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Planning and Environment Linkages: PlanWorks – A Web Resource for Planners

Date:
October 20, 2021
Topics:
Environment, Integrated Planning, News, News Homepage, Resources
Words planning and environment linkages with image of two chain links

When the NADO Research Foundation asked regional and rural planning organizations in a 2021 questionnaire at what stages of the planning process they are considering Planning and Environment Linkages, respondents said that long range planning, corridor planning, and project scoping are among the times when environment impacts are considered, analyzed, and decisions are made.

To assist planners with agency-to-agency collaborations, corridor planning considerations, and environmental review, the Federal Highway Administration offers a web resource called Plan Works. Smaller planning agencies can find the process of integrating economic, environmental, and community needs time-consuming or requiring a level of collaboration that varies by region or state. PlanWorks is a “systematic decision support tool that integrates the community’s needs into the analysis, planning, and design of transportation improvement projects.”

Photo of a bridge across a river
Image: Upper Cumberland Development District in Cookeville, Tennessee

PlanWorks suggests when and how to engage cross-disciplinary partners and stakeholder groups. The four components of PlanWorks are:

Decision Guide: The guide includes policy and stakeholder questions, data needs, case studies, and tools that help support decisions.

Assessments: Assessment tools assist stakeholders to identify opportunities to work together, improve interagency cooperation, and expedite project delivery.

Applications: Special topics such as planning and environment linkages, performance measures, visioning, freight considerations, and other emerging topics can be considered in the collaborative decision-making framework.

Library: A resource library within PlanWorks contains case studies and reports.

PlanWorks offers tools that focus on Planning and Environment Linkages

Two of the PlanWorks tools–the Decision Guide and Assessments–provide prompts, questions for consideration, and case studies for online review, and the assessment is flexible in that it can be conducted by an individual or by a group in a virtual or in-person setting where the results can be discussed.

The following decision guide and assessment examples provide a glimpse at how PlanWorks can be used for creating planning and environment links:

Decision Guide
Example 1: Decision Guide for Corridor Planning – Reach Consensus on Scope of Environmental Analysis

This Key Decision defines the acceptable level of detail for the corridor study analysis in order to provide a clear linkage to the environmental review process. The PlanWorks tool includes an overview explanation, explains how decisions are linked and also poses questions to consider around corridor planning, environmental review, planning and environment linkages, and other topics. In addition, the types of data needed to support decisions are listed.

Example 2: Decision Guide for Environmental Review – Reach Consensus on Scope of Environmental Review

This initial Key Decision is the phase when consensus is reached on the data, decisions and relationships that need to be considered or made throughout environmental review. The scope is informed by the adopted long range transportation plan and corridor plans as well as current information being developed from plans in process.

Relationships with planning and environmental agency partners are formed during scoping. PlanWorks primarily addresses the role of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as the agency responsible for issuing permits under the Clean Water Act. However, planning agencies will want to form relationships with all agencies who will be responsible for issuing permits for the proposed action at the federal and state levels or who have some degree of authority over the NEPA process. Other federal agencies include the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition to relationship building, scoping is a time to begin identifying the process and methods that will be used for the environmental review.

Assessments
The Assessments section of PlanWorks is useful for building and assessing how well interagency partnerships are supporting planning and environment linkages. Assessments are available for Partner Collaboration, Stakeholder Collaboration, and Expediting Project Delivery. The Likert scale-assessment forms can be completed and submitted online as a way determine strengths, barriers, and areas for improvement. Along with results, PlanWorks provides strategies to help your agency address challenges and improve your current planning process.

Screenshot of Partner Collaboration Assessment PlanWorks page
Image: Screenshot of the Partner Collaboration Assessment tool in PlanWorks.

Learn more about PlanWorks and other technical assistance solutions by visiting the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) technical assistance program website. SHRP2 is a collaborative effort of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, the Transportation Research Board, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).