Oregon: Collaborative Environmental and Transportation Agreement for Streamlining
Agencies and Organizations Involved
- Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
- National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
- Oregon State Historic Preservation Office
- Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
- Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development
- Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT)
- Oregon Division of State Lands
For additional information, contact Susan Haupt at Susan.Haupt@odot.state.or.us or call (541) 388-6021.
Section 1: Overview
ODOT implemented a coordinated review process for highway construction projects in 2000. This responded to directives included in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), ineffectiveness ODOT observed in the Section 404 Merger process, and a greater sense of public urgency to address environmental issues in the State. This process, the Collaborative Environmental and Transportation Agreement on Streamlining (CETAS), establishes a formal working committee with representatives from ODOT and 10 Federal and State transportation, natural resource, cultural resource, and land use planning agencies. CETAS’s goal is to identify and implement collaborative opportunities to help participating agencies realize their missions through sound environmental stewardship, while providing a safe and efficient transportation system.1
Integrated Planning Applications
Figure 1. The six pillars of CETAS
CETAS is organized around six fundamental areas, or “pillars” (see figure 1). By focusing on six areas of improvement, CETAS team members strive to foster a collaborative, trusting environment at their respective agencies by understanding each participating agency’s mission. Each of the pillars is important to CETAS, and taken together represent, the foundations of the organization. The CETAS technical team meets monthly and is comprised of technical specialists representing each of the signatory (member) agencies. Member agencies commit team members to regular participation at meetings and entrust these representatives with the ability to make decisions that reflect each agency’s mission, rather than an individual opinion or preference.
CETAS focuses on communication, participation, and early involvement in Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) for ODOT. Once involved, the CETAS technical team is required to reach consensus on a set of NEPA project milestones, including purpose and need, the range of alternatives to be studied, criteria for evaluating alternatives, and selection of the preferred alternative. Formal concurrence procedures, including resolution steps, have been formally adopted by CETAS agencies to facilitate this process.
While providing input to project teams at major decision making milestones is the primary focus of CETAS, the committee also helps ODOT develop and implement statewide environmental initiatives, and is sometimes asked to provide input on transportation system plans, regional transportation plans, corridor plans, and refinement plans. CETAS does not include a formal process for participation in planning processes, such as location EISs, which are conducted outside of the NEPA process. In these situations, the planning body voluntarily presents elements of the proposed plans to CETAS for discussion. The intent of these discussions is to help planning teams make environmentally informed decisions that are less likely to be revisited during project development.
CETAS team members are actively involved in the successful integration of environmental stewardship and streamlining into major transportation projects by participating or facilitating other committees and programs, including Linking Planning and NEPA, the Project Agreement Reporting and Implementation Team (PARIT), Mitigation and Conservation Banking Review Team (MCBRT), and a Stormwater Management Team. These efforts support both stewardship and streamlining, and their success depends on the meaningful interagency coordination that is facilitated by CETAS.
Section 2: Data and Tools
CETAS has developed a series of PowerPoint templates and guidance documents to assist project teams from ODOT to prepare materials that meet the data quality expectations of the resource agencies. These resource materials are available to help project teams effectively and efficiently prepare for concurrence presentations and provide consistent expectations for participating CETAS agencies. A “Level of Data Expected” guidance document is used to ensure that project teams have achieved an appropriate level of data collection and analysis to effectively support the decision milestone they are presenting to CETAS for concurrence. These materials help reduce the time project teams spend preparing concurrence presentations, assist project teams in bringing the right information to CETAS at the right time, and help ensure sufficiently supported decisions that will not need to be revisited. The CETAS concurrence forms also include specific questions to be answered by the member agencies at each concurrence point. These questions ensure that project teams receive early notice of potential issues that could result in project delays later in the project development or permitting process.
Figure 2. Screen Shot of Web TransGIS Environmental environmental Data data Layerslayers
ODOT has a well- established geographic information system (GIS) and mapping unit. The unit is responsible for mapping, maintaining, and disseminating transportation, land-use, and environmental data. Building on working relationships and data-sharing discussions at CETAS, ODOT began to add data layers important to resource agencies, such as land use, to its existing transportation system geospatial data.
