Office and Kathleen Toolan of the FDOT Office of the General Counsel with FDOT leadership support.

The rewrite of the Mitigation Statute involved intense negotiations involving FDOT, representatives of the mitigation banking community and FDEP and WMDs. With stakeholder unity, the revised statute sailed through the legislature because it respected the interests of all stakeholders.

The trust that was developed among stakeholders through the passage of the Revised Mitigation Statute has continued to benefit Florida as the various stakeholders continue to work directly to improve approaches to roadway project development and permitting. For example, seeing the opportunity to improve the efficiency of the permit process, stakeholders collaborated to develop a Regional General Permit from the Corps of Engineers for FDOT projects. The General Permit was issued April 8, 2015, and was designed to include the Revised Mitigation Statute. It also incorporates such features as:

  • Integration of NEPA and Clean Water Act Section 404 requirements; and
  • Addressing projects with five or less acres of fresh water wetland impact per linear mile, , excluding tidal wetlands, up to a limit of 10 miles of roadway (this category of project includes a large proportion of FDOT construction); and

Future Activities

FDOT continues to push ahead with proactive, programmatic approaches to wetlands as well as biological impacts. For example:

  • New uses for UMAM are being developed, in coordination with FDEP and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to enable its use for species and habitat mitigation.
  • New programmatic agreements are being developed, leveraging the collaboration developed among FDOT and the resource managers and FDOT has a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff member working exclusively on programmatic agreements. The first species to be addressed are freshwater mussels.
  • Technical specifications are being updated to include standard environmental minimization and mitigation measures. Presently documents enumerate environmental mitigation measures, but having standard environmental construction conditions for contractors will help ensure a uniform approach to activities across the state.

Florida is now benefiting on several fronts from the collaborative approaches that have been and are being developed to address the unavoidable wetlands and biological impacts of road construction, according to the state DOT officials. This is the result of a successful public-private partnership that has helped build trust and communication pathways to clarify, simplify and focus, laws, coordination and procedures to develop better outcomes for the environment and the users of the transportation system.

For more information on FDOT’s wetland mitigation approach, contact Marjorie Kirby, FDOT Environmental Programs Administrator at, or Xavier Pagán, FDOT Natural & Community Resources Administrator, at Pagan,, State Environmental Management Office, Tallahassee, Fla.

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Wildlife & Ecosystems

Recent Developments: Virginia DOT Works on Plan to Protect Migratory Birds

The Virginia Department of Transportation has announced a strategy, in coordination with the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, to protect migratory sea birds that nest on the South Island of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, an artificial island in the Chesapeake Bay. The South Island is where construction equipment will be based during the expansion of the bridge-tunnel, a project intended to reduce congestion and improve safety in eastern Virginia. The multi-agency strategy includes a management plan, the creation or acquisition of new or alternative nesting habitat, and the issuance of regulations that would provide for “incidental take” permits for migratory birds for the duration of the construction. For more information, link to the announcement. (2-14-20)

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Recent Developments: Research Provides Review of Wildlife Connectivity Mitigation Credits

A synthesis of information that addresses the valuation of wildlife crossing structures for the purposes of meeting environmental permit requirements and developing mitigation measures has been issued under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP Web-Only Document 280). The report, developed under NCHRP 25-25, Task 117, says that there are many potential metrics to value wildlife connectivity, including categories that evaluate the conditions or functions of habitat, computer models, and the calculation of avoided cost. The report also says that a national set of metrics or quantification methods is infeasible because of variations in ecosystems and species. In addition, the report says that in the absence of market-driven mitigation banking, the economic impacts of wildlife-vehicle collisions could serve to value the wildlife crossings or other connectivity mitigation. The report includes four case studies of state DOTs that have quantified values intrinsic to wildlife using various non-market valuation techniques. For more information, link to the report. (2-24-20)

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Recent Developments: USFWS Revises Endangered Species Regulations

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued three final rules that adopt a suite of changes to the regulations implementing the Endangered Species Act. One rule addresses provisions that automatically give threatened species the same protections as higher-priority endangered species, to align with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s regulations. The second rule affects how the agency will consider the future when making listing decisions and designating critical habitat. The third adopts changes to some of the parameters under which other federal agencies must consult with FWS and NMFS to ensure their actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of listed species, or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. The changes don’t apply to species that are already on the threatened list. The latter two of the rules are jointly issued with NMFS. For more information, link to the FWS ESA rule website. (8-12-19)

