Understanding the Decision Guide
The Glossary contains definitions
of several important terms
The Decision Guide is not business as usual. Instead it represents an integrated, systems-based framework that transportation practitioners can use to reach decisions regarding highway capacity expansion projects in collaboration with all formal decision making partners as well as stakeholders. Using a systems-based approach, the Decision Guide takes into consideration the transportation network as a whole as well as its relationship with the community, environment, and economy. The Decision Guide is a tool to assist practitioners and managers who wish to develop a collaborative business process that goes beyond incremental improvements of existing processes: supporting a substantially better way to approach, develop, and manage complex highway capacity enhancement projects.
The Decision Guide is based on the principles of context sensitive solutions (CSS) and sound business and project management principles. CSS is balances transportation, community and environmental goals. With CSS transportation is not the primary goal; rather it is one of three equal goals. This approach to decision making has profound implications for the relationships and process execution that support transportation decision making. Capacity projects also require an explicit approach, along with supporting processes, to maintain scope, schedule, and budget. Sound business principles maximize the benefit from the Decision Guide, as they help transportation agencies deliver projects on time and in budget while meeting system performance goals.
CSS and sound business principles are needed to ensure consistency throughout the entire transportation decision making process. As the basis for the Decision Guide, they support the fundamental goal of enhancing collaboration to deliver better projects more efficiently and effectively. In addition, the foundation of CSS and project management ensures stakeholder concerns are addressed continuously during decision making, creating greater transparency and accountability.
To fully engage with the Decision Guide and gain from its extended functionality, a short tutorial is recommended. The following information acquaints the user with the content, context, and intent of the Decision Guide. This section is easily accessible within the tool structure so that the user can gain further understanding where that is needed.
The Four Phases of Transportation Decision Making
The Decision Guide represents a structure for the four initial phases of transportation decision making: long range transportation planning, corridor planning, programming, and environmental review/permitting. The final key decision represented in the Decision Guide is the approval of the Record of Decision (ROD) and the rendering of permits required to implement a transportation improvement. Each phase follows the current legally mandated process; however, there are some specific attributes of each phase that may be different than "common practice".
Long Range Transportation Planning (LRP)
The Decision Guide key decisions in the long range planning phase represent those actions necessary to develop a long range transportation plan under current federal guidance. These decisions are pertinent to both Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) updates as well as the development of a new LRTP.
There are three key advantages to LRTP development using the Decision Guide:
- Tiered decision making: the ability to integrate long range planning with the other phases of transportation decision making
- Integrated programming and fiscal constraint: the interface between the fiscal constraint requirement of the LRTP and the development of the metropolitan TIP
- Creating a strong connection between regional vision and goals, performance measures, and adopted preferred scenario
Collaborative decision making in long range planning within the Decision Guide establishes the foundation of decisions made throughout the decision making process: effectively connecting plan to project. Stronger public understanding and engagement is one of the key benefits to this approach. Corridor Planning Studies (COR)
Because corridor planning is not strongly regulated by federal mandate, there is flexibility in how this decision making phase is conducted. Corridor Planning using the Decision Guide is equally applicable to corridor or sub-area planning done within an urban or rural area. This phase can be used as a part of LRTP development; to provide more detailed understanding of potential improvement projects; and/or to support a more streamlined environmental review process.
Some key features of the Corridor Planning Phase are:
- Partners agree on the scope of environmental review to be used within the process. This decision allows information to be documented and used in NEPA.
- Prioritization of identified improvements, both transportation and others, to support programming decisions
Corridor Planning draws appropriate data, analysis, and decisions from Long Range Planning (LRP) and provides a finer scale of consideration in order to support environmental review under NEPA. Programming with Fiscal Constraint (PRO)
The importance of funding considerations cannot be overstated in transportation decision making. This key element is often very disconnected from the realities of the planning phases, but provides the essential support for implementation of needed improvements. Within the Decision Guide programming is integrated with the fiscal constraint requirement of long range planning in a way that effectively links the LRPT and the TIP. Although both LRP and PRO can be developed independently, those agencies interested in more closely relating these two processes will find the needed support in the Decision Guide.
