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FHWA > Every Day Counts > Shortening Project Delivery > Shortening Project Delivery Toolkit > Planning and Environment Linkages > Questionnaire Equivalents

Shortening Project Delivery Toolkit

Criteria for Determining PEL Questionnaire Equivalents

The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA's) Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) Questionnaire is an adaptation of a questionnaire jointly developed by the Colorado Department of Transportation and FHWA Colorado Division Office in order to ensure that planning information and decisions are properly documented to be utilized in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). FHWA acknowledges that several States have already developed processes and tools comparable to the PEL Questionnaire, and sets forth the criteria below for identifying and recognizing equivalent approaches.

An equivalent approach is a process and/or consultation technique that fulfills a similar purpose as the PEL Questionnaire to determine the requirements transportation planning products must have to be incorporated into the NEPA process. To be considered an equivalent approach, the process and/or tool must satisfy the following criteria:

Criteria 1: The equivalent should be institutionalized within the department (i.e. it is a formal process or tool available statewide).
Criteria 2: The equivalent must provide information on how to consider and document the following:
  1. The early and continuous coordination with Federal, Tribal, State, and local transportation, environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies.
  2. Coordination efforts with the public and stakeholders.
  3. Description of planning scope, vision statement, and steps needed to scale the vision statement to a project-level purpose and need statement.
  4. Alternatives that were considered, selected and rejected; criteria and process used for selecting and rejecting alternatives.
  5. Explanation of planning assumptions, including forecast year, traffic volumes, policy, and data as well as consistency of those planning assumptions with the long-range transportation plan.
Criteria 3: The equivalent may also provide information on how to consider and document the following:
  1. Analysis of the affected environment and environmental consequences. Document those resources reviewed and not reviewed, and the level of detail.
  2. Potential strategies for broad-scale mitigation.
  3. Description and/or analysis of potential cumulative effects.
  4. A method of documenting FHWA's acknowledgement, in order to support the use of planning information in NEPA, that indicates that PEL principles were applied to FHWA's satisfaction.

The following sections outline three approaches that have been identified as equivalent approaches. They are:

  1. Montana Department of Transportation's Business Process to Link Planning Studies and NEPA Reviews
  2. Massachusetts Department of Transportation's Project Development & Design Guide
  3. Florida Department of Transportation's Efficient Transportation Decision Making Process

Agency: Montana Department of Transportation

Equivalent Approach: Business Process to Link Planning Studies and NEPA Reviews

I. Overview
In 2009, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) revised its corridor planning process to enhance partner involvement and to facilitate the incorporation of the results of planning studies into the NEPA and the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) review processes. The revised corridor planning process is outlined in the Business Process to Link Planning Studies and NEPA Reviews1 (Business Process) document. The Business Process details the steps that must be taken in order to link planning with the NEPA/MEPA review process, including the partners that should be involved, documents that should be produced, and effective transition steps between planning and environmental review. The MDT has also developed a Corridor Planning Checklist to ensure that the process is conducted in a manner as to ensure that products and decision resulting from the study process can be relied upon in NEPA/MEPA.

II. Alignment with equivalence criteria
The corridor planning process outlined in the Business Process meets all of the FHWA required equivalence criteria and several of the optional criteria. The following information describes the components of the corridor planning process that align with the criteria.

Criteria 1: Institutionalized process
Montana's revised corridor planning process has been implemented and resulted in significant savings of time and money. The revised corridor planning process is standardized through the use of a Corridor Planning Study Checklist and formally documented and recognized through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the MDT, FHWA, and several State and Federal planning and resource agencies.

Criteria: 2a to 2e, 3a, 3b, and 3d
Montana's Business Process establishes a series of eight steps that ensure coordination with the public and stakeholders, analysis of alternatives and the affected environment, and thorough documentation of all decisions and assumptions. Combined, these steps satisfy required equivalence criteria 2a through 2e and optional criteria 3a and 3b. The following is a summary of the eight steps involved in Montana's corridor planning process:

Step 1: Identify corridor study candidate — The decision is made to conduct a corridor planning study, as opposed to an engineering/operational study or NEPA study, and identify corridor planning team.

