Enhancing Multi-Agency Coordination for Ecosystem Based Transportation Project Planning

Focus Area

Environmental Considerations in Planning






Over $750,000


Over 3 years

Research Idea Scope

Recent federal legislation, rules and other initiatives (SAFETEA-LU, executive orders, Eco-Logical, Green Infrastructure, etc.) encourage and in some cases require state Departments of Transportation to increase their levels of collaboration and coordination with local, state and federal agencies in linking ecological frameworks and strategies with transportation planning. At the same time, they face increased demands for reducing the time and cost associated with project environmental reviews and permitting. 


Some barriers to achieving these desired results, experienced by DOTs and other agencies, include: 1) Divergent understanding of goals, priorities and expectations among the DOT, local jurisdictions, and resource/regulatory agencies during project development. 2) Items and requests passed from one agency to another getting “lost in the shuffle.”  3) Duplication of effort to gather and assess environmental data by the DOT, local planning agencies (MPOs), community organizations, and resource/environmental agencies. 4) Important environmental or community impact considerations arising late in the project development/delivery process, creating unexpected costs and schedule delays. 5) Choice of a project alternative by the MPO that requires very costly and time consuming environmental studies and mitigation efforts, and that has serious negative impact on the local and regional ecology that could have been avoided if these impacts were considered earlier in the process. And 6) Frequent rework of environmental documents and delays in study and permit approvals.

The Language-Action Framework is a process design approach that focuses on building commitments and coordination between customers (for example, a Metropolitan Planning Organization that needs an ecologically-based assessment of a proposed transportation project) and performers (for example, an ecological system specialist at the state’s environmental agency who can provide this kind of assessment). This approach provides a structure for improving coordination using clear assignment of roles and accountabilities for each stage of a process, and provides the following key communication points for developing and managing commitments: 1) Clear and specific statements of customer needs, including the motivation for the proposed effort. 2) Agreement between customer and provider on cycle time, cost and quality expectations for the work, so that there is a shared understanding of and commitment to meeting these expectations. 3) Progress tracking and reporting, so that needed mid-course adjustments can be made in schedule, budget or other areas of the project. 4) Interim customer feedback on project deliverables. 5) Report of completed work to the customer. 6) Customer review, assessment and feedback on work delivered, and recommendations for continuous quality improvement which are developed collaboratively by customer and performer.


The proposed research would use the Language Action Framework to develop a process design for developing an ecologically-based transportation plan. Those involved in developing the design would include key participants in the transportation planning effort-for example, a state Department of Transportation, a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), and other state and federal agencies. Once developed, the design would be pilot tested, adjusted based on pilot test results and lessons learned, and published as a model for use by other agencies.

Urgency and Payoff

Important progress has been made in providing guidance, recommended data collection and analysis processes, and high level process steps for developing collaboration among multiple agencies for common integrated transportation planning activities which are eco-system based. At the same time, it is critical that Departments of Transportation, local and federal planning and resource agencies, and NGOs be able to translate these high-level recommendations into specific and practical ways of making decisions that result in shared commitment and coordinated action, defining roles and accountabilities, and identifying and producing work products that support stated goals and provide value. The Language Action Framework provides a tool set specifically geared toward producing effective and efficient collaboration and coordination among multiple actors. Combining this approach to designing processes for coordination with an ecosystem-based approach to developing transportation projects (for example, the “Eco-Logical” approach) shows significant promise of improving the transportation planning process.

Suggested By

TRB Research Needs Database, ADC30, Ecology and Transportation