Environment and Transportation

FHWA’s Environment Section provides an excellent overview of the wide range of fields and needed competencies as transportation planning and project development and implementation meets environmental requirements and advances environmental goals. These are inherently interdisciplinary fields, some of which are listed below:

  • Operations –environmental regulatory compliance in projects (NEPA-National Environmental Policy Act), and public process
  • Compliance Focused Environmental Management
  • Sustainability Systems
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Waste Management and Remediation
  • Cultural (Historical and Archaeological) Resources
  • Community Impact Assessment
  • Hydrological Studies
  • Noise Abatement
  • Surface Water Quality (Storm water Management, Wetlands and Waterways)
  • Air Quality and Health
  • Landscape Stewardship
  • Farmland Soils and Agriculture
  • Fish, Wildlife, Plants and Rare Species (including invasive plant species)
  • Parks and Recreation Areas
  • Planning and Modeling
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian initiatives
  • Transit and TDM

Environmental Disciplines: FHWA Competency Building Program


Competency Definition
Project Development
Air Quality Refers to the integration of transportation and air quality planning and the responsibility of transportation plans and programs to reduce mobile source emissions, as consistent with the objectives of the CAA. It also includes project-level analyses of pollutants to determine if localized violations of ambient air quality standards may be caused by proposed projects.
Alternatives Analysis The evaluation of alternatives based on ability to meet Purpose and Need, environmental impacts, and technical and fiscal feasibility.
Climate Change The prospect of rapid changes in temperature, precipitation, sea levels, and frequency or severity of storm events caused by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Impacts from climate change should be considered throughout the transportation decision-making process to create resilient transportation systems.
Context Sensitive Solutions A collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders in developing a transportation project that fits into its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic, and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility. Stakeholders are involved early, continuously, and meaningfully throughout the project development process.
Environmental Inventories/GIS Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computerized data management system designed to capture, store, retrieve, analyze, and display geographically referenced information. An environmental inventory is a collection of GIS data pertaining to a geographic area, and it can be used in environmental analysis and documentation for highway projects.
Historic Preservation The protection of historic and prehistoric remains and structures. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their actions on historical properties. Historic preservation is also mandated by Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act and implementing policies of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the National Park Service (NPS), and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) for the historic preservation program.
Indirect and Cumulative Impact Analysis Indirect impacts are caused by an action but occur later in time and/or occur farther away in distance. They are impacts that are reasonably foreseeable. Cumulative impacts are impacts on the environment that result from the incremental impact of an action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions. An action that does not appear to have significant direct impacts may have indirect or cumulative impacts that are significant.
Intelligent Vehicle Initiative A U.S. DOT initiative that aims to accelerate the development, availability, and use of integrated in-vehicle systems that help drivers of cars, trucks, and buses operate more safely and effectively.
Interdisciplinary Approaches The integration of concepts across two or more disciplines to solve problems that stretch beyond a single discipline or profession.
Knowledge of Environmental Laws, Requirements, and Agency Processes An understanding and familiarity with the NEPA, the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (among others), and Executive Orders that influence environmental protection. Also includes familiarity with FHWA Title 23 Laws and Regulations, including the agency’s approach to integrating environmental and planning requirements.
Land Use Refers to the manner in which portions of land or the structures on them are used (or designated for use in a plan); i.e., commercial, residential, retail, industrial, etc. Transportation planning processes must ensure consideration of consistency with associated land use planning.
Modeling A simulation of the “real world” that can be used to show the impact of changes in a metropolitan area on the transportation system (such as adding a new road or transit line or increases in population or employment).
NEPA/Environmental Process Requires, to the fullest extent possible, that the policies, regulations, and laws of the Federal Government be interpreted and administered in accordance with its environmental protection goals. NEPA also requires Federal agencies to use an interdisciplinary approach in planning and decision-making for any action that adversely impacts the environment. It ensures that final decisions are made in the best overall public interest, taking into consideration the need for fast, safe, and efficient transportation; public service; and the cost of eliminating or minimizing adverse environmental and economic impacts.
Planning Process A cooperative process designed to foster involvement by all system users through a proactive public participation process conducted by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), state Department of Transportation (state DOT), Federal Land Management Agencies (FMLA), and transit operators. The goal is to develop a common vision for the transportation system, as related to human and natural environmental issues, and prioritize projects to help achieve that vision. The Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) identifies transportation strategies and projected revenues for a 20- to 30-year period. The transportation improvement program (TIP) allocates funding to specific projects over a 4-year period.
Preparation of Environmental Documents The environmental documents integral to NEPA are:

·         Notice of Intent (NOI)

·         Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

·         An Environmental Assessment (EA)

