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Integrating CSS in Transportation Agencies

CSS integration is the comprehensive application of CSS principles to all projects and services that DOTs provide to the public. This comprehensive application of CSS represents best practice in transportation decision making. CSS integration ensures that the CSS philosophy is embedded in the DOT’s planning, design, construction and operations activities in order to achieve long-lasting change.

Integrating CSS into these day-to-day functions requires DOTs to identify and manage changes to policies, processes, functional areas, and relationships to align them with CSS principles. The CSS integration process includes the following four steps: Commitment, Assessment, Implementation, and Accountability. Most DOTs have integrated CSS into particular projects or services, but rarely is their approach applied comprehensively and integrally to all projects and services—or systematic enough to institutionalize this practice over time. Thorough CSS integration requires thoughtful planning and implementation. To help facilitate this process, the Federal Highway Administration has provided the following guidance for use by agencies seeking a more context-sensitive approach to transportation.



Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Area-wide Transportation Planning - CSS Quick Facts
Area-wide planning encompasses planning at the statewide and regional levels, including statewide transportation planning required by federal and state regulations, as well as transportation planning conducted by MPOs and RPOs. The focus in area-wide planning is on the transportation system level and the identification of candidate projects and priorities. CSS integration is used to address contextual priorities within the geography, sometimes without a direct link to a specific transportation project.
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Benefits of CSS - CSS Quick Facts
Agencies that have institutionalized CSS confirm that real, measurable benefits accrue to the agency, and ultimately to taxpayers and constituents of their states. Agencies can derive multiple benefits by integrating CSS into their day-to-day decisions and operations.
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Corridor and Sub-area Planning - CSS Quick Facts
Transportation corridor and sub area planning activities are distinguished from area wide planning and project development in that the primary goals are to refine understanding of a specific transportation project and to establish the process by which it can be approved and delivered. This includes developing the information needed to establish the project purpose and need, the range of alternatives to be evaluated and the issues that will define the project’s environmental evaluation and approval framework. The focus in corridor and sub area planning is on project understanding and definition of project objectives and alternatives. Measures at this stage are based on project-specific values and objectives. CSS integration provides a process to define and evaluate the best alternative given the project specific context.
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report CSS Performance Measures - CSS Quick Facts
Use of performance measures is becoming widespread among DOTs as a tool for improving management of important business priorities like pavement and bridge condition, project delivery and safety. Few agencies, however, have adopted CSS performance measures. DOTs would benefit from greater use of CSS performance measures in many important ways including:
  • To help make CSS state-of-the-practice, not state-of-the-art,
  • To strengthen support from agency leadership for CSS principles,
  • To maintain agency-wide focus on strategic CSS goals, and
  • To strengthen trust with stakeholders and customers.

Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Design Exceptions - CSS Quick Facts
The subject of design exceptions at the project level inevitably generates controversy. CSS skeptics have argued that accepting the premise of CSS inevitably means that more design exceptions will occur, or that they will be expected to more readily accept a design exception under pressure from a stakeholder or interest group. A commitment to CSS by an agency does not mean abandonment of design standards. Professional engineers are ethically and legally required to follow the accepted practices of the profession. A design exception is a documented decision to design a highway element or segment of highway to a design criterion or value that does not meet the minimum value that has been established for that highway or project. Examples may include the use of a narrower shoulder than design standards show, a curve with radius smaller than the minimum for the selected design speed, or a crest vertical curve that does not provide the minimum stopping sight distance for the selected design speed. FHWA has designated 13 controlling criteria as being of sufficient importance to warrant a formal design exception, summarized below.
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report How CSS Developed - CSS Quick Facts
The roots of CSS go back to the landmark National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (signed into law in 1970). NEPA established a framework for environmental planning and decision-making by Federal agencies based on a set of fundamental objectives that include environmental protection, interagency coordination and cooperation, and public participation in planning and project development. All of these are key elements of CSS. Since 1969 there have been several events that have been instrumental in the development and expansion of CSS concepts, including federal transportation legislation (ISTEA, TEA-21 and SAAFETEA-LU), the “Thinking Beyond the Pavement Conference” sponsored by FHWA and AASHTO in 1998, and the 2006 Peer Exchange sponsored by AASHTO and FHWA.
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Nominal and Substantive Safety - CSS Quick Facts
Highway engineers and stakeholders can improve the quality of analysis and discourse through better understanding of what constitutes a “safe” design or decision. First, the subject of safety should always be addressed carefully. There is no such thing as perfectly “safe” highway; one should never promise this nor characterize safety in absolute terms. Second, properly understood, highway safety has been described as having two dimensions, nominal safety and substantive safety.
  • Nominal safety refers to adherence to design practices, standards, warrants, etc.
  • Substantive safety refers to actual (or expected) performance as defined by the frequency and severity of crashes.

Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Project Development - CSS Quick Facts
Project development implies a significant focus and investment in delivery of constructed projects. This includes identifying and refining the preferred alternative, achieving the final project approvals (including NEPA) and funding, and designing and building the project. CSS integration focuses on making detailed design decision, managing risks and building the project in response to its context.
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Project Description - CSS Quick Facts
Nationally there has been considerable success in the implementation of individual CSS activities, particularly within the project development process as it relates to highway design and incorporation of multimodal options; but few state DOTs have fully integrated CSS into the planning process. To maximize success, CSS principles must be integrated into the full range of planning processes (long range, area wide, sub area and corridor) that feed and inform project development. This is implicit in the concept of CSS, and has been a driving force in the broadening of the concept from context sensitive design into context sensitive solutions. CSS is not just a matter of adjusting physical designs, but should take a broad perspective on the range of solutions addressing mobility, social, and environmental issues within a community and region.
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Responsibilities of Executives - CSS Quick Facts
There are four major roles that DOT executives have in managing CSS integration. These include:

  • They are the visionary leaders who develop and communicate internally and externally the case for change and the CSS vision.
  • They are the "project managers" of the CSS assessment and implementation planning process.
  • They are responsible for creating and maintaining the accountability structure that ensures that everyone in the organization is fulfilling their responsibilities in implementing CSS integration.
  • They are the CSS champions who demonstrate their commitment to CSS integration by "walking the talk," providing on-going and visible positive reinforcement of CSS success, and ensuring clear individual and organizational accountability for lack of progress.


DOT executives have two additional responsibilities, "aligning" the organization and balancing CSS implementation with overall program and project delivery.
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report What is Integration - CSS Quick Facts
CSS integration is the comprehensive application of CSS principles to all projects (of any size) and services that DOTs provide to the public. This comprehensive application of CSS represents best practice in transportation decision making. CSS integration ensures that the CSS philosophy is embedded in the day-to-day management and operations of the DOT to achieve a permanent change.

Integrating CSS into day-to-day work activities requires DOTs to identify and manage changes to policies, processes, functional areas, and relationships to align them with CSS principles. Most DOTs have integrated CSS into some projects or services, but rarely is their approach applied comprehensively to all projects and services; or systematic enough to lock in the change over time. Comprehensive CSS integration requires thoughtful planning and implementing. The CSS integration process includes four steps: Commitment, Assessment, Implementation, and Accountability.

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