Land Use and the Natural Environment

Transportation System Affects Built, Natural Environments

The transportation system’s purpose is to move people and goods from one place to another, and, in doing so, transportation systems affect community character, the natural and built environment, and economic development patterns. The transportation system can improve the economy, shape development patterns, and influence quality of life and the natural environment.

Land use is the practice that describes how and why land and its resources are employed. Fundamentally, the relationship between land use and transportation is reciprocal: increased land use intensities in a community typically increase demand for transportation facilities and services; transportation facilities and services typically are catalysts for land development. This cycle is continuous and repeats itself as land use activities grow to demand increased transportation capacities.

Economic Development

Transportation investments often contribute to economic growth. Beyond land use improvements, successful business retention and recruitment activities, for example, can generate demand for capital investments in new or upgraded transportation facilities and/or services. Economic development efforts that help shape employment or commercial centers also shape commuting and travel patterns.

Land development and most economic development projects depend on the availability and adequacy of transportation facilities and services. Other public facilities and services, such as water capacity improvements, sewer capacity improvements, stormwater management, greenspaces, and school capacities, also have an impact on a community’s ability to accommodate land use changes. The timing, location and cost of water, sewer, and road facilities can have a significant impact on land use patterns; and the density and intensity of land development are influenced by the availability and adequacy of these public facilities and services. Land use changes, in turn, create a greater or lesser need for roads and public transit.

OKI Guiding Regional Policy Plan

OKI’s Strategic Regional Policy Plan encourages land use patterns that promote multimodal travel and the efficient use of land, natural resources, and public facilities and services.

The OKI Strategic Regional Policy Plan – How Do We Grow From Here?

Because of the inseparable connection between transportation and land use, the OKI Board maintains the Strategic Regional Policy Plan (SRPP) and integrates the SRPP recommendations with the region’s transportation project prioritization process. This metropolitan transportation plan incorporates, by reference, the Strategic Regional Policy Plan Goals, Opportunity Areas and Policy Recommendations, as adopted by OKI’s Land Use Commission Steering Committee in June 2023.

Strategic Regional Policy Plan contains a vision for regional vitality, sustainability, and competitiveness, focusing on the land use–transportation connection.

Conceptually, the strategic planning process addresses four questions:

  • Where are we as a region?
  • Where are we going given current trends?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How do we get there?

Six strategic subject areas guide and focus regional planning efforts to achieve the overall regional vision:

  • Transportation
  • Public Facilities
  • Natural Systems
  • Housing
  • Economic Development
  • Land Use

Each subject area of the SRPP contains an overview, a goal, the trends and conditions associated with each strategic regional issue in that subject, and policy recommendations to address each of the issues.

OKI Strategic Regional Policy Plan in Action

Through Consultation – The OKI Regional Planning Forum and Planning Directors’ Network

Implementation of many SRPP recommendations is up to the affected jurisdictions and other organizations on a voluntary basis. For that reason, OKI continues to build relationships and conduct consultations that were key to developing the SRPP and are essential for implementation. The types of groups that are or will be consulted include state and federal regulatory agencies; state and local agencies responsible for land use management, natural resources, environmental protection, and conservation agencies; local planning and major economic development agencies; local emergency management agencies; and, local agencies that promote transit and alternatives to single occupancy vehicles.

OKI Regional Planning Forum

The OKI Regional Planning Forum strives for a continued dialog to occur in the region surrounding the SRPP policy recommendations and to ensure the dialogue involves the vast array of stakeholders necessary to implement the SRPP. The forum is a regional outlet for sharing information, experience and expertise among planners and those in related disciplines. The forum is open to people throughout the Tri-state region who are working to affect the future, whether through local planning, community foundations or by planning for community development, business, workforce development, public housing, environmental issues, efficient food systems, public transportation, energy, tourism, social services, and public health – in short, any issue that affects either the built environment or the natural environment.

Planning Directors’ Network

Additionally, OKI convenes a Planning Directors’ Network to maintain constant relationships with key planning staff of jurisdictions across the region. This Network provides jurisdictional staff a connection to their counterparts to share current issues, to collaborate, and to seek and lend advice. OKI benefits from being ‘tuned-in’ to the current issues to further inform our research, guidance and/or tool development.

