Environmental Review Toolkit
Planning and Environment Linkages

Planning and Environment Linkages


Linking Planning and NEPA
Progress Report
FY 2006/Quarter 1

Between February 7 and March 14, 2006, the Volpe Center interviewed 15 of the 19 Federal Highway Administration Division Offices (FHWA/DO) and state Departments of Transportation (DOT) that participated in the Linking Planning and NEPA: Towards Streamlined Decisionmaking workshop to discuss the status of linking planning and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) efforts in their states. Findings from the following state interviews are provided in this quarterly report, which focuses on activities occurring between October 1 and December 31, 2005 (FY06Q1):

  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Utah
  • Washington

Common Themes

This section provides the themes that emerged from the workshop participant interviews. Many of the themes in FY06Q1 are consistent with themes from FY05Q4. Three new themes include understanding SAFETEA-LU and how it may relate to linking planning and NEPA, requested guidance on indirect and cumulative impacts, and integration efforts on a smaller scale.

Linking Planning, NEPA and SAFETEA-LU
Many states are waiting for guidance on SAFETEA-LU before developing process changes at the DOTs. Several states recognize points of agreement between SAFETEA-LU and linking planning and NEPA. They recommend that FHWA emphasize how requirements of SAFETEA-LU relate to integration of planning and NEPA recommendations.

Understanding Indirect and Cumulative Impacts
States recommend that FHWA and EPA develop consistent guidance for indirect and cumulative impacts in transportation projects to avoid conflict at the state level. With guidance from their Federal counterparts, resource agencies at the regional or state level would better understand the flexibility available in their processes, and may find it easier to work with their partner agencies to integrate planning and NEPA activities.

Testing Linking Planning and NEPA on a Smaller Scale
A number of states have developed ways to focus linking planning and NEPA efforts on a smaller scale. For example, California DOT (Caltrans) is focusing its integration efforts on one regional MPO. Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is working statewide, however some districts have achieved a higher level of integration that other districts. ITD shares lessons learned from the most advanced district to assist statewide integration. Colorado DOT (CDOT) will encourage linking planning and NEPA initiatives in high activity corridors, since those regions will benefit most from integrative approaches.

Treating the State Action Plan as a Living Document
Several state DOTs have modified or improved the State Action Plan SAP to better tailor it to the agency program development process. New Mexico, South Dakota, and Washington DOTs have revised their plans since FY05Q4. DOTs are employing various approaches to refine and implement the Action Plans. Many states (including Arkansas, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Utah) are contracting with consultants to re-evaluate the plan and develop implementation strategies and programs. In some states, FHWA Environmental Streamlining grants have been or will be used to address action items.

Communication and Collaboration Are Critical
Most states again reported that intra- and interagency communication and collaboration are improving through monthly or quarterly meetings. Funding positions at resource agencies has also proven successful to enhance coordination. A number of states are also working with tribes to encourage their participation in project development. For example, Washington is working with newly created Tribal Transportation Planning Organizations, and South Carolina DOT is developing Tribal Consultation Agreements with each tribe in the state.

Providing Trainings and Workshops
Trainings, workshops, and peer exchanges are valuable activities to assist state DOTs implement Action Plans. For example, Georgia DOT (GDOT) hosted a peer exchange and identified Ohio and Texas as good models for integration efforts. Every other year, representatives from Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Indiana meet to discuss transportation planning and project development. Several state DOTs are also informally sharing innovative practices with each other to improve integration. Current and future training topics include: Geographical Information Systems (GIS), the NEPA review process, Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS), and public involvement.

Dedicated Staff Are Needed to Implement Change
As stated in the FY05Q4 report, successfully linking planning and NEPA efforts requires changes to organizational processes, organizational structures, and/or cultures. Individual or team champions are in place at the majority of DOTs to facilitate the necessary changes. In addition, many state DOTs are achieving success by funding positions at resource agencies and initiating cross-functional interagency staff rotations. FHWA Minnesota DO hired one staff person to help coordinate efforts between the planning and environmental offices, and in particular linking planning and NEPA initiatives.

