Environmental Review Toolkit
Planning and Environment Linkages

CASE STUDIES

Maine's Integrated Transportation Decision-Making (ITD) Process

Maine's ITD process integrates the requirements of NEPA, Maine's Sensible Transportation Policy Act, and the Corps of Engineers' Highway Methodology for Section 404. Included within the ITD are a 10-step process, reorganization of the department, a programmatic Categorical Exclusion process, and monthly meetings with resource agencies. Review activities are done concurrently, documentation and record-keeping are consolidated, and environmental considerations are included in decision-making by MDOT and its partners.

Although ITD grew out of the environmental process, Maine DOT intends that it cover all aspects and impacts of a project to foster good decision-making.

Key Features

10-Step Process. MDOT created a 10-step planning and project development process for "high profile" projects that require an EIS or an EA (roughly 10% of all projects). The following steps are applied flexibly:

  1. Transportation Planning Process
  2. Scoping
  3. Purpose and Need
  4. Development of Alternatives
  5. Detailed Alternatives Analysis and Draft NEPA Document
  6. Identification of Preferred Alternative and Conceptual Mitigation Plan
  7. Final NEPA Document
  8. Finding of No Significant Impact/Record of Decision
  9. Final Project Design, Minimization & Mitigation Coordination, and Permit Decision
  10. Project Implementation and Monitoring

The 10 steps provide linkage between planning and project development through improved coordination, and early and concurrent involvement of all agencies in the NEPA decision-making process.

MDOT's 10-step process is not a cookbook — linkages between planning and NEPA are handled in different ways depending on the level of planning that is done. The linkage can take many shapes and forms:

  • A concept may first appear in a 20-year plan, then move into a 6-year plan where it is better defined and money is attached. It eventually reaches the 2-year biennial program (STIP) at which time it becomes an official project and can move into scoping.
  • If Step 1 produces a feasibility study, then the study goes to the Interagency Group and Public Advisory Committee for review.
  • In one case, an MPO developed a planning level purpose and need statement, planning level scoping, and evaluated the feasibility of "strategies" (not "alternatives") that gave MDOT a good basis for initiating project development. The purpose and need statement, scoping and alternatives will get more of a project focus in subsequent steps.

Phase 1 (Planning) looks at "big issues" such as environmental fatal flaws. Some of the phase 1 analyses are based on intuition. Subsequent steps look at remaining alternatives in greater detail.

Monthly interagency meetings. Studies and projects are reviewed by an Interagency Group that includes the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, US Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries, State Department of Environmental Protection, Inland Fish and Wildlife, Marine Resources, Sea Run Salmon Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, State Land Use Regulation Commission (Maine is 1/2 "unorganized" so state has land use controls.)

Stakeholder concurrence. There are stakeholder concurrence points at the end of each step. Concurrence in the planning step typically occurs at the monthly meetings and is documented in the meeting minutes. At subsequent steps (especially 3, 4, and 5) the concurrence is often in writing. After a formal concurrence, stakeholders will not revisit a milestone unless there is substantive new information that warrants reconsideration. Conflict resolution is available when a stakeholder non-concurs.

The Corps of Engineers and other stakeholder agencies have generally been comfortable with signing off on strategies at the end of Step 1. Sometimes a resource agency will try to "hold on" to more than one strategy past planning, and MDOT tries to accommodate that desire, although MDOT reports that the Corps of Engineers often urges other resource agencies to be frugal with MDOT's money. Personalities are important — some people are more willing to concur than others, who seek more detail. (Resource agency staff tend to be scientists, not planners, and it is natural for them to desire detail.) When resource agency personnel change, peer pressure by the Corps tends to reduce the inclination to reopen issues that had been settled.

Process integration and the ten step process have helped improve interagency coordination by bringing agency partners to the table early to identify and analyze impacts and to define project purpose and need. Over time, trusting relationships have developed and institutional resistance to change has been overcome, improving the integration process.

Reorganization. An Environmental Coordination and Analysis unit was created within the MDOT Bureau of Planning. Responsibility for EIS and EA preparation was moved from the Project Development and Design unit into Planning, along with associated staff resources. This was intended as a very visible action to institutionalize MDOT's determination to become more environmentally conscious. Now, the NEPA document is seen as a decision tool, rather than an attempt to justify past decisions. When a project leaves the Planning Bureau, it has a ROD, FONSI or CE and is ready for design.

