Early Consideration of Mitigation Opportunities. The transportation planning process requires consideration of “potential
environmental mitigation activities and potential areas to carry out these activities, including activities that may have the greatest potential to restore and maintain the environmental functions affected by the plan.”33 This discussion must be developed “in consultation with Federal, state, and tribal wildlife, land management, and regulatory agencies.”34 Early consideration of mitigation (or enhancement) opportunities for aquatic resources does not in any way lessen the need to consider avoidance and minimization alternatives. But by starting the conversation about possible mitigation opportunities, transportation planners can help to build positive working relationships with resource agencies and develop more effective mitigation plans.
Planning—Environmental Linkage (PEL). The transportation planning process can be used to produce a wide range of analyses or decisions for adoption in the environmental review process, including: purpose and need or goals and objective statement(s); general travel corridor and/or general mode(s) definition (e.g., highway, transit, or a highway/transit combination); preliminary screening of alternatives and elimination of unreasonable alternatives; basic description of the environmental setting; and preliminary identification of environmental impacts and environmental mitigation. If this approach is being contemplated for a project that requires a Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines permit, transportation planners should engage the Corps and other agencies early in the process. Ultimately, the streamlining and stewardship benefits of this approach will only be achieved if it is undertaken with the involvement of the Corps and other agencies. Also, under some circumstances, the lead agencies may be required to obtain concurrence from cooperating agencies before adopting planning-level decisions or analyses for use in the NEPA process.35
Integrated Planning (Eco-Logical). On a broader level, transportation planning can be integrated with the development of watershed plans, endangered species recovery plans, land-use plans, and other resource protection and growth plans. Federal environmental and transportation agencies have jointly developed a framework for this type of integrated planning, as documented in the 2006 publication, “Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects.” The Eco-Logical framework could be used to develop a watershed plan for protecting and restoring aquatic resources. This watershed plan could then be used as a basis for considering avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures for individual transportation projects in that watershed. This approach is consistent with the 2008 Mitigation Rule (Subpart J of the guidelines), which allows consideration of watershed plans when selecting compensatory mitigation sites for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources.
Funding for Agency Involvement in Planning. Many state DOTs and MPOs have found that other agencies, including the Corps, are unable to participate extensively in the transportation planning process due to their limited staffs and travel budgets. Section 139 of Title 23 addresses this issue by allowing state DOTs to fund other agencies’ participation in “transportation planning activities that precede the initiation of the environmental review process.”36 Funding also can be provided under this section to create or expand geographic information systems (GIS) mapping and resource inventory databases. Funds may be provided under this section “only to support activities that directly and meaningfully contribute to expediting and improving permitting and review processes, including planning, approval, and consultation processes for the project or program.”AASHTO PH 14 pdf download.