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Transportation and Climate Change Clearinghouse

Integration into Transportation Decision Making

5 - Transportation Research Board; Transportation, Land Use, and Air Quality Conference

Summary of Peer Exchange

Orlando, Florida
July 9-11, 2007


The Transportation Research Board (TRB) 2007 Transportation Land Use, Planning, and Air Quality Conference (Orlando, FL, July 9-11) focused on the latest developments in transportation and land use modeling and planning to improve air quality. The conference included a focus on climate change considerations.

The conference included a session on "Transportation Planning and Climate Change" organized by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting (CCCEF).32 Two members of the CCCEF core team, Diane Turchetta (FHWA) and William M. Lyons (USDOT/Volpe Center), facilitated and participated in the panel. The core team represents the different organizations within US DOT that manage the CCCEF. The panel included presentations on transportation planning to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) as well on the potential impacts of climate change and variability for transportation long-range planning and investment. Panelists included representatives from the FHWA Office of Environment, who presented the New York State case study; the Puget Sound Regional Council (Seattle-area Metropolitan Planning Organization); the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Conference; and a speaker presenting on the Gulf Coast Climate Impacts study.

The panelists represented organizations at different stages of incorporating climate change considerations into statewide and metropolitan area transportation planning activities. All are involved in innovative activities related to incorporation of climate change considerations within their planning processes. Panelists participated in a facilitated discussion with the audience of practitioners, which provided additional insights for the CCCEF research.

This report summarizes the presentations as part of the consolidated report on climate change and transportation planning, and concludes with key points. This summary is provided as a resource on best practices for a national audience of interested peers.


Presenter: Mark Gaber, Federal Highway Administration

The Air Quality/Asbestos/Energy Section of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) prepares policies, procedures and technical guidance that allow the Department to identify and assess potential air quality effects of its activities. This work includes Clean Air Act issues, air conformity analysis, air quality analysis procedures and energy impact analyses.

  • The state's 54,500 square miles encompass 62 counties, 62 cities, and 1,485 villages and towns
  • Statewide population is over 19 million, with over 8 million in New York City

The United States emits 25 percent of global CO2 emissions; however, no national policy has been developed to reduce emissions, according to the presenter. In the U.S., actions are primarily being initiated at state, local, and regional levels: 28 states have adopted climate action plans, and 128 city and county governments currently participate in emissions reduction initiatives, at the time of the presentation. Among this group of states, New York recently enacted innovative requirements for transportation planning to consider climate change.

New York City is the largest U.S. city and an international financial and economic center. The city's coastal location and location of major transportation facilities near sea level leave its transportation infrastructure vulnerable to the potential for sea-level rise from increased climate and weather variability. New York City, and therefore New York State, has an interest in taking action to mitigate the threats posed by climate change. For this reason, New York developed its 2002 State Energy Plan, which places particular emphasis on renewable fuels and increased energy efficiency. The plan is largely to be carried out through support for public transit, transportation demand management, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and capital construction, with the goal of reducing GHG emissions. The plan provides fifteen policy recommendations to attain these goals.

As one of the policy recommendations, the State Energy Plan lays out a statewide goal of reducing GHG emissions to 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2010, and 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Within this effort, the plan calls for analyzing energy consumption of the transportation system as a part of the transportation planning process. The plan also identified strategies that can be included in transportation plans and Transportation Improvement Programs (TIP) to reduce emissions, such as improved ITS, bicycle and pedestrian programs, transportation demand management, and improved public transit. The plan requires analysis of the transportation system's energy consumption and air emissions, specifically including GHG emissions, when long-range plans and TIPs are adopted. Analysis can performed on a build versus no build basis.

NYSDOT carried out this statewide directive by becoming the first (and only) State requiring MPOs to conduct GHG and energy analysis on their transportation plans, according to the author. Based on an interview conducted for the case study, the State encountered a number of difficulties getting MPOs to fulfill this directive. To succeed at a similar policy, another State could consider the following issues encountered in New York when developing its own policy.

  • MPOs do not view the Energy Plan requirements as mandatory.
  • Confusion about MPOs role in energy consumption assessment given their perceived inability to affect emissions reductions.
  • MPOs expressed doubt as to whether analyses will be considered in the decision-making process.
  • Increased workload, particularly burdensome for small MPOs

During the presentation Mr. Gaber highlighted GHG and energy analysis conducted by three MPOs of different sizes:

  • New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) based in New York City metropolitan area;
  • The Capital District Transportation Council (CDTC) based in the Albany metropolitan area;
  • The Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council (ITCTC) based in the Ithaca metropolitan area.

All three MPOs exhibited a similar pattern. Each organization's analyses indicate that implementation of its long-range transportation plan would result in fewer GHG emissions than if the projects envisioned in the plans were not realized, meeting the build versus no-build goal; yet, all three projected GHG emissions from the transportation sector continuing to increase over current levels, failing to achieve the Energy Plan reduction goals.