Delegation of responsibility for CEs. In May 2001, MDOT and FHWA entered into an Agreement for Categorical Exclusions. This agreement delegates to MDOT the authority and responsibility for certifying actions as CEs. MDOT's Bureau of Planning is administratively responsible for coordinating and processing information on eligible actions, and assuring these actions comply with criteria set forth in the agreement. Maine keeps records of its actions and documentation is made available for FHWA review.

Three types of CE certification are anticipated in the agreement:

  • Self-certifying. These actions appear in 23 CFR 771.117(c), are certified by scope of work, and do not require individual FHWA approval.
  • Programmatic. These actions comply with 23 CFR 771.117(d), include Maine eligible actions, and must meet Maine Checklist criteria (in the agreement) before they can be certified by MDOT. They do not require individual FHWA approval.
  • Individual. All other actions conforming to 40 CFR 1508.4 (CE) must be processed and submitted individually for FHWA approval.

Starting Point

Prior to passage of the STPA in 1991, MDOT's mentality on projects was "this is what we're proposing and we expect the public to go along".

The interagency coordination process was primarily permit-driven. Meetings with the Corps and other resource agencies were driven by the specific details that needed to be addressed to secure permits. Duane Scott indicates that "it used to be a scramble" to get CEs approved before a project was advertised for construction. Larger projects — such as the Augusta River Crossing (see Benefits section below) — were delayed for 20 years or more due to lack of consensus.

Motivation

Maine's Sensible Transportation Policy Act (STPA), enacted in 1991, requires that transportation planning decisions, capital investment decisions and project decisions:

  • minimize harmful effects of transportation,
  • be based on an evaluation of the full range of reasonable alternatives,
  • give preference to transportation system management, demand management, and improvements to the existing system and other modes before increasing highway capacity, and
  • involve local governmental bodies and the public.

The STPA resulted from a citizen initiative (i.e., referendum), stemming from public concerns about a proposed widening of the Maine Turnpike. The ballot measure passed, placing a moratorium on new highway construction until the legislature responded by passing the STPA.

Also, MDOT felt that project development was taking too long. Due to the myriad of laws, MDOT needed a defined process so they would not miss something.

Accomplishments

Cover of a brochure entitled 'Maine Department of Transportation: Integrated Transportation Decision-Making - Contributing to Quality Transportation Decisions.  The bottom of the brochure cover reads, 'Maine Transportation is on the move'

Environmental Policy Statement. In 1998 MDOT's Commissioner signed an Environmental Policy statement articulating the department's vision, establishing department policies, and listing a series of actions to accomplish the vision and policies. In the statement, the Commissioner "personally committed to making this policy work" and promised "to hold each employee accountable for his/her part of the Department's commitment to the protection and enhancement of Maine's environmental resources as we carry out our Transportation responsibilities."

ITD Database for Project Tracking. The ITD database is part of MDOT's larger ProjEx system, which tracks projects by NEPA category (EIS, EA, CE). The ITD database integrates project data, improves impact analysis, and helps identify potential "fatal; flaws" that could delay or derail projects.

10-Step Process. MDOT created a 10-step planning and project development process for "high profile" projects that require an EIS or an EA. (See above.)

Regional Transportation Advisory Committees. The STPA requires the Department to establish "a public participation process that provides municipalities and other political subdivisions of the State and members of the public notice and opportunity to comment on transportation planning decisions, capital investment decisions, project decisions and compliance with the statewide transportation policy." The STPA further required that the department and the Maine Turnpike Authority take the comments and concerns of local citizens into account and be responsive to them. Pursuant to the STPA, MDOT offers to create a Public Advisory Committee for major projects.

Reorganization. Selected functions of the Environmental Office and Bureau of Project Development were merged into the Bureau of Planning. An Environmental Coordination and Analysis unit and the BTIP and Major Projects units within the reorganized Plan and Program Development Division emphasize MDOT's commitment to early environmental planning, streamlining, and integrated transportation decision-making. When a project leaves Planning it has a ROD, FONSI or CE. NEPA document becomes a decision tool, not merely justifying decisions already made. Regional Environmental Coordinators were placed into the Bureau of Maintenance and Operations, allowing MDOT to integrate processes and focus on streamlining and stewardship opportunities.

