Environmental Consultations Identify Impacts of 2050 Plan

Environmental resources have immeasurable benefits that affect social well-being and the long-term viability of local and regional economies. Transportation planning provides the opportunity to slow negative and costly environmental impacts. That opportunity lies in making transportation improvements that minimize adverse environmental impacts. Transportation improvements can facilitate new development, reversing previous conventional development practices that may have contributed to the cumulative damage of environmental resources.

Regional transportation planning offers the potential to result in better decisions for improving transportation and how development occurs, with related cost benefits.

OKI utilized an environmental consultation process to identify the environmental impacts of this 2050 Plan. In environmental consultations, metropolitan planning organizations consult with state and local conservation, environmental protection, and land use management agencies concerning the transportation plan’s development. These consultations involve a comparison of the transportation plan with environmental resources identified by the states for conservation or protection, which OKI calls Regionally Significant Resources.


Regional Significant Resources

Regional Significant Resources are mostly high quality or rare resources or that help to sustain other high-quality or rare resources identified in state conservation plans, maps or inventories. They warrant conservation or protection because of state investments, regulations or policies and because impacts to these resources may require mitigation and increase costs. The environmental and economic value of these resources and their functions is the basis for their selection for state conservation or protection (per 23 CFR Sec 450.322 [g]). The environmental consultations expand participation in the transportation plan’s development and consideration of potential environmental effects and their financial implications.

Regionally Significant Environmental and Historic Resources in the OKI Region

Category Description
Agricultural Districts Farmland where transportation projects may involve additional costs (mitigation may be required for impacts from state-funded projects). Agricultural districts in Ohio and Kentucky programs (not available in Indiana) are enrolled for five-year protection as agricultural use at the property owner’s request.
Endangered, Threatened, and at Risk Animal and plant species that are federally or state listed as endangered (in danger of extinction), threatened (likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future), or at risk. There are 108 species native to the OKI Region that are state listed and endangered or threatened.
Historic Places Properties in the National Register of Historic Places Properties in the NRHP (or eligible for listing) “must receive consideration based on the National Historic Preservation Act prior to an undertaking involving Federal monies.”
Prime Farmland Land outside of the urbanized area where transportation projects may involve additional costs if they reduce the land’s use or suitability as farmland. Prime farmland has soil characteristics that make it the world’s most productive agricultural areas and a globally-scarce resource. Impacts to prime and important farmland from federally-funded projects are to be avoided or mitigated under federal policy.
State Conserved Areas State parks, state wildlife areas (Ohio) and wildlife management areas (Kentucky), and state preserves (dedicated under state law). State investment in these areas help sustain multiple environmental resources.
Streams with Habitat Value Streams or stream segments that attain their designated use as aquatic habitat (as Warmwater Habitat or a higher level: Ohio Exceptional Warmwater Habitat, Ohio Coldwater Habitat or Kentucky Outstanding State Resource Water). “Designated uses” are part of the strategy for meeting Clean Water Act goals: to restore and maintain the … nation’s waters so that they can support the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish and wildlife and recreation in and on the water.”
Streams with Special Significance Streams or stream segments identified for conservation or protection by the states based on one or more of the following:
• Designated as a National and State Scenic River based on outstanding qualities to be protected for the future (the national system includes about 1/4 of 1 percent of the nation’s rivers)
• Identified as a priority area for conserving aquatic species (in state wildlife conservation/action plans)
• Designated for use as habitat by species that require a high level of water quality (in administrative code for state water quality standards)
• Classified for high ecological value (in Antidegradation Policy included in state water quality standards)
Wetlands Areas where transportation projects are likely to involve additional costs if impacts to wetland functions are not avoided. More than a third of the nation’s threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands


Consultations are intended to result in better decisions for improving transportation

They bring new insights to transportation planning; and they expand opportunity for transportation investments to advance sustainable development and reduce negative and costly environmental impacts. More specifically, they provide opportunity to consider:

  • The extent and vulnerability of the region’s least impaired environmental resources;
  • The potential environmental effects of transportation improvements at the project level and from a larger and cumulative perspective;
  • Options for avoiding project impacts that could result in mitigation and higher costs; and
  • Options for reducing adverse impacts from conventional development trends and practices.