Through Comprehensive Planning Assistance

The classic first-level planning tool is the local comprehensive plan, which should address all aspects of land development including traffic circulation, bicycle and pedestrian access, economic development, public facilities, housing, natural resources, recreation, intergovernmental coordination, and capital budgeting. Local comprehensive plans can improve regional transportation through land use planning and development strategies that help to reduce single-occupant vehicle trips, reduce trip length, and increase modal choices.

Comprehensive plans are treated differently by state laws in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Ohio law mandates a comprehensive plan as a prerequisite to zoning and subdivision regulation but provides no requirements or guidance as to content or updates. Kentucky law requires a regularly updated comprehensive plan as a prerequisite to zoning and subdivision regulation and includes detailed guidelines for comprehensive plan preparation. Indiana law permits comprehensive planning and provides a list of what may be included in the plan.

Comprehensive plans should be implemented through local regulations and incentives, such as zoning and subdivision regulations, that are consistent with such comprehensive plans.

To measure the state of planning in the OKI region, OKI maintains an inventory of local comprehensive plans adopted by political jurisdictions that exercise zoning authority. Of the 143 applicable jurisdictions, 108 (or 76%) have adopted a comprehensive plan. Fifty-one communities have adopted plans more recently than 5 years ago. This represents nearly half, with the other half in need of updating their plans to be considered a current plan by OKI’s prioritization process standards.

When requested, OKI provides technical assistance to communities in the region as local comprehensive plans are created, updated, and maintained. OKI maintains the Elements of an Effective Local Comprehensive Plan to serve as a guide for local governments in the region. OKI staff has provided technical assistance to several communities in the region and will continue to do so.

Through Consistency

One way the SRPP and this metropolitan transportation plan strive to improve consistency with planned growth and development patterns is to encourage better comprehensive planning at the local level. When local governments base their future land use and transportation needs on sound data and analyses as well as a better understanding of the implications of alternative development patterns, OKI can be more proactive when planning for transportation improvements on the regional scale.

Perhaps most significantly, OKI has utilized the prioritization process for regional transportation investments (STP, TA and CMAQ programs) to incentivize project consistency with the goals and recommendations of the SRPP. Of the total points that can be awarded when transportation projects are evaluated and scored, 10 points are based directly on their consistency with the SRPP. Up to five points can be awarded for projects addressing strategic regional issues identified by the SRPP, including points for projects located in areas with mixed land uses or enhancing mixed land uses, projects serving brownfield or greyfield properties where infrastructure is underutilized, and for projects employing techniques to minimize or offset environmental impacts including the use of nature-based strategies and solutions. Another five points are awarded for projects consistent with a community’s current comprehensive plan.

OKI will continue to encourage local planners to engage in proactive planning processes and to make the transportation elements of their local comprehensive plans consistent with the metropolitan transportation plan and the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

Through Tools: Estimating Fiscal Impacts and Data-Driven Housing Planning

One aspect of promoting consistency between planned transportation improvements and local growth patterns is to consider the likely public costs and fiscal impacts of proposed land use changes on public infrastructure and public services. Decisions on land development, redevelopment and improvements to public facilities and services should be made with a clear understanding of their fiscal impacts to individual communities and the region.

It is most economical to provide adequate public facilities and services concurrent with the impacts of development. Retrofitting adequate public facilities and services in response to growth is typically more expensive than directing or managing growth with public investments. The SRPP addresses the need for communities to have a more complete understanding of the public costs and benefits associated with development proposals.

Fiscal Impact Analysis Model

OKI developed and maintains the Fiscal Impact Analysis Model (FIAM) to aid local governments wanting to analyze benefits and fiscal consequences of land use changes within their communities. The FIAM assesses the costs and revenues associated with land use activities and their existing and potential impacts on community budgets. These estimates help communities anticipate and plan for current and future costs of growth. As communities better understand associated costs and revenues of development through fiscal impact analyses, they will be better able to plan for transportation investments to serve new development or fix existing deficiencies.

To help inform local decision makers on community housing demand and need forecasting, OKI developed a Housing Dashboard. Conceptually, this tool organizes critical and current data on community housing into three areas:

  • People – who occupies/needs housing
  • Stock – existing and needed housing type
  • Market – costs and trends

OKI maintains the tool and provides technical support to communities using it to inform local housing planning policy.


