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 () where a proposed project would involve an increase in the carrying of a transportation facility. The findings of these statements may require 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 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 () 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 and Environmental Protection Agency. The process uses the information generated from planning assumptions and utilizes the South Jersey (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 () 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.