Best Practices in Using Information Technology for Environmental Streamlining and Stewardship

Focus Area

NEPA Process

Subcommittee

Environmental Process

Status

Archived

Cost

$100,000-$249,000

Timeframe

Unknown

Research Idea Scope

This research would have two elements: (a) dissemination of existing information technology
and (b) foundational work to develop customized information technology tools for specific
environmental stewardship and streamlining applications.

Information Technology Dissemination
Update and supplement the existing NCHRP effort, “Technologies to Improve Consideration of
Environmental Concerns in Transportation Decision-making,” by surveying emerging
information technology tools used in the environmental streamlining and environmental
stewardship areas. Create a mechanism for continuous updating of product information and
showcasing of relevant information technology tools, potentially through a partnership involving
TRB, AASHTO, U.S. DOT, and other stakeholders. Perform analyses of selected tools to
determine the benefits of using these tools in terms of cost or time savings or other productivity
enhancement.

Specific Product Development
Determine what product is needed and the level of effort required to develop specific customized products. Propose a product development process that would address information technology
compatibility. Select one product for pilot development; such as “turbo-4(f)” software that
would interview a practitioner, educate them about the topic, guide them through the regulatory
process for 4(f), and prepare legally sufficient documentation. Explore institutional arrangements for developing and updating such information technology tools, including public/private partnerships.

If the specific product development pilot is successful, subsequent work might include
integrating it with other information technology systems or developing additional tools.

TERI Administrator Note (June 2007): Research Completed
NCHRP Report 481: Environmental Information Management and Decision Support System for Transportation (2002)
http://www.trb.org/TRBNet/ProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=759

NCHRP Report 481, Environmental Information Management and Decision Support System: Implementation Handbook contains the results of research into environmental information management and decision support in multimodal transportation planning, programming, project development, operations, and maintenance. This report is focused on the current and future needs of state Departments of Transportation (DOTs), Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), and other large transportation agencies.

Environmental decisions regarding transportation planning, project development, construction, operations, and maintenance are among the most difficult facing transportation decision makers. Factors include the complexity of technical issues; myriad laws and regulations at federal, state, and local levels; costs and time required for environmental reviews; a wide and disparate range of interested parties who are potentially affected; diversity of impacts and potential mitigation approaches; and scarcity of precise environmental and other critical data. In addition, agencies are not consistent in executing their respective mandates. All these factors combine to confound efforts to achieve timely consensus, compromise, and effective decisions. Current federal law requires state DOTs and MPOs to consider and reduce a wide range of environmental effects and impacts of transportation plans, programs, operations, and decisions. Furthermore, transportation decision makers are trying to provide maximum mobility while protecting important human and natural environmental resources. To achieve these important objectives, agencies and practitioners need cohesive and integrated systems to facilitate rational decisions through cost-effective coordination of environmental information and data management that can be tailored to critical decisions.

The objective of this project was to develop a system for environmental information management and decision support for transportation plans, programs, projects, operations, and maintenance activities. The EIM&DSS is intended to facilitate collecting, organizing, analyzing, archiving, and coordinating the information and data necessary to support technical and policy transportation decisions. It should also foster integration of environmental considerations into transportation decisions regarding overall policy development, systems planning, corridor planning, capital priority programming, project planning and development, permitting, ongoing compliance requirements, and so forth.

Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., of McLean, Virginia, developed this concept for establishing environmental information management and decision support for transportation plans, programs, projects, operations, and maintenance activities. Presented as a handbook, this report provides practitioners with a step-by-step approach for implementing the EIM&DSS within a wide range of organizational settings and applications. As such, the handbook provides a strong foundation for the development, tailored application, and ongoing implementation of effective environmental management and stewardship in a transportation setting. This report should be useful to practitioners in state DOTs and MPOs, and to others concerned with planning, programming, and implementing transportation projects or managing the environmental mitigation actions and commitments of those agencies. The report will also be useful as an educational resource on the concepts, tools, and procedures for ongoing environmental stewardship within transportation agencies.

NCHRP Web-Only Document 123; Software for an Environmental Information Management and Decision Support System (2006)
http://www.trb.org/news/blurb_detail.asp?id=7310

Environmental decisions related to long-range transportation planning, priority programming, project development, operations, and maintenance are among the most difficult facing transportation decision makers. Contributing factors to this situation include the following:

  • The complexity of technical issues;
  • The myriad of laws and regulations;
  • The cost and time required for environmental reviews;
  • The large number of interested parties with different viewpoints and priorities;
  • The diversity of impacts; and
  • The scarcity and lack of precision of environmental and other critical data.