Leadership – Addressing Emerging Issues

Energy is a topic that affects every household, business, and organization in a community. Yet, it’s so ever-present that it’s often taken for granted. Energy is rarely featured as a topic in communities’ strategic or comprehensive plans. Because of this, local priorities regarding energy remain largely unexplored. To address this gap, OKI has produced Community Strategic Energy Plans for eight interested local communities so far.

OKI worked with each community to:

  • Identify concentrations of inefficient building stock and the most cost-effective improvements to apply to each
  • Gauge local energy burden, which is the percentage of household income spent on energy
  • Benchmark community-wide energy use by land use/economic sector and by energy type
  • Understand the resiliency of local energy infrastructure and how susceptible the community’s infrastructure is to disruption
  • Analyze their urban heat island effect
  • Conduct energy audits of selected local government facilities
  • Analyze the capacity of energy infrastructure to accommodate planned growth
  • Develop locally generated goals and strategies with meaningful public input
  • Identify existing energy efficiency programs that support local goals

The local community energy plans include a variety of types so that every OKI jurisdiction can have a model plan available to more easily tailor to their needs.

The local energy planning work has resulted in a much better understanding of what has historically been lacking from the discussion of energy issues — which is local community priorities. We have come to understand that things work better when our regional transportation priorities and local land use priorities are mutually aligned. The same holds true for our energy policies and infrastructure. By developing a locally driven set of energy priorities, local communities can effectively communicate those to everyone involved in their community development activities to best advance and capitalize on rapidly changing technologies and to best navigate any changes in utility regulations.

Considerations Related in Land Use

Demographic Impacts on Land Use

Future trends in land use demands and development patterns are best predicted by considering the needs and likely preferences of our future population. Although it is impossible to precisely predict these preferences, we can examine our current population and forecast future land use trends based on future housing and transportation needs. Understanding our future population’s housing, shopping, and commuting needs provide a basis for understanding what our long range planning needs.

As described in this plan’s demographics section, there are changes projected for the region’s age composition in 2030. The regional share of those 65 and older will increase from 15.5% to 17.7% and will peak in 2030 due to the age of the baby boomers. The regional share of those under 20 will decline from 26.2% to 25.0% and reach a minimum in 2030 due to millennials not having children until later in life and having fewer children overall. The regional share of those under 20 will also remain below the current 2020 share of 26.2% at around 25% for the remainder of the planning period. These age cohorts have unique transportation and land use needs that will likely increase demand for certain development patterns.

Transit Friendly Land Use and Development Patterns

Elderly populations benefit from having more transit options. As people continue to age, having choices for travel other than driving a car are more appealing and even necessary. Land use and development patterns have an impact on the viability and likelihood of transit as a transportation mode. Higher densities and walkable development patterns in growing and infill areas can make transit more feasible by creating destinations and concentrated populations that may choose to use transit as an alternative to single-occupant vehicle trips. Transit development plans can facilitate the design of a system that incorporates multiple modes of transit service, links stations/stops and adjacent land uses and integrates station/stops into neighborhoods. The recommendations of transit development plans typically focus on the desired outcomes of transit-friendly development including accessibility, walkability, interconnectivity, and high levels of ridership.

Public Health and Community Character

The most recent additions to the OKI Elements of an Effective Local Comprehensive Plan include Public Health and Community Character. The purpose of the Public Health Element is to improve the overall health of communities by encouraging active, healthy lifestyle choices through land use decisions and the availability of active multi-modal transportation options.

Community Character encompasses aspects ranging from historical structures and landmarks, natural features, landscapes and streetscapes to patterns of development.

Environmental Considerations

The Natural Environment

Environmental resources have immeasurable benefits that affect social well-being and the local and regional economies. The term “environmental resources” as used here encompasses natural systems and natural resources and can include areas defined as greenspace or as green infrastructure. The quality of environmental resources affects the region’s long-term local and regional economic viability in two fundamentally different, but related ways:

  1. The occurrence of high-quality or rare environmental resources — such as clean streams, productive aquifers, aesthetic open space, or forested hillsides — are economic assets that help sustain and can attract new development.
  2. The existence of impaired resources results in increased costs. Costs may be associated with damage or mitigation related to an individual project. The more significant cost of impaired resources, however, is the financial effect of cumulative damage over extended time, such as costs related to flood protection, repair of flood damage, and higher levels of water treatment. As high-quality resources in metropolitan areas become scarcer, project and mitigation costs are expected to increase.