·         Categorical Exclusions (CE)

·         Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)

·         Record of Decision (ROD)

Purpose and Need A critical element in the environmental review process. It explains why the action being proposed is needed and serves as the basis for developing a reasonable range of alternatives.
Rural development and planning Refers to communities and areas that are not covered by MPOs; areas having a population less than 50,000. In rural areas, no one agency is responsible for transportation planning, and it may be handled by state DOTs, Rural Planning Organizations, FLMAs, or local governments.
Scoping An early step in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process that includes seeking agency and public views and information, receiving comments and suggestions, and determining issues to evaluate during the environmental analysis. Scoping can involve public meetings, telephone conversations, or written correspondence.
Section 4(f) Prohibits use of land from publicly owned parks, recreational areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and public or private historical sites by Federal transportation projects unless U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) determines that there is no feasible and prudent avoidance alternative and that all possible planning to minimize harm has occurred or such use is a de minimis use.
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act Regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material into the aquatic ecosystem, including wetlands. Impacted ecosystems must be mitigated and monitored according to the Act.
Stormwater Program, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Regulates discharges from point sources to waters of the United States. A point source is defined by the CWA as “any discernible, confined, and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged.”
Transit-Oriented Development Compact, mixed-use development near transit facilities and high-quality walking environments, typically leveraging transit infrastructure to promote economic development.
Travel Demand Management Programs designed to reduce or shift demand for transportation through various means, such as the use of public transportation, carpooling, telework and alternative work hours. Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies can be used to manage congestion during peak periods and mitigate environmental impacts.
Visual Quality Refers to what viewers like or dislike about the visual resources that make up a scene. It can be expressed in terms of how memorable a landscape may be, its intactness (how well the natural and human landscape come together), and its visual coherence.

General Skills

Contract Management Monitoring and management of the provision of services in line with the agreed terms and conditions of a contract.
Project Management The planning, organizing, and controlling of allocated resources to accomplish a project within budget, on time, and to the satisfaction of those involved.
Research The development of strategic initiatives to improve the human and natural environment.
Safety Transportation planning and alternatives development take safety considerations into account by identifying the most effective strategies for reducing crashes as well as injury or loss of life and/or property. These may include carefully designed facilities, roadways, bikeways and walkways, public education, and the application of TDM and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) measures.
Technology Transfer The process of sharing skills, knowledge, and technology among industries, agencies, universities, governments, and other institutions to allow further development of resources and programs.
Training The provision of educational resources to help develop critical knowledge, skills, and abilities within the transportation and environmental workforce.
Writing Composition of NEPA documents that explain project decisions in simple, concise terms that are understandable to the public while clearly demonstrating compliance with regulatory and legal requirements.


Civil Rights Act Title VI Prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance.
Community Impact Analysis Community Impact Analysis (CIA) provides the framework for assessing whether a proposed transportation action or plan results in impacts to communities or community resources in the project area.
Cultural Resource Management Refers to the assessment of historic and archaeological resources within a project area. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) ensures that cultural resources be studied and that adverse effects be mitigated.
Economic Development The impacts a highway project may have on the national, regional, and local economies. Highways improve the movement of goods and people (national impact); connect states and regions, create access to undeveloped land, and reduce congestion (regional); and create construction and maintenance jobs (local).
Environmental Justice Refers to tools and techniques to ensure the full and fair participation by all potentially affected communities in the transportation decision-making process with an emphasis on involvement by minority and low-income populations. The goal of Environmental Justice (EJ) is to ensure that adverse human health or environmental effects resulting from transportation activities do not fall disproportionately among minority and low-income populations.
Interagency Contact and Coordination Effective communication and collaboration with Federal, state, and local partners in the transportation and environmental communities.
Interest-Based Negotiating/ Collaborative Problem Solving Strategies in which participants collaborate to find solutions that are mutually acceptable to both parties.
Public Involvement The active and meaningful participation of the public in the development and implementation of transportation plans and programs.
Tribal Consultation Federal consultation and coordination with Native American tribes that is meaningful, in good faith, and entered into on a government-to-government basis. Section 106 of the NHPA requires that FHWA consult with tribes for undertakings that may affect properties considered to have traditional religious and cultural significance both on and off tribal lands. Such tribal consultation must be respectful and mindful of the Federal trust responsibility and tribal sovereignty.
Visualization and communication technologies Development of methods to effectively communicate visually, verbally, and in writing the details of projects to the public, elected officials, and other stakeholders to promote improved understanding of proposed transportation projects, plans, and programs. Oral communication includes the utilization of effective presentation techniques.
Welfare to Work/Job Access/Reverse Commute Aims to provide transportation to welfare recipients living in inner cities or rural areas to job opportunities in the suburbs. This grant program requires states to develop solutions collaboratively with MPOs, local/regional transportation agencies, and social service providers.