In addition, agencies are not consistent in executing their particular mandates. The combination of these factors confounds efforts to achieve timely consensus, compromise, and decisions.

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) requires state Departments of Transportation (DOTs), Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), and other transportation agencies to consider and reduce a wide-range of environmental effects and impacts of transportation plans, programs, operations, and decisions. Furthermore, state DOTs are seeking transportation-development decisions and operations that provide greater mobility while protecting important human and natural environmental resources. In order to achieve these important objectives, agencies and practitioners need a central, cohesive, and integrated system to facilitate rational decisions through cost-effective coordination of environmental information and data management. The system should facilitate collecting, organizing, analyzing, archiving, and coordinating information and data necessary to support technical and policy transportation decisions. It should foster integration of environmental considerations into transportation decision making such as overall policy development, systems planning, corridor planning, priority programming, project planning and development, permitting, and ongoing compliance requirements. Primary users will be planners, project designers, project managers, environmental practitioners, and facilities/maintenance staffs.

In response to these needs, under NCHRP Project 25-23, a concept was developed for an Environmental Information Management and Decision Support System (EIM&DSS) to address all modes and all levels of decision making—planning, priority programming, project development, operations, and maintenance. The concept is presented in NCHRP Report 481: Environmental Information Management and Decision Support System-Implementation Handbook. Research is needed to develop, test, and demonstrate a prototype software program to reflect the concepts presented in NCHRP Report 481.

The objective of this research was to design, test, and demonstrate a prototype software program for an environmental information management and decision support system (EIM&DSS) that builds on the concepts presented in NCHRP Report 481. The EIM&DSS prototype software program shall be designed to support decisions in long-range transportation planning, priority programming, project development, operations, and maintenance. The functionality of the prototype software program will be tested and demonstrated in selected transportation agencies.  The project entailed completion of the following tasks: 

(1.) Making full use of information developed as part of NCHRP Project 25-23, including NCHRP Report 481 and unpublished appendixes, conduct a review of current information on environmental information management in transportation. Develop a summary of notable practices, key problems, issues, and deficiencies related to environmental information management and decision support in long-range transportation planning, priority programming, project development, operations, and maintenance. (2.) Develop a design document for the prototype software program for the EIM&DSS that builds on the concepts presented in NCHRP Report 481 and considers the information developed in Task 1. The design document should describe the prototype software program, including its proposed architecture, anticipated modules, expected functionality, and the probable users it is intended to serve. (3.) Based on the information developed in Tasks 1 and 2, develop a test and demonstration plan that includes criteria for selecting representative state DOTs, MPOs, or other transportation agencies for testing the prototype software program functionality; approaches for obtaining necessary data; anticipated issues associated with testing the program functionality in the areas of long-range transportation planning, project development, and maintenance. (4.) Prepare and submit Interim Report #1 that documents the work performed and findings from Tasks 1, 2, and 3. At a meeting with the NCHRP panel, discuss the information in the interim report, respond to panel comments, and recommend revisions to the work plan for subsequent tasks. NCHRP approval is required before proceeding with subsequent tasks. (5.) Based on the guidance provided by the NCHRP panel, develop the prototype software program. (6.) Meet with the selected transportation agencies that will participate in the testing and demonstration of the functionality of the prototype software program to obtain agreement on their participation, the data and information that they will provide, and the level of cooperation and resources that will be required. (7.) Conduct the testing, revision, and demonstration of the functionality of the prototype software program and prepare documentation of the results. (8.) Prepare and submit Interim Report #2 that documents the work performed and findings from Tasks 5, 6, and 7. At a meeting with the NCHRP panel, discuss the information in the interim report, respond to panel comments, and recommend revisions to the work plan for subsequent tasks. (9.) Based on the results of the Task 7 functionality test and demonstration and the panel comments provided in the Task 8 interim report and meeting, make final revisions to the prototype software program and related documentation. (10.) Prepare a transition plan for further development of the prototype software program into production software, including needed future work, anticipated requirements, and estimated costs. (11.) Prepare and submit for panel review and approval, a final report including the final prototype software program, the results of the Task 7 functionality test and demonstration, user documentation, and the Task 9 transition plan.

Urgency and Payoff

Many off-the-shelf information technology tools are not being fully utilized because of a lack of awareness and resistance to change. This project would help generate awareness about valuable IT prodfucts that could be used by DOTs to support their stewardship efforts.

Suggested By

Transportation Research Board 2002 Environmental Research Needs Conference Notes

[email protected]

Submitted

04/27/2006