Develop a Framework to Incorporate Climate Change into the Planning Process

Focus Area

Climate Change


Air Quality, Environmental Process






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

TERI Administrator Note – Similar research topic funded as SHRP C09 – Incorporating Greenhouse Gas Emissions Into the Collaborative Decision-Making Process (Completed Feb 2011)

 State departments of transportation (DOTs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) are facing requirements at the state and regional level, and may face requirements at the federal level in the future, to address climate change in statewide and metropolitan transportation plans.  Despite these requirements, there is currently no accepted, state-of-the-art framework/process for consistently incorporating climate change into transportation planning and combined transportation/land use scenario planning.  State DOTs and MPOs would greatly benefit from a framework that outlines and describes approaches to measure and analyze greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, analyze emission reduction strategies, perform tradeoffs with other planning factors and goals, evaluate the costs and benefits of the various approaches, and determine how to incorporate technology assumptions into long range transportation planning.  With regards to GHG emissions reductions, analyses should be based on an outcome based performance measure to allow state DOTs and MPOs to determine which decisions and investment strategies can yield the most benefit.  AASHTO is currently working to develop a performance measure for GHGs, and such a measure should be included in the framework developed under this research effort. In addition to mitigation approaches, more information is needed to help state DOTs and MPOs effectively analyze the potential impacts of climate change, evaluate the potential adaptation strategies and their associated costs and benefits, and incorporate these adaptation strategies into their long range transportation plans.  Transportation planners need access to risk analysis approaches to use information on predicted climate change impacts appropriately, using a probabilistic framework that incorporates both the likelihood of impacts as well as the significance of the infrastructure or service component that may be affected by the impact.  This project is designed to address the gap in climate information and methodologies confronting transportation decision makers as they seek to make sound transportation plans and investment decisions today, while providing a framework for future advancements in this critical area.

