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Considering Environment in Rural, Regional Transportation

In This Article:
A group of adults look at maps and plans, considering environment and community impacts, during a regional public input meeting.
Image courtesy Central Florida RPC.

Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) establish coordination early in the transportation planning process. Coordination across multiple public agencies, as well as gathering input from members of the public, can assist transportation agencies with considering environment and community impacts of transportation initiatives. PEL approaches can help agencies improve transportation plan and project development and delivery.

Through research supported by the Federal Highway Administration, the NADO Research Foundation developed two issue briefs on considering environmental impacts in rural, small metro, and regional transportation planning and projects. The draft final PEL issue briefs are available below.

Planning and Environment Linkages: Accelerating Project Delivery through Interagency Relationships (PDF)

Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) establish coordination early in the transportation planning process. From the beginning steps of identifying a transportation problem, coordination across public agencies has a role in the planning process so that “environmental, community, and economic issues and concerns are appropriately considered and addressed.”[i]

Coordination occurs during visioning, alternatives identification, public engagement, prioritization, project recommendations, scoping, project development, and final project delivery. Coordination can only happen when agencies collaborate—and that collaboration involves Tribal, federal, state, and local agencies along with members of the public and advocacy groups.

This issue brief focuses on the relationships that regional and rural planning organizations establish with state and local governments and examines how interagency relationships are connected to transportation and environment planning policies and federal requirements. The brief also explores the benefits of interagency coordination, challenges, and barriers for interagency relationships, and offers examples of how agencies have successfully partnered in the PEL process.

[i] Oregon Department of Transportation. (2012). ODOT Planning and Environment Linkages Guidance.

Public Involvement to Support Planning and Environment Linkages in Rural and Small Metropolitan Areas (PDF)

Federal surface transportation legislation has long required transportation agencies to conduct public involvement throughout the transportation planning process. Incorporating public input early and often throughout planning, environmental review, and project development can provide many benefits and new ideas to local governments, Tribes, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and Regional Transportation Planning Organizations (often called RTPOs or RPOs), transit agencies, State Departments of Transportation (DOTs), and their private sector partners.

In addition, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) also requires that the public have an opportunity to participate in Federal agencies’ environmental reviews. Enacted in 1969, NEPA acknowledges that governmental actions can affect the environment. NEPA requires that Federal agencies consider environmental and related social and economic effects of proposed actions (including federally funded projects) and also inform the public about decision making.[i]

Rather than collecting public information and conducting analysis on the same issues multiple times, linking the planning and environmental processes can result in several benefits, explored in this issue brief. Beginning in 2005, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released joint guidance encouraging transportation agencies to create stronger linkages between the planning and NEPA processes. Although conducting Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) is optional and does not require that agencies change their planning processes, the planning and environment connection was strengthened further in later regulation and statute.[ii]

[i] Council on Environmental Quality (2021), A Citizen’s Guide to NEPA: Having Your Voice Heard,

[ii] AASHTO (2008), Using the Transportation Planning Process to Support the NEPA Process,

Additional Information

This work is supported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) under contract number 693JJ321P000004. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these publications are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of FHWA or the NADO Research Foundation.

To find other resources and information on rural transportation and the environment, click here. More tools and information are also available from FHWA here, and from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Center for Environmental Excellence.

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Additional Resources


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