Environmental Review Toolkit

Back to SAFETEA-LU Section 6009 Implementation Study

Appendix D. U.S. DOT Response to TRB Phase I Letter Report

TRB Committee Comment U.S. DOT Response
Small sample size
Any attempt to stratify the samples by 4(f) resource type results in a sample size that is too small to draw meaningful inferences.
Due to time and cost restraints, it was not feasible to evaluate the entire population of de minimis impact findings. As a result, the study team chose to evaluate a representative sample of projects. The study sample was selected based on several characteristics of the project population including number of de minimis impact findings made per state, mode of project with de minimis impact finding, project type, Section 4(f) resource type, NEPA class of action, and Federal Circuit Court District in which the project was located.
Lack of diversity among survey and interview respondents mean findings may only represent a DOT-oriented view.
...does not describe non-respondents and types of resources they represent
...cost and time savings data were collected from only transportation officials and were not clearly linked to specific projects
  • Following the submittal of the draft report to TRB, four additional park officials were interviewed. Additionally, in Phase II the study team will attempt to conduct phone discussions with representatives of user groups and advocates of the Section 4(f) resources for constructed projects included in Phase I study sample.
  • The draft report was updated to describe the four officials who did not respond to interview requests (see pages 13-14).
  • During the interviews, all stakeholders, including SHPOs and non-historic officials, were asked how the de minimis provision has impacted the time/cost impacts to their involvement in the Section 4(f) process. This information is reported in the implementation study's section called: “How have the various aspects of the de minimis impact provision affected the timeliness for completing the Section 4(f) process?”
Combining historic sites and other Section 4(f) resources
The regulatory differences in the reviews for historic sites versus other Section 4(f) resources may result in different project efficiencies in terms of time and cost, and may result in different degrees of resource protection
The Phase I report highlighted differences between historic resource and other Section 4(f) resources process when noted by interview participants (see pages 25-26).
Inconsistency in units of analysis
(project vs. broad experience)
...surveys were provided to transportation officials only, whereas interviews included the broader range of stakeholders.
  • The pre-interview survey was sent to transportation agency interviewees to identify whether the agency collected Section 4(f) data, and if so, what these data were. The pre-interview surveys were not provided to the officials with jurisdiction because the study team assumed that, since Section 4(f) is a U.S. DOT regulation, the resource officials likely would not have been tracking data pertaining to Section 4(f) evaluations.
  • Interviewees were asked both about their experience with the de minimis impact provision in general, as well as their specific experience with the projects selected for the study sample. Interview questions regarding time, cost, public comments, mitigation, project design, and resource impacts were asked on a project-specific basis for both historic and non-historic Section 4(f) resources, respectively.
Explain why transportation officials were over-represented as interviewees, particularly since the focus of the study was not limited to efficiencies (the time and cost savings to transportation officials), but also included effectiveness from the perspective of resource protection-where the views of officials with jurisdiction over the resource would be particularly important. For each of the projects selected, the study team attempted to conduct interviews with at least three stakeholder groups that have a direct role in the Section 4(f) process: one with the state's FHWA Division Office or relevant FTA Regional Office staff; one with the state's DOT staff or relevant transit agency staff; and one with the official with jurisdiction over the Section 4(f) property, i.e. the SHPO, THPO, or the park, recreation area and/or wildlife and waterfowl refuge official. Four of 19 officials with jurisdiction (representing six projects) did not respond to multiple interview requests. Except for the six projects where the official with jurisdiction did not participate in the interview, the officials with jurisdiction over the resource for all other projects in the study were asked specific questions regarding the post construction effectiveness of the de minimis impact provision (i.e. the protection of Section 4(f) resources).
Use of “construction complete” as the primary sample selection criterion
...Drawing a random sample from designated projects would at least allow generalizations about project efficiencies to be drawn about projects designated de minimis to date
...Because the sample of 25 includes the first 22 completed de minimis projects, it is possible that this group is made up of unusually simple and straightforward projects.
  • In order to address the mandate to evaluate the post construction effectiveness of impact mitigation and avoidance commitments, the study team determined that all projects constructed as of March 21, 2008 should be included in the sample. This approach was intended to avoid reporting on expected outcomes of actual projects, and instead, to capture on-the-ground results.
  • The study team designed its selection criteria to ensure that a sufficiently diverse group of Section 4(f) de minimis impact projects was examined. To date, the majority of de minimis impact findings have involved highway projects, CEs, and historic properties. If a random sample had been chosen, the study would have been at risk of excluding some of the less represented categories of projects. Selecting a representative sample ensured that the study evaluated the impacts that the de minimis impact provision has had or may have on a variety of transportation projects, classes of action, and resource types. To address gaps in the first sample and to ensure that the sample would not be overrepresented by any one type of project, more projects were added to the study sample based on the number of criteria that these projects satisfied; projects satisfying the most were selected.
  • For each of the projects evaluated, interview participants were asked whether the project was typical of other de minimis projects. The study team found no evidence suggesting the constructed projects were unusually simple and straightforward projects.