OCTA’s innovative Environmental Mitigation Program serves as an example for transportation agencies around the country
ORANGE – As the Orange County Transportation Authority advances programs and services to enhance the county’s transportation network, it’s also working with the environmental community to protect what makes Orange County such a great place to live.
That commitment was recently affirmed by a Federal Highway Administration case study that demonstrates how transportation improvements and environmental goals can be mutually accomplished through strong partnerships.
Since 2006, when Orange County voters overwhelmingly approved the renewal of a 30-year, half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements, the Measure M funds have helped implement OCTA’s comprehensive Environmental Mitigation Program.
With funds for that program, OCTA has improved freeway project coordination and approval, has sped up the permitting process, and has helped preserve more than 1,300 acres of high-value undeveloped wildlands and restored approximately 350 acres of native habitat in Orange County.
“The recognition of OCTA’s environmental efforts in this case study further demonstrates that OCTA is keeping its commitments made to taxpayers through Measure M, and it shows that transportation and environmental goals can be achieved simultaneously,” said OCTA Chairman Andrew Do, also Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
In simple terms, in coordination with state and federal agencies, the program takes a comprehensive approach to mitigate the environmental impacts from the 13 freeway projects approved by voters in Measure M. Rather than the traditional piecemeal method of mitigating near each project, OCTA was able to provide a greater environmental benefit through the purchase of large swaths of connected land around the county.
These properties contain high-value, threatened and endangered habitat and wildlife and were eligible for development. OCTA bought the land from willing sellers, ensuring their preservation in perpetuity.
The Federal Highway Administration’s case study, released earlier this year, indicates that OCTA’s program has developed mechanisms that allow for advanced compensatory mitigation, a specific type of environmental mitigation required by the Clean Water Act.
OCTA performed compensatory mitigation in advance of its freeway projects even before it was required. The agency’s Environmental Mitigation Program is one case study in a series conducted by the Federal Highway Administration that highlights how transportation agencies around the country are implementing a system called Eco-Logical. It’s a novel approach to mitigation planning that’s designed to help transportation, resource, and regulatory agencies work together to develop infrastructure and conservation processes and determine a joint set of environmental priorities.
OCTA partnered with resource and regulatory agencies to develop mitigation planning resources like the Measure M Conservation Plan and Preserve-specific Resource Management Plans, which prioritize sensitive habitats and species in Southern California.
At the same time, OCTA’s program has also greatly reduced the time it takes to process a freeway project permit and has improved the overall efficiency of project coordination and approval, allowing for project’s to be built sooner to keep Orange County moving. Expedited project delivery helps to manage costs and allows residents to realize tangible benefits of their tax dollars more quickly.
One of the first steps OCTA took toward utilizing the Eco-Logical approach was establishing the Environmental Oversight Committee in 2007. The 12-member committee evaluates and makes recommendations on the allocation of environmental mitigation funds related to resource protection and regulatory requirements.
Through its strong partnerships, OCTA continues to follow the Eco-Logical approach to accelerate project delivery and improve environmental outcomes.
For more information, please visit www.octa.net/environmental.