Step 2: Develop corridor study work plan — The corridor planning team's first action is to develop a corridor study work plan, which includes a corridor study framework, corridor setting document, draft Public Involvement Plan, and Scope of Work. As part of this process, the corridor planning team will hold a formal scoping meeting with stakeholders to develop the Scope of Work and Public Involvement.

Step 3: Develop existing and projected conditions report — The team will conduct an environmental scan and analyze existing and projected conditions. The report should identify corridor deficiencies, stakeholder vision, goals and objectives, key environmental resources and potential impacts, and potential mitigation strategies. This report will also integrate feedback gained through resource agency consultation and public involvement, as each group will have the opportunity to provide initial input and then review and comment on a draft.

Step 4: Identify needs, issues, goals, and screening criteria — The corridor planning team will identify the needs, issues, and goals of the transportation system and use them as a basis for developing alternatives selection criteria. The information on goals and needs may be used in later steps to develop the purpose and need.

Step 5: Determine what alternatives to advance and not advance — The team will develop a full range of alternatives that address the identified needs, issues, and goals. The team will conduct a planning-level analysis for each alternative using the predetermined screening criteria. Documentation of alternatives and/or options advanced and not advanced, along with the rationale for decision will be prepared.

Step 6: Recommend alternatives — The team will recommend a complete package of alternatives and/or options for improving the corridor. At this point, the team will also identify at a broad level, the potential impacts and corresponding mitigation opportunities that would accompany the recommended package of alternatives. The initial avoidance areas, mitigation needs, and opportunities identified by resource and other agencies and the public should be incorporated.

Step 7: Prepare draft corridor study report — This report documents the entire corridor planning process, key findings, and outcomes of the previous six steps. The report should include a description of the alternatives considered, selection criteria, potential impacts and mitigation opportunities, as well as the recommended package of alternatives and its associated next steps. Once the Team completes a draft Corridor Study Report, it will allow time for resource agency and public review and comment on the report.

Step 8: Make recommendations — The team incorporates feedback from these resource agencies and the public to develop the final Corridor Study Report. This report details specific action items, responsible parties, and suggested transition steps from planning to project development and environmental review.

The Business Process also outlines steps to transition from the corridor planning process to project development/environmental review. The first step in this process is to hold a transition meeting with the corridor planning team and FHWA to ensure that the data and products developed are consistent with environmental review criteria. The recommended statement of purpose and need and level of environmental documentation can be discussed during the transition meeting.

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Agency: Massachusetts Department of Transportation

Equivalent Approach: Project Development & Design Guide

I. Overview
In 2006, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Highway Division revised its design manual to encourage a more flexible and accommodating approach to the design and construction of roadways. The new Project Development and Design Guidebook2 (Guidebook) provides direct guidance on how to advance a project from planning to construction. The guidance outlines a planning process and documentation standards that will ease the transition from the planning study to the NEPA analysis.

II. Alignment with equivalence criteria
The MassDOT Highway Division's Guidebook meets all of the FHWA required equivalence criteria and several of the optional criteria. The following information describes the components of the Guidebook that align with the FHWA criteria.

Criteria 1: Institutionalized process
Project proponents are required to follow the project development process described in the guide whenever MassDOT is involved in the decision-making process. The procedures are also written to be a useful resource for projects that do not fall under MassDOT jurisdiction, including those that are locally sponsored, funded, and reviewed.

Criteria: 2a to 2e, 3a, 3d
The project development process outlined in the Guidebook defines the need for early identification of issues and alternatives, open and continuous involvement with project stakeholders, and a clear decision-making process. This process should ensure that community values, natural, historic, and cultural resources, and transportation needs are fully considered throughout the planning, design, and construction phases of a project. The Guidebook describes an eight step project development process, and describes several pieces of required documentation. The first three steps are particularly relevant to PEL, and address equivalence criteria 2a through 2e, 3a, and 3d.

Step 1: Identify problem, need, and opportunity
As part of step 1, a Project Need Form (PNF) is completed. The PNF provides sufficient material to understand the deficiencies or needs related to the transportation facility. The PNF should document the problems (i.e. the scope of issues to be considered in the planning phase), and explain why corrective action is needed (i.e. establish preliminary project goals and objectives). The PNF also includes information on identification of interested parties and documentation of public outreach and feedback to date. Completed PNFs are submitted to the MassDOT Highway District. The District reviews the PNF and will then notify the proponent of its recommendations for continuing the project initiation process.

