September 2010

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is pleased to present the September 2010 Context Sensitive Solutions Newsletter. In this issue, we cover:

  • User Survey
  • CSS National Dialog Update
  • STEP Cooperative Research Program Update
  • Upcoming CSS Events 

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- The team User Survey

The website relies heavily on user participation and the sharing of ideas between practitioners. Please stay involved in the site by taking a moment to fill-out the user survey. This voluntary survey will help us improve your user experience on the website, including what content we add in the future, and how that content is viewed and downloaded by you, and the thousands of other practitioners and stakeholders that use this website on a regular basis.

To view and fill out the survey, please click here. CSS National Dialog Update By: Ann Hartell, Research Associate with the Center for Transportation and the Environment

CSS National Dialog Update

By: Ann Hartell, Research Associate with the Center for Transportation and the Environment


Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) National Dialog


On August 11, 2010, The CSS National Dialog, which is co-sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and the Center for Transportation Research and Education (, held a webcast that brought together FHWA staff and presenters from the recent National Dialog regional workshops to discuss the opportunities and new approaches to applying CSS principles as part of the day-to-day work of transportation agencies. The presentations included updated information on case studies, emerging challenges, and new CSS initiatives at local, state, and federal transportation agencies.

The webcast had several hundred viewers who learned information about recent National Dialog activities, such as the fifth and final CSS National Dialog workshop, convened at the University of Minnesota, in St. Paul on April 22, 2010. Nearly 90 people from the Twin Cities region attended the workshop, and an additional 50 persons from across the country tuned in via webcast. The April workshop included the presentation of four case studies, representing exemplary applications of CSS principles to planning, project development, design, and day-to-day transportation agency practices.

Elgin-O'Hare Extension

A common theme in the four case studies presented was how collaborative, inter-disciplinary approaches can result in better solutions to complex transportation problems. Pete Harmet, of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), described how the agency was able to cultivate consensus on the basic elements of a complex urban project. Rather than taking a pre-determined set of alternatives to stakeholders, IDOT started the process with an aerial image of the project area and then worked with stakeholders to refine a large number of project alternatives to find a solution that supported economic development and mobility needs for the region. The early and meaningful involvement of stakeholders built consensus on the basics of the project in this first stage, or 'Tier 1', of the environmental work. As a result, IDOT and their stakeholders are well positioned to move a formerly contentious project forward.

Strong outreach also shaped the design for the Accelerate I-65 project, a 12-mile reconstruction project in Indianapolis, Indiana. Presented by Mark Salzman of HNTB and Craig Churchward of Avenue Design, this project addressed not only mobility and operations of urban freeways and interchanges, but paid careful attention to design and materials. The result of the collaborative process is a set of design guidelines for the project to guide corridor-wide aesthetics and architecture.

Demonstrating their agency-wide commitment to working with their stakeholders, Michigan DOT (MDOT) developed their Guidelines for Stakeholder Engagement. In her presentation, Lyn Lynwood of MDOT described how the Guidelines emphasize the importance of outreach not only for big and complex projects, but also for routine maintenance projects. Michigan DOT developed their Guidelines to give their employees the tools and guidance they need to apply the core CSS principles of striving toward a shared stakeholder vision to provide a basis for decisions and fostering continuing communication and collaboration to achieve consensus. At the same time, MDOT recognizes that a 'one size fits all' approach does not work for stakeholder engagement. As a result, guidance is provided to MDOT staff on how to scale outreach efforts to the scope and scale of the project. The Guidelines serve as a model for agencies seeking to improve their overall performance in stakeholder outreach activities.

10th Avenue Bridge

In another example of strong stakeholder engagement processes, Jon Chiglo of the Minnesota DOT (MnDOT) and Linda Figg of FIGG Engineering described the collaborative process used by MnDOT for the I-35W Bridge Replacement in Minneapolis, MN. Following the collapse of the original bridge, MNDOT was faced with a high-profile, rapid-response project development. The agency chose to create a strong partnership with their contractors and stakeholders to develop a clean, modern design that also respects the historical and cultural setting. This case study demonstrates that extensive outreach and community involvement need not slow a project down: The replacement bridge was put into service only 13 months after the previous bridge collapsed.

A panel discussion moderated by Clark Wilson of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Smart Growth Program followed. Panelists discussed the relationship between CSS and livability, the importance of multi-disciplinary teams in finding solutions that deliver broad and comprehensive benefits, and the need for leadership to develop strong and implementable policies. Discussing the need for collaboration to promote livability, Ethan Fawley of Minnesota's Fresh Energy stated, 'We have to bring together land use with transportation. This is a big piece of livability and it's where transportation has to go.' Scott Bradley, Chief Landscape Architect for MnDOT, noted that collaboration early on while scoping a project was critical to avoiding conflicts and delays later in the project development, 'The public hates it, we hate it, when we miss something and later it expands into a problem.'

The St. Paul workshop was an important part of the FHWA's ongoing efforts to deliver the concepts of CSS and examples of best practices in applying CSS principles to a broad range of practitioners, management and stakeholders. The depth and quality represented in the case studies as well as the powerful insights from panelists and participants made for a full day.

To review the archived webcast from August 11, visit the CSS Clearinghouse here. The National Dialog team received many questions during the broadcast that they didn't have time to address. We have posted the questions and comments on a forum set up just for the National Dialog on the CSS Clearinghouse website. We invite each of you to log-on to respond and participate. We've also compiled the feedback from participants at the workshops on future topics and activities they would like to see addressed in the Dialog. Your feedback is appreciated.

To review workshop materials, including case study fact sheets, presentation slides and webcast videos, visit

STEP Cooperative Research Program Update wants to make you aware of, and to ask you to share with your local partners, the most recent Federal Register Notice on the proposed FY2011 Surface Transportation Environment and Planning Cooperative Research Program (STEP). The notice announces revisions to the STEP implementation strategy for FY 2011 and to request suggested lines of research for the FY 2011 STEP via the STEP Web site in anticipation of future surface transportation legislation.

The notice is available in two formats:

STEP is an FHWA-administered source of funding for research related to planning, environment and realty. The FHWA anticipates that the STEP or a similar program focused on providing resources for national research on issues related to planning, environment, and realty will be included in future surface transportation legislation.

Stakeholder input is required to identify the research topics that should receive priority consideration. Therefore, we are seeking input from all of our partners on the FY 2011 STEP.

FHWA will use STEP to fund research, field demonstrations, technology transfer, conferences, and workshops, as well as portions of various pooled fund research efforts. We anticipate that grants and cooperative agreements will continue to require a 50% match and that research contracts will not require a match.

Please encourage your partners to review the proposed FY2011 STEP Implementation Strategy and submit research topics via the STEP website at: Feedback is requested by September 30th. or Phil Roke at

The Office of Planning, Environment and Realty (HEP) has developed STEP research emphasis areas and has identified contacts for each (see below). The STEP contacts can answer questions that you may have regarding research planned or underway within a particular emphasis area. For further information regarding STEP, you may also contact Felicia Young (Program Management and Outreach) at; Deborah R Johnson at or Phil Roke at

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