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Planning and Environment Linkages

Linking Planning and NEPA
Progress Report

FY 2006/Quarters 2 and 3

Between July 11 and September 12, 2006, the Volpe Center interviewed 15 of the 20 Federal Highway Administration Division Offices (FHWA/DO) and state Departments of Transportation (DOT) that participated in the Linking Planning and NEPA: Towards Streamlined Decisionmaking workshop to discuss the status of linking planning and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) efforts in their states. This report describes findings from state interviews about linking planning and NEPA activities in FY06 Q2 and Q3. States interviewed for this report include:

  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Maine
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Common Themes

This section highlights the themes that emerged from the workshop participant interviews. All but one of the themes described below were also noted as common themes in past progress reports. The new theme introduced this period is the importance of resource agency coordination. Below is a brief description of these common themes.

Resource Agency Coordination
Many states report that resource agencies are interested in having earlier involvement during the planning and project development process. However, others report that resource agencies often do not understand their role in planning, and that they need to be educated on DOT processes. In addition, transportation and resource agencies need to agree on the appropriate level of environmental analysis to conduct in the planning process that can effectively carry into the environmental process.

The common theme "Communication and Collaboration" identified in the FY06 Q1 report also relates to this area. As indicated in the FY06Q1 report, many states again reported that intra- and interagency communication and collaboration are improving through monthly or quarterly meetings. Funding positions at resource agencies has also proven successful to enhance coordination.

Linking Planning, NEPA and SAFETEA-LU
In the FY06Q1 report, many states explained that they were waiting for guidance on SAFETEA-LU before developing process changes at the DOTs. During this interview time period, the need for guidance was less of a concern. Instead, most states interviewed have now begun activities to help them comply with SAFETEA-LU provisions. For example, many states are holding MPO-specific or statewide meetings with resource agencies to discuss Section 6001 environmental consultation requirements. Several states also recognize points of agreement between SAFETEA-LU and linking planning and NEPA. They recommend that FHWA emphasize how requirements of SAFETEA-LU relate to the integration of planning and NEPA recommendations.

Understanding Indirect and Cumulative Impacts
States continue to recommend that FHWA and EPA develop consistent guidance for indirect and cumulative impacts in transportation projects to avoid conflict at the state level. With guidance from their Federal counterparts, resource agencies at the regional or state level would better understand the flexibility available in their processes, and may find it easier to work with their partner agencies to integrate planning and NEPA activities.

Testing Linking Planning and NEPA on a Smaller Scale
Also indicated in the FY06Q1 report, a number of states have developed ways to focus linking planning and NEPA efforts on a smaller scale. For example, California DOT (Caltrans) and Wisconsin DOT (WisDOT) are each focusing integration efforts on one regional MPO. Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is working statewide, however some districts have achieved a higher level of integration than other districts. ITD shares lessons learned from the most advanced districts to assist statewide integration.

Treating the State Action Plan as a Living Document
Many states no longer follow their State Action Plans developed at the Linking Planning and NEPA Workshop. Instead, they select a few major items from the plan in which to focus their efforts. DOTs are employing various approaches to refine and implement the Action Plans. Many states (including Arkansas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Utah) are contracting with consultants to re-evaluate the plan and develop implementation strategies and programs. In some states, FHWA Environmental Streamlining grants have been or will be used to address action items.

Providing Trainings and Workshops
Trainings, workshops, and peer exchanges are valuable activities to assist state DOTs in implementing their State Action Plans. For example, the FHWA Georgia DO, FHWA Resource Center, and Georgia DOT (GDOT) will host a "GIS for Environmental Streamlining and Stewardship" workshop for MPOs, GDOT and resource-agency staff statewide. The FHWA Arkansas DO recently hosted a workshop with the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD), resource agencies, and MPOs on implementing SAFETEA-LU to link conservation and transportation planning. Every two years, ITD hosts a Project Development Workshop for ITD staff, consultants, and MPOs. Washington DOT (WSDOT) Planning and Environment Offices, in conjunction with USEPA Region 10, recently hosted a workshop on growth management and transportation. Current and future training topics include: Geographical Information Systems (GIS), the NEPA review process, Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS), and public involvement.

Dedicated Staff to Implement Change
As stated in the FY06Q1 report, successfully linking planning and NEPA efforts requires changes to organizational processes, organizational structures, and/or cultures. Individual or team champions are in place at the majority of DOTs to facilitate the necessary changes. In addition, many state DOTs are achieving success by funding positions at resource agencies and initiating cross-functional interagency staff rotations.