OKI Environmental Consultations

OKI designed consultations on the DRAFT 2050 Plan to include multiple opportunities for state and local agency participation and input. Between October 2019 and March 2020, opportunities included:


A webcast that introduced the consultations process and provided information on and access to data and map locations for Regionally Significant Resources, and other natural resource data via OKI’s online Environmental Resource Viewer. Participants were also introduced the online survey process.

Online Survey

An online survey for collecting and updating information on how transportation is affecting environmental resources and how adverse effects are being addressed.

Interactive Workshop

An interactive workshop that included a summary of survey results, consideration of “major environmental concerns,” presentations on changing conditions and challenges to stormwater management and opportunity to review and comment on individual transportation projects through geographic-based breakout sessions with facilitators to operate the Viewer and guide discussion.

Participants and Process

The 52 consultation participants represented every state and county in the region, and a broad and diverse range of environmental and planning expertise. Two federal, 15 state and 26 county agencies were represented. Emergency management agencies were also included in the process.

The draft projects were divided into breakout groups based on watershed. An online project viewer app with Regionally Significant Resources and OKI 2050 Plan DRAFT Projects was provided to registrants prior to the workshop. The facilitators used this app to review projects and start discussion. Facilitators systematically went through projects based on from what appeared to have the most impact to the least impact. Participants had the opportunity to comment on all draft projects.

Environmental Consultations Outcome

As described above, in OKI’s environmental consultations, participants provided information on environmental impacts from transportation and related development survey responses, presentations and discussion. These included concerns about impacts from transportation-related sources, impacts to Regionally Significant Resources, potential impacts from proposed transportation projects, impacts that are “major environmental concerns” and strategies for reducing project-level environmental impacts.

Transportation affects environmental resources through the impacts of roadway runoff, project construction, new development facilitated by transportation improvements, and increased impervious surface. These impacts can be direct and short-term, or they can be cumulative as the result of repeated or long-term effects.


Summary of concerns consultation participants identified about how transportation-related impacts affect environmental resources.

Roadway Runoff

Suggestions for reducing roadway runoff impacts were for integrating detention basins and green infrastructure into roadway rights-of-way. Project reviews included these comments for better managing roadway runoff. Stormwater infrastructure for proposed projects should be designed to handle all of the roadway runoff. Retention/detention is recommended for all additional runoff from roadways because of the increased impervious surface which will impact both water quality and water quantity. Where the state transportation agency doesn’t have to abide by local stormwater management regulations, its strict focus on removing water from its roadway facilities makes it difficult to adapt to those local regulations.

Transportation Project Construction

The construction of transportation projects can degrade resources through the construction process itself, but another concern is the lasting environmental impacts of new projects, which include loss of other land uses, degradation of environmental resources, and facilitating more development that continues to create loss and degradation of natural resources.

New Development that Occurs as a Result of Transportation Improvements

The new development facilitated by transportation improvements produces both short- and long-term adverse impacts to many environmental resources. Comments included these suggestions for reducing harmful impacts: focus more development toward existing infrastructure and services; integrate green infrastructure into development to better protect natural resources and systems, such as including more greenspace and greater use of stream buffers; and, increase use of low impact and compact design.

Increased Impervious Surface

For increased impervious surface, concerns focused on stormwater impacts but also included loss of greenspace and wildlife habitat, heat island effects, higher stream temperatures, and less groundwater infiltration. It was noted that current stormwater rules and regulations are inadequate to manage increased runoff from impervious surface.

Impacts to Trees

Transportation is contributing to a tree crisis marked by extensive tree loss and degradation, lower species diversity, and impediments to natural forest regeneration. While invasive plants and insects are at the forefront of this crisis, transportation improvements have contributed, as well. How? By assisting the spread of invasive species by expanding the “edge areas” most vulnerable to these species and their devastating effects; and, facilitating land conversion to developed area where tree maturity is limited by practices involving soil compaction, topsoil removal and other soil alterations, and where species diversity is being reduced.