The resulting TransGIS system is a comprehensive Web-mapping tool designed to present many levels of complex data in an interactive map format. A more limited data set, called Web TransGIS, is also available to the public on the Internet. Both the internal and external TransGIS systems offer multi level views of Oregon’s transportation system, including statewide transportation management data, Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) projects, and environmental data. With comprehensive information about the area surrounding elements of the transportation network, planners, project designers, and maintenance crews have data accessible for their analysis, planning, and research needs.
TransGIS is actively used by ODOT. Recently the system was used by the Oregon Bridge Replacement Program to support Baseline Environmental Reports for proposed project sites. The information included in this front-end data analysis supplied bridge engineers with sufficient information to avoid and minimize environmental impacts during project planning and design. Providing environmental information and analysis on the front ends of the projects also helped ODOT develop more accurate cost estimates and schedules to avoid project delays.
One of the largest environmental mapping initiatives undertaken by ODOT is the Salmon Resources and Sensitive Area Mapping (SR-SAM) project. This project was developed to provide accurate mapping data to ensure that ODOT roadway maintenance was performed with minimal disturbance to sensitive areas and threatened and endangered resources. As part of the data collection effort, an inventory of selected environmental resources and sensitive areas was conducted along nearly 6,000 miles of State highway. The project is funded by a Federal grant with a biennial budget of approximately $1 million.
ODOT is applying lessons learned from the SR-SAM process to the Environmental Data Management System (EDMS). EDMS is a collection of environmental data projects that will provide environmental spatial data to ODOT staff working on system- and project-level planning. The GIS team is working on three levels with natural and cultural resource agencies:
- Establishing direct links with data maintained by CETAS member agencies
- Incorporating CETAS member agency data into the EDMS system
- Providing CETAS member agencies with technical support to develop or upgrade existing data
Since 2006, development of an integrated EDMS has made significant progress. CETAS presented the first annual work plan for the EDMS to the ODOT GIS Steering Committee, while leadership at ODOT committed to distributing Resource and Restricted Activity Zone maps to all its regional offices. Additional work continues on the Statewide Cultural Resources Inventory in response to a review by the Oregon State Museum of Anthropology, and CETAS continues work developing a wetlands tool prototype for field data collection.
CETAS also facilitated development of a programmatic Biological Assessment and Biological Opinion to fulfill the requirements of the Endangered Species Act as part of Oregon’s Bridge Replacement Program. The effects analysis was streamlined by screening for potential effects to multiple species using GIS data layers, grouping species into functional groups (e.g. anadromous salmonids) rather than individual salmon species, and using a performance standards approach for design elements.2
Section 3: Scheduled Cooperation and Interaction Processes
ODOT has established an internal committee, Linking Planning and Environmental Process (LPEP), which is working on linking the long-range transportation and environmental planning processes. Committee members from all departments within ODOT meet on a regular, semi monthly basis, and with input from CETAS have prioritized the following initiatives and activities:3
- Cross-training environmental and planning staff;
- Involving environmental staff in planning activities;
- Developing a comprehensive EDMS;
- Identifying potential pilot/demonstration efforts for linking systems planning with the environmental process;
- Developing a list of available environmental databases and other information sources to inform planning efforts;
- Updating Transportation System Planning (TSP) guidelines to better address environmental issues and refinement planning;
- Creating standard work order contract templates for environmental tasks done during planning;
- Developing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)-like problem statements for appropriate projects during Regional Transportation Planning (RTP) and TSP processes;
- Establishing resource agencies' roles in efforts to link planning and environmental processes; and
- Creating feedback loops to improve planning and environmental process integration.
Figure 3. Illustration of the Environmental environmental Performance performance Standards Process Continuum
Of particular importance to the LPEP committee and CETAS is improving the tracking of commitments made during the project planning and NEPA phases through the permitting and construction phases. ODOT improves its credibility with partner resource agencies when it can ensure that all of its environmental commitments are accurately reflected throughout project development and implementation. The commitment tracking system will also improve the timeliness of project delivery by preventing agencies from revisiting settled issues and avoiding re-creating project specifications to comply. The commitment tracking system continues to be develop ed in 2007, using a recent FHWA review of the current environmental commitment tracking process as a baseline. Once LPEP develops the framework, CETAS will provide input and guidance on the draft to ensure it meets the standards of all participating agencies.
