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Joseph A. Burns CWB
National Transportation Ecology Program Leader
Watershed, Fish, Wildlife, Air, Rare Plants
1400 Independance Ave SW - MS1121
Washington, D.C. 20250-1121
(202) 205-0919

Sandra Jacobson
Wildlife Biologist
USDA Forest Service
Pacific Southwest Research Station
(541) 678-5240


You are here: HOME » Resources » Decision Support Tools for Highway Development Projects

Decision Support Tools for Highway Development Projects

This section contains tools useful to biologists who are working on a highway development project. Most of the tools will be useful for the planning and design phase as opposed to the construction or operations phase.

Currently, most natural resource specialists are not engaged in the planning phase of projects early enough to provide meaningful input. It is important to start engaging with transportation departments as soon as you become aware that a project is being considered. Opportunities for meaningful engagement change as projects develop, and some types of input are only possible at certain points along the way. Of course, with projects of any type, options for meaningful input decrease as time goes by, but this is especially true with highway development projects because of the high cost of designing infrastructure elements (like bridges) and the rigidity of most of the timelines.

SAFETEA-LU Section 6002: Efficient Environmental Review for Project Decisionmaking

The current surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, includes direction for FHWA, DOTs and FLMAs to consider environmental protection at the level of project developments (as well as at the higher planning scale). Read more about the process.

The text of Section 6002 can be found here.

Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects

A multiple agency collaborative effort resulted in a document called Eco-Logical that is a new approach to integrating environmental considerations in highway development projects. FHWA has strongly encouraged the adoption of Eco-Logical approaches through training and funding grants for exemplary projects. The document and programs can be found here.

An example of an analysis of one project that used Eco-Logical is here.

USFS Region 6 Rapid Assessment of STIP

Each state develops a planning and funding document called a Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP). These documents are online for each state, and contain vast amounts of information. Although they have several purposes, one of the purposes is to provide transparency in the highway development projects that have been funded in the planning cycle. All of them vary greatly in the way information is presented, and most are heavily jargon-laced, so people in non-transportation positions including natural resource specialists might have a difficult time sorting out information of use to them.

In 2010, Region 6 of the Forest Service conducted a rapid assessment of the highway development projects on National Forest System lands in Region 6 (Oregon and Washington) that were likely to have either threats or opportunities to terrestrial wildlife resources. The purpose of the project was not only to locate important projects coming up in this funding cycle (of this STIP), and while doing so to improve the process by which the information was collected and distributed to the natural resource specialists who needed it.

Rapid Assessment of 2008-2012 Highway Development Projects in Region 6: Threats and Opportunities to Terrestrial Wildlife (pdf, 13 MB)

STIP Tracking Tools

Products from the Region 6 STIP Rapid Assessment include STIP Tracking Tools that can be customized for each forest. The STIP Tracking Tool was modified from a successful model that has been used and refined for several years by Rick Clark, FS liaison to Wyoming DOT.

Rick's STIP Tracking Tool can be found HERE.

The Rapid Assessment created expanded STIP Tracking Tools for Oregon and Washington national forests. Each of these have slightly different information because STIPs do not have standardized terminology.

The Oregon STIP Tracking Tool can be found here.

The Washington STIP Tracking Tool can be found here.

Resource Staffing Needs Assessment

For most FLMA line officers, highway projects are rare occurrences that may only occur once or twice on a unit in a career. When they do arrive, they can result in huge expenditures of staff time and expertise. The following Needs Assessment helps line officers to guage how much time will be needed for typical highway projects.

As noted in the Funding section of the Wildlife Crossings Toolkit, it is possible to obtain funding from the transportation agencies for staff time to participate in highway development projects.

Here is the Resource Staffing Needs Assessment.

Recognizing Typical Threats and Opportunities

Although no two highway projects will have equal threats to terrestrial wildlife resources, nor opportunities to restore ecological function, it is possible to categorize certain types of projects. Along with the Resource Needs Assessment above, these tools help to consider the range of possible outcomes in a given project.

Highways are infrequently modified in major ways, and most improvements not only have design lives of many decades, but often last longer than their design life. Decisions made on each project have very long term effects, and it is an opportunity foregone if land managers do not engage when they have the opportunity.

This Table lists a number of typical highway projects (such as reconstruction, or bridge replacements) and lists a few typical threats or opportunities often associated with those types of projects.

Suggested Performance Indicators

It is often difficult to determine if mitigation is needed for highway-related impacts to wildlife. The most noticeable impact is vehicle-caused mortality. But mortality, while wrenching on a humane scale, is not always a management concern at the population level that biologists are trained to consider. For example, the loss of dozens of raccoons in most parts of the country is not a cause for concern that raccoons will become imperiled, but the loss of a single Florida panther is a cause for concern.

Suggested in this document are four levels of concern that might trigger mitigation measures, either in a highway development project or as a result of increasing impacts from an existing highway. One is related to safety from animal-vehicle collisions. The other three are related to population-level impacts and viability.

Page Last Modified: February 18, 2014

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