Although a number of research studies have been completed, or are currently being conducted, within the subject of climate change and transportation planning, there is still no fundamental framework for state DOTs and MPOs to incorporate sustainability climate change considerations into the planning process.  There is a need to thoroughly scan existing and completed research within this field, and then build off of what has been learned to develop a framework that can be used by transportation practitioners to incorporate both the mitigation and adaptation components of climate change into their transportation plans and decisions. The proposer should review the following research studies, as well as any others that may be pertinent, and develop a research plan that builds off of and expands upon already completed research.
Completed Research Includes:
TRB Special Report 299: A Transportation Research Program for Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change and Conserving Energy. This report suggests that federal, state, and local policy makers need informed guidance about the effectiveness, costs, feasibility, and acceptability of transportation strategies to mitigate transportation greenhouse gas emissions and conserve energy and to adapt to climate change.
FHWA/AASHTO Climate Change Adaptation Peer Exchange. ICF International, Federal Highway Administration, 2009. FHWA, with the support of the AASHTO, convened a peer exchange on current climate change adaptation activities and strategic needs in Schaumburg, Illinois, on December 8, 2009. This workshop included senior officials of state departments of transportation (DOTs), FHWA headquarters and division offices and AASHTO. This report summarizes the results of the exchange, and is one of series of FHWA reports documenting the results of national peer exchanges on integrating climate change considerations into the transportation planning process. FHWA developed this report to summarize the peer exchange results for the use and benefit of DOTs and their stakeholders across the country. The report summarizes participant presentations and the key issues that emerged during the event. To help support state DOT and other transportation agency efforts to adapt to climate change impacts, this report identifies suggestions from the peer exchange participants for potential elements of guidance, research and policy at the national level.
Literature Review: Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Assessment, and Adaptation Approaches. ICF International; Federal Highway Administration, 2009. FHWA commissioned a review of U.S. and international approaches to address global climate change adaptation. FHWA recognizes that efforts to address adaptation are in their infancy and in some cases, adaptation efforts may be limited to a qualitative assessment of vulnerability. Thus, this literature review focuses on three major categories of activities: vulnerability assessments, risk assessments, and adaptation approaches. Ultimately, some combination of these actions will inform a new risk assessment framework for FHWA.
Climate Change/Variability Science and Adaptive Strategies for State and Regional Transportation Decision Making. Texas A&M University, College Station, Southwest Region University Transportation Center, 2010, 74p. The objective of this study was to generate a baseline understanding of current policy responses to climate change/variability at the state and regional transportation planning and decision levels. Specifically, researchers were interested in the question of whether state and regional governments were currently including climate change impacts or vulnerability issues in their decision and planning processes. The focus of this report is on the basic question: are state departments of transportation (DOTs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in the United States addressing the issue of climate change in general and, more specifically, the issue of adaptation to potential climate change and variability impacts?
Research in Progress Includes:
SHRP 2 C09 – Incorporating GHG Emissions into the Collaborative Decision-Making Process.  The objectives of this project are to: (1) Develop a strategy or strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions at relevant key decision points in the Collaborative Decision-Making Framework; (2) identify relevant material already produced by the normal planning process and the gaps that exist for GHG analysis, (3) prepare materials and methods to address the gaps and integrate them into the CDMF; (4) prepare a freestanding Practitioner’s Handbook.   Accomplishing these objectives will require identifying proactive strategies that can be taken by cities, states, and regions to reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector: Identifying what practitioners need to know about greenhouse gases at each stage of the CDMF; identifying the audiences at those key decision points; and identifying the most critical gaps and needs. Focus is on small MPOs that are in attainment areas.
Status:  Will be completed in a few months
NCHRP 20-83(05): Climate Change and the Highway System: Impacts and Adaptation Approaches. The objectives of this research are to (1) synthesize the current state of worldwide knowledge regarding the probable range of impacts of climate change on highway systems by region of the United States for the period 2030-2050; (2) recommend institutional arrangements, tools, approaches, and strategies that state departments of transportation (DOTs) can use during system planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance to adapt infrastructure and operations to these impacts and lessen their effects; and (3) identify future research and activities needed to close gaps in current knowledge and implement effective adaptive management.
NCHRP 20-83 (07): Sustainable transportation systems and sustainability as an organizing principle for transportation agencies. The objective of this research is to provide a framework for transportation agencies to use to identify and understand the future trends and external forces that will increasingly put pressure on their ability to carry out their responsibilities to (1) meet society’s evolving demand for transportation services and (2) meet society’s emerging need to operate on a more sustainable basis. The framework will also provide a means for agencies to assess their future capacity to meet society’s demands, and provide or identify tools and approaches that agencies may use to assist them in making changes they deem appropriate and necessary to meet rapidly changing needs and conditions.
NCHRP 20-24(70): Update the 2003 Report Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Transportation. The objective of this project will be to conduct analyses as needed an update the May 2003 report by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Transportation.
Status: Will be completed in the fall of 2010
FHWA contract – RSG/RAND/The Planning Center – FHWA funded two projects under this contract:
o   Mitigation Guidebook and Web-Based Tool – This research will review and analyze a variety of transportation strategies that could be undertaken by State and local transportation agencies to reduce GHG from the transportation sector.  A mitigation guidebook will be developed, which will describe the strategies, estimate potential range of GHG reductions, estimate costs, identify barriers to implementation, identify example projects, and describe any associated co-benefits or disadvantages.   A web-based carbon calculator tool will also be developed for use by DOTs and MPOs to use in estimating GHG emission impacts from surface transportation strategies.
o   Scenario Planning – This project will develop and implement several workshops for State DOTs and MPOs to assist them in incorporating climate change considerations into their scenario planning process.  The project will document the workshops and develop a Guide for State DOTs and MPOs to use when incorporating climate change considerations into their scenario planning activities as well as an Action Plan to help the selected DOT’s and MPOs move forward with the process. 
Status:  Both projects are underway and should be completed late 2010/early 2011
Center for Clean Air Policy (FHWA – BAA)– This research would develop a framework/outline for State DOTs and MPOs detailing the technical assistance, capacity building steps and future needs for transportation GHG reduction planning, implementation and measurement as outlined in current proposed legislation.  The goal of the project is to assist FHWA with the development of associated regulations, if and when that legislation becomes law. 
Status:  Just beginning
FHWA Office of Planning – Draft Greenhouse Gases SOW
This work will be composed of 5 tasks:

1.      Determination of the current requirements for data collection, travel monitoring, congestion management process and management and operation and air quality conformity that could be used for VMT and GHG analysis..  This task will look at data availability and data collection cycles, data reliability and extent of system coverage of data, agency responsible for data collection, length of data retention, etc.
2.      Determination of the use and types of travel demand models, including those used by large MPOs that are TMAs. 
3.      Assess State of the Practice – Review and assess current practices being used to track GHGs.  Develop a summary of the tools used for various practices and the advantages and disadvantages of the use of those tools. 
4.      Prepare a report on the research results recommending one or more scenarios (proposed technical approach) for review and approval.  Each scenario should include a detailed methodology for tracking GHGs, associated advantages and disadvantages of this methodology, and take into account existing data collection and transportation planning methods and tools. 
5.      Summary of addition data needs – Identify any gaps data and other needs/information that may be required by the state or MPO to do a comprehensive GHG analysis. 
Status:  Working on SOW
FHWA-BAA Awarded to PB/AMPO: Global Climate Change, Capacity Building for MPOs
The following tasks are proposed for this project, to enable Global Climate Change Capacity Building for MPOs:
o   Task 1: Kickoff Meeting with USDOT/FHWA and AASHTO to refine the approach.
o   Task 2: Scoping Meeting with key MPOs at the 2010 AMPO Conference in St. Louis to ensure the approach and topic areas meet the needs of the MPOs. 
o   Task 3: Hold Webinars for MPOs and planning partners. The initial webinar will set the stage and provide Climate Change legislative context for the MPO community. Four additional webinars will each focus on a key climate change topic area.
o   Task 4:  Documentation to compile findings, and to provide content for a workshop at the 2011 AMPO Conference to share what we have learned with the MPO community.
Status:  Just beginning
While these TRB papers and research activities start to evaluate issues related to climate change and incorporation into the planning process, developing a consistent, useable and practical framework that transportation practitioners can use to incorporate sustainability and climate change into transportation plans will require synthesizing this information, researching where there are gaps in knowledge. 