PARIT has been fundamental to the success of Oregon’s Bridge Replacement Program and ensures consistent regulatory agency engagement and environmental compliance.4 Figure 3 shows a process flow of the environmental performance standards process that was developed by PARIT and is currently part of the bridge program. PARIT meets on a bi weekly basis to evaluate and refine the programmatic tools and procedures developed for the bridge program. Frequent meetings have also helped the group play a key role in identifying and resolving project-specific issues.
Section 4: Legal Framework
The CETAS team operates under two agreements, the CETAS Charter Agreement and Major Transportation Projects Agreement.
The CETAS Charter Agreement is an interagency agreement signed by all member agencies and outlines the goals of CETAS and responsibilities of its members. Eleven agencies including ODOT signed the agreement in 2001. The CETAS charter establishes the framework for the initiative and describes a shared vision for aspects of the agreement including:
- An integrated/coordinated decision making process;
- Exchange of information and perspectives;
- Establishment of formal and informal consultation and review schedules;
- A process for resolving conflicts or disputes;
- Adoption of performance objectives; and
- Development of mitigation strategies.
We want to get a better result —not just for resources, but also for transportation. – John Marshall, USFWS
The Major Transportation Projects Agreement ensures early interagency communication, participation, and involvement in EA and EIS processes for ODOT. The agreement establishes formal concurrence points and a commenting process for the refinement and project development stages of a highway project. ODOT seeks concurrence and comments from participating agencies regarding the following phases of project development: (1) purpose and need statement; (2) the range of alternatives being considered for full analysis in an EA or EIS; (3) appropriateness of the criteria for evaluating alternatives and selecting a preferred alternative; and (4) selection of the preferred alternative. Each signatory agency is expected to provide a signed response within 30 days of a concurrence presentation. After 45 days, non responding agencies are considered non participating on the current concurrence point. A non participating agency can become a participating agency at any time during the refinement or project development process. However, the agency cannot revisit past concurrence points.
According to the Major Transportation Projects Agreement, ODOT cannot proceed with steps following concurrence points until each participating agency concurs. Likewise, FHWA will not sign a Record of Decision (ROD) or a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) until there is concurrence among the participating agencies. In cases of non concurrence, CETAS identifies an elevation sequence in which decisions are made at increasingly high levels within the agencies until the issue is resolved. CETAS member agencies with outstanding or emerging issues are expected to initiate the issue resolution process whenever it appears their agency might not be able to concur. Elevation has four levels. The first is the normal CETAS representative, then continues to higher agency staff up to the fourth level, where decisions are made by regional/ district administrators and directors. The issue resolution and elevation process has been formally adopted by CETAS and is part of its legally binding framework.
Concurrence points have proven critical to continued resource agency participation in the process because ODOT and FHWA have demonstrated a firm commitment to achieving concurrence before moving forward with any project.
Section 5: Leadership Role
The CETAS process grew from concern by State elected officials regarding the timeliness and effectiveness of the environmental reviews of ODOT projects, The most public of which was instruction by the Oregon House of Representatives in House Bill 2680 to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of ODOT projects. The consequent House Bill 2680 Committee identified critical concerns and two recommended solutions:
- Explore the options for funding dedicated staff at regulatory agencies and staff exchanges or loans
- Develop a method to ensure regulatory agencies, when requested by ODOT or local government, become involved in the appropriate planning stages, where systematic, comprehensive planning is taking place.
ODOT’s leadership was also supportive and convened a high-level committee of agency heads to advise the streamlining process. Creation of CETAS under an executive-level Environmental Manager sent a strong message to the public, elected officials, and resource agencies that ODOT was taking its environmental mandate seriously. By having vocal champions both inside and outside ODOT, the agency sent a strong message that institutional changes were required from all areas.