Transportation planning provides the opportunity to slow negative and costly environmental impacts. That opportunity lies in making transportation improvements that minimize adverse environmental impacts and — because transportation improvements can facilitate new development — in making changes to those conventional development trends and practices that contribute to the cumulative damage of environmental resources. Metropolitan transportation planning offers the potential to result in better decisions for improving transportation and how development occurs, with related cost benefits.

Indicators of the extent and status of some of this region’s most valuable environmental resources are displayed on the OKI Environmental Resource Viewer.

National policy calls for protecting environmental resources. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) calls for stewardship, with each generation acting as a trustee of the environment for succeeding generations, and for a sustainable environment balanced with other needs of present and future generations.

It establishes procedures for considering the environmental effects of proposed federal actions so that environmental factors are weighted equally with other factors in federal decision-making. The policy of environmental stewardship is further strengthened by federal legislation such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act, and by federal initiatives such as the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) process for Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) and PlanWorks guidance.

At a regional level, OKI’s progress in protecting environmental resources includes the implementation of the Strategic Regional Policy Plan, several OKI water quality management programs, and initiatives in greenspace planning. The OKI Environmental Consultations process is used to inform the long-range transportation planning process, transportation prioritization and the Environmental Resources Viewer all employ and encourage the FHWA concept of advanced mitigation. By identifying potentially negative and costly environmental impacts early in the planning process, more efficient, effective, and timely NEPA reviews can be facilitated by local, state, and federal agencies in connection with projects recommended in the OKI plan.

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Transportation Planning’s Consideration of Environmental Effects

Environmental considerations are an increasingly essential element of transportation planning. The need to protect environmental resources as part of the process for improving transportation is clarified in FHWA policy, integrated into project-level planning and has been progressively strengthened in metropolitan transportation planning.

FHWA policy clarifies that environmental considerations are to be integrated into every phase of transportation decision making (1994 Environmental Policy Statement) and that “Metropolitan Transportation Planning should include consideration of the protection of important natural ecosystems and biological resources…” and provide for “incorporation of ecological considerations early in the transportation system planning and development process” (1995 FHWA policy memorandum). FHWA, with assistance from seven other Federal agencies, prepared Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects to promote and facilitate ecosystem-based planning and mitigation across agency and disciplinary boundaries in order to develop more cost-effective transportation projects with better environmental outcomes.

In 2014, OKI worked with state agencies to integrate key information about endangered, threatened and rare species located within the region earlier in the transportation planning process. By considering these resources early in the planning process, transportation projects can proceed more efficiently through the NEPA review and approval process. In October 2015, FHWA and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recognized OKI for its vision and commitment to integrating these steps into its transportation planning activities, naming OKI as a leader and champion of the Eco-Logical approach. In February 2018, OKI received recognition honoring its achievement as an early adopter Eco-Logical Implementation Assistance Program by the US Department of Transportation FHWA.

For transportation projects that use federal funds, environmental effects are considered during project planning, design and engineering as part of a federally required environmental review process. This process addresses NEPA requirements and is intended to result in decisions “based on an understanding of environmental consequences, and take actions that protect, restore and enhance the environment.” An unintended consequence of the NEPA process, however, has been to increase costs for project planning and implementation. Its effectiveness in protecting resources has been undermined by the frequency of allowing for adverse environmental impacts to occur but to offset resource loss and degradation through mitigation projects. The need for earlier review that would enable adverse impacts to be avoided instead of mitigated has led to new requirements for metropolitan transportation planning.

In 2005, new transportation legislation (SAFETEA-LU) added two new requirements to metropolitan transportation planning for agencies like OKI. One requirement calls for “environmental consultations” to bring state and local agencies involved in conservation and environmental protection more fully into the transportation plan’s development. The other requirement calls for the plan to include “a discussion of potential mitigation of environmental effects,” which involves consulting with federal and state agencies on types of strategies for avoiding, minimizing or compensating for transportation effects.

