Sustainability rating tools studied for use in Colorado

By Robbie Webber

Researchers at University of Colorado and Colorado State University looked at the suitability of 11 transportation sustainability rating tools (TSRTs) for use by the Colorado Department of Transportation based on agency use preferences. They found that the INVEST tool from FHWA was the most suitable, but four tools scored higher than one developed by CDOT itself. The researchers note, however, that the ratings are based on user preferences and are especially weighted to favor tools that allow creation of a customized scorecard for projects. That capability is planned for a later version of the CDOT tool. They also add that the field of TSRTs is fairly new, and no one tool will be best for every department.

In addition to explaining the methodology used to find the most suitable tool for CDOT, the paper is a good literature review of past academic efforts to find the best TSRT for DOTs based on their sustainability goals and regional differences. DOTs in states with a largely rural vs. urban population or transportation networks may find different tools more suitable. Local climate, transportation modes considered, and the importance of context sensitive design and community involvement can also influence which tool is most suitable for an agency. Ratings of the tools themselves are also dependent on the internal DOT culture and the capability maturity of the agency with regard to setting sustainability goals at the various stages of planning, project development, and operations and maintenance.

As part of a grant from FHWA to improve the INVEST tool and promote sustainability efforts at state DOTs, SSTI will be writing a user manual that helps DOTs find the best tool based on their sustainability and strategic goals. The Colorado study, a previous report from the Mountain-Plains Consortium from the same authors, and SSTI’s conversations with DOT staff all show that there is not one tool that will be best for every agency. However, this study outlines a methodology for comparing tools under consideration based on their current user preferences.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.