Impacts to Streams

Transportation impacts on streams – more specifically, the impact of stormwater runoff from roadways and increased impervious surface — were a major issue in the consultations. The growth of impervious surface increases the frequency, severity and length of stormwater runoff events and the occurrence of “disturbance events.” The runoff “disturbance events” cause stream degradation (channel enlargement, bed coarsening, shorter riffles, longer/deeper pools and stream instability), habitat degradation (dominance of “weedy” species) and needs for infrastructure repair (stabilization and repairs to roads, bridges, culverts, sewer and other pipelines, utility lines, stream banks).

The major concerns about environmental impacts include:

  • Retain forested tracts
  • Conserve stream corridors
  • Divert roadway runoff from direct entry into streams
  • Protect streams not already degraded
  • Constrain the growth of impervious surface
  • Manage stormwater to reduce its detrimental impacts on stream channels and aquatic life

If you are interested in seeing all of the survey responses, contact Margaret Minzner at mminzner@oki.org.

A Basis for Moving Forward

For consultations now and in the future, the underlying issue is how the region can develop while better maintaining its environmental resources. This same issue is addressed in policies for sustainable development and environmental stewardship in the OKI Strategic Regional Policy Plan. The need is for development to occur differently, so that costs can be reduced from adverse environmental impacts and unintended consequences.

State and local governments help determine how the transportation system grows and how its development impacts are managed in the following ways:

  • Outlying areas with most of the region’s least degraded environmental resources have the opportunity to put measures in place to avoid or reduce the environmental and financial consequences associated with traditional development.
  • Developed areas with impaired environmental resources can identify opportunities to use transportation improvements, re-development projects and stormwater management to restore environmental resources and revitalize communities – to remove streams from pipes, replace gray infrastructure with green infrastructure for infiltrating runoff, restore trees and native vegetation, and set development back from the stream edge.

State and local agency actions that can reduce public sector costs include:

  • Development that avoids impacts to Regionally Significant Environmental Resources
  • Development and stormwater management practices that reduce environmental impacts
  • Initiatives to more effectively conserve high-quality and scarce resources
  • Public policies and development processes that better account for environmental resource values

As evidenced in OKI consultations, public agency initiatives and capabilities are key to reducing adverse and costly environmental impacts that can occur from transportation improvements and related development, and their actions will determine how the region moves forward towards maintain the viability of its environmental resources.

Strategies for Reducing Project-Level Environmental Impacts

Options for better addressing project-level impacts were considered in the environmental consultations process through inquiries about the progress, importance and feasibility of 16 strategies that had been suggested in previous consultations. Based on responses, 53 percent of the suggested strategies centered on Planning are making moderate to high progress. Strategies centered on Project Design and Construction were viewed has having 26 percent and 30 percent moderate to high progress.


Strategic options for reducing impacts through better:

Transportation and Development Planning
  • Keep transportation projects out of the floodway
  • Keep project fill out of the floodway
  • Avoid Agricultural Districts
  • Overlay resource data with transportation project locations early on / Obtain information on potential mitigation needs as soon as possible
  • Use compact or conservation development in developing areas
  • Apply the same stormwater management standards to state transportation projects as to local projects
Project design and construction
  • Increase the use of pervious pavement treatments
  • Acquire or expand right-of-way to allow for green infrastructure/best management practices
  • Reduce the use of culverts / Design roadways and bridges to span streams or floodways and/or discharge runoff to land surface
  • Increase the use of swales, detention basins and roadside ditches
  • Increase the use of exfiltration treatment in curb-and-gutter systems (where right-of-way is limited and streams need protection)
  • Reduce stream piping / Increase day-lighting of streams
Roadway maintenance and right-of-way management improvement

(all rated as having slow progress)

  • Manage roadway rights-of-way to protect and enhance environmental resources
  • Use less road salt / Increase the use of road salt alternatives
  • Conduct less mowing and/or use native plantings in rights-of-way
  • Plant more trees in the rights-of-way

The five most feasible solutions were identified in the survey and included the following strategies:

