History of CSS

Milestones in the history of CSS show how the field has evolved beginning in 1969 and has been gaining momentum ever since. Congress, the Federal Highway Administration, governors, state legislatures, professional organizations, and state and local transportation agencies have all played an important part in the development of CSS, including addressing tort liability issues. Meanwhile, public interest groups have made developing better methods of road design a major part of their agendas


The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is passed, requiring transportation agencies to consider adverse impacts of road projects on the environment.


The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) established the National Highway System (NHS) Task Force in December 1988 to look beyond Interstate completion; AASHTO Board of Directors recommended the creation of a National Highway System.


Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) passed, establishing new requirements for multimodal transportation planning and meaningful community involvement in transportation decision making. ISTEA expanded the Federal transportation focus from constructing roads to providing diverse surface transportation options with consideration of environmental enhancements and a focus on community issues and livability initiatives.


FHWA Environmental Policy statement issued, stating: it is FHWA policy to: Avoid, minimize, and mitigate to the fullest extent possible adverse effects. . .of projects on the neighborhood, community and natural resources. Seek opportunities to . . . implement innovative enhancement measures to help projects fit harmoniously within the community and natural environs.

AASHTO adopted the National Highway System Design Standards policy on April 11 stating: BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Member Departments of AASHTO will work through AASHTO's design standards committees with DOT and with interested parties on design criteria and a design process for NHS routes that integrate safety, environmental, scenic, historic, community and preservation concerns, and on standards which also foster access for bicycles and pedestrian traffic along with other transportation modes.


NHS Designation Act (Section 109a of Title 23, United States Code) was enacted in November 1995. Among other things, it stated: Rehabilitation of highway on the National Highway System (other than a highway also on the Interstate System) may take into account [in addition to safety, durability and economy of maintenance and to conform to the particular needs of each locality]... the constructed and natural environment of the area; the environmental, scenic, aesthetic, historic, community, and preservation impacts of the activity; and access for other modes of transportation.


FHWA's Office of Program Administration (HIPA-01) and Office of Environment and Planning (HEP) published Flexibility in Highway Design (FHWA Pub. No. FHWA-PD-97-062), identifying and explaining opportunities, flexibilities, and constraints facing designers and design teams responsible for the development of transportation facilities. The guide built on flexibility in current laws and regulations to explore opportunities to use flexible design to help sustain important community interests without compromising safety.


The Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration conducted Thinking Beyond the Pavement: National Workshop on Integrating Highway Development with Communities and the Environment While Maintaining Safety and Performance in May 1998. This workshop was co-sponsored by AASHTO and FHWA with the advice and support of the National Workshop Advisory Committee. Find out more about Maryland's Workshop at

Following the national workshop in Maryland, five pilot states were selected: Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, and Utah. The pilot states agreed to implement the CSD approach, based on the Qualities and Characteristics that were developed at the Maryland workshop, and to share their experiences with the States within their region. FHWA Federal Lands Highway joined the five Pilot States.

Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) passed, which strengthened and enhanced requirements for public involvement in decision making and integration of planning and environmental considerations in the decision making process. It included improvements for the transportation planning and programming processes and specific linkages between NEPA, transportation and land use


The American Society of Civil Engineers held the Role of the Civil Engineer conference in June 1999. Over 140 practicing civil engineers gathered in Reston, VA, to participate. The workshop, sponsored by the Highway Division's Environmental Quality Committee, offered civil engineers in the community the opportunity to hear from the nation's leaders on context sensitive design and to participate in active and informative small group discussions.

AASHTO committees began working on four chapters to serve as a “bridging document” between AASHTO's A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (The "Green Book") and FHWA's Flexibility in Highway Design.


Executive Order 13274, Environmental Stewardship And Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews  is signed, which promoted environmental stewardship in the nation’s transportation system, and streamlines environmental review and development of transportation infrastructure projects.