Measures of Effectiveness Are Needed
As indicated in the FY05Q4 report, nearly all states indicated that measures of effectiveness for the Action Plans are difficult to identify and apply. Possible measures may include how successfully the project advances through the environmental review process, reduced redundancy of work and "scope creep," and positive feedback from the Federal and state resource and regulatory agencies.

Manuals, Tools, and Techniques Are Beneficial
Several states are revising or creating new project development manuals to reflect integration of environmental issues into the transportation decisionmaking process. DOTs are also developing tools to inform and systematize the transportation decisionmaking and environmental planning process. The most common tool is developing shared GIS-based environmental databases to identify and prioritize critical resource issues and develop constraint maps.

Innovative Initiatives

State DOTs provided numerous examples of innovative initiatives that demonstrate a wide array of practices they are developing to better integrate planning and NEPA activities. The initiatives are organized into the following four categories:

  • GIS
  • Guidebooks
  • Process Improvements
  • Formal Lines of Communication


Arkansas — Sharing GIS data
The Arkansas State Land Information Board, in conjunction with the Arkansas Geographic Information Office, collects and manages GIS data for Federal, state and local agencies. GIS data are shared on GeoStor, which is a publicly accessible site that includes a password-protection feature. The system provides the state a consolidated hosting service for interactive Internet mapping. These interactive applications serve many agency websites by pulling common data from the same database. This cost saving approach reduces duplication of effort. For more information, see http://www.geostor.arkansas.gov/Portal/ptk.

California — Blueprint Project
The Sacramento Council of Governments (SACOG) Blueprint Project for smart growth involves overlaying GIS data layers (e.g., greenspace, agricultural land, rivers and streams) to accurately represent the existing environment as the project Purpose and Need is developed. The Blueprint Concept Map depicts a way for the region to grow through the year 2050 in a manner that is generally consistent with the seven draft Smart Growth Principles. SACOG is also continually engaging the resource agencies in the Blueprint Project by providing opportunities for agencies to confirm or revise the environmental data being utilized. Lessons learned are being used to help SACOG develop a more comprehensive planning process. A website has also been developed to provide information and increase public involvement in the Blueprint Project and process — http://www.sacregionblueprint.org.

Colorado — Strategic Transportation, Environmental and Planning Process for Urbanizing Places (STEP UP)
CDOT and a consultant have initiated Phase II of the STEP UP Environmental Streamlining Pilot Project. STEP UP was designed to evaluate procedures and develop tools that would improve transportation, land use and environmental planning early on. STEP UP utilizes a GIS-based interactive database to prioritize and screen projects. The data are used to generate maps depicting potential growth areas and impacts to critical environmental resources. The consultant is building and testing a web-based GIS tool. The tool will contain GIS data from CDOT, resource agencies, and MPOs. MPOs will use the GIS tool for updates to their long-range plans for large and regionally significant projects.

Utah — Web-based GIS
Utah DOT (UDOT) recently hired a consultant to develop a web-based GIS. The system will be accessible to FHWA, UDOT, and resource agencies. The Automated Geographic Reference Center, a Utah state agency, will manage the data. The GIS will contain information about demographics, utilities, and buildings. Over time, UDOT would like to add data for wetland mitigation, noise barriers, and other tools to assist decisionmaking. UDOT hosted the GIS and environmental streamlining workshop in November 2005. On February 2, 2006, FHWA, UDOT, and MPOs met to discuss what types of data will help decisionmaking.

Washington — GIS Workbench
The Environmental Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Workbench is a custom GIS application built to help staff at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) access over 60 layers of environmental or natural resource management data. The WSDOT Environmental Information Program works with state, Federal, and other agencies to maintain a collection of the best available data for statewide environmental analysis. The Workbench is an ArcView extension that provides WSDOT staff with tools for locating transportation projects and displaying a wealth of environmental data themes for that location. While the best available environmental GIS data often have considerable limitations, they generally provide good flags for likely environmental issues affecting project planning.


