How We Got Here | Development of CSS Guidance

History of Context Sensitive Solutions on the I-70 Mountain Corridor

In October 2005, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) chief engineer made the first step in leading CDOT toward the full adoption of Context Sensitive Solutions with the issuance of Policy Memo 26, Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) Vision for CDOT. The memo defined CSS and offered a vision for its implementation.

In the spring of 2008, a Programmatic Agreement was signed in which CDOT committed to initiating the development of design guidelines and historic context(s) for the I-70 Mountain Corridor. The agreement, which was developed over several years, stated that CDOT would complete this work prior to any Tier 2 undertakings. The guidelines would be consistent with the principles of CSS and CDOT’s Policy Memo 26 and, along with the historic context, would guide the development of Tier 2 undertakings on the corridor.

CDOT initiated the I-70 Mountain Corridor CSS project to provide effective guidelines for all future planning, design, and construction projects along the 144-mile corridor. CDOT’s goal was to have the corridor become the nation’s standard for collaboration, partnerships, transportation innovation, and environmental sustainability.

The principles of CSS are detailed in the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 480, titled A Guide to Best Practices for Achieving Context Sensitive Solutions (2002). Further guidance is captured in the NCHRP manual titled Performance Measurement in Context Sensitive Design (2004).

The Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the I-70 Mountain Corridor was ongoing as the CSS project was being advanced. One element of the CSS project has been coordination with the I-70 Mountain Corridor PEIS

In the fall of 2006, proposals for the CSS project were requested from consultants with CSS experience. This effort was led by the selection committee with representatives from CDOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the I-70 Coalition, and Clear Creek County. CH2M HILL was selected for the project.

As a part of the CSS Guidance development, the project team and the Project Leadership Team came together to define the goals and desired outcomes from the project. These discussions were the foundation for the teams, working groups, public meetings, and workshops described below.

Corridor Team

During the development of the CSS Guidance for the corridor, the project team worked with seven counties; twenty seven towns; two National Forests; one ski corporation; six ski resorts; and thousands of residents, business owners, truckers, and commuters to develop the CSS design guidelines -- the ground rules for building the planned improvements. The inclusive group of stakeholders became the CSS Corridor Team.

The first Corridor Team Meeting was held October 26, 2007. The stakeholders came together to discuss, debate, and agree on what they respected and wanted to preserve in the corridor. The Context Statement and Core Values were drafted. The group also discussed how the CSS Corridor Team and the Collaborative Effort (CE) would interact and support each other’s work.

Additional Corridor Team Meetings were held in December 2007, March 2008, October 2008, and September 2009.

Public Open Houses

In November 2007, the I-70 Mountain Corridor CSS project team held public meetings in three locations along the corridor to introduce the project which will provide guidance for all future transportation studies, designs, and construction projects conducted along the I-70 Mountain Corridor. The public meetings included a short presentation, a small group discussion session, and informational displays explaining the process and schedule for the I-70 Mountain Corridor CSS effort.

Collaborative Effort

The CSS project team worked with the Collaborative Effort (CE), which was an element of the PEIS. The CE was designed to facilitate the corridor stakeholders in discussions about the recommended alternatives for the I-70 Mountain Corridor. The CE Team included representatives of local governments; highway users; and transit, environmental, business and recreation interests; as well as state and federal agencies. Working with independent facilitators from the Keystone Center, the CE completed their work in the spring of 2008 by coming to agreement on a recommended alternative to be used in the I-70 Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (FPEIS).

Project Leadership Team

A CSS Project Leadership Team (PLT) was formed at the onset of the CSS project. The PLT’s mission was to move world-class solutions forward by designing a principle-driven process that involved everyone, produced decisions, and resulted in projects that would stand the test of time.

A PLT will be formed for every project on the I-70 Mountain Corridor. They will be scaled to fit the size and type of each project and their role will be to lead projects, champion CSS on projects, and enable decision making. PLTs will always include public stakeholders and are one avenue for public input.

