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Section 2: Landscape and Aesthetics Assessment

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A Landscape and Aesthetics Assessment (LAA) is a tool for identifying landscape and aesthetic issues associated with a specific highway corridor segment. The procedure involves field observation and participation in or review of public participation venues.

The objectives of the LAA are to:

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  • identify landscape and aesthetic issues that will impact the character and/or cost of a transportation project
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  • ensure that the landscape and aesthetic qualities of a corridor have been considered as required by law
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  • identify issues related to the character of architectural features and details
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  • identify issues that relate to the selection of materials for a project
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  • identify issues related to colors and color schemes
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  • identify appropriate design themes
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  • inform entities about the opportunities for cost sharing
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  • gather information that will assist in estimating development costs
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Development Process

This subsection describes the process of developing an LAA and establishes the sections of the assessment. Table 2.1 shows the steps in developing an LAA. The steps are explained in detail following the table.

Anchor: #i1004686Table 2.1. Developing the LAA

Step Number


Step 1

Identify the corridor

Step 2

Inventory the corridor

Step 3

Identify assets, liabilities, and opportunities

Step 4

Assess the sensitivity of the corridor to construction and change

Step 5

Develop a landscape and aesthetics assessment statement

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Step 1: Identify the Corridor

A highway or transportation corridor usually does not correspond to the exact limits of a project. To ensure visual and aesthetic continuity it is important to fit project related aesthetic design decisions into a regionally meaningful corridor segment. A corridor is a section of highway with regionally meaningful boundaries. Characteristics that usually impact the perception of boundaries are features such as significant intersections or bridge crossings, historic districts or neighborhoods, commercial or institutional centers, or distinctive scenery or open space.

As an example: I-45 in Houston from the 610 north to the 610 south interchange is a locally recognized corridor. It has two sub parts: 610 north to SH 288 and US 59, and SH 288 and U.S. 59 to 610 South. A less urban example is Loop 287 in Lufkin. The loop is a locally recognized corridor with three sub parts: U.S. 59 South to U.S. 59 north, U.S. 59 north to SH 103 west and SH 103 west to U.S. 59 South.

The key to corridor definition is that it has beginning and ending points that are meaningful to local residents.

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Step 2: Inventory the Corridor

The LAA inventory involves collecting data and documenting a variety of physical and contextual conditions.

Visual Geometry of Highway Corridors. Be alert for the potential for significant change in geometry or character that could cause adverse public reaction. In most urban areas projects to expand the number of lanes within an existing right-of-way will require the use of numerous retaining walls which will materially change the character and feel of the existing highway. Figures 2-1 and 2-2 show examples of highway corridors using wall textures.

Attention to textures and colors in deep
cuts can keep areas from being a negative driving experience. (click in image to see full-size image) Anchor: #i999024grtop

Figure 2-1. Attention to textures and colors in deep cuts can keep areas from being a negative driving experience.

Walls of elevated lane sections can be visually
dominating. Attention to the aesthetic character of these structures
is important in early design stages. (click in image to see full-size image) Anchor: #i999026grtop

Figure 2-2. Walls of elevated lane sections can be visually dominating. Attention to the aesthetic character of these structures is important in early design stages.

Landform. The landform is most impacted by a highway that runs through topography with high relief or urban areas dominated by tall structures (see Figure 2-3). In a natural landscape with high relief, cuts and fills result in sharp visual contrast with the natural forms of the hills. In urban centers the corridors can become concrete canyons or gashes in the urban skyline. It is important that the potential for change be recognized and that any potential for adverse public reaction to the change be recognized early in the process. (See also discussion on topography and grading in Chapter 4, Section 4.)

Urban centers present many possible conflicts
with adjacent properties. Aesthetic considerations can help with
some of these issues. (click in image to see full-size image) Anchor: #i999028grtop

Figure 2-3. Urban centers present many possible conflicts with adjacent properties. Aesthetic considerations can help with some of these issues.