The Need for Measures of Effectiveness
Nearly all states again indicated that measures of effectiveness for evaluating progress of the State Action Plan are difficult to identify and apply. Possible measures may include how successfully the project advances through the environmental review process, reduced redundancy of work and "scope creep," and positive feedback from the Federal and state resource and regulatory agencies.

Usefulness of Manuals, Tools, and Techniques
Several states continue to revise or create new project development manuals to reflect integration of environmental issues into the transportation decisionmaking process. For example, the Georgia DO and GDOT are developing a report that discusses past, present, and future activities to improve coordination between planning and NEPA processes. ITD is updating its Corridor Planning, Environmental, and Public Involvement manuals to incorporate CSS. South Carolina also updated its design manual to incorporate CSS.

DOTs are also developing tools to inform and systematize the transportation decisionmaking and environmental planning process. The most common tool is developing shared GIS-based environmental databases to identify and prioritize critical resource issues and develop constraint maps. For example, MaineDOT is testing its Enhanced Scoping Process, TxDOT uses a GIS Screening Tool developed by EPA Region 6, and UDOT and a consultant are developing a web-based GIS.

Innovative Initiatives

State DOTs provided numerous examples of innovative initiatives that demonstrate a wide array of practices being developed to better integrate planning and NEPA activities. Many of the initiatives below have been discussed in previous progress reports, and have been updated to include recent activities. The initiatives are organized into the following four categories:

  • GIS
  • Guidebooks
  • Process Improvements
  • Formal Lines of Communication

GIS

Arkansas — Sharing GIS data
The Arkansas State Land Information Board, in conjunction with the Arkansas Geographic Information Office, collects and manages GIS data for Federal, state and local agencies. GIS data are shared on GeoStor, which is a publicly accessible site that includes a password-protection feature. The system provides the state with a consolidated hosting service for interactive Internet mapping. These interactive applications serve many agency websites by pulling common data from the same database. This cost saving approach reduces duplication of effort. At AHTD, GIS data are used to identify environmental constraints during the project development process. For more information, see http://www.geostor.arkansas.gov/Portal/ptk.

California — Blueprint Project
The Sacramento Council of Governments (SACOG) Blueprint Project for smart growth involves overlaying GIS data layers to accurately represent the existing environment as the project Purpose and Need is developed. The Blueprint Concept Map depicts a way for the region to grow through the year 2050 in a manner that is generally consistent with the seven draft Smart Growth Principles. A website has also been developed to provide information and increase public involvement in the Blueprint Project and process — http://www.sacregionblueprint.org/sacregionblueprint/home.cfm.

Colorado — Strategic Transportation, Environmental and Planning Process for Urbanizing Places (STEP UP)
CDOT and a consultant have initiated Phase II of the STEP UP Environmental Streamlining Pilot Project. STEP UP was designed to evaluate procedures and develop tools that would improve transportation, land use and environmental planning early on. The consultant is building and testing a web-based GIS screening tool. The tool will contain GIS data from CDOT, resource agencies, and MPOs. MPOs will use the GIS tool for updates to their long-range plans for large and regionally significant projects. For more information, please see the Linking Planning and NEPA FY06 Q1 Progress Report.

Texas — GIS Screening Tool
EPA Region 6 developed the Geographic Information System Screening Tool (GISST), which is a GIS-driven environmental assessment and data management tool for environmental streamlining that is shared with TxDOT. GISST uses ArcGIS to identify and map environmental concerns and to screen potential projects. Activities are underway to expand the GISST to better support NEPA transportation needs — from planning and scoping phases to Final EIS and Record of Decision. EPA Region 6 and TxDOT have found the GISST to be an excellent tool for decreasing NEPA review time, while compensating for staffing limitations. For more information, see www.epa.gov/earth1r6/6en/xp/enxp2a3.htm.

Texas — Ecological Assessment Protocol
The Texas Ecological Assessment Protocol (TEAP) is a planning and screening-level assessment tool that uses existing data available from the statewide GIS grid to identify ecologically important resources throughout Texas. The results of the TEAP can be used in project planning (i.e. scoping, alternatives analysis), to determine appropriate areas to conduct detailed field investigations, and in mitigation discussions to avoid ecologically important areas, minimize impacts to those areas, and compensate for unavoidable impacts. For more information, see http://www.epa.gov/region6/6en/xp/enxp2a4.htm.

Utah — Web-based GIS
UDOT recently hired a consultant to develop a web-based GIS. The system will be accessible to FHWA, UDOT, resource agencies, and MPOs, and it will be used during the planning process. The Automated Geographic Reference Center, a Utah state agency, will manage the data. The GIS will contain information about demographics, utilities, and buildings. Over time, UDOT would like to add data for wetland mitigation, noise barriers, and other tools to assist decisionmaking.