Biogeochemical cycles The movement of chemical elements in a circular pathway, from organisms to physical environment, back to organisms. Well-known biogeochemical cycles include the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen cycles.
Biological Community Dynamics Processes occurring in biological communities, such as disturbance, competition, and succession. These concepts are applied to community analysis, impact assessment, and impact management on highway projects.
Bioremediation of contaminated sites The use of biological processes to naturally break down hazardous materials and convert them into less or non-hazardous end-products, such as water. Bioremediation is only appropriate for certain types of contamination and varies based on physical factors, such as oxygen, nutrients, pH, and temperature.
Coastal Resources Refers to Federal protection programs for coastal resources, including the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) and the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (COBRA).
Contaminated site assessment The evaluation of the potential for contamination to be present on or adjacent to a specific property or a project corridor. FHWA has recommended procedures for detecting hazardous materials.
Ecological Indicators Communicate information about ecosystems and the impacts of human behavior. Common indicators include ecological integrity, diversity, productivity, and stability. Scientists may also select indicator species to help determine the impact of human or natural processes on the ecosystem.
Ecosystems Interconnected communities of living entities and the physical environment within which they interact.
Endangered Species A population of organisms that is at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 provides broad protection for species of fish, wildlife, and plants that are listed as threatened or endangered in the U.S. or elsewhere. It prohibits the unauthorized take of listed species.
Erosion and sediment control The management practice that protects surface and ground water resources. Transportation projects are designed, constructed, and operated according to standards that will minimize erosion and sediment damage to the highway and adjacent properties. Erosion control includes developing erosion control plans and selecting, installing, and inspecting erosion and sediment control measures.
Food Webs and Trophic Levels A set of interconnected food chains in which energy and materials circulate within an ecosystem. Each level of consumption in a food chain is called a trophic level.
Habitat restoration techniques Measures that restore, rehabilitate, enhance, or create both terrestrial and aquatic habitats for species impacted by highway projects. Examples include channel modification, wetland restoration, and native plant reintroduction.
Habitats Areas or physical environments where an organism or ecological community normally lives or occurs. Habitat fragmentation often occurs as a byproduct of infrastructure development.
Invasive species Non-native flora and fauna that can cause significant changes to ecosystems, upset the ecological balance, and cause economic harm to the agricultural and recreational sectors.
Migratory Birds The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 prohibits the unauthorized take of migratory birds, including most wild bird species found in North America. The Act prohibits unauthorized killing of migratory birds and destruction of eggs and occupied nests. Bald and golden eagles are also protected under the Federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Sampling techniques and procedures The collection of representative data which is used to characterize site conditions and/or determine appropriate management or mitigation measures.
Sustainability The concept of sustainability is accommodating the needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability applies to environmental, economic, and social principles. Sustainable transportation planning, design, construction, and maintenance can incorporate a variety of strategies to avoid ecosystem impacts, conserve natural resources (including use of clean fuels), encourage modes other than single occupant vehicles, and promote travel reduction strategies.
Toxicity The degree to which a substance is able to harm an exposed organism. Contaminants found in sediments, water, air, and soil–above a certain unique threshold for that chemical–can affect a whole organism, such as an animal, bacterium, or plant, as well as substructures of an organism, such as a cell or organs.
Vegetation management Caring for and/or controlling plants along roadside rights-of-way. The objective is to establish vegetation that is non-invasive (and preferably native), self-sustaining, and drought-resistant. This helps reduce maintenance costs and minimizes herbicide use.


Bicycle/Pedestrian Programs Promote bicycle and pedestrian transportation use, safety, and accessibility.
Commercial vehicle operations An application of ITS to improve commercial vehicle operations.
Highway Traffic Noise The unwanted sounds generated by motor vehicles on streets and highways. The FHWA Noise Standard at 23 CFR 772 requires that a noise analysis be prepared for Federal projects that may cause noise impacts. If noise impacts occur, noise abatement must be considered and implemented if found to be reasonable and feasible. Noise abatement can include traffic control measures, highway planning and design measures, buffer zones, noise barriers, and insulation of public use buildings.
Intermodal passenger and freight Airports, ocean and river ports, transit terminals, truck, rail, and pipeline terminals (or places where people and goods come together in movement).
Transportation Enhancements Funding opportunities that increase surface transportation choices and enhance the transportation experience. Transportation Enhancements (TE) “activities” that qualify include pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and safety programs, scenic and historic highway programs, landscaping and scenic beautification, historic preservation, and environmental mitigation.


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