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Regional Approaches to Environmental and Transportation Planning: NADO Questionnaire Results

Date:
September 24, 2021
Topics:
News, News Homepage
Words planning and environment linkages with image of two chain links

In May and June 2021, the National Association of Development Organizations Research Foundation (NADO RF) released a questionnaire to regional development organizations (RDOs), regional transportation planning professionals in rural and small metro areas, and subscribers to the NADO Rural Transportation News. The purpose of the questionnaire was to receive input on how planning organizations are incorporating environmental considerations into transportation planning and project development in order to enhance project delivery.

NADORF received responses from agencies in 15 states across the U.S. Respondents include RPOs and RTPOs. MPOs, RDOs, and one state DOT.

Questions Asked

  • When in the planning process do environment considerations take place?
  • How do environment considerations take place?
  • Does your organization have a public involvement plan and how do you document public involvement?
  • Has considering environment in the planning process improved project delivery in the region?
  • Have agency partnerships or involvement of stakeholder groups assisted your organization with Planning and Environment Linkages?
  • Do you have documents that describe your approach to PEL or projects where project delivery has been streamlined?
  • What types of PEL resources would be useful?

Summary of Responses

When is environment considered in the planning process? 
For rural and small metro agencies, PEL is more commonly considered during early planning stages, including visioning and goal setting and project development with stakeholders. PEL is less considered during performance measuring and monitoring. This early consideration seems to focus on mitigating environmental impact by developing regional support for goals and projects that avoid significant detrimental effects.

  • During vision, goal and strategy setting
  • During project scoring, ranking, and prioritization
  • During corridor, facility, and small area projects
  • During public involvement
  • During project development with stakeholders
  • During performance measurement and monitoring

How do environment considerations take place?
PEL is considered through visioning exercises and analysis. During planning and project development stages, PEL is incorporated through project evaluation, when project impacts are considered, and as part of Environmental Justice. Environmental impact may be given a weight for scoring or used in evaluation criteria. How and when organizations consider PEL depends on state requirements and the roles defined for agencies operating at the local, regional, or state level.

Respondents indicated that environment considerations take place during:

  • Communications and public engagement
  • Performance management and metrics
  • Planning (i.e., long-range, environment and energy, and project-level)
  • Policy and regulations
  • Project development and delivery
  • Through tools and resources (i.e., GIS screening tools)
  • Through visioning

Does your organization have a public involvement plan? If yes, how is public involvement documented?
All respondents said that they have a public involvement process. Public participation documentation ranges from minimum requirements as part of federal funding to more complex public involvement based on project type.

  • Through public involvement processes affiliated with:
    • Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS)
    • Statewide MPO and RPO requirements
    • Statewide planning
    • Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) development
  • Documentation includes but is not limited to:
    • Minutes, presentation of survey results, video/audio recordings
    • Sign-in sheets, letters, emails, brochures, and RTPO websites
    • Newspaper affidavits and ads
    • Comment cards or other written/digital survey mechanisms
    • Posting public notices

Has considering environment in the planning process improved project delivery in the region? If yes, how?
A mix of responses was received. For agencies that replied “Yes”, they noted the following improvements:

  • Ability to scale down the scope to the most critical or reconsider projects that will have conflicts
  • Development of more realistic project proposals or better understanding of feasibility
  • Information shared and used in prioritizations, studies, and scoping reports is more reliable and helps identify issues early.
  • Environmental considerations have improved by focusing on the most critical concerns in our region: flood zone analysis, oil and gas industry impacts, and environmental justice.

Have partnerships with local governments, state agencies, federal agencies, or stakeholder groups assisted your organization with Planning and Environment Linkages? 
Most respondents stated “Yes, partnerships have assisted their organizations with PEL.” Partnerships mentioned include advocacy groups, non-DOT federal agencies such as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local officials, tribal governments, state departments (transportation, environment, historic preservation), and universities.

Do you think that you could use further resources on Planning Environment Linkages to help you in your work? What topics or kinds of information would be helpful?
Respondents requested webinars, peer exchanges, and tip sheets or a combination of the three. Topics of interest:

  • Peer exchange on differences in state/MPO or RTPO relationships and how this affects PEL
  • Tips sheets on:
    • Incorporating PEL into city and town project planning
    • Examples of best management practices related to storm water
    • Building PEL early in the process for communities with limited staff and expertise capacity
    • State DOT process examples for coordinating with regional planning organizations
    • Capacity building and staffing for small communities that want to complete environment linkages earlier in the planning process.
  • Webinars on:
    • How to identify and prioritize wildlife linkages in rural regions
    • PEL protocols for project scoring
    • How to incorporate environment linkages at the comprehensive transportation planning stage

Next Steps
The NADO Research Foundation and FHWA will coordinate to develop and deliver a set of initial resources, including a conference session and two issue briefs. Look for additional engagement opportunities, peer exchanges, and tools in the coming months!

Initial information and Peer-learning Opportunity (October 2021)
Planning and Environment Linkages: The Regional Role in Accelerating Transportation Project Delivery is a session planned as part of the NADO Annual Training Conference in Portland, Oregon. The session will take place October 19, 2021, at 11:30 am ET/8:30 am PT.

This is a chance to learn about environment and transportation planning resources offered by the Federal Highway Administration and NADO Research Foundation. Regional agencies will share their outreach and engagement practices, public participation documentation, and coordination with the state DOT or state environment and historic preservation offices, as well as application of tools such as cultural and natural resource databases.

Issue Briefs (Late Fall/Winter 2021)
The NADO Research Foundation plans to release two issues briefs on the topics of Public Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement and Interagency Relationships. The topics were selected based on query responses and preliminary research.