Based on interviews with New York MPOs, a consultant's study found that MPOs do not see these GHG and energy assessments as significantly influencing the decision-making process. In fact, NYMTC conducted its analysis after the long-range plan was released, and therefore could not integrate the analysis into the decision-making process of selecting the projects to be included in the plan.

Because, CO2 emissions are generally emitted in a manner directly proportional to fuel consumption, the calculation of GHG emissions from the implementation of transportation plans requires calculating the forecasted fuel consumption by the vehicles on roadways contained in the plan. This requires a model that can be adjusted based on fuel type and vehicle mix. Regional GHG emissions projections cannot assist transportation decision-makers in project-level selection; project-level emissions data, even if less reliable, are needed for this level of selection. Current commercial off-the-shelf models that are available for quantifying GHG emissions from transportation projects are limited, and the EPA is addressing this need by developing its Motor Vehicle Emission Simulator (MOVES) model, which will be more sensitive to vehicle mix and fuel type factors.

Key Points

  • Energy Plan requirements can serve as a model for gaining reductions through transportation planning process. Requirements for analysis of GHG emissions are an instrumental step in bringing climate change considerations into transportation planning process by providing GHG information to inform the decision-making process.
  • Project-level emissions data is a current challenge but will important if emissions are to be considered as part of project selection.
  • To succeed at enacting a similar policy, issues such as measures for noncompliance, the role of the energy consumption and CO2 analyses in the decision-making process, and the increased burden, especially on small MPOs, should be addressed when creating policy frameworks.


Presenter: Kelly McGourty

See AMPO presentation by PSRC and PRSC case study.


Presenter: Gregory Nadeau, Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Planning, and Communications, MaineDOT

The Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP) is comprised of the leadership of six U.S. states and five Canadian provinces. At their annual conferences, the NEG/ECP discusses issues of common interest and concern, and enacts policy resolutions that call for actions by the State and provincial governments, as well as by the two national governments. During the year, the Conference convenes meetings of State and provincial officials, organizes roundtables and workshops, and prepares reports and studies of important regional issues.

The NEG/ECP has a history of collaboration on regional issues, with a focus on issues that do not recognize borders, particularly environmental issues. Over the past two years, energy and GHG emissions have become a particular focus. In June 2007, at the 31st annual Conference, held in Prince Edwards Island, Canada, members received reports of two previous events, a Ministerial Forum on Energy and Environment as well as a preparatory forum on Transportation Solutions to Climate change. At the conference, the governors and premiers adopted the recommendations of the Ministerial Forum, which included the creation of a standing Committee on Transportation and Air Quality charged with the implementation of specific actions included in the forum recommendations.

The Committee is made up of transportation and environment officials from the eleven jurisdictions, and is responsible for reducing air emissions and setting regional goals for GHG reductions from the transportation sector. It is also tasked with the development of a Regional Transportation Action Plan and a report for the 2008 NEG/ECP conference. Action steps include:

  1. Development of environmentally friendly biofuels-- Policy options such as the California proposed Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which sets a 10 percent GHG reduction target for fuel producers by 2020.
  2. Promotion of fuel efficiency in all modes of transportation -- investigating ways such as "feebates" to provide incentives to the public to purchase more fuel efficient vehicles, and utilizing fuel efficient and GHG friendly vehicles in public transportation fleets.
  3. Expansion of alternative transportation and commuter services -- exploring regional transit system opportunities, and addressing funding issues and opportunities
  4. Alignment of infrastructure funding with energy and climate goals by encouraging energy-efficient development in municipalities and regional entities -- developing and promoting programs that prioritize funds for jurisdictions that employ "smart growth" strategies, and providing incentives for transit-oriented development
  5. Use of life-cycle GHG and CO2 emission analyses to set indicators for policy and project planning, and when appropriate, determining whether or not transportation measures have adequate lifecycle analyses associated with them, and researching consistent sources, if necessary.
  6. Collaboration with the private sector to seek new opportunities to enhance regional interconnectivity and efficiency of regional freight networks-engaging the private sector jointly assess opportunities to assess improvements in freight movement efficiency, which is also an opportunity to reduce GHG emissions and improve regional competitiveness.
  7. Adopt clean car programs including CO2 and air quality standards such as California standards to NH and Eastern Canadian provinces.

Key Points

  • The NEGC/ECP presents a very valuable example of regional approach to setting policies on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through transportation decisions. NEGC/ECP is particularly noteworthy because it is not only multistate, but also bi-national.
  • Regional policies, including a shared commitment to reach regional GHG emission targets, with endorsement of top political leadership, set a helpful voluntary direction for the participating states. The states are then provided with flexibility to develop their own GHG plans and programs to meet the shared commitments.
  • The NEGC/ECP approach fosters joint planning and programs on regional transportation concerns, such as more efficient freight networks, with implications for GHG emissions.
  • The implementation of the NEGC/ECP programs in the individual states and provinces will provide a range of useful approaches to accomplishing reductions both within their jurisdictions and across the region.