Section 6: Funding Sources and Liaisons
ODOT uses intergovernmental agreements and agency liaisons to ensure that transportation projects receive resource agency permitting reviews in a timely manner. While liaisons participating in CETAS are dedicated to transportation projects, staff report to their respective resource agencies and work through their regulatory review processes with an understanding of the nature and extent of the environmental impacts of transportation projects. In 2006, ODOT funded 14 liaison positions at other agencies at an estimated cost of $60,000 per position. The total cost of the liaison positions is approximately $840,000.
A major benefit of the liaisons for ODOT is their familiarity with transportation projects and understanding of the cultural nuances of the agency. Partnering between ODOT and the liaison staff familiar with O DOT projects, processes, and staff members translates into fewer projects delays and streamlined permitting. Similarly, a liaison’s exclusive dedication to and involvement with transportation projects helps ODOT staff better understand the missions and processes of resource agencies.
Section 7: Performance Measures and Outcomes
Each year the CETAS team completes a Progress Report and Work Plan. The purpose of this document is to highlight the achievements of the CETAS team over the past year and identify initiatives to further advance environmental stewardship and streamlining.5 The document maps next steps for the group and lays the ground work for future CETAS activities and initiatives. CETAS also undergoes periodic performance evaluations by an independent third party. The performance evaluations identify specific areas for improvement and highlight CETAS successes. Much like the Progress Report and Work Plan, the performance assessment aims at continuous improvement of CETAS, identifying achievements and detailing steps for the upcoming 2- year Work Plan.
CETAS also helped establish Environmental Performance Standards, a set of environmental measures and criteria that all bridge projects must satisfy as part of the Bridge Replacement Program. The performance standards include establishment of impact thresholds, design standards, and best management practices, and are the basis for terms and conditions of environmental permits. The CETAS team helped establish a mitigation program addressing wetlands and wildlife on a scale that provides improved environmental function, allows for innovative design and construction methods, and facilitates compliance monitoring and adaptive management.6 Using a systems-based, programmatic, and integrated approach, CETAS provided a mechanism for strategic decision making during planning, programming, and development of projects for the State Bridge Delivery Program as part of the Oregon Transportation Investment Act III.
Section 8: Lessons Learned
- Targeted team focus. The CETAS team was asked to participate in work that strengthens linkages between the project development and NEPA review processes. By focusing member agencies on this well-defined goal, the team achieved early successes and developed a level of trust between its members. However, limiting involvement to NEPA-related project development has resulted in less attention to the long-range planning process and instituting programmatic approaches to permitting. In response to consultation requirements under section 6001 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) CETAS in 2007 was asked to comment on plans from each metropolitan planning organization (MPO) in the State of Oregon.
- Balancing the mission for resource agencies. Concurrence points give resource agencies and other reviewing agencies leverage in the project planning process, helping to motivate their participation. Indeed, resource agencies involved in CETAS have benefited from increased openness with ODOT upfront concerning its mission, goals, and concerns. Staff from ODOT and resource agencies now have a greater understanding of the expertise and expectations that each brings to the project planning process.
- Process time. Resource agencies and other non transportation organizations involved in CETAS require time and training to fully understand nuances of the transportation planning and project development processes. Taking the time to build relationships between ODOT and resource agency staff increases both parties' understanding of the process, ultimately improving project timeliness and budget. ODOT has found funding liaison positions at CETAS member agencies to be a worthwhile investment of time and training.
1 ODOT. CETAS Charter Agreement. June 16, 2005. Available online at http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/GEOENVIRONMENTAL/docs/CETAS_Booklet.pdf.
2 Excerpt from CETAS Progress Report for 2003 provided by ODOT via e-mail.
3 Linking Planning and Environmental Process list of priorities provided via e-mail by ODOT.
4 Oregon Transportation Investment Act (OTIA) III Environmental Program and Performance Assessment Paper provided by ODOT via e-mail.
5 CETAS Progress Report - 2005 to 2006, and Recommended Work Plan -July 2006 to June 2008. ODOT. 2006.
6 Excerpt from CETAS Progress Report for 2003 provided by ODOT via e-mail.
For questions or feedback on this subject matter content, please contact Jody McCullough or Marisel Lopez-Cruz.