Environmental planning is the process of facilitating decision making to carry out development with the consideration given to the natural environment. In the ongoing process of maintaining and improving the transportation system, consideration must be given to avoid or minimize negative impacts on air and water quality, climate, and other natural resources, including:
- Coastal and Freshwater Wetlands
- Wildlife habitat areas
- Forested Areas
- Prime Farmland
- Natural Scenic Areas
- Unique natural areas such as the Pinelands and the coastal environment
For every proposed project, federal and state legislation require an environmental impact statement (EIS) where a proposed project would involve an increase in the carrying capacity of a transportation facility. The findings of these statements may require mitigation strategies to minimize negative impacts or they may suggest significant project modifications. Despite the level of protection, a general understanding of the natural resources and significant environmental features in the SJTPO region is an essential part of the long range transportation planning process.
“Protect and Improve the Environment” is one of the criteria in SJTPO’s Project Selection Process and Ranking System. Every project will not require the same type or level of mitigation. Some projects, such as new roadways and roadway widening, involve major construction with considerable earth disturbance. Whereas others, like intersection improvements, traffic signal synchronization and resurfacing projects, involve minor construction and minimal, if any, earth disturbance. The mitigation efforts used for a project will vary depending on the type of project and severity of the potential impact.
SJTPO is also invested in improving the air quality of the region. Transportation decisions must conform with the State Implementation Plan (SIP) and the Federal 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. To achieve the required Air Quality Conformity, an assessment process was conducted based on federal guidelines and with the participation of the FHWA and Environmental Protection Agency. The process uses the information generated from planning assumptions and utilizes the South Jersey Travel Demand Model (SJTDM) to examine the air quality impacts of the region’s proposed transportation plans, projects, and programs.
SJTPO’s Environmental Planning scope also focuses on global warming, climate change, and greenhouse gas affords. The world’s heavy reliance on and rapid consumption of fossil-based fuels, especially for transportation-related activities, is the largest contributor to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. In recent years, transportation has been the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey. Concerned scientists, policy-makers, and citizens have raised concerns that the dependency on fossil-based fuels in the transportation system will lead to major problems, since the energy supply is unsustainable.
Recent modeling work predicts that temperatures in the Northeastern United States are likely to rise 2.5 to 4 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the winter and 1 to 3 degrees in the summer over the next several decades. There is a consensus among climate scientists that rising concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere are contributing to a warming of the planet, as evidenced by increases in global air and ocean temperatures, melting of polar snow and ice, and rising global sea levels. They believe that elevated GHG concentrations, if not curtailed, will lead to altered weather patterns, including heavier precipitation events, hotter summertime temperatures, elevated summertime ozone levels, and increased drought. These weather-related impacts, as well as rising sea levels, may severely impact the region’s transportation infrastructure during storm events and inundate low-lying populations within the region. It is essential that planning efforts on a regional level is coordinated with the state and localities to mitigate, these future environmental concerns.
The SJTPO region is a non-attainment area for the 8-Hour Ozone standard. This means that the concentration of ground-level ozone in the 4-county area exceeds the ozone standards as mandated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The current 8-Hour Ozone Standard, promulgated in 2015, is 70 parts per billion (ppb). Because the SJTPO falls within an ozone non-attainment area, its long-range regional transportation plan, the Transportation Improvement Program, and other regionally significant projects within the region must undergo a transportation conformity determination before they can be fully implemented.
Transportation conformity is a process required by the Clean Air Act (CAA) for non-attainment areas linking transportation planning to air quality standards. The goal of transportation conformity is to ensure that mobile source emissions generated from future federally-funded projects and programs conform to specific emission levels as established in the State Implementation Plan (SIP), the air quality plan for the State. Transportation conformity is demonstrated via the use of a sophisticated computer model, which generates mobile source emissions resulting from the future transportation system. These emissions are compared against strict emissions budgets for specific test years. Below are links to both the draft Transportation Conformity determination for the FY 2020-2029 TIP and Transportation Matters-A Plan for South Jersey, the long-range regional transportation plan, as well as the current conformity determination, which is based on the FY 2018-2027 TIP and Transportation Matters-A Plan for South Jersey, and evaluated against three 8-hour ozone standards (2015, 2008, and 1997). SJTPO anticipates that the new draft Transportation Conformity Determination will take effect at the beginning of the federal fiscal year 2020, which begins on October 1, 2019.
More information on transportation conformity, including the specific laws and regulations, which govern the process, are available here.