Augusta River Crossing Success Story

Prior to the ITD, the Augusta River Bridge project had been bogged down for 20 or more years. The City of Augusta is split in two parts by the river, and there was agreement that a new bridge was needed. Many studies were done but never reached agreement on where the new bridge should be located. MDOT attributes its success in reaching consensus under the ITD to:

  • Creation of a hard-working, goal-oriented Public Advisory Committee.
  • With the Advisory Committee, MDOT was able to develop for the first time a Purpose and Need Statement that was agreeable to the parties.
  • Meetings on the project were hosted by the City, which asked MDOT how the State could help them meet the city's goals.
  • EIS was kept brief and concise, consistent with CEQ guidance.

MDOT did the EIS internally to gain first hand experience in the application of ITD.

Programmatic Delegation of Authority for CEs. Agreement establishes a protocol to enable self-certifying and programmatic approval by MDOT of specified actions. Maine Checklist criteria must be met before eligible actions can be certified by MDOT. that qualify for a CE. This allows most actions to be certified earlier and more efficiently.

How Change Was Achieved

In 1989 MDOT began meeting monthly with Federal and state regulatory and resource agencies to discuss permitting issues. The interagency meetings expanded to include discussions on integrating NEPA from project planning through construction and on fostering environmental streamlining.

With the passage of Maine's Sensible Transportation Policy Act in 1991, MDOT strengthened its public involvement process by developing seven regional transportation advisory committees (RTACs) and more focused public advisory committees (PACs) for all major projects.

In 1998, senior MDOT managers met with FHWA headquarters staff to discuss streamlining opportunities. Reorganization followed. Maine DOT then partnered with the FHWA Maine Division to develop ITD and associated guidance documents, staff training, and public outreach.

Many people had to get on board to create the ITD process, and credit goes to many people. A key factor was the persistent support of the Commissioner, who was a planner by training. FHWA held an Environmental Leadership session in Maine. According to MDOT, the session "enlightened" upper management to be more proactive and assertive. Management then directed staff to follow up, which led to ITD.

Cover of 'Augusta River Crossing Study' publication.

Challenges

People and institutions were reluctant to change. While the FHWA had been promoting better linkages between planning and NEPA for years, it was not until the late 1990s that Maine DOT reorganized.

Benefits

MDOT reports that the benefits of ITD are difficult to measure quantitatively, but the process has led to better decisions due to better and earlier communications among the parties. The technical information available to decision-makers is improving. Through the STPA, TSM and TDM are being considered as alternatives to new roadway construction. Cost estimating is improving as MDOT is able to establish the project scope earlier in the process.

MDOT also notes that projects are moving more swiftly. The CE delegation of authority is saving considerable time, and MDOT completed an EIS for the Augusta River Bridge Crossing in 41 months.

The CE delegation expedites review and approval. Previously, CEs were often initiated at the last minute, just prior to advertising for construction. By initiating in planning, before design, CEs do not delay advertisement. Project managers in design try to maintain their CE status and keep project scope from growing.

Public Advisory Committees set up under STPA have been helpful in avoiding controversy. MDOT also uses facilitation. The NEPA process is now considering social impacts, whereas it previously gave greatest attention to impacts on the natural environment. The planning step is starting to look at cumulative and secondary impacts as well, if only in an intuitive way.

Lessons Learned

  1. Make organizational changes. MDOT top management moved people from environment and design into planning, which made their commitment to change more visible.
  2. Use procedural changes to institutionalized the change.
  3. Be patient. MDOT has been developing the ITD "philosophy" for 15 years by steadily working toward the goal.

Next Steps

MDOT intends to open its ITD database is to other partners.

MDOT intends to develop and disseminate "how to" guidance documents that unify NEPA, STPA, and Section 404 procedures and documentation, while helping users understand the distinctions between the acts and the separate standards that project work must meet under each. The goal is a comprehensive guide that will serve as an operating manual for those working on project planning and development activities.

MDOT also intends to bring streamlining, stewardship, and context sensitive design into its ITD process.

For further information

Duane Scott
Maine Department of Transportation
16 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0016
207-624-3309
duane.scotte@state.me.us

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For questions or feedback on this subject matter content, please contact Jody McCullough or Marisel Lopez-Cruz.

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