The integration of programming and fiscal constraint is primarily supported by two key decisions in this phase:
- Approve methodology for identifying project costs and criteria for allocating revenue
- Approve project list drawn from the adopted LRTP scenario
These two decisions create a programming process that both informs and is consistent with the LRTP development. This means that when projects move into the TIP they represent the best available information on cost, scope, and schedule. Environmental Review Merged with Permitting (ENV)
Many states have adopted various methods of interfacing the environmental process under NEPA with the required Section 404 permitting process in order to streamline project development. This interface may be as simple as collecting the perspective of resource agencies as alternatives are identified to a series of concurrence points where the transportation and resource agencies come to mutual agreement. Regardless of exactly how this is implemented linking NEPA and permitting has become a successful practice in the transportation industry. The Decision Guide assumes that these two federally required processes are done within a merged decision making process. Throughout the ENV phase there are key decisions specific to permitting requirements. These are identified as Permitting (PER) key decisions.
There are four key decisions in the Environmental Review phase that are concurrent between NEPA and permitting. These are:
- Approve Purpose and Need/ Project Purpose
- Approve Full Range of Alternatives
- Approve Alternatives to be Carried Forward
- Approve the ROD/ Render Permit Decision
The use of concurrent decision making in a collaborative process during the environmental review of project alternatives offers the strongest ability to streamline this phase. The Decision Guide offers the further advantage of connecting the procedural steps of NEPA and permitting to the decisions made in long range planning, corridor planning, and programming. Decision Making Partnerships
The purpose of Transportation for Communities - Advancing Projects through Partnership
is to foster a process that is inclusive, transparent, and collaborative - which means that every person involved in transportation decision making should understand what information is being collected, how that information is being used, how others impact the process, and how they can impact the process. The Decision Guide is based on the collaboration of the primary partners in transportation decision making: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), State Departments of Transportation (DOT), Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO), and resource agencies. The Decision Guide offers a unique perspective by demonstrating that each partner is engaged at largely every key decision, but that the exact role for each partner changes from key decision to key decision.
The Decision Guide assigns one of the following roles to each of these agencies at every key decision:
- Decision Maker - Acts as the lead agency or is required to take legal action at the key decision and/or is not required to take legal action, but must agree to the decision before the process can move forward.
- Advisor - Provides feedback as to whether the decision is supported or opposed and whether there are particular issues of concern. The advisor does not need to agree to the decision for the process to move forward, but may have decision-making power in subsequent key decisions or phases so agreement is preferable.
- Observer - Limited involvement in the decision - kept updated but does not provide opinions or direction.
- No Role - No participation in the key decision.
In the Decision Guide, the interests of each agency are outlined for every phase of transportation decision making. At each key decision, specific questions are considered to be sure all interests are being addressed. For example, in long range planning, FHWA has an interest that the planning process is collaborative and inclusive. To ensure this interest is being addressed at the first key decision, which is "Approval of Scope of the LRTP Process"; policy makers ask, "What stakeholders should be included?" and "What is the public involvement plan?" In the Decision Guide interests and related questions like this are included at each key decision.
For more information on the role and interests of the four partners of the transportation process - FHWA, MPOs, State DOTs, and Resource Agencies - go to the How Does My Agency Fit in? The Importance of Stakeholders
The fundamental principle behind the Framework is collaboration - both with the public and with partners in decision-making. It requires the commitment of both stakeholders and professionals to stay engaged and consider the interests of all participants. Although not a formal decision maker, stakeholders have a large role in transportation decision making. Close collaboration with the community to meet an array of needs beyond highway improvements is another key to successful outcomes. The inclusion of multi-modal options, additional enhancement features, or innovative solutions often results in broad acceptance by all those involved.