Idaho — Corridor Planning Guidebook
Although the Corridor Planning Guidebook (CPG) existed prior to the workshop, participants committed to updating and revising the document as a strategy in the SAP. ITD Planning and Environmental Sections are designing the CPG to bring parts of the project development process together into a single process. The CPG will assist in the determination of whether to advance the project as an environmental document or to include the project in the corridor plan/study, or both. The guidebook contains a matrix to facilitate this decisionmaking process.

The CPG is currently an internal agency document that may become publicly available in the future. The CPG is used to prioritize projects, allocate funding, develop corridor plans, and develop requests for proposals (RFP). The CPG provides performance measures for statewide project planning. One challenge to integrating the CPG into all statewide planning is the diverse resources and priorities of the six planning districts within Idaho. ITD will likely update the CPG in 2006. The agency will need to determine how much environmental work staff should complete in corridor plans rather than later in the NEPA process, such that they can avoid duplicating their efforts. ITD may seek advice from a consultant.

South Carolina — Advance Project Planning Report
South Carolina DOT's (SCDOT) Advance Project Planning Report (APPR) addresses Purpose and Need, project alternatives, environmental impacts, and it provides project cost estimates. The APPR goals are two-fold: to provide MPOs and RPOs with information to help them determine a project's potential benefits and impacts to the human and natural environments before advancing the project; and to facilitate the project development process by identifying/screening environmental issues of concern and providing this information early in the process, and prior to inclusion of the project in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The APPR utilizes GIS to screen/identify potential project-related environmental impacts and it is distributed to the Federal and state resource agencies for review and comment.

Process Improvements

Colorado — Corridor Visions
As part of its statewide plan, CDOT has developed "Corridor Visions," which are goals and strategies for each corridor, as opposed to location specific project lists. CDOT allocates resources based on these strategies. CDOT will also encourage linking planning and NEPA initiatives in corridors where there are numerous projects anticipated, as high activity corridors are likely to benefit most from integrative approaches. Corridor Visions is leading to better project definition before projects are specified in the STIP.

Maine — Enhanced Scoping Process
Maine DOT (MaineDOT) is testing its Enhanced Scoping Process (ESP) on projects that have experienced delays due to project costs, environmental issues, or local community concerns. MaineDOT's Office of Planning gathers all existing information about a project and the location in which it will be developed. Information includes constraint mapping of environmental and historical resources using GIS data layers, and a questionnaire that is sent to local municipalities to determine the level of support a project has in affected towns. It also allows for early communication and agreements between MaineDOT and municipalities to develop projects that are more likely to meet everyone's needs. Planning then distributes the information to the environmental and project development offices to identify potential issues. In the future, MaineDOT will identify candidate projects from its six-year plan.

Missouri — Practical Design Approach to Planning
Missouri DOT (MoDOT) has incorporated practical design into its transportation planning process. Practical design is similar to Context Sensitive Solutions in that communities have greater participation in planning, and environmental concerns are incorporated earlier in the project development process. The MoDOT Design team is currently traveling to each district throughout Missouri to train districts on the practical design approach. MoDOT provides a practical design guidance document on its website. For more information, see http://www.modot.mo.gov/business/PracticalDesign.htm.

New Jersey — Environmental Management System (EMS)
New Jersey DOT (NJDOT) is working with a consultant to develop an EMS, which is a set of processes and practices that enable an organization to reduce its environmental impacts and increase its operating efficiency. NJDOT would like to include full project information in an electronic database to track commitments and reduce paperwork. The consultant may begin work on the system by summer 2006.

New Mexico — Project Evaluation Report (PER)
New Mexico DOT (NMDOT) will hire a consultant to evaluate the current PER process for areas to simplify. NMDOT anticipates the updated PER process to be complete by July 2007. The updated PER will include a checklist with environmental and cultural concerns. Multi-disciplinary teams, including DOT planning, environment, and engineering, as well as local district offices, will work together to define projects and complete the checklist once it is integrated into the planning process. The checklist will allow planners to develop a more complete understanding of potential projects before they are included in the STIP. The goal of the PER is to use current staff and resources more effectively, rather than require additional resources to facilitate integrating planning and NEPA or other process changes. Upon revision of the PER process, NMDOT plans to utilize the PER process on more projects to enhance interagency communication and project development.