  • Overlay resource data with transportation project locations early on / Obtain information on potential mitigation needs as soon as possible
  • Reduce mowing in rights-of-way
  • Manage roadway rights-of-way to protect and enhance environmental resources
  • Increase the use of swales, detention basins and roadway ditches
  • Keep project fill out of the floodway

The five most critical strategies below were also identified:

  • Manage roadway rights-of-way to protect and enhance environmental resources
  • Reduce mowing in rights-of-way
  • Acquire or expand rights-of-way to allow for green infrastructure / best management practices
  • Keep transportation projects out of the floodway
  • Reduce the use of road salt/Increase the use of road salt alternatives

Evaluation of Air Quality Impacts

Regional Air Quality Status

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are set by the U.S. EPA to protect public health and the environment. Of the five monitored air pollutants (carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter), a large portion of the OKI region is currently considered a “nonattainment” area for ozone. Nonattainment means ozone concentrations are higher than the NAAQS. Vehicle emissions are a major contributor to ozone and particulates, and are a major consideration in transportation planning. Individual vehicle trips may seem insignificant, but their cumulative effect is a major determinant of an area’s air quality.

Impact of the 2050 Plan on Motor Vehicle Emissions

The air quality impacts of the 2050 Plan have been forecasted using OKI’s Travel Demand Model and EPA’s Motor Vehicle Emissions Model (MOVES). The plan, through recommendations to increase transit availability, improve traffic operations and reduce roadway bottlenecks, will result in:

  • Fewer vehicle emissions of ozone-forming volatile organic compounds (VOC) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
  • Fewer emissions of greenhouse gases (expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent).
  • 2050 Plan Base scenario represents the impact of the 2050 Plan recommendations with no changes to the number of connected and autonomous vehicles. In the 2050 Plan Base scenario, the continued introduction of new vehicles meeting existing federal vehicle emissions regulations, is the primary reason for the improvement in future vehicle emissions. 2050 Plan recommendations for improved transit frequency and increased operational efficiency from TSMO initiatives account for small improvements in overall vehicle emissions.
  • 2050 Plan scenario represents the impact of the 2050 Plan recommendations with an increase in the number of connected and autonomous vehicles resulting in increased ridesharing and decreased trip rates. The prevalence of connected and autonomous vehicles are the primary reason for the dramatic reduction in vehicle emissions.

Transportation Conformity

All nonattainment and maintenance areas are subject to transportation conformity requirements. OKI is responsible for the air quality conformity determination for the region’s Transportation Plan and Transportation Improvement Program.

This 2050 Plan includes 62 recommended projects, which, due to their scope and regional significance, are subject to transportation conformity requirements (non-exempt projects). A new regional emissions analysis and finding of conformity is required. The results of the regional emissions analysis are shown in the tables below. The 2050 Plan Base scenario was used to demonstrate the quantitative conformity finding.

OKI has determined through the quantitative analysis, the following findings:

  • The implementation of the OKI 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan will result in motor vehicle emissions that are consistent with the air quality goals of State Implementation Plans (SIPs).
  • The region’s ozone-forming vehicle emissions do not exceed the established motor vehicle emissions budgets for 2020 through 2050.
  • OKI qualitatively finds that no goals, directives, recommendations or projects identified in the plan contradict, in a negative manner, any specific requirements or commitments of the applicable SIP.
  • For the portion of the Kentucky counties subject to the 1997 ozone standards, OKI qualitatively finds no goals, directives, recommendations or projects identified in the 2050 Metropolitan Plan contradict, in a negative manner, any specific requirements or commitments of the applicable SIP.

Regional Commitment to Clean Air

Air quality continues to be a key criterion for OKI in making decisions for transportation plans, programs and projects. In addition to capital improvement to the transportation system, the OKI 2050 Plan has recommended behavior-based strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled. These travel demand management (TDM) strategies encourage using alternatives to SOV travel and shifting trips out of peak travel period, or even eliminating some trips all together. OKI’s Regional Clean Air Program continues to market its successful “Do Your Share For Cleaner Air” campaign, which provides valuable information to the community, businesses and the media on air quality topics.

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