Environmental Review Toolkit
Planning and Environment Linkages

CASE STUDIES

Indiana's Streamlined EIS Procedures

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In 2001, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) adopted new streamlined procedures for planning and environmental analysis. The "one decision-making process" was developed to eliminate the duplication of activities between planning studies and the subsequent environmental analysis carried out under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The new procedures were primarily developed for projects for which an Environmental Impact Statement document must be prepared. INDOT will use the procedures to implement the Environmental Streamlining provisions in TEA-21.

Key Features

Streamlined EIS Procedures. A "one-decision making process" calls for early and ongoing agency participation to help ensure that basic issues regarding Purpose and Need and alternatives are addressed prior to the preparation of the Draft EIS (DEIS). This allows the DEIS process to focus on remaining concerns such as avoidance, minimization and mitigation. The procedures also allow the NEPA documents to meet permitting requirements including Section 404 wetlands and state Construction-in-Floodway permits.

The streamlined EIS procedures are initiated in one of two ways:

Option 1. For many projects, INDOT and a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), through the statewide and metropolitan planning process, reach consensus on the need for an improvement, or project, and also agree the proposed design concept and scope. These are cases where there is a high level of clarity between INDOT and the MPO about the transportation issue and need, along with a consensus on a limited set of reasonable alternatives. In these cases, the identified design concept and scope, or project, is made part of the MPO's transportation plan and INDOT's statewide transportation plan. If INDOT anticipates the project will require an Environmental Impact Statement, the streamlined EIS procedures are triggered.

Option 2. For other proposed projects, the need and the design concept and scope are less clear and well-defined, or it may be unclear whether an agreed-upon design concept and scope will require an EIS or other type of NEPA document. These uncertainties are resolved, under the INDOT procedures, through a corridor level planning study that is initiated as an Environmental Assessment. (Under INDOT's procedures, the term "corridor" refers to subarea or travel shed that may involve multiple transportation issues or facilities.) In these cases, the initiation of the EA/Corridor Study will trigger the streamlined "one decision-making process." The EA/Corridor Study will determine the appropriate level of NEPA documentation. The subsequent EIS or other environmental document prepared for the project will pick up from where the EA/Corridor Study left off, avoiding any "redo" of the previous work.

The Indiana streamlined EIS process includes three other key elements described below.

STREAMLINED EIS PROCEDURES FLOWCHART

Option 1 — Planning in Context of EIS
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 Step 6 Step 7
Issue NOI

Issue Early Coordination Letter
Develop P&N and Preliminary Alternatives

Interagency Review
Preliminary Alternatives Analysis and Screening

Interagency Review
Complete DEIS Identify Preferred Alternative and Mitigation

Interagency Review
Complete FEIS/
ROD
Final Design

Option 2 — Planning in Context of EA/Corridor Study
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 Step 6 Step 7 Step 8 Step 9
Issue Early Coordination Letter Develop P&N and
Preliminary Alternatives

Interagency Review
Preliminary Alternatives Analysis and Screening

Interagency Review
Complete EA/Corridor Study Issue NOI Complete DEIS Identify Preferred Alternative and Mitigation

Interagency Review
Complete FEIS/
ROD
Final Design

Project Coordination Team. A Project Coordination Team is organized at the beginning of the EIS process to provide input to the development of the consultant scope of services and guidance to the project consultant at each step of the project development process. The Project Coordination Team includes a representative from INDOT (and another State DOT if applicable), FHWA, FTA (if an FTA New Start may be involved), and the MPO (if the project study area is in an MPO area). The purpose of the Project Coordination Team is to improve coordination among planning agencies (the MPO and INDOT), the agencies with primary responsibility for the NEPA process, and resource agencies.

Agency Coordination. The streamlined process calls for formal agency comment at key milestones including Purpose and Need, Preliminary Alternatives to be considered, and Preliminary Alternatives Analysis and Screening. Additionally, for projects for which an EIS is required, a coordination point with resource agencies will be established for a third milestone, the review of the Preferred Alternatives and Mitigation. At each key coordination point, an Agency Review Package (or Coordination Point Package) is prepared and submitted to the resource agencies to initiate a sixty-day review. An Interagency Review meeting is held thirty-days into the review period.

During the early coordination stage of an EA/Corridor Study or an EIS, the Project Coordination Team contacts resource and planning agencies to determine if they want to participate in the study. Agencies wishing to participate receive related correspondence, including the Coordination Point Packages.