Neighborhood Context. Where the public is concerned, the neighborhood context is the most important part of the landscape and aesthetics assessment. Residents, businesses, and institutions that border a transportation corridor generally have a decided interest in the overall design of the facility. It is vital to the overall success of the project that the neighborhood context be studied and that the concerns of the public be identified. This requires participation in the public participation process and careful attention to comments that relate to landscape and aesthetics design.

Cultural Context. The cultural properties of a corridor relate to the history and regulatory framework that may overlay a project. Ephemeral properties, characteristics of a site that change with time, relate in an LAA to the progression of seasons or play of light and shadow. Designers must be alert to these influences because they are often difficult or impossible to see yet they can have very strong emotional ties within a community. Elements such as a local reverence for a seemingly insignificant church building or the seasonal bloom of regionally prized trees can cause significant delays in a project if they are not identified early in the design process.

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Step 3: Identify Assets, Liabilities, and Opportunities

Based on the material gathered in the inventory identify the corridor’s visual and aesthetic assets, liabilities, and opportunities. This is similar to the third step in preparing a LAMP. The primary difference is in the breadth and general nature of the information. The objective of Step 3 in the assessment is to be broad. Consider all the possibilities and limit the focus on detail.

Assets. Assets are those characteristics of the corridor that contribute to a scenic or neutral quality. Assets may be related to alignment, landform, adjacent property conditions, or vegetation as well as other structures. Availability of ROW is a very important asset that should not be overlooked. The goal in the LAA is to identify anything that could be considered an asset no matter how it might be used in a final design recommendation.

Liabilities. Liabilities are any potential for conflict with adjacent property owners or communities or physical landscape characteristics that will make project design difficult. Significant physical conflicts are usually very obvious. Much less obvious are the conflicts that arise as a result of public perceptions of a project or conflicts that arise out of the cultural context of place. These are most often related to the history of a place or local customs and traditions.

Opportunities. Opportunities are any physical or contextual influences that would allow enhancement of the visual quality of highway corridor. Communities that have an interest in partnering with TxDOT for landscape and aesthetics improvements by a willingness to assume responsibility for long-term maintenance should be actively recruited.

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Step 4: Assess the Sensitivity of the Corridor to Construction and Change

The sensitivity of a corridor to development and change must be judged on the basis of the assets, liabilities, and opportunities identified. It is difficult to suggest any specific guidelines or tools that would be helpful in making this judgement. However, if each area of the inventory is addressed and reviewed in terms of assets, liabilities, and opportunities the relative sensitivity to development will generally be evident. Some specific areas that tend to have high sensitivity to development are:

When any of these types of districts are encountered, special attention should be given to the public participation process. This process is the primary opportunity to identify the critical issues so they can be addressed during the detailed design process. Failure to do so will usually result in add-on costs for landscape and aesthetics development, which may have been avoided.

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Step 5: Develop a Landscape and Aesthetics Assessment Statement

The purpose of the Landscape and Aesthetics Assessment statement is to document the aesthetic issues that need to be addressed in the detailed design process. The statement should frame issues in a way that allows a physical design response. For example, if there is a stand of prized trees in a neighborhood, the assessment should identify them and indicate what actions may be necessary to protect and save the trees. Or, if expansion cannot occur without damaging the trees, what measures would be appropriate as mitigation. Similarly where neighborhood concerns such as objectionable views are evident the assessment should state the issue and present design options that could be cost effective in mitigating the problem.

The goal of the assessment statement is to identify the issues and provide suggestions that maximize design flexibility.

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Outline of a Landscape and Aesthetics Assessment Statement

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  1. Project Scope
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    1. Physical description of work (e.g. widening of I-35 from 610 south to U.S. 59)
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  3. Inventory of Corridor
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    1. Identification of corridor (indicate whether corridor runs beyond project limit)
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    3. Inventory of physical properties
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      1. Visual Geometry of Highway Corridors
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      3. Landform
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      5. Neighborhood Context
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      7. Cultural or Ephemeral (short lived) Context
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    5. Public Issues from Public Participation Process
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  5. Design Considerations
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    1. Discuss specific landscape and aesthetics design considerations that should be addressed in the detailed design process. Focus on the presentation of options rather than any specific solutions. Couch the discussion in terms that relate to the language of the public participation venues.
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