Economic and Environmental Benefits of Stewardship Tool

Amanda Long-Rodriguez
Kate Zielke, Brian Geck, Barbara Wyse
Topic Area
Planning for Transportation Ecology

Environmental stewardship when planning transportation projects is often seen as the right thing to do, but may be perceived as a cost or not the norm in the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) region. Environmental stewardship is often only included as mitigation, required by law or if there is substantial community support. To encourage the inclusion of environmental stewardship when planning for transportation projects, NCTCOG created a decision support tool called Economic and Environmental Benefits of Stewardship (EEBS). The tool will provide users with the benefits and/or return on investment of incorporating environmental stewardship methods such as bioswales, detention ponds, pervious pavement, conservation of open space, wetland restoration, native tree plantings, and wildlife preservation measures, into their transportation projects. Understanding these benefits could be an efficient and cost-effective way to include ecological aspects into transportation projects. Inclusion of these methods may also provide a balance between the need for transportation infrastructure and healthy ecosystems.
NCTCOG worked with environmental economists to collect data for the tool using a benefit transfer method. Local environmental and transportation experts were also interviewed to ensure the data was relevant to transportation projects and the region.
The EEBS tool was designed for cities, counties, or similar jurisdictions in the NCTCOG region but could be extended to any entity that plans transportation projects. As users in the region vary in terms of staff, resources, and skill, no specialized software is required to use the tool.
The resulting EEBS tool is online and interactive, allowing the user to draw their prospective project on a map with natural resource data layers and select a transportation type. The tool then provides the user with the quantity of natural resources affected and the potential environmental effect. Potential stewardship methods that may be applicable to the project are then provided. Choosing a stewardship method then provides the qualitative and quantitative environmental and economic benefits.
As the NCTCOG region has many potential users, project types, and natural resources, creating an accurate tool had limitations. The precision to which the data layers could predict the natural resources present was limited, especially in a quickly urbanizing region. A benefit transfer method also resulted in data not originating from the region. To compensate for these limitations, along with interviewing experts in the region, the tool provides ranges of potential environmental and economic benefits. In addition, EEBS was designed to be high level, accessible, and educational, providing users with a starting point to discuss potential benefits and to develop an interest in further investigation for their transportation projects. If funding is secured, iterations of the tool could address these data limitations.

Abstract Keywords
Transportation
Planning
Stewardship Methods
Economic Benefits