Strategies for state-wide data collection in the context of environmental analysis in project level transportation decision making

Focus Area

Environmental Considerations in Planning








1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

New technologies have made it possible to collect and characterize large amounts of data through remote sensing and other techniques. Sensors, drones, and powerful data analytics have the potential to generate robust characterizations of various natural features at a state-wide level and in long term could make data collection more affordable or less time-consuming. Various initiatives have been launched to develop state-wide databases for soil types, vegetative cover, wetlands, streams, historical and archaeological sites, threatened/endangered species, parks and recreational sites, waste sites, floodplains, and various socioeconomic data. However, no single platform yet exists whereby multiple data from different disciplines are pooled together. There is also scant research on the value of Big Data in decision-making for project level analysis. Acknowledging the myriad of benefits, challenges and opportunities associated with Big Data, the proposed research poses several questions: 1. How can agencies and practitioners move from a project-based driven data collection to the development of strategic plans for data collection? 2. What is the role of new technologies in the characterization of baseline conditions? 3. Would the use of state-wide databases be acceptable for early scoping? What about project level analysis? How can we define the appropriate uses? The research effort should begin with a search for examples of successful similar platforms Objective 1: Survey of state of practice Objective 2: How do we increase the buy-in and expand their use?

Urgency and Payoff

With the ever-increasing push to expedite the NEPA process, this is a timely topic. The ability to use statewide data layers w/o conducting project specific analyses would enable almost simultaneous analysis of impacts as alternatives are developed and would shave much time out of the NEPA process. It would also enable states to “prioritize” particularly rare or sensitive environmental resources w/in their state and potentially facilitate efforts to mitigate for impacts to specific resources on a regional or statewide basis.

Suggested By

yuche chen University of South Carolina

[email protected]