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Transportation and Climate Change Clearinghouse

Integration into Transportation Decision Making

Executive summary

At the current rate of growth, transportation's share of human-produced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. will increase from 28 percent currently to 36 percent by 2020. When Congress, environmental groups, and others look for solutions to climate change, transportation is often considered to be a major source of the problem. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) must be able to participate in and contribute to these discussions to ensure that policies balance the need for reductions with other transportation goals.1

This report, conducted for the USDOT's Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting (CCCEF) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), led by a project team from the USDOT's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center), is part of ongoing work to highlight innovative actions and initiatives undertaken by states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and local areas to incorporate climate change considerations as part of the transportation planning process. These initiatives represent innovative attempts to use the planning process to manage and reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector within corresponding states, metropolitan areas, and local jurisdictions.

This report provides case studies and summaries of presentations from two panels of State and regional experts. The cases studies evaluate innovative planning and policy making by an MPO -- the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) in the Seattle metropolitan area; a State department of transportation (DOT) -- the New York State DOT (NYSDOT); and a regional and bi-national organization of states and Canadian provinces -- the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP).

As part of the research for this report, the CCCEF organized and facilitated two panels of experts. Panelists at the Transportation Research Board Conference on Land Use, Transportation Planning, and Air Quality included staff from the Puget Sound Regional Council, NYSDOT, NEG/ECP, and the Gulf Coast Study on the impacts of climate change and variability on transportation systems and infrastructure. Panelists at the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations Annual Conference included staff from the Boston Region MPO and Central Transportation Planning Staff, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, the Washington , D.C. area MPO, and the PSRC.

This report discusses how the case study areas incorporate considerations of climate change, including emissions reduction strategies and impacts of climate change on transportation systems, in the transportation planning process through collaboration and partnerships with transportation and non-transportation agencies, policies, outreach, and technical methods and tools. The report also considers the extent to which climate change considerations, specifically involving GHG emission reductions, are becoming a factor in state, regional, and local transportation investments and other decisions. Although the report considers both reduction of GHG emissions and adaptation of transportation facilities to climate change, it focuses on reductions to reflect the priority of the organizations' studied. State and regional planning organizations currently appear to focus on one or the other aspect, but not both. In the future, increasing numbers of these agencies are likely to want to address both aspects.

The report examines the prospects for continued progress in the ability of transportation planning agencies to successfully include climate change considerations in their ongoing planning, and identifies technical and institutional challenges to overcome. The report provides observations and lessons learned from the case study areas to assist peer states, regions, and localities interested in expanding how they incorporate climate change into transportation planning processes.

Climate change considerations can shape the selection of investments and strategies within a region's transportation planning process. The case studies and panel summaries focus on how participating states and MPOs are considering climate change in the following aspects of transportation planning: vision and long range planning; forecasts, data and performance measures; public involvement; collaboration with partners; and project selection.

Findings and observations in this report focus on:

  • Opportunities to "amplify" results of statewide, metropolitan area, and local actions by anticipating future Federal policies, programs, and regulations
  • Climate change policy and supportive regulations
  • GHG reduction targets and climate action plans
  • The value of a long term horizon for actions to meet GHG emission reduction goalsPlanning to adapt transportation facilities to climate change impacts
  • Establishing links between land use and transportation
  • The technical role for MPOs in planning to reduce GHG emissions
  • The need for realism to establish support for statewide and metropolitan area actions to meet GHG reduction targets
  • The importance of identifying "co-benefits," demonstrating that GHG emission reductions advance other important regional goals
  • Education and outreach on choices to reduce transportation sector GHG emissions
  • The importance of partners and champions in establishing support for GHG reduction strategies

1 US DOT Center for Climate Change Strategic Plan: http://climate.dot.gov/documents/splan_2006.pdf

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