Impacts of Climate Change for Transportation Planning and Investment

Presenter: John Suhrbier, Cambridge Systematics, Inc.

The U.S. DOT and the U.S. Geological Survey are collaborating to investigate the potential impacts of climate change and variability on transportation systems and infrastructure along the Gulf Coast extending from Mobile, Alabama to Galveston, Texas. While integration of climate change considerations into the planning process normally manifests itself as efforts to reduce GHG emissions, Mr. Suhrbier discussed the importance of studying and adapting to the transportation impacts. As the effects of climate change increase over-time infrastructure will have to evolve to handle new conditions. Future effects should be addressed in current planning efforts, as transportation infrastructure is a long-term investment. Unfortunately, the impact on transportation systems is an underdeveloped area of research, and the effects will vary based on the transportation assets and vulnerabilities of each geographic region.

Evaluating and adapting to these effects can and should be done within the framework of the existing transportation planning process, during which transportation investment decisions are made. Climate change considerations must enter into the equation if they are to be reflected in these decisions. To determine how MPOs and State DOTs are addressing climate change and how it might be addressed in the future, the approach was:

  1. Reviewing existing organizational vision and mission statements, long-range transportation plans, and transportation improvement programs (TIP).
  2. Interviewing four State DOTs, and six MPOs of varied size, within the study area.
  3. Reviewing other relevant documents such as those related to recovery planning and reconstruction following Hurricane Katrina.

Figure 1

Figure 1. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351

Figure 1 follows the flow from direct climate effects resulting from increased temperatures and climate variability, to transportation decision-making, to transportation impacts. The USGS analysis determined that in the Gulf Coast region the average annual temperature of the study area is estimated to increase between two and eight degrees Fahrenheit, and extreme precipitation events, particularly severe thunderstorms may become more likely. These and other changes would affect all aspects (maintenance, operations, and construction) and modes of transportation in the region. Within the region, 72 port facilities, three airports, and 50 percent of the pipeline network are vulnerable to a relative sea level rise of four feet.

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) contains new environmental considerations for transportation planning. Section 6001 defines eight planning factors that should guide the planning process and the development of projects, strategies, and services. While climate change is not explicitly included, six of the eight factors reflect considerations that are directly related to climate change, which include: system preservation; protecting, enhancing, and mitigating impacts on the environment; system management and operation; access and mobility; safety; and economic vitality. The legislation also contains provisions that transportation plans should discuss potential environmental mitigation activities; include consultation with agencies responsible for land use management, natural resources, environmental protection, and conservation; and consider resource agency databases (where applicable).

Interviews conducted with MPOs and State DOTs in the region revealed one barrier to effective action: many transportation planning officials lack a detailed understanding of climate change and variability issues. Several interviewees expressed hesitation due to current uncertainty, and some do not see it as a priority concern given shortages in available funding. Mid-sized and smaller MPOs are also limited by a small staff.

One critical aspect of planning is the time-horizon -- how and when should DOTs and MPOs start to respond, and what are the costs of deferring a response? On the planning side, long-range transportation plans span a 20 to 30 year period, while Statewide Transportation Improvement Plans (STIPs), and TIPs last four years. Many structures last 50 to 100 years and, in addition, climate change impacts could be abrupt.

Mr. Suhrbier concluded his presentation with suggestions for planners and decision makers consistent with these new trends in the planning process. These suggestions include:

  • Consider climate change in the visioning process - extend beyond 20 years.
  • Add climate change to the development and analysis of future scenarios.
  • Include climate scientists in the consultation process.
  • Consider climate change impacts in the evaluation of alternative improvements --strengthening or moving facilities, providing connectivity for evacuation and emergency response.
  • Consider contingency planning for the possibility of climate change impacts.

Key Points

  • Additional research should be undertaken to study the impact of climate change on transportation systems, particularly at a regional level, since the transportation assets and vulnerabilities of each region vary.
  • Full consideration of climate change impacts is limited by the traditional timeframe of transportation planning. The time-period of traditional MPO transportation planning activities such as the 20- to 30-year long range transportation plan does not extend as far as the 50- to 100-year period of projected climate change impacts.
  • Transportation planners should monitor changes in land use patterns resulting from climate change within a region on both a sub-area and regional basis, and incorporate these changes into the long-range transportation and investment process.
  • Climate-related changes can be introduced into the long-range transportation planning and investment process at a number of steps, under considerations such as environmental quality, economic development, mobility, and safety.
  • Collaboration will become increasingly important for transportation agencies to address and respond to climate change issues. This may include consultation with climate scientists and agencies responsible for land use management and natural resources.


33 The presentation is based on a complete case study presented in this consolidated report.

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