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Recent Developments: USFWS Proposes Recovery Plan Amendments for 42 Species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the availability of 26 draft recovery plan amendments for 36 endangered and six threatened plant and animal species across eight states. The agency is seeking any information that may help the agency understand the species’ biology, threats, and recovery needs; identify implementation issues and concerns; and facilitate more effective implementation. Affected states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Washington. For more information, link to the announcement and Federal Register notice. (1-30-19)

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Case Studies: Colorado - Agreement Offers Streamlined Mitigation Option for Impacts to Canada Lynx in Colorado

An innovative Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) created by Colorado DOT (CDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will provide CDOT with a new streamlined option for fulfilling its mitigation responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act as they relate to the Canada lynx (lynx). In essence, for projects that are determined to have impacts on lynx, CDOT now can propose that it pay an in-lieu fee (ILF) into a Lynx Mitigation Fund rather than carry out mitigation measures onsite. The MOA was signed on July 7, 2015.

Colorado DOT’s in-lieu fee mitigation fund will support broad efforts to mitigate impacts to the Canada lynx. Photo: Colorado Division of Wildlife

“We have known for some time that our actions were impacting lynx by increasing the barrier effect of highways,” explains Jeff Peterson, Wildlife Program Manager for CDOT’s Environmental Programs Branch. “However, because our right-of-way very seldom contains usable habitat, mitigation has been challenging. Choices such as providing safe passage over or under the highway at the site often can end up being more costly than the project itself, and possibly less-effective.”

Under the terms of the MOA, Peterson says, “we can propose using the ILF as our preferred mitigation choice in our Biological Assessment (BA). USFWS then either agrees or disagrees with our choice in its Biological Opinion (BO). Furthermore, we can propose it under both Section 7 and Section 10 of the Act.”

From Peterson’s perspective, the new option is a win-win. If the ILF gets a green light for a particular project, CDOT’s ESA responsibilities are fulfilled and it can get on with its project. And from a species preservation perspective, adding an in-lieu fee to the fund opens up the possibility of using the fund for more strategic and comprehensive mitigation elsewhere in the state. Although CDOT has not yet had the opportunity to put the MOA to work, Peterson says, his agency is planning a number of projects that are strong candidates for the ILF option. “And when that time comes -- and I’m virtually certain it will -- we’re ready,” he says.

The lynx is listed as threatened in Colorado. Currently, there are believed to be approximately 200-300 lynx statewide. Peterson says it has been estimated that approximately 670 miles of Colorado highway are located in lynx habitat, and an additional 210 miles or so of lynx movement corridors exist between patches of suitable habitat.

MOA Provisions

ILF contributions to the mitigation fund are based on project “award” costs with the rationale that they represent the most accurate construction cost estimates. The amount contributed is tied to the type and severity of the impact(s) the project would be expected to have on the lynx. It is based upon the average cost of mitigation and compliance with the ESA compared to total construction costs (by percent) for past projects that included mitigation for impacts to lynx. Maximum contribution for an individual project is 5 percent.

The fund can be used for a new stand-alone mitigation project or, more likely, to enhance a current project. For example, if a highway project is in lynx habitat, and mitigation normally would call for a concrete box culvert (CBC) to be installed under a portion of the highway to channel flowing water, the ILF could be used to cover additional costs of building a bridge, which would open up passage for lynx under the bridge.

Under the terms of the MOA, funds can be leveraged, and partnering is encouraged. For instance, the Forest Service may be carrying out a project to consolidate land parcels that includes trading some of its land for private parcels throughout the forest. If some of those parcels are in an area known to be frequented by lynx, CDOT could partner with the Forest Service so the land on either side of a proposed lynx crossing would be protected from development.

The MOA calls for two management teams to be created: an Advisory Committee and a Fund Management Team. The teams are in charge of managing the ILF mitigation process for individual projects. Besides participation on the teams, each of the three lead agencies has additional responsibilities spelled out in the MOA. For example, CDOT is in charge of setting up the two management teams; FHWA must participate in the development of ESA compliance documents and consult with USFWS on any project that may affect lynx; and USFWS is responsible for providing the most up-to-date information and science available when determining the most appropriate mitigation for lynx.