OKI Environmental Consultations

To ensure that OKI meaningfully engages agencies involved in conservation and environmental protection, state and local experts are convened to consider the projects in this plan. This process has evolved with each plan since 2012 and is refined based on the input received in previous consultations. The process for this round of Environmental Consultations included the following:

  • An environmental consultations overview with training on how to access and use the online environmental resources viewer application.
  • Survey feedback received from state and local agencies on how to better protect environmental resources from any negative transportation or development impacts.
  • A map-based comparison of the proposed transportation plan projects with environmental resources that states have targeted for protection or conservation.
Discussion of Environmental Mitigation

OKI is responsible for developing a Discussion of Environmental Mitigation as part of its metropolitan transportation planning. The discussion is for considering potential mitigation activities and areas for their application that are regional in scope and may have the greatest potential to restore and maintain the environmental functions affected by the metropolitan transportation plan. Part of the Environmental Consultations engagement process focuses on this discussion and is included in the Environmental Impacts chapter of this plan.

Additionally, OKI staff continues to refine environmental prioritization data. This information is used by local conservation partners and local governments as they prioritize where their conservation efforts should be focused. This information can also help identify potential mitigation sites for future transportation and development projects. Ongoing consultation with greenspace experts including the Green Umbrella Land Prioritization Impact Team enables OKI tools and data to remain at the forefront of related discussions and planning efforts.

Air Quality

In 2023, OKI convened regional partners to assist in the preparation of the region’s first Climate Action Plan (CAP). This CAP continues to be prepared following the guidance of USEPA and consistent with their Climate Pollution Reduction Grant program. A basis for this plan is a regional greenhouse gas inventory and assessment. Priority areas for GHG reduction were defined for the region in this planning process in 2024 and comprehensive analysis will continue through 2025.

Congress adopted the Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) in 1990 to address the country’s major air pollution problems. The CAAA regulates six major pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and ozone. Under provisions of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated portions of the Cincinnati area as a nonattainment area for ozone under the 2008 and 2015 ozone standards. Nonattainment means that the area is not meeting the national ambient air quality standard.

Following significant progress, the region was reclassified as a maintenance area for the 2008 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) in 2023. The 2008 ozone area includes the counties of Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, and Warren in Ohio; a portion of the counties of Boone, Campbell and Kenton in Kentucky; and a portion of Dearborn County Indiana. In 2023, the region was also classified as a maintenance area for the 2015 NAAQS. The 2015 ozone area includes the counties of Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, and Warren in Ohio; and a portion of the counties of Boone, Campbell and Kenton in Kentucky.

Ozone is formed through chemical reactions induced when sunlight reacts with volatile organic compounds, or VOC’s and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). VOCs and NOx occur from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Transportation-related sources are a major contributor to these pollutants. Transportation sources account for nearly one-half of the total regional emissions of VOC’s and one-third of NOx emissions. Industry sources account for about another one-third of all VOC and NOx emissions. The remaining “area” sources include individually insignificant sources that when added together have a significant impact, such as lawnmowers, oil-based paints, boats and dry cleaners.

Following significant progress in reducing fine particle pollution, the region attained the annual PM2.5 standards and has not been classified under any PM2.5 standards since 2016. PM2.5 refers to a complex mixture of fine particulates, primarily from fossil fuel combustion. PM2.5 is emitted directly and will also form indirectly through reactions with precursor emissions, especially NOX. A primary contributor to transportation related PM2.5 is diesel emissions. Although not an EPA regulated pollutant under the CAAA, emissions of greenhouse gases have been linked to global climate change. Utilizing a travel demand model and EPA’s latest emission model, OKI forecasts future greenhouse gases, ozone and PM2.5 emissions from transportation sources through 2050.

