[Federal Register Volume 71, Number 150 (Friday, August 4, 2006)]
[Pages 44348-44349]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E6-12664]

[[Page 44348]]



Federal Highway Administration

[FHWA Docket No. FHWA-2006-23612]

Surface Transportation Environment and Planning Cooperative 
Research Program (STEP)

AGENCY: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), DOT.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: In an earlier notice and request for comments, the FHWA 
announced the creation of an FHWA Web site to provide information 
regarding the Surface Transportation Environment and Planning 
Cooperative Research Program (STEP) and solicited public input on the 
implementation strategy for this program. Based on the review and 
analysis of the comments received in response to the notice, the FHWA 
has finalized and posted the implementation strategy for the STEP on 
the STEP Web site at: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/hep/step/index.htm. In 
addition, the FHWA has posted information on the STEP Web site 
soliciting comments on proposed STEP research activities.

DATES: The implementation strategy is effective August 4, 2006.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Felicia Young, Office of Interstate 
and Border Planning, (202) 366-1263, [email protected]; or 
Grace Reidy, Office of the Chief Counsel, (202) 366-6226; Federal 
Highway Administration, 400 Seventh Street, SW., Washington, DC 20590. 
Office hours are from 7:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., Monday through Friday, 
except Federal holidays.


Electronic Access

    An electronic copy of this notice may be downloaded from the Office 
of the Federal Register's home page at http://www.archives.gov and the 
Government Printing Office's Web site at http://www.access.gpo.gov.


    On March 1, 2006, the FHWA published a notice in the Federal 
Register (71 FR 10586) announcing the creation of an FHWA Web site to 
provide information regarding the Surface Transportation Environment 
and Planning Cooperative Research Program (STEP) and to solicit public 
input on the implementation strategy for this program.
    Section 5207, Surface Transportation Environment and Planning 
Cooperative Research Program (STEP), of the Safe, Accountable, 
Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users 
(SAFETEA-LU) (Pub. L. 109-59; Aug. 10, 2005) established a new 
cooperative research program for environment and planning research in 
section 507 of Title 23, United States Code, Highways (23 U.S.C. 507). 
The general objective of the STEP is to improve understanding of the 
complex relationship between surface transportation, planning, and the 
environment. Among other areas, STEP will address environment and 
planning issues related to SAFETEA-LU implementation; Executive Order 
13274: Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure 
Project Reviews; the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and 
Development Strategic Plan (section 508 of title 23 U.S.C.); and the 
environmental costs associated with growing surface transportation 
system congestion.

Discussion of Comments

    The comment period for the notice closed on April 17, 2006. As of 
June 19, 2006, the FHWA received ten comments in the docket. The FHWA 
received comments from national associations, State Departments of 
Transportation (State DOTs), a consulting firm, and a private citizen. 
The FHWA has reviewed and analyzed these comments as well as a new 
Secretarial initiative related to congestion.\1\ Summaries of the 
docket comments and the FHWA's analyses and determinations are 
discussed below. After considering and analyzing the comments, the FHWA 
has decided to revise and finalize the implementation strategy.

    \1\ Speaking before the National Retail Federation's annual 
conference on May 16, 2006, in Washington, DC, U.S. Transportation 
Secretary Norman Mineta unveiled a new plan to reduce congestion 
plaguing America's roads, rail and airports. The National Strategy 
to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network includes a 
number of initiatives designed to reduce transportation congestion 
and it is available at the following URL: http://isddc.dot.gov/OLPFiles/OST/012988.pdf.