Step 2: Planning
Projects that require further planning will result in the preparation of a Project Planning Report. The PNF outlines the scope of issues to be considered in the planning phase. Project proponents are encouraged to tailor planning activities appropriate to the extent, complexity, and type of project to ensure that all project benefits, impacts, and costs are objectively estimated. As part of this process, the proponent must also conduct a public participation program, provide information regarding the project's consistency with State and regional policies, and based on all the information gathered in the planning process as well as public input, decide whether to continue the project development process and to submit a Project Initiation Form (PIF), as described in step three.

The final Project Planning Report provides a summary of the process, public outreach, and decisions made in step 2, including the following:

Step 3: Project Initiation
The next step in the project development process involves summarizing the findings in a Project Initiation Form (PIF). The PIF includes the following information:

The Project Review Committee and the MPO uses the PIF to review and evaluate the project for programming. After reviewing the PIF, the Project Review Committee will provide comments to the proponent identifying additional planning needs or provide guidance for the development of the environmental and design documents.

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Agency: Florida Department of Transportation
Equivalent: Efficient Transportation Decision Making Process

III. Overview
In an effort to streamline the transportation planning and project development processes without compromising the quality of Florida's natural and human environment, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) developed the Efficient Transportation Decision-making Process (ETDM)3. ETDM outlines a process and documentation requirements to advance a project seamlessly through three phases: planning, programming, and project development. Throughout the ETDM process, the Environmental Screening Tool (EST), an Internet-accessible interactive database, is used to document project changes, evaluate impacts, and communicate project details to agencies and the public. The EST is an integral component of the ETDM process and promotes agency participation and interaction as well as public involvement.

IV. Alignment with equivalence criteria
ETDM meets a majority of the criteria for determining PEL questionnaire equivalents. The following information describes the components of the ETDM system that align with the criteria.

Criteria 1: Institutionalized process
Twenty-four Federal, State, and regional agencies collaborated to develop and implement the ETDM process. All agencies signed a MOU to institutionalize the process and outline the involvement and participation of each agency. In addition to this MOU, participating agencies are also required to sign three additional agreements with FDOT and FHWA; the Master Agreement, Agency Operating Agreement, and Funding Agreement. Together with the MOU, these agreements ensure that the ETDM process is swiftly and successfully followed.

Criteria 2a to 2e, and 3a to 3c
The ETDM process takes a project from the planning stages through NEPA approval and permitting. The process provides resource agencies and the public the opportunity to provide early input into a project's potential impacts to the natural and built environments through a series of screening events. Combined, these steps satisfy required equivalence criteria 2a through 2e and optional criteria 3a through 3c. The analysis performed in the planning and programming screens are described below.

Planning screen
This initial screening of planned projects allows resource and regulatory agencies to review project Purpose and Need Statements and comment on the potential impact of projects to environmental and community resources very early in the planning process. Direct and indirect effects of proposed projects are evaluated and documented. In the case of known unavoidable effects, agencies provide input on suggested mitigation measures. Public coordination is also an important element of the planning screen. During this screen, Community Liaison Coordinators work with the community to address issues and requests regarding context-sensitive design. This phase is concluded with the preparation of a summary report, which contains a summary of agency and public input, key recommendations and conclusions regarding potential project effects, and specific scope requirements to be addressed in project development.

Programming Screen
This second screening of major transportation projects occurs before projects are funded in the FDOT Five-Year Work Program. This screen initiates the NEPA process for Federally funded projects or the State Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for state funded projects. Resource and regulatory agency input about the potential effects to environmental and community resources are the basis for agency scoping to facilitate compliance with NEPA. FHWA and FDOT agree on a Class of Action Determination for each priority project which is summarized along with agency and community input, preliminary project concepts, reasonable project alternatives, and scoping recommendations in the Final Programming Summary Report. This report is used as the transition document to the Project Development Phase, and is available electronically to project managers, resource agencies and the public.

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1 Available online at http://www.mdt.mt.gov/publications/docs/brochures/corridor_study_process.pdf
2 Available online at http://www.vhb.com/mhdGuide/mhd_Guidebook.asp
3 Available online at https://etdmpub.fla-etat.org/est/


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

Updated: 1/13/2012

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