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Lessons from Transportation Agency Participation In Regional Conservation Initiatives

  • Author(s): Lederman, Jaimee
  • Advisor(s): Wachs, Martin
  • et al.

Transportation agencies struggle to maximize the benefits of transportation infrastructure while minimizing environmental harm. This dissertation examines institutional collaborations that integrate capital investments (e.g. highway and rail projects) with regional Habitat Conservation Plans (RHCPs) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It addresses ways of maintaining these collaborations over time.

The ESA requires that public and private project developers mitigate any harm to endangered species and receive a permit from US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Projects are typically permitted individually, but RHCPs streamline permitting by allowing one permit to cover projects in multiple jurisdictions for up to 75 years. There is broad-based support for coordination across jurisdictional boundaries to address the increasingly regional scale of environmental issues. Unfortunately, multi-jurisdictional collaborations often face political and financial roadblocks.

I examined 21 RHCPs, including analysis of planning documents and semi-structured interviews with RHCP, FWS, and transportation agency representatives. The case studies include urban, suburban, and rural counties in multiple states, focusing on California and Texas.

I show that acceleration of transportation projects garners political support for RHCPs and increases the biological efficacy of conservation initiatives. Transportation agencies benefit from reduced permitting time, costs, and fewer lawsuits. Participation promotes synergy between transportation and local funding that bolsters successful implementation of RHCPs. RHCPs can guide environmentally-responsible development patterns through several mechanisms —including strategic land acquisitions that limit urban growth and creating market incentives— even where they lack formal land use control.

Increasing the institutional capacity for regional conservation planning is an incremental process. RHCPs can strengthen regional organizations, but participating in RHCPs is predicated on providing advantages for governments, public agencies, and private landowners. I recommend that organizations managing RHCPs can be an important institutional catalyst for expanding the ability to address environmental issues—including air and water pollution, and climate change—but they must allow flexibility for opportunistic participation. My research finds that transportation agencies should play an integral role in meeting increasingly regional environmental planning challenges. The results of this research can inform existing and future conservation programs, and contribute to the improvement of state laws that govern conservation planning.

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