Adopt a broad or regional approach to mitigation planning
States should recognize the regional impact of transportation projects and support the use of a regional approach to mitigate the impacts of highway investments. The environmental impacts of transportation projects are typically addressed at a project level. This approach leads to several significant problems. Many environmental impacts are cumulative and large scale. Project level mitigation either fails to identify such impacts or leaves few alternatives for addressing them. Additionally, many mitigation measures, such as preservation of lands that contain critical habitats, stream buffers, and wetlands, are more easily implemented and cost effective at broader regional scales. State departments of transportation can fundamentally shift toward a more comprehensive approach either by ensuring that a broad range of indirect impacts is considered or by conducting an impact analyses at a programmatic level.
A regional approach to a transportation system, and mitigating transportation impacts, requires investments in research, planning capacity, and implementation mechanisms. For example, making natural resource inventories available speeds evaluation of mitigation opportunities. Regional scale mitigation also requires working with a larger set of local stakeholders. In addition, the cost-effectiveness benefits of regional mitigation are easier to achieve when entities such as land trusts or mechanisms such as transfer or purchase of development rights programs, state land conservation initiatives, and so forth are already in place.
States should create a system for coordinating the assessment of natural habitats with respect to transportation projects. Once a State – through an Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment -- recognizes and articulates the goals of the transportation project, all appropriate state agencies (transportation, planning, natural resources, health, etc.) that can help with an assessment of the project should be convened for a series of discussions concerning potential environmental impacts.
One approach is to bring appropriate federal, state, and local agencies together as signatories to a "streamlining agreement" that can support joint policy making, habitat preservation, and the use of techniques such as Context Sensitive Design (See Action #3, Adopt a context-sensitive approach for all state transportation projects, in this section).
- Washington’s Watershed Program
The State of Washington has implemented a comprehensive approach to highway project mitigation. The Washington Department of Transportation’s Watershed Program evaluates alternatives across a broader geographic scale to identify alternatives to traditional mitigation projects. For major projects, watershed characterization studies are conducted with the goal of answering a fundamental question: "Where should we target natural resource improvements to mitigate impacts of a transportation project while achieving the greatest environmental benefit?"
— Washington’s Watershed Program
- North Carolina’s Ecosystem Enhancement Program
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation signed a Memorandum of Agreement that established the Ecosystem Enhancement Program, which aims to restore, maintain, and protect water habitat areas throughout the state. One provision of this program provides watershed-based mitigation (compensation) if transportation and infrastructure development have unavoidable environmental consequences.
— North Carolina's Ecosystem Enhancement Act
- Oregon’s Collaborative Environmental and Transportation Agreement for Streamlining
Oregon’s Collaborative Environmental and Transportation Agreement for Streamlining promotes environmental stewardship and agency collaboration. The agreement requires all Oregon transportation jurisdictions to develop land use and transportation plans that reflect state goals. The program was approved in April 2001 by 10 state and federal agencies, including the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service.
— Oregon’s Collaborative Environmental and Transportation Agreement