Developing a better link between the transportation planning and environmental review processes for transportation projects has long been a goal of transportation agencies.
Despite the fact that highway and transit projects must flow from metropolitan and statewide transportation plans, studies performed and decisions reached as part of transportation planning traditionally have not been used in conducting environmental analyses under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Environmental resource and permitting agencies often have had little involvement in the transportation planning process, becoming involved only after projects have been selected. As a result, planning decisions often were questioned and revisited in the NEPA process.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has been working for years to “change the culture” and address this “disconnect” between transportation planning and NEPA. In February 2005, FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration jointly issued a program guidance document, titled "Linking the Transportation Planning and NEPA Processes." An updated version of the guidance was issued in February 2007 as Appendix A to the final regulations on statewide and metropolitan planning (23 CFR Part 450).
“When the NEPA and transportation planning processes are not well coordinated, the NEPA process may lead to the development of information that is more appropriately developed in the planning process, resulting in duplication of work and delays in transportation improvements,” the agencies stated in the final guidance.
Federal and state transportation agencies now are working to ensure that statewide and metropolitan transportation planning is the foundation for highway and transit project decisions.
FHWA considers planning and environment linkages as “an approach to transportation decision-making that considers environmental, community, and economic goals early in the planning stage and carries them through project development, design, and construction. This can lead to a seamless decision-making process that minimizes duplication of effort, promotes environmental stewardship, and reduces delays in project implementation,” FHWA states on its planning and environment linkages website.