Framework for Analyzing and Mitigating Highway-related Noise and Vibration Impacts on Terrestrial Wildlife

Focus Area

Wildlife & Ecosystems


Natural Resources






2-3 years

Research Idea Scope

Currently, there is minimal guidance from federal agencies on how to conduct noise and vibration analyses specific to wildlife, which results in differing approaches to noise analyses that may be inaccurate, non-comparative from state to state (or study to study), or result in unnecessary analyses. The current FHWA Noise Abatement Criteria (NAC) approach is based on striking a balance between desirable and feasible approaches for human receptors, with a focus on hearing, annoyance, sleep, and task interference or disturbance. Interference with speech communication is used as basis for determining the NAC. Such an approach is insufficient in addressing issues with wildlife.
As a result, there is a need for a framework for analyzing the effects of anthropogenic noises and vibrations associated with highway construction and operations on wildlife. Specifically, an approach is needed to use current noise analysis tools to address effects on essential activities for wildlife, including feeding, sheltering, breeding, dispersal and communication. This requires input both from noise specialists and biologists. The goal is to streamline and move toward a more standard approach for these analyses.
Streamlining does not mean waiving or relaxing regulatory requirements or neglecting best available practices. Streamlining identifies a common denominator between the project delivery, environmental effects and applicable regulatory framework. In other words, ways to more efficiently meet requirements, by establishing, and adhering to, more realistic project budgets, schedules, and possible mitigation obligations through interagency cooperation.
This research task supports the Committee on Environment and Sustainability’s (CES) initiative to streamline the environmental review process and their promotion of practices that encourage interagency cooperation and coordination in the resolution of environmental issues.

Literature Search Summary
A search of the TRID database ( resulted in recent documents on the general effects of noise on bats, monarch caterpillars, deer, coyote and bobcats, but these do not address an approach for analyzing noise and vibration impacts on different terrestrial species. A search of the Research in Progress database ( did not produce any additional studies. Caltrans protocols for addressing noise impacts to birds and bats were identified. The FHWA Synthesis of Noise Effects on Wildlife and other literature from outside the transportation realm (e.g. National Park Service) also provide information on approaches to evaluating impacts to species.

Research Objective
The objective of this project is to develop focused, streamlined, concise and consistent practices and methodologies for analyzing and mitigating noise and vibration impacts on terrestrial wildlife species (including those that are listed under ESA), that would be conducive to efficient and regulatory compliant noise analyses performed by state DOTs and their partners. To that effect, it is essential to determine:
• The stressor(s)/noise and vibration descriptors (un-weighted vs. weighted, statistical, other as appropriate, and inter-correlation), and propagation over terrain and other physical variables
• An understanding of how the stressors of project-related noise and vibration might affect responses of different species and individuals within the species, and related life-history influences, and a tiered approach on how an impact may be identified
• Evaluation of available modeling tools that are provided by federal authorities, such as FHWA TNM 3.0, RCNM 2.0, and Quarry for use for wildlife analysis as well as the representation of subject activities and resources analyzed
• Appropriate techniques on establishing a common noise environment based on the anthropogenic sound landscape
• Risk assessment approach that considers the conservation status of the resources involved
• Reasonable and feasible mitigation measures that can be considered as environmental commitments, if impacts are identified
• Appropriate tiered level of reporting and documentation of decisions and interagency coordination

Tasks and Deliverables

Task 1: Conduct Interviews or Virtual Discussions with DOTs
Conduct interviews or convene virtual discussions with DOTs in representative ecoregions for information on species consultations, for existing guidance, and assessment of potential savings from streamlined processes. Altogether, 19 states have expressed an interest in this project, including AL, AZ, CO, ID, IL, KY, ME, MT, ND, NH, NV, OH, OK, UT, VA, VT, WV, WY. Additional interviews or inclusion of oil and gas industry representatives and regulatory or resource agencies in the discussions is suggested.

Task 2: Literature Review
Develop a summary of existing relevant literature; documents developed by/for the oil and gas industry may be of particular interest.

Task 3: Develop Guidance Strategies for Methodologies Used for Analyzing Noise and Vibration Impacts on Various Wildlife Species
Further to the stipulations made in the Research Objective section, the following deliverables are expected, as a minimum:
• Template protocol and cross-functional flowchart on tiered approach and project-related activity screening
• Instructions on determination of noise and/or vibration sensitive areas and species’ sensitivities (species grouped by identical or similar response or interference, cause-effect-severity matrix) and activities represented (nesting, roosting, foraging)
• Instructions on measurement and determination of existing common noise and vibration environment and anthropogenic noise and vibration sources (baseline conditions)
• Instructions on noise modeling techniques for FHWA TNM 3.0, RCNM 2.0, and Quarry, and representation of species and habitats
• Instructions on determining appropriate noise and vibration mitigation strategies and examples of best management practices
• Report template for documentation of decisions and interagency coordination, and biological evaluation programmatic agreements
• On-line training material focused on the implementation of the research

Task 4: Summary of Results/Final Report
Combine the highlights of the results of Tasks 2 and 3 into a concise summary document targeted at DOT biologists and project managers. Make recommendations on where further research is needed.

Recommended Research Funding and Research Period
Recommended Funding: $375,000
Research Period: 30 months

8. Problem Statement Author(s)
Jeff Peterson, Colorado DOT Wildlife Program Manager, [email protected]
Ivan Racic, Arizona DOT, Environmental Science Specialist, Air and Noise Planner, [email protected]
Kris Gade, Arizona DOT, Roadside Resources Specialist/ Biology Team, [email protected]

Urgency and Payoff

This project will increase the quality and defensibility of noise and vibration analyses for terrestrial wildlife. In turn, this will assist DOTs to improve and expedite noise and vibration impact analyses as well as better justify instances where road-related noise will not affect wildlife. This will result in time and money savings by standardizing approaches to analysis and mitigation as well as avoiding unnecessary mitigation. Increased consistency in the methodologies used by DOTs will result in studies that are comparable and improve the predictability of the level of effort needed for these analyses.
The results of this research would improve project planning by improving estimates of the level of effort needed to analyze and mitigate noise and vibration impacts and provide a framework for DOT biologists and noise specialists to conduct the analyses. It will provide clear guidelines to DOTs on a standardized approach to assessing these impacts. The summary document will be disseminated to all state DOTs and it is anticipated that additional implementation activities such as webinars and/or training on how to implement the guidance could be offered to state DOT noise and wildlife specialists as a follow on activity to this project.

Suggested By

Kris Gade

[email protected]