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Environmental Review Toolkit

Programmatic Agreements

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I-70 Mountain Corridor Project Programmatic Agreement

Program Description

Photograph: Interstate 70 Mountain Corridor.

I-70 Mountain Corridor.
(Source: Colorado Department of Transportation.)

Program Benefits

  • FHWA and Colorado DOT prepared a comprehensive programmatic agreement (PA) to fulfill their Section 106 responsibilities for a Tier 1 EIS and all future Tier 2 projects.
  • The PA establishes an agreed-upon process for future decisions on National Register eligibility, effects, and resolution of adverse effects, providing predictability in the Section 106 process for all future Tier 2 projects.
  • As stipulated in the PA, Colorado DOT prepared a historic context after completion of Tier 1. The historic context provides CDOT information on the potential for significant historic properties within areas associated with all Tier 2 projects, bringing predictability to compliance requirements for these future projects.

Colorado DOT (CDOT) developed a tiered environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed I-70 Mountain Corridor project. This project involves improvements to I-70 from Glenwood Springs to C-470, west of Denver. A programmatic agreement (PA) was executed during preparation of the Tier 1 EIS, stipulating the process for complying with Section 106 requirements for all Tier 2 undertakings. Signatories to the PA included the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), CDOT, the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service. Many local communities and historical societies signed as concurring parties.

The PA anticipates direct, indirect, and cumulative effects to historic properties from Tier 2 projects (including the Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic Landmark), and establishes a process for addressing these effects in consultation with the consulting parties and project stakeholders. Pursuant to the PA, CDOT prepared a historic context for evaluating which properties within the I-70 Mountain corridors are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. CDOT also will develop historic preservation-related design guidelines for Tier 2 undertakings, and will assist local governments to preserve the historic character of their communities within the project corridor.

Setting Up the Program

During the initial Tier 1 process in 2005, there was confusion among the agencies and stakeholders on the compliance requirements for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) versus Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, especially in terms of the potential indirect effects on historic properties that might occur during the advancement of Tier 2 projects.

These Tier 2 projects would have few direct effects on historic properties; however, there was stakeholder concern about indirect effects, particularly noise impacts. This confusion among the parties about the NEPA process versus the Section 106 process was, in part, a result of the lack of guidance and experience with how to carry out Section 106 compliance in the context of a tiered EIS.

CDOT, through its environmental contractor for the Tier 1 project, hired a Section 106 professional to help sort out these issues, and to work with the consulting parties to develop an agreement document that would complete the Section 106 process for Tier 1 and establish a compliance process for Tier 2 undertakings.

Challenges Encountered

Program Elements

  • Historic Preservation in Transportation Planning
  • Historic Preservation in Early
    Project Development
  • Programmatic Approaches to Identifying, Evaluating, and Managing Historic Properties
  • Decision-Making Process for Streamlining

The biggest challenge in developing the I-70 PA involved clarifying for the consulting parties the differences between NEPA and Section 106 requirements. Persistent communication and education through multiple meetings, conference calls, and e-mails were required to overcome this challenge. Once the parties understood the issues germane to specific Federal mandates, productive consultation followed, resulting in the PA.

Program Maintenance

Photograph: Street and storefronts in Georgetown, Colorado.

Georgetown, Colorado
(Source: SRI Foundation.)

There have been no amendments to the I-70 PA; however, CDOT did decide to complete the required historic context as a Multiple Property Documentation Form (MPDF), which is a rigorous tool for evaluating the National Register eligibility of properties. CDOT believes the MPDF will provide consistent guidance in property evaluations for the Tier 2 undertakings and also will provide the framework for nominating properties to the National Register.

There have been no notable challenges or issues with implementation of the PA. The first of the Tier 2 undertakings – the Twin Tunnels Environmental Assessment (EA) – is underway. The Twin Tunnels EA project is CDOT’s first opportunity to road test the PA.

Critical Factors for a Successful Program

Based on CDOT’s experience to date with the Twin Tunnels EA, early and comprehensive consultation with the SHPO and the other consulting parties is critical. The PA outlines the overall process for how to conduct Section 106 for Tier 2 undertakings, which generally follows the steps outlined in 36 CFR 800. The PA, however, also includes more detailed stipulations for consultation at the project scoping level, and for all subsequent steps in the process, from development of an area of potential effect to resolving adverse effects.

Due to the extended timeframe for Tier 2 project development and construction along the I-70 corridor, it will be important to provide a consistent approach to implementation of the Section 106 process outlined in the PA. Over time, as staff and consulting party contacts change, there may be challenges to maintaining the consistency set forth by individuals who were involved in the development of the PA and in the initial implementation of the agreement.