Effectiveness of Using Watershed Plans in the Development of Surface Transportation Plans and the Project Permit Approval Process
Research Idea Scope
TERI Administrator Note (Feb 2009) – Related Research – Linking Environmental Resource and Transportation Planning–The Current State of Practice (NCHRP 25-25: Task 32)
FHWA’s Vital Few Environmental Goal, in part, seeks to take advantage of opportunities to enhance environmental protection and encourage partnerships that promote ecosystem conservation or encourage broader mitigation strategies that seek corridor or watershed based approaches.
To achieve environmental goals EPA encourages using a watershed approach as a coordinating process for focusing on priority water resource problems. A watershed approach is focused on hydrologically defined areas, involves all stakeholders, uses an iterative planning or adaptive management process to address priority water resource goals (watershed plan), and uses an integrated set of tools and programs (regulatory and voluntary)
Section 6001 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) requires metropolitan and statewide transportation plans to include a discussion of types of potential environmental mitigation activities, to be developed in consultation with Federal, State and Tribal wildlife, land management, and regulatory agencies.
A Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permit must be obtained for surface transportation projects that will discharge dredged or fill material into waters of the United States.
The Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines require applicants to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources to the greatest extent practicable and compensate for all unavoidable impacts. In addition, no discharge shall be permitted that will cause or contribute to significant degradation of waters of the United States.
The use of watershed plans may potentially enhance environmental protections by avoiding and minimizing impacts to aquatic resources and compensating for unavoidable impacts in a watershed context during surface transportation planning and project design. However, little data and information exists on the relative advantages and challenges that exist to integrating watershed plans in to the transportation system planning and project design process.
The requesters understand that some states (e.g. North Carolina, Washington, and Maryland) have successfully incorporated watershed plans in the state surface transportation planning and project design processes to both streamline the environmental review process and improve environmental outcomes, but this is not standard practice.
To identify transportation programs which are utilizing watershed plans or watershed data as part of the surface transportation planning process and/or project design.
To assess the relative advantages and challenges that exist to integrating watershed plans in the surface transportation planning and project design process.
Based on completed projects at the state, regional or municipal levels, to gather and report data regarding the benefits or disadvantages of using these approaches (e.g., time and cost-savings due to streamlining, reduced project delays and increased public acceptance).
Based on the findings of this research, to recommend follow-up action items including technology transfer, guidance documents, and outreach materials.
Identify surface transportation organizations which are utilizing watershed plans or watershed data as part of the surface transportation planning and/or project design processes and why such information was used.
Examine surface transportation planning procedures in identified transportation organizations and assess critical entry points for inclusion of watershed plans and/or data.
Examine surface transportation planning procedures in identified transportation organizations and report challenges to integrating watershed plans and/data into said processes.
Analyze and document successes associated with the use of such information during these processes.
Based on completed projects at the state, regional or municipal levels, analyze and report data regarding the benefits realized as a result of using watershed plan/data (e.g., time and cost-savings due to streamlining, reduced project delays and increased public acceptance).
Interview organizations that have been responsible for previously identified efforts and report any coordination and/or consultation done with outside stakeholders (e.g., resource and/or regulatory agencies, land management organizations) and factors contributing to the success of the effort.
Analyze data collected and recommend follow-up action items that would aid in addressing the identified challenges and encourage greater widespread use of watershed plans and/or data during the surface transportation planning and project development processes.
Ann Campbell, Robert Goo, Kol Peterson; OWOW/OW/EPA