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Sample Assignments

Sustainable Transportation Curriculum for Universities

Article Review Assignment

Over the course of the semester, students can be asked to submit summaries of news articles related to sustainable transportation, including descriptions of key facts and how the article relates to the sustainability triple bottom line.

The following is the assignment that can be given to students for each article review:

You are required to read a news article that is related to sustainable transportation. Any respected source is acceptable, including newspapers, magazines, trade journals, or websites. While reading the article, identify the key concepts that are related to sustainability and/or transportation. Summarize the article by answering who, what, when, where, why, and how much. Also, please provide one or two comments about what you thought was interesting about the article. You must submit a copy of the article along with your summary. An essay is not required; however, the instructor should be able to discern that you have thoughtfully and reflectively read the article.

This assignment was given to students in the pilot course, which resulted in several article summaries being produced. A selection of the best articles related to sustainable transportation is provided in the appendix to this document. Figure 1 shows an example submittal from the pilot course, which can be used as a template for the assignment.


Figure 1: Example Article Review Assignment


Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer among other influential state & local leaders.


They gathered to talk about a project that would create dedicated road lanes for autonomous vehicles connecting Detroit to Ann Arbor.


No specific start date has been set, but the project’s initial phase is said to last 24 months. This phase will consist of a study of the existing conditions to resolve if new roads will have to be constructed or if the existing roads could be retrofitted to meet the project’s needs.


The project is said to connect Detroit and Ann Arbor, specifically along Michigan Ave. and I-94.


Michigan has been at the forefront of automotive technology for decades and this project will demonstrate that Michigan will continue to be a leader in transportation design, innovation, infrastructure, among others.


While a set figure isn’t specified, much of the project’s financing will come from companies like Alphabet Inc. (Google).

Autonomous vehicles have gone from sci-fi into a reality that may be even closer than imagined. This project is a perfect example of how technology can drastically change the ways humans interrelate to transportation and our surroundings.


Case Study Assignment

In order to become more familiar with the use of INVEST, students can be asked to review and understand the INVEST applications described in case studies available on the INVEST website. The following is an assignment that can be given to students for this purpose (adapted from the assignment given to students in the pilot course):

Please prepare a summary for a case study of your choice, following the guidance provided below. INVEST case studies are available at We will employ a modified FIRAC approach, which law schools use for case study analysis. FIRAC stands for Facts, Issues, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusions. Our approach will be FITAC, in which we replace Rule with Tool, and focus on the role that INVEST played in the case study. The following guidelines will help you prepare your case study summaries using the FITAC approach:

  • Facts: What are the facts of the case—who, what, when, and where?
  • Issues: What was the relationship of this case to the sustainability triple bottom line?
  • Tool: Which INVEST criteria were most important?
  • Analysis: How and why did the agency do what it did?
  • Conclusions: What are the key outcomes and the lessons learned?

Figure 2 shows an example submittal from the pilot course, which can be used as a template for the assignment.


Figure 2: Example Case Study Assignment

Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon - Engaging INVEST for a Light Rail Project: Project Development and Operations and Maintenance


Facts: What are the facts of the case - who, what, when, where?

  • Who

Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet)

  • What

Portland Milwaukie Light Rail (PMLR)
A 7.3 mile light rail corridor
Used INVEST 1.0

  • When

August 2014

  • Where

Portland and Clackamas County, Oregon

Issues: What was the relationship of this case to the sustainability triple bottom line?

  • The distribution of the PD module score ranks highest in environmental principles, then lower in economic, and then lowest in social principles. There is more room for improvement in PD-04. Highway and Traffic Safety and doing LCAs.

Tool: Which INVEST criteria were most important?

  • Project Development Custom Scorecard + 7 more criteria
    • Score: 67 (gold)
    • Criteria
    • Paving, Basic Rural, Basic Urban, Extended Rural, Extended Urban, Custom (Ecological Connectivity, Pedestrian Access, Bicycle Access, Transit & HOV Access, ITS for System Operations, Earthwork Balance, & Construction Noise Mitigation)
  • Operations & Maintenance
    • Score: 77 (bronze)
    • Criteria
    • Internal Sustainability Plan, Electrical Energy Efficiency & Use, Vehicle Fuel Efficiency & use, Recycle & Reuse, Safety Management, Environmental Commitments Tracking System, Transportation Management & Operations

Analysis: How and why did the agency do what they did:

  • They used the PD module to use best practices identified, identify sustainability areas that have room to improve and compare alternative practices, and to assess and apply best practices to this project and future projects.
  • They used the OM module to improve project safety and performance by applying best practices identified to this project and future projects.

Conclusions: What are the key outcomes and the lessons learned?

