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Mitigating environmental impacts in advance: Evidence of cost and time savings for transportation projects

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The traditional model for mitigating a transportation project's environmental impacts typically operates project-by-project and delivers the mitigation just-in-time. In contrast, the newer practice of advance mitigation comprehensively assesses and mitigates impacts from one or multiple transportation projects before or during project planning, sometimes long before project construction begins. The practice has gained adherents for its potential to improve ecological outcomes, by better aligning mitigation and conservation goals. Advance mitigation also stands to reduce mitigation costs, an important secondary benefit for transportation agencies with constrained resources. Evidence of cost savings, however, has been piecemeal and anecdotal. This paper advances knowledge of advance mitigation's financial impacts in two ways. First, it critically assesses the evidence about cost savings realized through advance mitigation, both through avoided up-front costs and reduced project delay. Second, it directly estimates the project time savings that might accrue with advance mitigation of state highway projects in California. Overall, the balance of evidence is encouraging for transportation agencies that would introduce the practice, and general agreement exists on its financial benefits. Considering project delays related only to the environmental process, we estimate advance mitigation could reduce delivery times by 1.3–5.0 months per project. Still, we also identify factors limiting comprehensive analysis. Transportation agencies adopting advance mitigation practices into their operations could use a pilot approach that includes rigorous environmental and mitigation cost accounting; such pilots would build needed empirical evidence of advance mitigation's financial and ecological outcomes.

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