The definition of stakeholder
in the Decision Guide is: Person or group that may be affected by a transportation plan, program or project. Stakeholder can include: Government agencies that are not part of the decision-making partnership, formal advocacy groups, and informal groups that come together around transportation decision making (i.e., neighborhood associations).
As this definition indicates, "stakeholder" is used in the broadest sense in the Decision Guide. Essentially everyone who is not a decision making partner (FHWA, state DOT, MPO, resource agency) is a potential stakeholder. The commonality is an interest in the transportation decision making process and a commitment to engage.
In a collaborative relationship, once a decision has been made, stakeholders need to be given feedback surrounding the "what, when, why, how and who" of the decision. The Decision Guide reinforces this type of relationship in the questions that decision makers consider. Specific questions have been developed for each of these decision points to generally determine:
- What feedback did we get from stakeholders?
- What stakeholder feedback are we missing?
- Are there conflicts among the stakeholder feedback or between the stakeholder feedback and our technical data?
- Should we change our decision based on the feedback? Why or why not?
To support collaboration with stakeholders at each key decision, the Decision Guide includes two sets of questions to solicit and consider this information. These are identified in the Policy Questions tab as: (1) questions to consider stakeholder interests and (2) questions to gather information from stakeholders. Because stakeholder interests are context specific and therefore may vary broadly across plans and projects, it is important to consider their interests at each key decision. Integration with Other Planning Processes
Transportation decision making does not occur in a vacuum. There are public as well as private agencies that invest in data-driven community or regional planning. The resulting plans represent a substantial asset and data source for better transportation decision making. The integration of these external processes with transportation decision making will help ensure that important values and goals are recognized and accommodated early in transportation decision making.
The Transportation for Communities
supports the integration of six specific external processes within transportation decision making: air quality conformity, land use, natural environment, human environment, capital improvement, and safety/security. The Decision Guide identifies the data, analysis, or decision from these external processes that should be considered at each key decision.
Land use and air quality conformity represent ongoing considerations in transportation decision making that are recognized by transportation professionals. Both of these sub-processes provide decisions as well as data and related analyses which must be incorporated into the transportation process.
The consideration of the natural environment is most familiar within the NEPA process; however, current federal guidance and regulation brings this consideration more fully into the planning processes. The Decision Guide incorporates Eco-Logical, an ecosystem approach to integrating transportation and land use decision making with the natural environment. This approach has been endorsed by FHWA and all of the federal resource agencies that have a role in transportation decision making. Eco-Logical supports the linkage of planning decisions to NEPA/permitting and enhances compliance with regulatory requirements in the Environmental Review/Permitting process.
Human environment, capital improvement, and safety and/or security planning have important relationships with transportation, but are not represented by a clearly defined set of decision makers. This characteristic requires a different approach to incorporating these considerations. The Decision Guide identifies the key decisions where data related to the human environment, capital improvement, and safety/security issues should be solicited and included in decision making. In circumstances where partners are available from these external processes, they should be included in transportation decision making. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is one strong example of such potential partnerships. Decision Guide Support of Plans and Projects
There are many ways the Decision Guide can be used to support the development of plans, projects, and programs. Below are some of the ways that have been identified.
- Beginning the development of a plan or project
- Setting up a new team for guiding a project or plan
- To engage and educate stakeholders
- During the selection of specific solutions
- When a problem in your current process is creating a roadblock
- To improve relationships with partner agencies
- To identify the gap between current practice and a collaborative process - The Decision Guide provides the pertinent information at each key decision that represents the gold standard for a collaborative process. The user has the ability to compare the specifics of their existing process to this information in order to see what needs to change in order to enhance collaboration: in other words, conduct a gap analysis.
Individual users may find many more creative ways to engage with this tool to enhance transportation decision making. Be sure to share your insights and examples in TCAPP Connect