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Public Roads - November/December 2014

November/December 2014
Issue No:
Vol. 78 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Guest Editorial

Innovation in Environment and Planning

edi1Ask a passerby on the street what “innovation” means, and you might hear a reply that amounts to something like this: “a significant improvement in a product, industrial process, or construction technique.” In many cases, including within the transportation industry, this response rings true. Just look at the innovations catalogued on the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Every Day Counts Web site. There you will find descriptions of such innovations as warm-mix asphalt, design-build contracting, and slide-in bridge construction.

But many aspects of FHWA’s business, specifically in planning and environmental protection, exhibit less conventional innovations that carry equal importance for improving the quality, cost effectiveness, and speed of delivering transportation projects. For example, this issue of Public Roads spotlights tools developed to help communities cope with weather-related events, account for climate change risks, and plan for resiliency to future environmental conditions.

One example is the Gulf Coast Study, which identified climate change vulnerabilities and developed adaptation options for key transportation facilities. FHWA manages the study on behalf of the U.S. Department of Transportation in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey. The lessons learned will be applicable across the country. Also, pilot projects on resiliency to climate change led to development of FHWA’s new Climate Change & Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework (FHWA-HEP-13-005), which will help communities everywhere evaluate their level of risk.

Also spotlighted in this issue are innovative tools that can help smaller communities with limited staffing and budgets better plan for transportation investments. Among them are techniques to use data collected from cell phones to conduct travel surveys and use of Web-based GIS tools for data visualization to improve public participation.

In another planning and environmental innovation, FHWA recently launched e-NEPA, a secure online tool for collaboration and project development that facilitates concurrent intra- and interagency reviews of environmental impact statements. This tool tracks comments, schedules tasks, and saves paper--ultimately, accelerating project delivery.

In a similar vein, FHWA is establishing programmatic consultations across entire wildlife ranges to streamline compliance with the Endangered Species Act. One example is a programmatic consultation for the northern long-eared bat, covering 39 States. Other consultations focus on sturgeons, sea turtles, and essential fish habitats along the Atlantic coast. Undertaken with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, programmatic consultations build consistency, accelerate project delivery, and improve species conservation.

In a planning innovation under the Strategic Highway Research Program 2, FHWA is working to integrate economic, environmental, and community needs into transportation planning and project development. For example, “PlanWorks: Better planning. Better projects.” is an upcoming Web resource supporting improved collaboration to help diagnose barriers and develop strategies to overcome them. Similarly, FHWA’s “PlaceFit” tool compiles information to help planners compare factors on jobs, recreation, education, health care, commuting options, pedestrian and bicycle networks, and other needs to achieve more livable communities.

Delivering transportation improvements involves many steps from long-range planning to project financing and development to construction and operation. FHWA is helping States and communities deliver their transportation programs through innovations that improve collaboration in the planning process, provide better information for decisionmaking, and accelerate project delivery.



Gloria M. Shepherd
Associate Administrator
FHWA Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty