National Academies Press: OpenBook

Methods for State DOTs to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector (2022)

Chapter: Chapter 3 Review of Practice and Assessment of Needs, Opportunities, and Barriers

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 Review of Practice and Assessment of Needs, Opportunities, and Barriers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Methods for State DOTs to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26523.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 Review of Practice and Assessment of Needs, Opportunities, and Barriers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Methods for State DOTs to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26523.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 Review of Practice and Assessment of Needs, Opportunities, and Barriers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Methods for State DOTs to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26523.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 Review of Practice and Assessment of Needs, Opportunities, and Barriers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Methods for State DOTs to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26523.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 Review of Practice and Assessment of Needs, Opportunities, and Barriers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Methods for State DOTs to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26523.
×
Page 11
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 Review of Practice and Assessment of Needs, Opportunities, and Barriers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Methods for State DOTs to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26523.
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7 C H A P T E R 3 Review of Practice and Assessment of Needs, Opportunities, and Barriers Four background research tasks were undertaken for this project in the fall of 2018. 1. A review of literature on tools and methods that can be used by State DOTs to evaluate and reduce GHG emissions. 2. A survey of State DOTs to identify current and future activities and needs related to GHG evaluation. 3. A review of State DOT policy and planning documents related to GHG planning, implementation, and evaluation. 4. Interviews with staff from 14 State DOTs to gain a more in-depth understanding of opportunities, challenges, and information needs with respect to considering GHG emissions. Literature Review The literature review found 26 documents addressing at least 1 of 4 functions relevant to this project:  Methods and data for transportation emissions inventory development.  Overviews and assessments of GHG inventory and strategy evaluation tools.  Guides to or syntheses of information on transportation GHG reduction strategies.  Methods for incorporating GHG considerations into transportation planning processes. Overall, there is a considerable amount of published information relevant to State DOT consideration of GHG emissions and reduction strategies. However, some documents are somewhat out of date and may not account for the latest developments in tools and State and Federal policies. In some cases, relevant information also is scattered across various sources and could benefit from being consolidated into a single resource document. The project team also identified 35 transportation GHG evaluation tools and classified them into the following categories:  Emission factor models.  Inventory and forecast accounting/support tools.  Tools to evaluate agency construction, maintenance, and operations activities.  General GHG and vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) reduction strategy analysis tools.  Limited focus/strategy-specific analysis tools.  Other tools. Despite the large number of tools, most have a very specific focus, and there are a limited number of tools with strategy analysis capabilities. Three sets of tools stand out as being well suited to State DOTs’ transportation project and program GHG analysis at different scales:  The VisionEval family of tools for program-level GHG policy analysis at statewide and metropolitan scales—relatively resource and data intensive, but the only tool designed for broad-based GHG policy analysis.

8  The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program Emissions Calculator Toolkit, a relatively simple set of project-level tools that include GHG emissions.  The Infrastructure Carbon Estimator, which provides planning-level GHG estimates for construction and maintenance of transportation projects and mitigation activities.  The universe of tools may still be missing significant functionalities to support State DOTs’ GHG analysis activities, such as relatively simple planning-level evaluation tools, and tools that include certain policy levers that DOTs and other State agencies can directly influence, such as electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure. A final annotated bibliography is published as Appendix A of the guide. This bibliography includes materials identified in the literature review, as well as additional documents referenced in the guide and identified following the initial literature review. A library of GHG evaluation tools is published as Appendix B of the guide. State DOT Survey A web-based survey was distributed to 52 State DOTs (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) to identify recent and planned activities and needs with respect to GHG consideration. About 41 States completed the survey. Details on outreach methods and the survey results are included in Appendix A to this report. The results were used to loosely classify States into four “levels of engagement” on GHG issues, considering dimensions of policy, practice, and technology (i.e., data and tools). The general engagement levels were defined as follows with the understanding that highly precise classifications are neither required nor desired.  Level 1: “New to the topic.” Few or no formal actions to address GHG, although the agency might be involved in discussions regarding GHG activities or supporting another agency’s activities.  Level 2: “We are developing our own policies or goals.” Policy—has established general policies, goals, and/or objectives related to GHG; practice—may apply qualitative project or program evaluation criteria; and technology—no or limited/partial GHG inventory.  Level 3: “We are measuring and planning our actions and engaging others.” Policy—has established specific policies, goals, and/or objectives related to GHG; practice—apply quantitative project and/or program evaluation criteria; and technology—has developed GHG inventory and/or forecast, possibly limited use of assessment tools.  Level 4: “We are taking action and tracking progress internally and with partners.” Policy—coordinated multiagency effort; practice—strategic planning has evaluated GHG reduction strategies, linked strategies to plans and programs, and conducted quantitative assessment; technology—has developed inventory, forecast, specific data and measurement methods, and established a range of specific policies, goals, and/or objectives related to targeted GHG reductions; tracks progress towards achieving targets; and addressing GHG from both agency operations and the transportation system. The survey results indicate a few States had adopted a comprehensive set of policies and were implementing these through activities across functional areas. Most of the responding States had taken some action related to GHG, such as conducting an inventory, discussing GHG impacts qualitatively in environmental documents, or supporting another State agency’s efforts. Overall, the level of engagement varied by functional area, as shown in Figure 3-1.

9 Figure 3-1. Percent of State DOTs by GHG level of engagement by functional area, as classified based on survey responses. State Document Review Published documents from State DOTs with higher degrees of GHG engagement were reviewed to examine in more detail how GHGs are considered in policy, planning, programming, project development, and agency operations. Most of the States had policies related to GHG, although in many cases this was a statewide policy affecting all agencies, in which the DOT was a participant (e.g., statewide GHG reduction goal or multiagency Climate Action Plan). GHG-related goals and strategies also commonly appeared in long-range plans, but only a few States explicitly considered GHG in capital program development. About half had some requirement (qualitative or quantitative) for consideration in project development and environmental documentation. Over half also had policies, and usually an inventory, to support GHG reduction from agency operations. Half also had engaged in GHG-specific planning efforts, such as an agencywide or statewide transportation GHG reduction plan. The most comprehensive GHG emission reduction planning by a State DOT occurs when other related activities are occurring in the State. In these States, the range of State DOT activities and commitments can be quite broad. The State DOTs that are active in GHG emission reduction activities typically collaborate with other State agencies, most commonly with the State environmental agency or energy agency, and in some cases with metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) or regional planning agencies. The findings of the State document review are attached as Appendix B to this report. Interviews Telephone interviews were conducted with staff from 14 State DOTs. The selection of States was based on the responses to the survey and included State DOTs at a range of engagement levels. Details on interview methods and findings are attached as Appendix C to this report.