Working Groups

Several working groups were formed to tackle some of the detailed issues along the corridor:

CSS Process Working Group

The CSS Process Working Group developed decision steps and methods for Tier 2 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, design projects, and construction projects. The group developed the methods to be used in the future for considering new ideas, practices, and technologies. A 6-Step Process and five Life Cycle Phases for use on all subsequent corridor projects were adopted and the roles and responsibilities of future project teams were vetted.

Chain Station Working Group

The Chain Station Working Group used the CSS Decision-Making Process in the planning of chain stations. More than fifty stakeholders -- including community members, jurisdictions, and agencies -- were involved in the chain station decision process.

Stream and Wetland Ecological Enhancement Program (SWEEP)

The SWEEP program focuses on efforts to integrate water resource needs (such as water quality, fisheries, wetlands, and riparian areas) with design elements for construction activities and long-term maintenance and operations of the transportation system. The working group will develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishing the management framework to assure the protection of water resources throughout the life cycle of projects in the I-70 Mountain Corridor.

A Landscape Level Inventory of Valued Ecosystems (ALIVE)

The ALIVE Working Group provided an opportunity to address issues related to improving wildlife movement and reducing habitat fragmentation in the corridor. An inventory of Linkage Interference Zones (LIZs) where evidence suggests that the highway’s barrier effect impedes important wildlife migration or movement routes or zones of dispersal has been developed and prioritized. An MOU between CDOT, FHWA, Colorado Division of Natural Resources –Division of Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management established a program of cooperation. Its purpose is the early and full implementation of corrective actions to solve permeability problems in identified LIZs, and to streamline the Section 7 consultation process under the Endangered Species Act for the I-70 Mountain Corridor Tier 2 projects.

Sustainability Working Group

The Sustainability Working Group was formed to discuss more specifically what sustainability means in the corridor, to provide definition to criteria and measures of success in relation to sustainability of the Core Values, and to develop potential strategies for sustainability in the corridor.

Historic Context Working Group

The Historic Context Working Group developed a multi-property document form for the I-70 Mountain Corridor. This document will be used in all future NEPA documents as part of the Section 106 process.  It will ensure that the preservation of historic resources in the communities along I-70 is taken into consideration when planning and constructing future projects.

Aesthetics Working Groups

The Aesthetic Working Groups were formed to assist the corridor and consultant teams in preparing the Aesthetic Guidance. These working groups were formed around four geographic Design Segments that collectively include the entire I-70 Mountain Corridor. The four Design Segments include:

  • Front Range Foothills
  • Mountain Mineral Belt
  • Crest of the Rockies
  • Western Slope Canyons and Valleys

Design and aesthetic objectives and strategies were developed for each segment to guide the design of future improvements.

Idaho Springs Visioning Workshop

Idaho Springs sits in one of the narrowest canyons in the corridor and transportation improvements -- both highway and transit -- have the potential to severely impact the town. The Idaho Springs Visioning Workshop brought together Idaho Springs’ citizens and business owners for a day and a half to discuss and determine what must be protected and enhanced as transportation improvements are developed through the town.

The Evolution of the CSS Guidance

As originally conceived and described, the CSS Guidance would:

  • Direct all Tier 2 undertakings in the corridor
  • Ensure that CSS principles were employed
  • Direct an open, comprehensive, and fair public process for each project
  • Reflect the unique context of the corridor and direct future designs
  • Support the identification and protection of historic resources through the Historic Context

The CSS Guidance has been delivered in an interactive Web site that:

  • Presents the Corridor Context Statement and Core Values
  • Delineates the Decision-Making Process to be used on projects
  • Defines the design criteria
  • Organizes corridor environmental data on maps
  • Indexes the PEIS data by mile marker
  • Provides tools, templates, photos, exercises, and ideas for project managers
  • Makes available all corridor agreements
  • Captures years of stakeholders comments and concerns
  • Links to other relevant materials

The steps described in this history are the foundation for the guidance presented in the Web site.