Pennsylvania — Planning Partners Checklist
Pennsylvania DOT (PennDOT) is developing and testing a document entitled the Planning Partners Checklist (PPC). Its intent is to move environmental and cultural resource considerations and constraints into the planning and programming phase of transportation projects. The checklist was developed in collaboration with Federal and state regulators, natural and cultural resource agencies, and planning partners. The document is in draft form and is being pilot tested by three Pennsylvania MPOs. Current edits include the consideration of certain context sensitive solutions (CSS) that were part of the existing CSS Checklist. The Checklist is an optional tool for the 23 MPOs and RPOs in Pennsylvania that can be used to help choose projects based on current needs and available funding. In the end, the PPC will aid in the development of more realistic project schedules and budgets relative to environmental and cultural resource issues, while managing the expectation of elected officials and the public. It will also facilitate the MPO planning process and reduce duplication of work.

South Dakota — Concept-to-Construction
Concept-to-Construction (C-to-C) is an internal South Dakota DOT (SDDOT) process that has been implemented to obtain consistency in the project scoping and cost estimating process. C-to-C is designed to communicate and track environmental commitments made during project development. Documenting and sharing the results and decisions is also part of the C-to-C process. The C-to-C scheduling tool, which will track and share NEPA activities and requirements between offices, should be available in summer 2006.

Formal Lines of Communication

Georgia — Planning Development Process Lecture Series
Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), with FHWA/DO assistance, conducts a monthly "Planning Development Process" lecture series to explain environmental documents and encourage reductions in documentation, costs, and time. Staff from FHWA, GDOT, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), consultants, and the private sector have attended since 2004.

South Carolina — Liaison and Interagency Coordination Effort
FHWA and SCDOT continue to meet regularly with resource agencies under the Liaison and Interagency Coordination Effort (LICE). Through the LICE meetings and enhanced communication in general, SCDOT is receiving more detailed comments from resource agencies, which allows SCDOT to screen projects earlier in the planning phase. Based on resource agency comments, SCDOT is also providing better wetlands mitigation. Through greater understanding of each other's needs and constraints, each agency can make better decisions and resolve problems earlier in project development.


The following recommendations to improve the Linking Planning and NEPA: Towards Streamlined Decisionmaking workshop are derived from the FY06 Quarter 1 Workshop participant interviews:

  • Provide guidance to help states better understand SAFETEA-LU requirements and how the requirements are related to integration of planning and NEPA activities.
  • Provide guidance on how to assess indirect and cumulative impacts that is agreed upon by multiple Federal agencies.
  • Develop guidance to help states determine the appropriate level of environmental detail to document in the planning process that can also be used in the environmental process.
  • Recommend how to improve communication and coordination among transportation agencies, resource agencies, MPOs, and local jurisdictions to integrate environmental issues into the planning processes. Potential areas of assistance include training to increase understanding among agencies or funding for additional staff at resource agencies and MPOs.
  • Provide recommendations or guidance related to GIS data sharing, management, and security.
  • Support trainings, workshops, and peer exchanges on related topics (e.g. planning and NEPA, public outreach, GIS, etc.).
  • Post the State Action Plans and detailed state DOT practices on the website to be developed as part of the Linking Planning and NEPA follow-up support.
  • Create a "Re: NEPA style" information exchange website or link; this feature will facilitate the exchange of successes, lessons learned, and contact information among state DOTs and the Federal and state resource agencies.
  • Provide guidance for measuring the effectiveness of linking planning and NEPA initiatives.
  • Tailor presentation materials to the agency's level of integration of planning and NEPA issues; in particular the full integration states need more advanced materials.

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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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