Planning for Resiliency

In 2012, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) was put into law. Built upon earlier programs and policies, the act promoted accelerating project delivery through the increased use of innovative approaches and the Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) process.[1]The PEL process encourages transportation decisions that integrate the goals and circumstances surrounding the triple bottom line — environment, community and economy — through informed planning information and analysis.[2]

In 2015, with the passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, MPOs continue to be encouraged to consult with officials responsible for other types of planning activities. It adds tourism and the reduction of risk of natural disasters to the list of such activities. The FAST Act expands the focus on the resiliency of the transportation system as well as activities to reduce stormwater runoff from transportation infrastructure. In addition, it requires strategies to reduce the vulnerability of existing transportation infrastructure to natural disasters.[3]

In 2019, the committee for a study of the future interstate highway system was tasked with developing recommendations for future direction and priorities in transportation policy across the county. They published Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System: A Foundation for the Future, based on their extensive research. Among their many conclusions they came to they found that climate change is likely to cause severe damage and obstacles to the interstate highway system. Their recommendation was to incorporate resilience and vulnerability of transportation systems into decision making.

Specifically, they mentioned the threat sea level rise, erosion, and flooding poses to transportation to coastal communities, and more rapid deterioration of assets because of extreme weather events. For example, one figure included in the report stated that 46% of inland bridges within HUC 107, which includes the OKI region, were classified as vulnerable to the effects of unmitigated climate change. Additionally, they expect higher costs for both maintenance and construction as a result. [4] Extreme weather events such as prolonged heat waves, significant rain and snow episodes and flooding have impacts on both maintaining and planning transportation infrastructure such as highways, bridges and culverts. While opinions vary on climate change and its causes, historical data indicate an increasing need to plan for transportation resiliency from weather impacts. For that reason, in 2016, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) contracted with the Resource Systems Group to prepare the Ohio DOT Infrastructure Resiliency Plan, a study of climate change and extreme weather effects in Ohio to enable planning for transportation system resiliency on a state scale.

Rising temperatures can affect transportation infrastructure in a variety of ways, including freeze-thaw cycling, compromising pavement integrity in some cases; thermal expansion in bridge joints; reduced soil permeability, increasing surface run-off; and lengthening the construction season. Increased heavy precipitation events can impact transportation infrastructure by flooding roads and bridges; causing soil erosion and slumping; increased soil moisture building up behind retaining walls and abutments; creating scour action at bridge piers and abutments; and compromising pavement integrity.

In the ODOT report, several data sources were examined, including the third National Climate Assessment (NCA 3), released in 2013. This data indicated that Midwest temperatures increased by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, with more than 80 percent of the change occurring since 1980, and that the warmest 13 years since the 1860s have occurred since 1990. All seasons in the Midwest are experiencing temperature increases with the most rapid increases occurring in spring and winter. There were 45 new daytime highs recorded since 2000, many of which are in the mid-March to mid-April period. Additionally, as of 2013 five of the twelve warmest summers since 1895 have occurred since 2000. Since 1900, average annual rainfall in Ohio has increased from 37 inches to 40 inches, an increase of eight percent, with a significant portion of the precipitation increase occurring in extreme events such as 100-year storms.[5]

In the 2023 edition of the report, the Fifth National Climate Assessment, these data trends continued. In one estimate, if climate change goes unchecked and the earth’s temperature rises 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels, the average annual temperature across the OKI region would increase 3-4 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to 1991 figures. Economically, Ohio has already faced between 5-10 billion dollars of damages between 2018-2022 due to climate and weather disasters. According to the NCA, in the Midwest the primary areas most likely to see significant climate-change harm include livelihoods and heritage, health and well- being, and infrastructure.[6]

Released in 2018, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) Transportation System report, Vulnerability and Resilience to Extreme Weather Events and Other Natural Hazards — Final Results of Vulnerability Assessment of National Highway System for All KYTC Districts, addresses issues relating to climate change.

Using the Midwest Regional Climate Center’s historical climate data at the county level, patterns of extreme precipitation and extreme heat across the state were found. The National Climate Development and Advisory Committee (NCDAC), a federal committee overseeing the development of NCA3, released climate protection scenarios project an increase across the state in the annual number of days with a maximum temperature above 95 degrees and an increase across the state in the annual number of days with extreme precipitation.

