Best Practices in Implementing Environmental Commitments
resulting from the environmental clearance document are intended to avoid,
minimize, or mitigate impacts to environmental resources.
These commitments vary in scope
and may be derived from federal environmental laws (National Environmental
Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered
Species Act), permit conditions, or other state-level laws and regulatory
agencies and state DOTs are responsible for ensuring these legally binding
commitments are implemented throughout the life of a project and ultimately
fulfilled. Proper implementation of environmental commitments impacts project
delivery through all phases, including planning, design, construction, and post
While these commitments may be codified
in publicly available formal documents and are presumably binding, agencies and
DOTs nationwide face challenges in the successful management and implementation
of such commitments. Common
challenges that result in lost and unfulfilled commitments include DOT size and
NEPA assignment status, inventory and access, inconsistencies in MOA/MOU
language, successful communication with contractors, ensuring commitments are
incorporated into the PS&E, change order tracking during construction, and
permit expiration during the construction process. Lost and unfulfilled
commitments can lead to bad publicity, legal issues, violations and fines from
regulatory agencies, and loss of funding. As a result, DOTs have started
developing resources and practices to minimize these challenges and ensure
quality control and proper implementation, but no nationwide synthesis exists.
of commitments is considered the main tool for ensuring that specific
commitments are implemented. However, as
with design, construction and post construction, the quality of the tracking is
dependent on both the tracking system that exists and the actors who are
responsible for following that system.
In design, construction and post construction, the system includes
guidance manuals, specifications, flow charts for review and inspection, as
well as a tracking platform. The actors responsible may have specific
qualifications and training. In the
environmental world, defining and standardizing such things as context
sensitive design, restricted areas, or monitoring, is not the same as
standardizing rebar, the former being highly specific to the situation and
extremely challenging to create specifications for. Writing a manual to consider all or even most
situations would seem to be a nearly impossible task. As a result, there can be
one or more breakdowns in communication, commitment enactment, contracting,
checks and reviews and nearly any and all understandings between the
environmental group that establishes the commitment, the contractor responsible
for implementing it, and the engineer responsible for inspecting it.
All environmental units in all state DOTs have encountered
situations where the environmental commitment was not adequately
implemented. This can lead to bad
publicity and a perception that the DOT does not care about the environment.
Both NEPA and Section 106 are both laws with a strong public involvement
component. Reaching an environmental
commitment often is done openly and transparently and creates a public
expectation it will be met. Because
negotiation of the commitment may have been predicated on gaining hard-fought
agreement among many competing interests, failure to meet a commitment can also
lead to demoralization among the environmental staff. Mistakes can lead to lawsuits, loss of
project funding, and in some cases loss of delegated review authority from
FHWA. Consequently, many environmental units have developed tools and
techniques to at least minimize if not eliminate situations where the resulting
commitments were incomplete, poorly met, or ignored.
The objective of this study is a nationwide review of how
state DOTs have constructed workable systems for tracking and implementing environmental
commitments and a compilation of best practices. By systems, we mean more than simply noting a
commitment in a handoff document and relying on trust to meet it. Both formal processes (DOT standards,
handbooks, punch lists) and less formal processes (pre-construction meetings,
on-site inspections) are regularly used to ensure project designs and plans are
fulfilled. We seek to capture the full
range of processes and systems that integrate these processes used by DOT’s
that are targeted to environmental commitments.
Formal examples may include:
- Generalized environmental specifications and
scopes of work that may be in handbooks;
- Requirements that the contractor sign off on
having completed mitigation commitments;
- Project tracking of the environmental
commitments in the same project management platform as other design
- Requirements of field inspections and sign-offs
by DOT staff at specific stages;
Less formal examples may include:
- Specific meetings with environmental
sub-consultants on the mitigation requirements;
- Production of and adherence to quality control
plans by the prime consultant to ensure communication within the project team;
- Ongoing training by DOT environmental staff to
project engineers and construction team, including inspectors, on typical
environmental commitments and what to expect;
This study should produce a compendium of all formal and
less formal processes used by surveyed DOTs, best practices in standard
environmental specifications (and NSSP), and suggestions for improving the
overall systems for meeting environmental commitments, looking at both
effectiveness and level of effort.
For the reasons stated above, a compilation of best
practices for tracking environmental, commitments, including an analysis of
tracking systems, would be widely applicable. A substantial portion of
constructible projects have at least minor commitments. On larger projects, environmental commitments
are baked into the design and construction process and are often highly visible
to the public.
1. Survey State DOTs for the following but not
- Types of commitments stated and implemented.
- Methods and systems used and what guidance is there on it?
- What training programs exist to teach people how
to implement successful commitments?
- How commitments are implemented and how they are
- How are commitments translated into construction
contracts? What are the penalties for contractors not meeting explicit
environmental commitments? How often are
- What methods are there for tracking project
commitments from one project phase to the next?
- What ways are there of tracking commitments for
local or private projects when the DOT is the lead agency.
- What other areas of transportation practice
(P3s, et al) are tracking commitments, and what practices are being used?
- What trainings or certifications are needed for
different commitments to be monitored? Does the agency have a process to
identify who is responsible for the commitment being completed? For
archaeological or historic commitments, how are monitors selected? Do they
require training if they are not part of existing DOT or FHWA
- What are the staffing allocations for tracking
commitments?* What tools are there for management of
environmental assets that become the responsibility of the DOT for long term
and/or permanent mitigation and maintenance?* Are the commitments disclosed publicly and
completion tracked publicly?
Is there succession planning for the systems
used?2. Summary of existing state of practice, including
but not limited to:
Standard and nonstandard specification
Systems and methods used for tracking
- Evaluation of the state of practice.
Determine the best practices.
- Compile a compendium of cases of successful
research would primarily be implemented by state DOT environmental programs,
including cultural resources, NEPA, 4(f) and permit staff, implemented through
review and adoption of research results and participation in a webinar prepared
for this project. Training workshops and peer exchanges among practitioners
would also be effective in implementing the identified successful practices
among state DOTs.
organizations that might be interested in the research results and could help
support implementation include:
Council on Historic Preservation
Historic Preservation Officer
|Sponsoring Committee:||AME60, Historic and Archeological Preservation in Transportation
|Research Period:||12 - 24 months|
|Source Info:||AME60 RNS development team|
|Index Terms:||Environmental protection, Best practices, Environmental design, |
Planning and Forecasting