Washington — Environmental GIS Workbench
The Environmental GIS Workbench is a customized GIS application built to help staff at the WSDOT access over 60 layers of environmental or natural resource management data. The WSDOT Environmental Information Program works with state, Federal, and other agencies to maintain a collection of the best available data for statewide environmental analysis. The Workbench is an ArcView extension that provides WSDOT staff with tools for locating transportation projects and displaying a wealth of environmental data themes for that location. While the best available environmental GIS data often have considerable limitations, they generally provide good flags for likely environmental issues affecting project planning.

Guidebooks

Idaho — Corridor Planning Guidebook
ITD is updating its Corridor Planning, Environmental, and Public Involvement manuals to incorporate CSS. The Corridor Planning Guidebook (CPG) brings parts of the project development process together into a single process. The CPG assists ITD in the determination of whether to advance the project as an environmental document or to include the project in the corridor plan/study, or both. The guidebook contains a matrix to facilitate this decisionmaking process. For more information on the CPG, please see the Linking Planning and NEPA FY06 Q1 Progress Report.

South Carolina — Advance Project Planning Report
SCDOT is using its Advanced Project Planning Report (APPR) more often. The APPR currently addresses Purpose and Need, project alternatives, environmental impacts, and cost estimates for projects prior to being included in the STIP. In the future, SCDOT will also develop APPRs for projects included in the long-range plan. SCDOT hopes that the work completed in the APPR can be used later in environmental documentation to develop transportation and resource agency decisions. For more information on the APPR, please see the Linking Planning and NEPA FY06 Q1 Progress Report.

Georgia — Documenting Linking Planning and NEPA Progress
The FHWA Georgia DO, GDOT Office of Planning and GDOT Office of Environment and Location (OEL) are developing a report that discusses past, present, and future activities to improve coordination between planning and NEPA processes. The DO and GDOT have approached the FHWA Headquarters Planning Office and the FHWA Resource Center to help publish and distribute the report in 2007.

Process Improvements

Maine — Enhanced Project Scoping Process
MaineDOT continues to test its Enhanced Project Scoping Process (EPS) on projects that have experienced delays due to project costs, environmental issues, or local community concerns. In the future, MaineDOT will identify candidate projects from its six-year plan. One goal of EPS is to allow for early communication and agreements between MaineDOT and municipalities to develop projects that are more likely to meet everyone's needs. Planning then distributes the information to the environmental and project development offices to identify potential problems. For more information on the EPS, please see the Linking Planning and NEPA FY06 Q1 Progress Report.

Missouri — Practical Design Approach to Planning
Missouri DOT (MoDOT) has incorporated practical design into its transportation planning process. Practical design is similar to CSS in that communities have greater participation in planning, and environmental concerns are incorporated earlier in the project development process. The MoDOT Design team is currently traveling to each district throughout Missouri to train districts on the practical design approach. MoDOT provides a practical design guidance document on its website. For more information, see http://www.modot.mo.gov/business/PracticalDesign.htm.

New Mexico — Project Evaluation Report (PER)
New Mexico DOT (NMDOT) has completed its RFP for a consultant to evaluate the current PER process for areas to simplify. The updated PER will include a checklist with environmental and cultural concerns. Multi-disciplinary teams, including DOT planning, environment, and engineering, as well as local district offices, will work together to define projects and complete the checklist. The checklist will allow planners to develop a more complete understanding of potential projects before they are included in the STIP. For more information on the PER, please see the Linking Planning and NEPA FY06Q1 Progress Report.

Pennsylvania — Planning Partners Checklist
PennDOT is currently piloting the Planning Partners Checklist (Checklist) to MPOs and RPOs that volunteered to use the checklist on specific projects. The Checklist should facilitate the MPO planning process and reduce duplication of work. After the Checklist is revised based on MPO/RPO feedback, PennDOT will ask resource agencies to review the Checklist to ensure that the document still meets resource agency requirements. The Checklist may also be split into two sections — a long-range "context" section, and an in-depth section with a narrower scope for project specific information. The consultant will also review the Checklist so it can be integrated into PennDOT's processes. The Planning Partners Workgroup held meetings in January and May 2006 to review the checklist and feedback from MPOs. The Workgroup includes staff from the DO, PennDOT, and four of Pennsylvania's 23 planning partners.

South Dakota — Concept-to-Construction
SDDOT is currently implementing its new Concept-to-Construction (C-to-C) project scheduling tool to track projects using Primavera software. Project schedules include environmental, right of way, design, and construction elements. SDDOT considers C-to-C to now be fully implemented at the agency, and staff have been trained in the new process. C-to-C is an internal South Dakota DOT (SDDOT) process that has been implemented to obtain consistency in the project scoping and cost estimating process.