Benefits, Challenges and Transferability

Peterson predicts that numerous benefits will accrue from using the MOA. First, there are the direct benefits of enabling projects to move forward efficiently and mitigation efforts to be broader and more strategic for the benefit of the lynx. In addition, he anticipates that it will also foster increased trust between CDOT/FHWA and the resource agencies. Other potential benefits may include a more positive public perception of CDOT’s wildlife department and demonstrated success in interagency collaboration.

Challenges in putting the MOA to work remain to be seen. In the meantime, challenges definitely were encountered in creating and signing off on the MOA. The first was securing active and substantive support from senior-level management on the concept itself. Beyond that, obtaining agreement among Regional Managers on the terms of the sliding scale initially was a hurdle. Yet another obstacle encountered was how to account in budgets for moving money from one project into another one that isn’t in the same CDOT region, or perhaps even proposed yet.

“The good news is that the basic procedure outlined in the MOA can serve as a template for creating a similar document in another state,” he says. “It would be a matter of plugging in state-specific details such as funding sources, maintenance responsibilities, and reporting requirements. To my knowledge, no one else is using anything similar.”

According to Peterson, perhaps the most important thing to do at the very beginning is to get all the parties together for several informal discussions during which everyone is heard but nothing is yet put down on paper. The time is well worth it, he says. Once everyone is invested in the success of the endeavor, the chances of developing the MOA in a spirit of collaboration are much greater.

“But everyone should be prepared for a fair amount of wordsmithing before the document is finalized. No matter how well everyone gets along, each agency needs to feel comfortable that its mission is protected. I’d recommend access to a lawyer to help with that aspect; for our MOA, we used the USFWS legal advisor and it worked well.”

Peterson concludes, “At the end of the day, it’s a case of rolling up your sleeves and putting the effort in now to reap benefits well into the future.”

For more information, contact Jeff Peterson, Wildlife Program Manager, Environmental Programs Branch, Colorado DOT, at or visit the CDOT website at

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Case Studies: Iowa - Iowa DOT Undertakes Massive Move for Mississippi River Mussels

A multi-agency effort including the Iowa Department of Transportation successfully relocated tens of thousands of freshwater mussels in the Mississippi River—including three federally endangered species—to protect them from bridge construction in what is possibly the largest single-project mussel relocation in the country.

I-74 Bridge over the Mississippi River. Photo: Iowa DOT

The mussel relocation, part of the project to construct a new bridge to carry I-74 over the river between Moline, Illinois, and Bettendorf, Iowa, was a joint effort of several state and federal agencies that planned and accomplished the task under an unusually tight timeframe, according to Mary Kay Solberg, Environmental Specialist Senior with the Iowa DOT and a key participant in the project.

More than 150,000 mussels were relocated between August and October 2016 to prepare for the start of construction. In doing so, direct impacts to 32 species of mussels, including threatened and endangered species, were minimized or avoided altogether.

“To my knowledge, that was the largest single-project relocation in the U.S.,” Solberg said. Mussels play an important role in the ecosystem because they filter the water and help to improve water quality.

Project Background

The I-74 bridge project has been in development for about 20 years, according to Solberg. The current two spans for I-74 were built in 1935 and 1959.

When the environmental impact statement and record of decision were completed, the numbers and diversity of mussels were unclear. Native mussel populations were presumed to be minimal in the project area due to the presence of invasive zebra mussels, which can outcompete native species. Also, the selected bridge alignment was expected to avoid impacts to what was at the time the only mussel listed under the Endangered Species Act inhabiting the project area, the Higgins eye pearlymussel. The transportation agencies planned an official mussel survey closer to the construction date.

Mussels from the I-74 Project. Photo: Iowa DOT

The survey was revealing. “Turns out, there were over a million mussels underneath the footprint of the new bridge,” Solberg said, including three federally endangered species: the Higgins eye pearlymussel, and the more recently-listed sheepnose and spectaclecase. Species on state lists of endangered or threatened species also inhabited these beds.