The cover letter transmitting the Coordination Point Packages establishes a deadline for written comments and a date for the Interagency Review Meeting. A summary of the agency issues identified during the Interagency Review Meeting is sent to the participating agencies within seven days via e-mail, providing the agencies with the benefit of the meeting summary in preparing their written comments. If the meeting summary accurately reflects their concerns, the participating agencies may choose not to submit written comments or may submit a letter simply concurring in the meeting summary. If an agency believes a meeting summary is not accurate, or has additional issues, the agency is encouraged to submit written comments by the designated deadline.

Conflict Resolution Process. The streamlined procedures include a conflict resolution process to address concerns or issues that are not resolved during the interagency coordination meetings. The goals of the conflict resolution process are to resolve any technical and/or policy conflicts at the lowest possible staff level, and to address issues as early as possible before they become divisive. Agencies identify any conflicts prior to the interagency review meetings. A separate session is held before or after the interagency review meeting to discuss and hopefully resolve the issue among staff from FHWA, INDOT and the concerned agency. If the conflict is not resolved at this first staff-level meeting, a second meeting is held with first-level supervisors. When significant issues remain unresolved after the second meeting, FHWA arranges for a meeting of executives, including the FHWA Division Administrator, the INDOT Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Planning and Multi-Modal Transportation and their peers from the appropriate agencies. INDOT's streamlined EIS procedures state that the ultimate decisions on Purpose and Need, the alternatives selected for further study in the DEIS, and the select project and mitigation are made by FHWA and INDOT.

Starting Point

Prior to the streamlined procedures, a corridor or subarea study planning study would have been carried out to the point of narrowing the range of alternatives before NEPA activities and resource agency participation were initiated. When the EIS process was initiated, many options discarded during the planning study were re-evaluated, resulting in redundancy of effort and analysis. Under the new procedures, the EIS process starts earlier and the initial definition and evaluation of alternative strategies, corridors and impacts is carried out under the NEPA process with the participation of resource agencies.

Motivation

With passage of TEA-21, the number of major construction projects in Indiana doubled, while the average time to complete an EIS grew from two years in the 1970s to five years in the 1990s. The new EIS procedures were developed to streamline project delivery.

In addition, the new EIS procedures were designed to avoid duplication between planning and public involvement activities conducted during the planning phase and subsequent NEPA studies. In several instances, INDOT received negative comments from local elected officials when the NEPA process was initiated and controversial alternatives that study participants believed had been eliminated were being re-evaluated. The public and elected officials perceived that time was being wasted by doing a planning study and making a decision, and then re-opening many of the same decisions during NEPA.

Also, resource and permitting agencies felt that significant project decisions were made prior to NEPA initiation and their involvement.

Benefits

According to FHWA Division staff, the procedures have been very successful. Agencies are no longer raising questions about purpose and need or alternatives after completion of the Draft EIS. The new procedures have fostered interagency trust and a better understanding of each agency's needs and perspectives.

Accomplishments

In addition to developing the streamlined EIS process, INDOT and FHWA jointly developed procedures to streamline and enhance CEs and EAs. The streamlined CE/EA procedures, which became effective in August 2002, integrate all environmental requirements into one document, clarify the requirements for related documentation, and include the use of CACs and Project Coordination Teams to provide for improved agency an public input

How Change Was Achieved

A wide range of resource and permitting agencies and transportation agencies participated in developing the streamlined procedures including:

  • FHWA
  • Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT)
  • Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
  • Corps of Engineers (COE)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
  • Coast Guard (CG)
  • National Park Service (NPS)
  • National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
  • Indiana Department of National Resources (IDNR)
  • IDNR State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO)
  • Indiana Department of the Environment Management (IDEM)
  • Transit Agencies

INDOT and FHWA applied the streamlined procedures while they were still being developed on some projects. This allowed the new procedures to be modified to reflect these experiences before they were finalized.

A series of educational meetings with the public, elected officials and regulatory agency staff helped smooth initial implementation.

"Do it once and do it right."
Motto for INDOT and the FHWA Division office

Next Steps

The Streamlined EIS Procedures are viewed as a "living document". An annual interagency meeting, customer survey, and focus group will assess how well the procedures are meeting agency needs and identify areas for improvement.

INDOT is working to revise the streamlined EIS procedures to incorporate the use of Community Advisory Committees (CACs). Membership in the CACs includes a wide range of stakeholders from communities in which a project is located, such as school districts, emergency services, neighborhood associations and others.

FHWA and INDOT are also working to implement an "ndiana Context Sensitive Design Policy and Procedure" within the streamlined EIS process. The procedure describes how the CACs continue their involvement well beyond the completion of the CE or EA to provide input on context sensitive design elements that would allow a project to better fit the community.

For further information

Larry Heil
Federal Highway Administration
575 N. Pennsylvania Street, Room 254
Indianapolis, IN 46204-1576
317-226-7491
larry.heil@fhwa.dot.gov

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