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Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
March 2003

Context Sensitive Solutions:
Thinking Beyond the Pavement to Be in Harmony with the Environment

Meeting Transportation Needs and Community Values

Many state departments of transportation (DOTs) are using context sensitive solutions (CSS) to "think beyond the pavement" and develop high quality projects that enhance communities and the environment. State DOTs that incorporate CSS principles into the entire transportation process can expedite project delivery and lower costs. Implementing CSS also demonstrates environmental stewardship and commitment, fosters community acceptance, and often prevents project redesigns.

Photo of Coopers Bridge
In 2000, NJDOT used the principles of context sensitive solutions — including working early and often with communities — to redesign the Route 35 Coopers Bridge (NJDOT image.)

Benefits of CSS

  • Improves project quality.
  • Improves relationships with resource agencies, environmental organizations, and communities.
  • Expedites permit approval and project development.
  • Lowers administrative and mitigation costs.
  • Leads to cost effective environmental benefits.
  • Develops decisions that "stick."
  • Limits redesigns.

State DOTs can adopt CSS as a way of doing business by implementing the following principles:

  • Develop projects through a collaborative process that actively engages communities and other stakeholders early and often.
  • Balance safety, mobility, and economic goals with the preservation of environmental, scenic, aesthetic, historic, and cultural values.
  • Build projects that add lasting value to and minimally disrupt communities.
  • Implement a flexible design process that is sensitive to project goals, timelines, and the environment.
  • Exceed the expectations of designers and stakeholders.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) views CSS as an opportunity to connect with communities, develop innovative transportation solutions, and improve interagency coordination. FHWA supports CSS in its January 2002 Memorandum to FHWA field leadership, staff, and state DOTs, and in its Vital Few Goal of Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining. FHWA also supports the CSS efforts of state DOTs such as the Maryland State Highway Administration (MSHA), the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC), and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT). These states are using innovative strategies to incorporate CSS principles into their daily practices.

Maryland (http://www.sha.state.md.us/events/oce/thinkingbeyondpavement/thinking.asp)
In 1998, MSHA sponsored "Thinking Beyond the Pavement — A National Workshop on Integrating Highway Development with Communities and the Environment while Maintaining Safety and Performance" with FHWA and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Workshop participants identified the project and process qualities associated with CSS. MSHA then worked with a variety of stakeholders to incorporate CSS concepts into its entire transportation process. As part of its CSS efforts, MSHA has improved communication among planning, design, construction, and maintenance staff, established pilot projects to test its streamlined project delivery process, developed a community involvement handbook, and created community involvement and project management training for MSHA staff.

New Jersey (http://www.nj.gov/transportation/)
NJDOT began incorporating CSS into its policies, procedures, design standards, and organizational culture in 1999. While implementing its long-term CSS initiatives, NJDOT is incorporating CSS immediately into several pilot projects and streamlining its project delivery process. NJDOT promotes design flexibility, early and collaborative involvement with communities and resource agencies, and early identification and consideration of natural and cultural resources. In addition, NJDOT has developed CSS training for staff, consultants, and community leaders, and a commitment tracking and post-project evaluation system. Currently, NJDOT is developing annual CSS awards and an electronic warehouse of CSS best practices and project information.

Kentucky (http://www.ktc.uky.edu/)
In 2000, KYTC began integrating CSS principles into its entire transportation process. KYTC provides staff with guidance on CSS, public involvement, and geometric design. KYTC also uses project plan profile sheets, ledgers of commitment, and commitment action plans to ensure that environmental commitments are carried through construction. Finally, KYTC supports CSS training for all participants in the project development process, including construction contractors and engineers. KYTC's efforts have proven successful. By involving landowners, communities, landscape architects, historic preservationists, and environmental specialists in the Paris Pike Reconstruction process, KYTC was able to reconstruct this portion of US Route 27, including its unique dry stonewall that runs along the highway, with little disruption to the surrounding area.

Minnesota (http://www.cts.umn.edu/education/csd/index.html)
Guided by the thinking "Listen-Understand-Design-Build," Mn/DOT began its CSS efforts in 2000. Mn/DOT promotes environmental stewardship, encourages innovative and flexible design, and actively engages communities and other agencies in the transportation process. Interdisciplinary teams of economic, environmental, and social experts develop projects that fit functionally, culturally, and environmentally within their location. In addition, Mn/DOT provides project management and CSS training for Mn/DOT and resource agency staff. Mn/DOT is now developing CSS performance measures and methods to assure that commitments are met during construction and maintenance.

Tips for Implementing CSS

  • Incorporate CSS into procedures, policies, and organizational structure.
  • Train staff and consultants.
  • Garner commitment to the CSS process from agencies and communities early.
  • Form an interdisciplinary team for each project to provide input to the process. Include the public.
  • Analyze the community and surrounding resources before beginning engineering design.
  • Start mitigation during project planning as concerns are identified.
  • Communicate early and continuously with all stakeholders.
  • Tailor the process, including public involvement techniques, to the circumstances of a project.
  • Develop partner agreements with agencies and industry to share environmental responsibilities.
  • Use the flexibility inherent in design standards to meet the needs and values of the community.
  • Document all design exceptions and variances to demonstrate sound engineering.

History of CSS

The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, AASHTO's National Highway System Design Standards, and the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 promote the balancing of safety, mobility, economic, environmental, scenic, historic, community, and preservation values. CSS emerged as the means to make all of this work.

In 1997, FHWA, with input from AASHTO and several environmental interest groups, developed the guide Flexibility in Highway Design to promote flexible design, interdisciplinary decision-making, and proactive public participation in the transportation process. The first national CSS conference soon followed in 1998, after which FHWA and AASHTO began supporting six CSS pilot programs — Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Utah, and the FHWA Federal Lands Highway Program. Each pilot is integrating CSS into the planning, design, development, and construction processes and training nearby states in CSS.

For more information, visit http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/csd/index.htm.

Contact Information

Harold Peaks
FHWA Office of Project Development and Environmental Review
400 7th Street SW, Room 3222
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: (202) 366-1598
Fax: (202) 366-7660
E-mail: harold.peaks@fhwa.dot.gov

Look Whats New!

  • FHWA Interim Guidance: Indirect and Cumulative Impacts in NEPA
  • National Transit Institute course"Linking Planning and NEPA: Towards Streamlined Decisionmaking." Spring/Summer 2003. For more information, contact Sean Libberton at the Federal Transit Administration at (202) 366-5112 or John Humeston at FHWA at (404) 562-3667.

For more information on environmental streamlining, please visit: www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/strmlng/index.asp.

"Successes in Stewardship" is a Federal Highway Administration newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining practices from around the country. To subscribe, contact Cassandra Allwell at (617) 494-3997 or allwell@volpe.dot.gov.

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