10 Interview topics included:  State context—leadership and policy support for GHG consideration (internal and external).  GHG policies, goals, metrics—adopted, and under consideration by the DOT.  GHG analysis tools and resources applied or considered by the agency (inventory, forecasting, strategy evaluation), strengths and limitations.  Barriers to consideration of GHG emissions (technical/resource, policy, institutional, cultural) by stage—planning, programming, project development, operations.  Partnering—with other State agencies (e.g., State Climate Action Plan); with MPOs/regional planning organizations (RPO); with local jurisdictions (requests/by whom and for what, what DOT has or has not been able to contribute, data/info needs, working relationships, success examples, barriers to collaboration, etc.).  Potential future directions of the agency with respect to GHG.  Data and information needs by stage of process—what advice, tools, and resources would the agency find most helpful from an NCHRP guide? From hands-on training or piloting efforts?  Development of DOT policies/procedures?  Leadership within the DOT.  Lessons learned and advice for other DOTs. The interviews found that State DOTs have adapted to undertaking GHG reduction efforts, depending upon the mandate and their organization’s role in the effort and control of the transportation system, with varying degrees of success. Many of their efforts have been limited to reducing emissions from their own operations. Most often they have done this with no additional staffing. An emerging model of GHG reduction efforts is the umbrella of sustainability or “greening” work. Many of the State DOTs interviewed stressed the importance of good communications (internally and with outside groups) and the importance of good planning to undertake the effort. DOTs value partnerships with other State agencies, local or regional agencies, or local and civic groups. The partnerships provide a common sense of purpose, spread the work around, and deflect potential negative reactions to the ongoing work. The confluence of air quality and GHG analysis techniques and tools offers an opportunity to better understand and report benefits of various transportation actions. For agencies that lack strong external direction, guide illustrations indicating how common agency initiatives such as mobility, safety, and energy savings are related to GHG performance could be of value in delivering on statewide or regional initiatives. Some of the interviewees seemed to prefer the concept of webinars or pilot programs, rather than hands- on training, as something that would be most helpful as an outcome from this project. Whatever the format, training, report documents, and guides are expected to be clear and easy to understand. The State DOTs did not find much internal resistance to undertaking GHG reduction work. With clear direction from the State DOT leadership, most staff understood the need for this work. At this point, the previously discussed communication and planning becomes important for keeping the effort ongoing in a unified and comprehensive manner. It also helps prioritize their efforts among many potential reduction strategies that could be pursued. A few State DOTs mentioned the issue of a full life-cycle analysis. They would benefit from a definition of the term, guidance on how to perform the analysis, and how the results affect the selection of reduction strategies. Some felt that this analysis might preclude the selection of certain reduction strategies. Some State DOTs noted the challenge of multiple conflicting priorities, in which other initiatives could distract, delay, or otherwise hinder GHG reduction efforts. Priority initiatives can change as State and agency leadership changes or other imperatives arise. This can sometimes result in reassignment of staff working on GHG reduction efforts to other efforts.

11 Background Research—Implications for Guide and Outreach Design Together, the interviews, survey results, and literature review findings were examined for implications for the design and content of the guide that was to be produced. Key findings included:  DOT staff want an easy-to-use reference with technical detail provided as accessory material that is not part of the main body of the guide.  DOT staff are at different levels of understanding of GHG emissions and their significance. The guide needs to include some basic information to help educate users (and their managers) as well as more detailed information for technical staff.  There is a considerable amount of information already published about GHG reduction strategies and their effectiveness. The guide may summarize, but should not repeat in depth, this information.  There is a somewhat substantial amount of existing, published information on GHG assessment tools, although most sources are not entirely up to date. If agencies appear to lack information on appropriate tools and data to analyze GHG emissions and strategies, it may be as much a function of lack of tools meeting agencies’ needs versus lack of knowledge of tools that do exist.  Existing resources describe how GHGs can be considered in each phase of the planning process. However, there is less material discussing institutional/organizational best practices, or how GHGs can be integrated from top to bottom of a State DOT’s operations. It would be helpful for the guide to address these institutional/procedural issues.  The guide should include resources for internal GHG reduction along with resources for reducing transportation system GHGs. Internal actions give agencies a concrete and directly controllable place to start—one that can potentially support cost savings but will not elicit the challenges associated with strategies to affect travel patterns and consumer behavior.  DOTs are in very different places with respect to the specific GHG issues they are concerned about and resources to address GHGs are limited. The guide should be modular so that DOTs can pick and choose based on their needs and priorities.  Although State DOT experiences with GHG reduction are varied, most, if not all, would benefit from a comprehensive and systematic set of “best practices” across all facets of their operations.  State policies and requirements with respect to GHG differ widely and there currently are no Federal policies. The guide needs to be flexible and general enough to provide useful information for States with different policies and priorities, and as Federal policies may evolve in the future.

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Many technical and institutional issues related to estimating and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) lie across a wide spectrum of the activities undertaken by state departments of transportation (DOTs).

The TRB National Cooperative Highway Research Program's NCHRP Web-Only Document 308: Methods for State DOTs to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector documents the research effort for an NCHRP project that focused on developing a guide for state DOTs on reducing GHG emissions. The result of this effort, NCHRP WebResource 1:Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions: A Guide for State DOTs, presents tools, methods, and data sources for state DOTs to use in reducing GHG emissions from the transportation sector.

Supplemental to the Web-Only Document is a presentation summarizing the research.

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