    Most of the respondents supported the principles outlined in 
Section 5207 of SAFETEA-LU, which established the STEP. We received 
numerous comments regarding the STEP emphasis areas. Some respondents 
indicated that additional emphasis areas should be added to the 22 
proposed STEP emphasis areas.
    Another respondent recommended reducing the number of emphasis 
areas. Respondents identified the need to clarify the activities 
eligible for STEP funding under the proposed emphasis areas. 
Respondents commented that activities such as outreach, peer exchanges, 
symposia, public involvement and other activities associated with the 
deployment and sharing of information among stakeholders should be 
eligible for STEP funding.
    Respondents also commented on the proposed stakeholder involvement 
in the STEP. Respondents indicated support for multiple stakeholder 
involvement throughout the STEP implementation process.
    Comments on STEP program included a recommendation that at least 50 
percent of STEP funding be dedicated to State DOT-led research and a 
recommendation that the STEP research focus on ``projects that can add 
the best value across the nation rather than specific States or 
regions.'' Two respondents recommended that the STEP governance include 
a structure similar to the Transportation Research Board's National 
Cooperative Highway Research Program.\2\

    \2\ The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) 
which was established in 1962 is a national research program that is 
administered by the Transportation Research Board. The NCHRP is 
sponsored by the member departments (i.e., individual state 
departments of transportation) of the American Association of State 
Highway and Transportation Officials in cooperation with the Federal 
Highway Administration.

    Respondents also acknowledged the STEP's funding limitations and 
recommended that limited funding be spent effectively. Another 
respondent recommended that funding focus on high priority research 
that advances the goals of the Federal-aid highway program.

Changes to STEP

    After reviewing the comments, the FHWA revised and augmented the 
STEP implementation strategy by: (1) Grouping the STEP into four major 
categories: Environment; Planning; Planning Tools for Planning and 
Environment; and Program Management and Outreach; (2) identifying 17 
specific research emphasis areas and potential funding; (3) providing 
information regarding the goals and potential activities to be 
implemented within each of these emphasis areas; and (4) adding contact 
persons for each of these emphasis areas.
    The FHWA also included Right of Way associations in the list of 
Tier II transportation and environmental stakeholders and included the 
Transportation Pooled Fund Program, University Transportation Centers, 
and State planning research under the section for coordination with 
other relevant research programs.

[[Page 44349]]

    The FHWA did not revise the proposed structure for stakeholder/
public involvement within the STEP. Because of the numerous and diverse 
STEP stakeholders, the FHWA believes that it is important that the 
limited STEP resources focus on priority environment and planning 
surface transportation research needs. Also, we expect to continue 
efforts to coordinate STEP implementation with other cooperative 
research resources like State Planning Research (SPR), the Future 
Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRPII), National Cooperative 
Highway Research Program (NCHRP) and others to further leverage STEP 
funding. The final implementation strategy is available on the STEP Web 
site at: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/hep/step/index.htm.

Suggestions for Research Activities

    At this time, the FHWA is requesting suggestions for the lines of 
research that should be pursued within each emphasis area. For example, 
stakeholders who have an interest in the ``Tools to Support Environment 
and Planning'' emphasis area might suggest that it is important to 
research ways to identify business models to enhance transportation 
decision-making using geospatial data. Specific research work 
statements for this suggestion, if pursued under the STEP, would be 
crafted by FHWA, after careful consideration of stakeholder views.
    Thus, the FHWA does not seek specific, detailed research proposals 
and discourages researchers from submitting proposals of that nature. 
Rather, the FHWA staff who will serve as contacts for each Emphasis 
Area will work with stakeholders in the 17 research emphasis areas to 
identify and prioritize lines of research within each area and to 
subsequently develop specific work activities.
    The FHWA is issuing this notice to: (1) Announce the posting of the 
final STEP Implementation strategy on the STEP Web site; and (2) to 
solicit comments on proposed research activities to be undertaken in 
the STEP via the STEP Web site. The URL for the STEP is http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/hep/step/index.htm. The FHWA will use this Web site as 
a major mechanism for informing the public regarding the status of the 
    We invite the public to visit this Web site to obtain additional 
information on the STEP, as well as information on the process for 
forwarding comments to the FHWA regarding the STEP implementation plan.

    Authority: Section 5207 of Public Law 109-59.

    Issued on: July 28, 2006.
J. Richard Capka,
Federal Highway Administrator.
[FR Doc. E6-12664 Filed 8-3-06; 8:45 am]