The Federal Highway Administration, in its Fiscal Year 2003 Performance Plan names "Environmental Stewardship & Streamlining" as one of its three "Vital Few" priorities. Within this priority, the FHWA aims to have the practice of Context Sensitive Solutions in place in all 50 states by 2007.


FHWA and partners launch, the new web-based national resource center for Context Sensitive Solutions.

A Guide to Best Practices for Achieving Context Sensitive Solutions (NCHRP Report 480) was published. This guide demonstrates how transportation agencies can incorporate context sensitivity into their transportation project development.

AASHTO’s Guide for Achieving Flexibility in Highway Design was published. The AASHTO Guide shows highway designers how to think flexibly, how to recognize the many choices and options they have, and how to arrive at the best solution for the particular situation or context. It also strives to emphasize that flexible design does not necessarily entail a fundamentally new design process, but that it can be integrated into the existing transportation culture.


The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) was enacted in August 2005. Section 6002 of the law calls for “more efficient and effective Federal surface transportation programs by focusing on transportation issues of national significance, while giving State and local transportation decision makers more flexibility for solving transportation problems in their communities.” Section 6008 of the law authorizes the Department of Transportation to consider the characteristics and qualities of CSS in establishing standards to be used on the National Highway System. SAFETEA-LU also included new provisions for public involvement, guidelines for State DOT and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) public involvement activities; and the requirement for MPOs to develop a public participation plan in consultation with interested parties.

State DOT Context Sensitive Solutions Survey was conducted by AASHTO. The survey findings were presented in a report to the members of the AASHTO Task Force on Context Sensitive Solutions, in April 2005.

AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence held the 2005 Best Practices in Context Sensitive Solutions Competition.


National CSS Peer Exchange was held in Baltimore, Md., on Sept 6-8, 2006, sponsored by the AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence in conjunction with the AASHTO CSS Task Force and the Federal Highway Administration. Over 260 participants from 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Nova Scotia participated in peer exchanges, discussing the issues and challenges to implementation. During concurrent breakout sessions sixteen projects were presented to highlight the success of CSS. Participants had the opportunities to meet with other state representatives to initiate state action plans to further implement CSS within their state and agency.

American Society of Civil Engineers Conference, Context Sensitive Solutions in Practice: What You Need to Know, was held in Atlanta in November 2006. The conference was designed to train the transportation practitioner in the latest principles, tools and techniques of Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS). Lessons learned from projects that reflect CSD applications were presented in eight concurrent breakout sessions. Cutting-edge tools and techniques for engaging the community, communication, selecting alternatives and setting design parameters were presented.

The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) published Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities. This book advances the successful use of CSS in the planning and design of major urban thoroughfares for walkable communities. It provides guidance and demonstrates for practitioners how CSS concepts and principles may be applied in roadway improvement projects that are consistent with their physical settings. The publication has since then been superseded by Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach (2010).

AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence held the 2006 Best Practices in Context Sensitive Solutions Competition.


FHWA and AASHTO publish the Results of Joint AASHTO/FHWA Context Sensitive Solutions Strategic Planning Process to summarize the collaborative strategic planning work of AASHTO and FHWA. Four strategic goals for mainstreaming CSS were identified as part of this efforts as well as a refinement of the 1998 CSS qualities and characteristics.

FHWA publishes Integrating Context Sensitive Solutions into Transportation Practice (The Integration Guide).


FHWA sponsors Peer Exchanges in IN and NV providing CSS action planning Grants and extensive technical assistance training.


FHWA - in partnership with multiple agencies, NGOs and community groups - undertakes the National Dialogue on Context Sensitive Solutions. This process brings technical assistance in CSS to communities across the country and highlights exemplary case studies of CSS projects.

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program publishes Quantifying the Benefits of Context Sensitive solutions (NCHRP Report 642) which expanded the core principles of CSS to 15 distinct and actionable principles that can be used to guide CSS projects, and laid out CSS performance measures.