Tennessee — Interagency Agreement
Tennessee DOT (TDOT) and resource agencies are developing the Tennessee Interagency Agreement (TIA), which is a high-level document that will later lead to individualized agreements documenting specific roles for each agency. The TIA will modify the existing project development process, and it will identify steps where Federal and state resource agencies should become involved. The TIA will include guidance on public participation, dispute resolution, early environmental fieldwork, and long-range planning. For more information, see the Linking Planning and NEPA FY05 Q4 Progress Report.

Texas — Gap Analysis for SAFETEA-LU Implementation
The FHWA Texas DO adapted a Gap Analysis previously developed by FHWA's Headquarters Office of Planning to determine and inform TxDOT and MPOs of what changes they need to make to their processes as the agencies transition from TEA-21 to SAFETEA-LU compliance. The Gap Analysis lists statutory requirements, changes between ISTEA/TEA-21 and SAFETEA-LU, potential steps to meet the new requirements, and a checklist containing specific tasks and deadlines. In addition, the DO and TxDOT have organized implementation work groups, and TxDOT has briefed EPA Region 6 on Sections 6004 and 6005. TxDOT is also meeting with districts to provide guidance.

Wisconsin — regional planning with resource agencies
The Wisconsin DO and WisDOT are currently focusing their Linking Planning and NEPA efforts on the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC). Resource agencies were involved in the update of the SEWRPC Regional Transportation Plan, which was adopted in June 2006. The agencies met quarterly over the past two years to evaluate current and forecasted needs in the system and alternatives. The agencies evaluated the potential impact on natural resources, with the goal to prevent rather than mitigate impacts in the land use plan. Through this process, the transportation and resource agencies are sharing and understanding more about each other's processes and requirements. The DO and WisDOT plan to expand their work with SEWRPC statewide for MPOs and statewide planning, in accordance with SAFETEA-LU environmental consultation requirements.

Formal Lines of Communication

Georgia — Planning Development Process Lecture Series
Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), with DO assistance, conducts a monthly "Planning Development Process" lecture series to explain environmental documents and encourage reductions in documentation, costs, and time. Staff from FHWA, GDOT, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), consultants, and the private sector have attended since 2004.

South Carolina — Liaison and Interagency Coordination Effort
The South Carolina DO and SCDOT continue to meet with resource agencies under the Liaison and Interagency Coordination Effort (LICE). LICE members attend the annual partnering meeting in December each year, and meet at least quarterly. The annual meeting allows agencies to look at their overall processes, past successes and future goals. LICE meetings are more project-specific then the annual meeting. Through greater understanding of each other's needs and constraints, each agency can make better decisions and resolve problems earlier in project development.

Utah — Executive Transportation and Environmental Council
The Utah Executive Transportation and Environmental Council (Council) continues to meet quarterly. The council works to facilitate communication, cooperation, and collaboration on transportation-related environmental issues, opportunities, and concerns. Visit www.utahetec.org for more information. In the July 2006, the Council discussed the level of detail in environmental analysis needed in the planning phase.

Recommendations

The following recommendations to improve the Linking Planning and NEPA: Towards Streamlined Decisionmaking workshop are derived from the FY06 Q2 and Q3 Workshop participant interviews:

Guidance
  • Develop guidance to help states determine the appropriate level of environmental detail to document in the planning process that can also be used in the environmental process.
  • Provide recommendations or guidance related to GIS data sharing, management, and security.
  • Provide guidance to help states better understand SAFETEA-LU requirements and how the requirements are related to integration of planning and NEPA activities.
  • Provide guidance on how to assess indirect and cumulative impacts that is agreed upon by multiple Federal agencies.
  • Provide guidance for measuring the effectiveness of State Action Plans.
Communication
  • Recommend how to improve communication and coordination among transportation agencies, resource agencies, MPOs, and local jurisdictions to integrate environmental issues into the planning processes. Potential areas of assistance include training to increase understanding among agencies or funding for additional staff at resource agencies and MPOs.
  • Tailor presentation materials to the agency's level of integration of planning and NEPA issues; in particular the full integration states need more advanced materials.
Information-Sharing
  • Support trainings, workshops, and peer exchanges on related topics (e.g. planning and NEPA, public outreach, GIS, etc.).
  • Create a "Re: NEPA style" information exchange website or link; this feature will facilitate the exchange of successes, lessons learned, and contact information among state DOTs and the Federal and state resource agencies.

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For questions or feedback on this subject matter content, please contact Jody McCullough, Dave Harris, or Bruce Bender.

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