The purpose of this research is to develop a practicable transportation planning framework/process to help state DOTs and MPOs incorporate climate change activities (both mitigation and adaptation) into statewide and metropolitan planning. Such a framework should include information to assist state DOTs and MPOs:
o   Estimate GHG emissions to establish a baseline and understand how this baseline varies from state to state and within the national context.
o   Understand the potential effectiveness of various greenhouse gas reduction strategies, building on the results of SHRP 2 C09 and the Rand/RSG/The Planning Center scenario planning work for FHWA.
o   Incorporate appropriate assumptions for incorporating vehicle and fuel technology assumptions in the planning process, building on the results of SHRP 2 C09.
o   Develop methods for building realistic planning scenarios to test the results of GHG reduction strategies, to identify the costs and benefits to stakeholders, and to identify any unintended consequences.
o   Balance the outcomes of GHG strategies with other transportation goals, and how to incorporate this in the collaborative decision making framework developed in SHRP 2 C09.
o   Incorporate greenhouse gas analysis and reduction strategies into the local, regional and statewide transportation planning process. All strategies should be outcome-based and use a GHG performance measure in line with the one developed by AASHTO. This objective should build on the results of the Rand/RSG/The Planning Center work for FHWA and build and expand upon the framework for collaborative decision making developed in SHRP 2 C09.
o   Incorporate climate change modeling and predicted climate change effects into planning and investment decisions supporting a sustainable transportation system.
o   Outline a framework for adaptation in the transportation sector, including how risk analysis and adaptation strategies can be incorporated into the long range transportation plan. This should build off of what has already been addressed in the TRB Special Report 299: A Transportation Research Program for Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change and Conserving Energy.
The objectives of this proposal are to:
1.      Scan of existing research related to climate change and transportation planning.
2.      Identify gaps in related research and modify research objectives as necessary. Clearly state how this study will build off of, and not repeat, the efforts of SHRP 2 C09 and other related work completed and ongoing.
3.      Review and synthesize strategies available for estimating GHG emissions.  Describe how transportation practitioners use these strategies to develop an emissions baseline.
4.      Provide analysis tools to help state DOTs and MPOs evaluate strategies for GHG emissions reduction and climate change adaptation. This step should incorporate the results of NCHRP 20-24 (70). This should include tools to measure and evaluate the costs and benefits of these strategies so practitioners can assess tradeoffs between climate change related goals with other planning factors and goals.
5.      Expand and improve upon the framework developed under SHRP 2 C09 for incorporating GHGs in the planning process. Adapt the framework so that it can also be used for areas not considered in SHRP 2 C09, including large MPOs where air quality modeling is a mature practice, and small rural areas/regions where rigorous air quality analysis is not required (but where GHGs might still be addressed).
6.      Develop a framework for incorporating climate modeling into adaptation planning along with a framework for incorporating adaptation decisions into the planning process.
7.      Prepare a user-friendly tool(s) (i.e. a web-based handbook/guidebook/template) to allow transportation practitioners to effectively use the information and tools developed in this research effort. Include a plan for educating practitioners on how to use the tool(s) either through a series of webinars or workshops.
8.      Prepare a final report that documents project activities and findings.

Urgency and Payoff

State DOTs and MPOs are increasingly being asked to consider climate change in their transportation planning. Although there is currently no national policy requiring this, many regulations and pieces of legislation have been and are being considered at the national level. Several states are already moving forward in this regard and requiring long-range transportation plans to account for GHG effects. For this reason, there is an urgent need for state DOTs and MPOs to have adequate resources available to help them effectively incorporate climate change into the planning process.  Transportation practitioners may be required, if they are not already, to consider GHG emissions in their transportation plans. This research will help practitioners by creating a framework for incorporating GHG emissions into the planning process.  Additionally, practitioners need more information on the effects of climate change and how to better incorporate these predictions into the planning process.  Several state DOTs and MPOs are already seeing the effects of climate change and have no choice but to take action. However, transportation practitioners need a framework to be proactive, as opposed to reactive, in their long-range transportation planning to prepare for the effects of a changing climate.
This research would be immediately effective for MPOs and state DOTs by providing a framework/process for consistently incorporating sustainability and climate change into transportation planning and combined transportation/land use scenario planning.  The framework would be made available immediately to all state DOTs and MPOs, and would take the form of user-friendly tool(s) to maximize effectiveness.

Suggested By

RNS. Sponsoring Committee: A0020T, Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy. Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy January 2010 Workshop. Seth Stark, Washington State Department of Transportation