  • The importance of incorporating learnings from INVEST 1.0 from the beginning of the project through post-construction by implementing early education, training about data collection, reporting framework, and discussion in meetings to enhance incentive and consideration of practices being implemented.
  • They realized they need to provide storage areas for reusable materials from demolitions.
  • They also noticed that expectations about compliance with sustainability practices, data collection, and monitoring need to be stated when advertising the projects to contractors with RFQ and RFP process.
  • They used the INVEST tool with ENVISION, so they learned that it can be helpful to use INVEST with other sustainability evaluation tools. They also noticed that the criteria need to be coordinated well to avoid redundancy.
  • They also can identify future projects that can grow and become implemented system wide.
  • The agency would like to collaborate with contractors in a way that the data are collected, distributed, and interpreted consistently, meaningfully, achievable, and duplicable.
  • Lastly, the agency learned that INVEST scoring needs to be flexible to allow for more criteria to become better suited to non-highway projects.


INVEST Project Assignment

The INVEST tool is a good platform to use for a term paper or project by students because anyone can create an account on the INVEST website and score projects or programs. Depending on the course, the students’ area of expertise, and the instructor’s preferences, the project can focus on any of the modules, and students can be asked to apply the tool for a particular project or program.

For the pilot course, students were asked to work in pairs and evaluate the same highway project using a specific INVEST scorecard (see Figure 3 for the assignment provided). Students were each asked to make a presentation of their findings (see Figure 4 and Figure 5 for an example of final project results produced by one student group in the pilot course). Scores from different students’ projects can also be compiled and compared with each other and with those assigned by an expert user to provide discussion and analysis opportunities (see Figure 6). In the pilot course, the expert user was one of the contractor team members with expertise in sustainable transportation. Depending on the type of assignment provided to students, the expert user whose ratings are used for comparison could be the instructor or a transportation professional (in case the assignment involves a real-world case study).

The example project provided to students in the pilot course uses the project development module. Students can be assigned a similar exercise where they are either provided a project to evaluate or asked to select one for which information is available online; students conduct an evaluation using the appropriate scorecard. Students can also reach out to department of transportation (DOT) staff or contractors to gather information needed for their project where appropriate or feasible.

To apply other modules in a project, students can be asked to work with a transportation agency (DOT or metropolitan planning organization) to apply the system planning module to a regional or statewide plan. Students can also apply the module on their own on the basis of publicly available plans or programs. Students can similarly reach out to DOT operations and maintenance staff to apply the O&M module at a programmatic level.

For any project using INVEST, students should be encouraged to document their assumptions and exercise their judgment on ratings when sufficient data are not available. As shown in the example assignment, students can also be asked to identify areas of improvement and assess whether the criteria contributing to the score are well balanced between the three sustainability dimensions.


Figure 3: Example INVEST Project


Oak Hill Parkway ( is a roadway project in Austin, TX with construction beginning in late 2020. The approved Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as well as several other documents, are available on the project website. Working with a partner and using INVEST, please evaluate the overall sustainability perforation of Oak Hill Parkway. Also, consider new opportunities to enhance sustainability. Please complete the following:

  • Score the project using the INVEST Project Development module and the Urban Basic scorecard (see Table 1 for the relevant criteria):
    • Create an online account on and score it there, or use the INVEST reference materials to conduct your scoring offline.
    • Based on available information, justify your ratings for each criteria in INVEST; and 
    • If no information is available, determine if the criteria applies and justify your decision.
  • Identify opportunities for improving the sustainability score and rating;
  • Assess the equality of environmental, economic and social criteria in the overall score; and
  • Document your findings in a summary PowerPoint presentation.
    • Export your results in PDF and Excel formats.


Table 1: Urban Basic Scorecard Criteria


Life-Cycle Cost Analyses


Reduce, Reuse, and repurpose material


Context Sensitive Project Delivery


Recycle Materials


Highway and Traffic Safety


Long-life Pavement Design


Educational Outreach


Reduced Energy and Emissions in Pavement Materials


Tracking Environmental Commitments


Permeable Pavement


Habitat Restoration


Construction Environmental Training


Stormwater Quality and Flow Control


Construction Equipment Emission Reduction


Pedestrian Facilities


Construction Noise Mitigation


Bicycle Facilities


Construction Quality Control Plan


Transit & HOV Access


Construction Waste Management


ITS for System Operations


Low Impact Development


Historical, Archeological, & Cultural Preservation


Light Pollution


Energy Efficiency


Noise Abatement


Site Vegetation, Maintenance and Irrigation




Figure 4: Example INVEST Project Results—Part 1

Figure 4 Example INVEST Project Results—Part 1
Figure 4 Example INVEST Project Results—Part 1-b

Figure 5: Example INVEST Project Results—Part 2

Figure 5 Example INVEST Project Results—Part 2
Figure 5 Example INVEST Project Results—Part 2-b

Figure 6: Example Comparison of Students’ INVEST Project Results

Figure 6 Example Comparison of Students’ INVEST Project Results