TRB addressed this topic in NCHRP Report 750, a study on strategic issues facing transportation that was released in 2014. The report noted that transportation agencies are challenged to build consensus around balancing short-term cost-effectiveness and long-term sustainability. This panel reviews the highlights of that study and also hears from organizations that are trying to make the transition to triple bottom-line sustainability as well as considering the current challenges and barriers of NEPA reviews.
Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area with the worst rainstorm in U.S. history. Local emergency response officials did not have words to describe the rainfall. Their website put it this way: “This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced.” There are many factors that have contributed to the severe impact of the storm. But what we do know with certainty is that Harvey was, on the one hand, a product of climate change inducing a warmer atmosphere that can hold more moisture and, on the other hand, the result of unchecked human development that added dozens of square miles of pavement to the swamps and prairies surrounding the city. The very roads that were built to connect these new communities to the city became floodways that poured storm water into people’s homes.
In the future there will be more extreme weather events such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria resulting in unprecedented levels of destruction. Our transportation networks will play a key roll in our ability to respond to emergencies and recover from them; but only if they are built right. It is more then just building transportation networks that consider the environment, but also building networks that will contribute to the economy and the social well being of our communities. This will require agencies to plan with a triple bottom line (TBL) in mind. For that to happen, our agencies will need to be organized with sustainability as the guiding principle.
TRB addressed this topic in a comprehensive report as part of the NCHRP study on Strategic Issues Facing Transportation (Report 750) that was released in 2014. The report noted that transportation agencies are challenged to build consensus around balancing short-term cost effectiveness and long-term sustainability. It also recognized that transportation agencies vary from state to state and region to region but found common organizational attributes and characteristics that transportation agencies need in order for their transportation systems to support the environment, the economy, and social equity. The report found that “the U.S. overall policy system and institutional framework today is not capable of making the strategy, policy, and funding decisions that are truly driven by triple bottom-line (TBL) considerations. It cannot, as a practical matter, even consider generational perspectives in a concrete, data-driven way today.”
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