The KYTC report also addresses climate inter-annual variability in weather going forward. Furthermore, the KYTC report also addresses risks due to seismic activity and landslides. The risk of earthquakes is lower in the OKI region than the rest of the state and would not be expected to negatively affect assets but could contribute to landslides in the area. Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS) documented landslides are abundant in Northern Kentucky, particularly Campbell and Kenton Counties.[7]

In the 2022-2045 Kentucky Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan, also published by KYTC, they discussed the projected effects of climate change on transportation in the state. In this report they discussed the potential effects of heat on infrastructure in damaging pavement and increasing road closures, as well as threat to airports. Today, the average annual temperature in most of Kentucky is higher than that over the last warm period in the 1930s. Additionally, when discussing droughts, the report mentions the risks associated with river transportation in the case of severe drought, which is more likely to occur in the future under current estimates. Storms, tornadoes and high winds were also identified as a threat to transportation. Currently in the OKI region of Kentucky, average annual precipitation is at or near the highest levels since 1895.[8]

In 2018, Purdue University published Maintaining Indiana’s Urban Green Spaces: A Report from the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment, which projects that Indiana will become wetter and warmer, continuing to intensify through the end of this century. Increased green infrastructure is recommended to provide shade, evaporative cooling and windbreaks, which will save on residential electrical and heating costs while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Green infrastructure plays an essential role in urban air quality, too. It was estimated that Indiana’s urban trees removed 8,400 tons of air pollution in 2010, at a $63 million value.

Urban trees and other vegetation increase the amount of porous ground that can take up rain and melting snow and prevent water from overburdening storm sewers. It is estimated that urban trees provide about $24 million in stormwater management benefits to the state annually. Riparian buffers, bioswales, rain gardens and other green drainage infrastructure can also retain or redirect precipitation that would otherwise travel over impervious surfaces to storm drains.[9]

The Ohio River Basin Climate Change Project, administered in 2017, provides the OKI region with additional information on climate projections. This project began as a joint effort among several national and regional organizations, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. EPA, the Battelle Institute, Marshall University and the University of Cincinnati. The USACE Institute of Water Resources evaluated more than 75 climate model forecasts for future temperatures and rainfall and used forecast periods of 2011 to 2040; 2041 to 2070; and 2071 to 2099.

Nine climate forecast scenarios were used that best represented over 75 climate forecasts, which were run from 1952 to 2099. Retrospective runs of the 1952 to 2001 climate and river model made it possible to compare the model results with actual data from the same period, and the correlation between the retrospective model runs and actual data was within two percent on an annual basis, a sufficient correlation for future predictions. Over the course of the multi-year forecast periods, all the scenarios indicate a general increase (10 to 35%) in temperature, and all the scenarios indicate a general increase in precipitation, increasing from the average of 40 inches annually received now.

When the climate is warming, there is more variability in the system, and the results for autumn show the greatest variability. Modeling results indicate mean, minimum and maximum stream flows within the historical range through 2040, except during autumn. Beyond 2040, mean and maximum stream flows are projected to increase 10% to 40%. This means that until 2040, flood volumes are expected to follow past patterns, while larger floods are predicted after 2040.

In terms of temperature trends, the modeling indicates that the Ohio River Valley will gain about 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit per decade and then about one degree per decade from 2050 to 2099. More rapidly increasing temperatures would likely lead to increasing evapotranspiration, which would further increase climate uncertainty. The modeling indicates that by the end of the 21st century, average temperatures now experienced in areas along Interstate 64 (south of the Ohio River Basin) will then be the average temperatures along Interstate 70 (north of the Ohio River Basin).

A review of temperature and precipitation trends since 1976 indicates that most observed warming has occurred during the winter in the Ohio Valley. It also shows that most observed increases in precipitation in the Ohio Valley have happened during the late summer into autumn and early winter. Overall, the climate models used in the Ohio Valley project also suggest that beyond 2040, minimum stream flows would decrease in autumn; beyond 2070 they would decrease annually as well.[10]

According to the 2024 U.S. Transportation Climate Impact Index published by StreetLight Data, Cincinnati ranked 70th out of the top 100 most populated metropolitan areas in the United States. This was based across eight climate measures: vehicle miles traveled (VMT), fuel economy, transit ridership, electric vehicle penetration, bicycle activity, truck miles traveled, and VMT percent change. StreetLight weighed each of the eight measures based on their relative climate impact to create an overall ranking for each metro. For example, while Cincinnati ranked 70th overall, it ranked 47th in both transit ridership and change in VMT and 66th in electric vehicle penetration, which measures EV ownership and usage. Cincinnati also ranked 51st in fuel economy, 65th in truck miles traveled, 69th in biking activity, 72nd in VMT, and 75th in pedestrian activity. Other Ohio metros to make the list include Cleveland (34th), Akron (53rd), Columbus (59th), Dayton (60th), and Toledo (62nd). (Source: Streetlight Data, Inc. (2024). U.S. Transportation Climate Impact Index.)











