Legal and institutional framework for CSS
Context Sensitive Solutions first gained legislative traction in 1991, when its basic premises were reflected in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). The federal legislation emphasized the consideration of environmental, aesthetic and cultural factors in transportation planning, and increased the rights and responsibilities of local communities in the planning process.
The Federal Highway Administration and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials published Flexibility in Highway Design in 1997. The manual encourages the use of flexible design standards to reduce the negative effects of certain transportation projects on the environment.
In 1998, the Maryland DOT hosted the groundbreaking workshop, Thinking Beyond the Pavement, which was attended by chief executive officers, senior highway engineers, designers and planners from 29 state departments of transportation as well as representatives of government, the private sector and citizens’ organizations from 39 states. The workshop’s outcome was a national agenda for shaping roads to fit and enhance the places they pass through by forming multi-disciplinary collaborations among diverse public/private partners, and working through a process that involves the public from the start of any project. They called the approach “context-sensitive design” or CSD (what some today call “context sensitive solutions,” or CSS).
Context sensitive solutions has continued to gain increasing support on both the federal level and in local and regional transportation agencies, as the understanding of CSS grows and exemplary projects emerge around the nation. The watershed moment came in 2003, when the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) identified CSS as one of its “Vital Few Strategies,” and set the goal of establishing CSS training programs and projects on the ground in all 50 states by 2007. The influence of the FHWA is critical, because it provides guidelines for state DOTs and the money to implement them. Many state DOTs have already begun re-educating their transportation professionals and implementing CSS projects in communities (click here for information on the trainings that PPS provides state DOTs).