FHWA, through, initiates the CSS Champions Program, profiling and providing tactical assistance to four communities in the process of planning, developing and implementing transportation projects using a CSS process.

CSS Milestones
  Milestones in the history of CSS show how the field has evolved beginning in 1969 and gaining momentum in the late 1990s.
Policy Icon Policy Document Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)
CSS considerations were included in this transportation bill that was passed in August, 2005.
-- U.S. Congress
Policy Icon Policy Document Hawaii Road and Highway Design Legislation
In 2005 State of Hawaii passed S.B. No. 1876, legislation that directs the Department of Transportation to establish new guidelines that take into account the need for flexibility in highway design, and limits liability of State and counties in the application of flexible highway design standards.
-- Hawaii State Senate
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Strategic Highway Safety Plans: Interim Guidance to Supplement SAFETEA-LU Requirements
A State Department of Transportation (DOT) developed Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) is a new Federal requirement of SAFETEA-LU, 23 USC 148, and is a major part of the core Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP). This preview document is designed to promote best practices and serve as interim guidance to State DOTs and their safety partners for the development and implementation of the State SHSP, and to assist State DOTs in creating an SHSP that meets the requirements of SAFETEA-LU with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of highway fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads.
--  Federal Transit Administration
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Federal Highway Administration

Excerpt IconExcerpt The Most Important Law of the 20th Century
"The 91st Congress enacted the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), considered by many to be the most important law of the 20th century. ...In tandem with NEPA, the 91st Congress also added a new subsection ...focusing on design criteria relating to social, economic, and environmental effects." During the debate, Senator Randolph explained that provisions were expanded to implement the "belief that highways should enhance communities rather than degrade them."  more...
from  Context-Sensitive Design: Will the Vision Overcome Liability Concerns?
Excerpt IconExcerpt Legislative Background on CSD
CSS enabling federal legislation and connection to NEPA.  more...
from  NCHRP Report 480: A Guide to Best Practices for Achieving Context Sensitive Solutions
Excerpt IconExcerpt Decision Points
The CSD/CSS Project Development Process includes a recommended set of decision points. These points are related to federal requirements under NEPA as well as state and local regulations. more...
from  NCHRP Report 480: A Guide to Best Practices for Achieving Context Sensitive Solutions
Excerpt IconExcerpt Make Public Right-of-Way Accessible to All Users: Americans with Disabilities Act
Synopsis of how public right-of-ways are covered by the ADA more...
from  Context Sensitive Street Design
Excerpt IconExcerpt Lessons Learned: Other State DOTs
List of seven state DOTs that the FHWA has identified as "pilot states implementing CSSD; includes brief synopses of the CSSD work each state is doing. more...
from  Context Sensitive Street Design Lessons Learned 5.2, p. 29
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Restoring the Rule of Law and Respect for Communities in Transportation
"This Article seeks to explain how ostensibly protected public resources have ended up standing, if not quite naked, then at least scantily clad in the cold wind of American transportation policy. The reason, in brief, is that transportation agencies have succeeded in elevating the limited logic of conventional traffic engineering to the status of public policy or even natural law. They have made it their mission to ensure that motor vehicle traffic flows at relatively high speeds with minimal interference. In carrying out that mission, they have not only enjoyed the deference that federal courts show administrative agencies, but have secured widespread--if often reluctant--cooperation from environmental regulators, local boards and commissions, and elected officials. Instead of providing means to attain goals set by the public and its elected officials, agency engineers have assumed responsibility for defining public goals."
--  Conservation Law Foundation
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report SAFETEA-LU Planning Provisions Workshop
This report summarizes a workshop that was designed to provide an opportunity for federal and state department of transportation representatives to exchange information and engage in a detailed review of nine planning provisions included in SAFETEA-LU.
-- Cambridge Systematics, Inc., 4800 Hampden Lane, Suite 800, Bathesda, MD 20814

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