Green Infrastructure and Innovative Natural System Design

Section 502 of the Clean Water Act defines green infrastructure as “…the range of measures that use plant or soil systems, permeable pavement or other permeable surfaces or substrates, stormwater harvest and reuse, or landscaping to store, infiltrate, or evapotranspirate stormwater and reduce flows to sewer systems or to surface waters.”

The US EPA describes green infrastructure as a cost-effective, resilient approach to managing wet weather impacts that provides many community benefits. While single-purpose gray stormwater infrastructure — conventional piped drainage and water treatment systems — is designed to move urban stormwater away from the built environment, green infrastructure reduces and treats stormwater at its source while delivering environmental, social, and economic benefits.

Stormwater runoff is a major cause of water pollution in urban areas. When rain falls on our roofs, streets, and parking lots, the water cannot soak into the ground as it would naturally. Stormwater drains through gutters, storm sewers, and other engineered collection systems and is discharged into nearby water bodies. The stormwater runoff often carries trash, bacteria, heavy metals, and other pollutants from the urban landscape. Higher flows resulting from heavy rains also can cause erosion and flooding in urban streams, damaging habitat, property, and infrastructure.

When rain falls in natural, undeveloped areas, the water is absorbed and filtered by soil and plants. Stormwater runoff is cleaner and less of a problem. Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and other elements and practices to restore some of the natural processes required to manage water and create healthier urban environments. At the city or county scale, green infrastructure is a patchwork of natural areas that provides habitat, flood protection, cleaner air, and cleaner water. At the neighborhood or site scale, stormwater management systems that mimic nature soak up and store water. (Source: The US EPA)

OKI considers many environmental aspects as transportation improvements are considered for inclusion in this plan and when these projects are prioritized for funding awards. Projects that demonstrate efforts to avoid, minimize or offset/compensate for environmental impacts to resources such as wetlands, forests and streams receive a higher priority than those without these considerations. Green infrastructure strategies exceeding minimum state compliance that are integrated into a project design also receive higher priority.


Enhancing Travel and Tourism

In 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) carried forward the 2015 FAST Act’s expanded the number of considerations necessary for metropolitan planning processes to consider projects and strategies that will enhance travel and tourism. Tourism and recreational activities pose many similar travel considerations, which typically differ from commuter travel and commercial transport issues. The FAST Act also established the National Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism Infrastructure (NACTTI).

Also in 2021, NACTTI prepared a report that listed the Cincinnati OH-KY-IN metropolitan statistical area as the #25 top destination drive market (US Travel Association TravelTrak Data Survey). This report also included the Brent Spence Bridge as one of 4 highway/road/bridge critical infrastructure improvements recommended for the United States.

The US Transportation Dept. prepared the National Travel & Tourism Infrastructure Strategy Plan for FY 2020-2024, which served as a guide for MPOs. A series of strategic goals are identified in this plan. They include those to improve safety, expand infrastructure, embrace innovation, and remain accountable. Trends in tourism modal use indicate that growth is occurring and expected to continue as we plan for 2050.

To understand tourism demands on the region’s transportation system, OKI compiled an inventory of assets in 2023. This inventory includes 93 tourism destinations, 48 season events, and 167 recreational destinations. OKI then reached out to 18 tourism agencies, including state and local visitors’ bureaus and park agencies, to provide perspective on how these destinations and events are served by the transportation system and what concerns tourism professionals may have. The highest concern is traffic congestion. Pedestrian and cyclist safety were also top concerns. The survey results from these agencies are summarized in the table below.

The OKI Transportation Alternatives (TA) program also provides opportunity for system investments in projects that enhance accessibility to and within many of the tourism destinations identified. Refer to the Active Transportation chapter of this plan for more details regarding the TA program. OKI will continue to work with tourism officials to inform transportation and regional planning initiatives.

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