What Is CSS?

Context sensitive solutions (CSS) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders in providing a transportation facility that fits its setting. It is an approach that leads to preserving and enhancing scenic, aesthetic, historic, community, and environmental resources, while improving or maintaining safety, mobility, and infrastructure conditions.

Results of Joint AASHTO / FHWA Context Sensitive Solutions Strategic Planning Process, Summary Report, March 2007

Context Sensitive Solutions is a collaborative, interdisciplinary, holistic approach to the development of transportation projects. It is both process and product, characterized by a number of attributes. It involves all stakeholders, including community members, elected officials, interest groups, and affected local, state, and federal agencies. It puts project needs and both agency and community values on a level playing field and considers all trade–offs in decision making. Often associated with design in transportation projects, Context Sensitive Solutions should be a part of all phases of program delivery including long range planning, programming, environmental studies, design, construction, operations, and maintenance.

Guiding Principles

A Context Sensitive Solutions approach is guided by four core principles:

  1. Strive towards a shared stakeholder vision to provide a basis for decisions.
  2. Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of contexts.
  3. Foster continuing communication and collaboration to achieve consensus.
  4. Exercise flexibility and creativity to shape effective transportation solutions, while preserving and enhancing community and natural environments.


A Context Sensitive Solutions process...

  • Establishes an interdisciplinary team early, including a full range of stakeholders, with skills based on the needs of the transportation activity.
  • Seeks to understand the landscape, the community, valued resources, and the role of all appropriate modes of transportation in each unique context before developing engineering solutions.
  • Communicates early and continuously with all stakeholders in an open, honest, and respectful manner, and tailors public involvement to the context and phase.
  • Utilizes a clearly defined decision-making process.
  • Tracks and honors commitments through the life cycle of projects.
  • Involves a full range of stakeholders (including transportation officials) in all phases of a transportation program.
  • Clearly defines the purpose and seeks consensus on the shared stakeholder vision and scope of projects and activities, while incorporating transportation, community, and environmental elements.
  • Secures commitments to the process from local leaders.
  • Tailors the transportation development process to the circumstances and uses a process that examines multiple alternatives, including all appropriate modes of transportation, and results in consensus.
  • Encourages agency and stakeholder participants to jointly monitor how well the agreed-upon process is working, to improve it as needed, and when completed, to identify any lessons learned.
  • Encourages mutually supportive and coordinated multimodal transportation and land-use decisions.
  • Draws upon a full range of communication and visualization tools to better inform stakeholders, encourage dialogue, and increase credibility of the process.


Context Sensitive Solutions...

  • Are in harmony with the community and preserve the environmental, scenic, aesthetic, historic, and natural resource values of the area.
  • Are safe for all users.
  • Solve problems that are agreed upon by a full range of stakeholders.
  • Meet or exceed the expectations of both designers and stakeholders, thereby adding lasting value to the community, the environment, and the transportation system.
  • Demonstrate effective and efficient use of resources (people, time, budget,) among all parties.

The above principles, qualities and outcomes were defined during the Joint AASHTO / FHWA CSS strategic Planning Process in 2007

Action Principles

In 2009, NCHRP Report 642: Quantifying the Benefits of Context Sensitive Solutions expanded these core principles to 15 distinct and actionable principles that can be used to guide CSS projects, and become the basis for developing CSS performance measures:

  1. Use interdisciplinary teams.
  2. Involve stakeholders.
  3. Seek broad-based public involvement.
  4. Use full range of communication strategies.
  5. Achieve consensus on purpose and need.
  6. Address alternatives and all modes.
  7. Consider a safe facility for users and community.
  8. Maintain environmental harmony.
  9. Address community and social issues.
  10. Address aesthetic treatments and enhancements.
  11. Utilize full range of design choices.
  12. Document project decisions.
  13. Track and meet all commitments.
  14. Use agency resources effectively.
  15. Create a lasting value for the community.

History of CSS

Benefits of CSS

CSS and Other Initiatives

View a list of CSS training programs available around the country at the state and national level, as well as past and future webinars offered through this website.

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