Thus began a three-year process to figure out what to do about these mussels, a partnership that included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Highway Administration, the Iowa DOT, the Illinois DOT, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Developing a Solution

Iowa DOT initiated formal consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service who then began preparation of a biological opinion. Because the project—including the required elements under the National Environmental Policy Act—was so far along at this point, the tasks were accomplished unusually quickly. “Pretty much record time—it was amazing,” Solberg said.

There were benefits to doing the mussel survey late in the process, according to Solberg. “We were able to get a much more accurate, up-to-date picture of the mussel population in the project area and could come up with a much better plan to minimize impacts,” she said. “The density and diversity of mussels surprised nearly everyone.”

The partners set about developing a relocation plan for the native, endangered freshwater mussels. While relocations are not uncommon, ones of this scale are rare. As part of this process, the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to allow the relocation to focus on the actual places in the river where the shafts of the bridge piers would be drilled as opposed to the entire footprint, Solberg said. This reduced the number of mussels needing to be moved to around 150,000.

Iowa DOT contracted with divers to conduct the relocation work. The bridge alignment was laid out based on the design concept, and the areas where the piers would be drilled were delineated so the divers knew exactly where to remove the mussels, Solberg said.

The divers scooped mussels out of the river bottom mud and put them in mesh bags that were brought to the surface. “Originally we thought they were going to have to work around the clock, to stay on schedule and to finish before the water temperature became too cold to work,” Solberg said. In the end, they worked long days, five to six days a week for three months.

On the surface, workers removed any zebra mussels, sorted by species, and collected data regarding age, size, and gender, Solberg said. All of the federally endangered mussels had their shells marked and were given a number for future identification. Iowa DOT found new beds for the mussels, took a boat to the location, and released them over the edge “to their new home,” Solberg said. Initial monitoring has indicated that all relocations were viable.

Benefits and Next Steps

The mussel relocation was not as controversial as it might have been, according to Solberg. “We were very open, up front, about impacting a mussel resource, [and] what we’re going to do about it,” Solberg said, and she believed there was very little negative response as a result.

Iowa DOT is doing a number of things—in addition to the physical relocation of the mussels—as part of the mitigation.

One is a virtual reality (VR) program developed in partnership with Iowa State University and funded as part of the project mitigation. The program—aimed at helping the public understand the project—has views of the old bridge, the new bridge, and an underwater view that allows users to handle and learn about the mussels. The VR program is publicly available at the construction office in Davenport, Iowa, and eventually will be in the project office in Bettendorf, Iowa.

Other things funded as part of the mitigation include:

  • an intern position at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for educational programs for schools and other groups,
  • an interactive installation at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport that ran all summer,
  • updating existing mussel information on display at the Putnam Museum and Science Center in Davenport,
  • stocking the river with host fish for mussel larvae, and
  • ongoing monitoring of the effects of relocation.

The mussel relocation project won a 2017 Environmental Excellence Award for environmental research from the FHWA.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

“Even the best-intentioned project schedules need to be revisited from time to time,” Solberg said. The mussel survey and relocation was supposed to be in 2016 and expected to be uncomplicated. Had Iowa DOT gone with the original plan, it would have been unable to keep the timetable for the 2017 bridge construction bidding. They moved the survey two years earlier to allow time to learn what was there and to plan the mitigation.

Also, when dealing with different agencies, it is important to address competing interests as early as possible. There were times when the parties did not all agree on what was going to happen, but eventually an understanding was reached and the project moved forward.

As an example, Solberg explained that because there were both the federal and state endangered species, Iowa DOT potentially would have had to go through two separate processes with the federal and state agencies. Instead, she said, the federal and state resource agencies signed an Intergovernmental Agreement that allowed for development of a comprehensive conservation strategy, agreed upon by all agencies, to address all state and federal listed species. This saved time and effort.

Transportation agencies and resource agencies have different focus areas, and state DOTs should build and maintain good interagency relationships, Solberg said. Iowa DOT approaches projects by asking themselves “what do we need to do as a transportation agency to build this project and do it in an environmentally responsible way,” Solberg said.

“We’re all going to have to make some compromises to make this work,” Solberg said.

The official bridge groundbreaking was held in June 2017.

For more information, link to the I-74 Bridge Project website or contact Mary Kay Solberg, Environmental Specialist Senior with the Iowa DOT’s Office of Location and Environment,

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